WHY THE CHURCH IS TRUER THAN THE GOSPEL
By Michael Barker
I didn’t want to go to Church this past Sunday. There were two reasons:
- It was fast and testimony meeting and frankly I get little out of testimony meeting. Sometimes I even get quite frustrated.
- The Doctrine and Covenant lesson was Lesson 32. It was on “President Brigham Young Leads the Saints.”
Regarding the latter, we actually have a very good Gospel Doctrine teacher. He makes attempts to address some of the messier parts of our LDS history. However, regarding what Dr. Michael Quinn termed, “The Succession Crisis” following Joseph and Hyrum’s death, I just wasn’t sure the narrative would be handled responsibly. I am the guy that will raise his hand in Gospel Doctrine class to gently correct misinformation, but sometimes I get tired of being that guy. I didn’t want to be that guy during this lesson and I didn’t think I would be able to hold my tongue. So, Sunday morning before Church I told my wife, Cathy, that I would probably go home after taking the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It’s just something I had to do for my own survival – leaving home early that is.
Right after we finished drinking the water, my seven year old daughter told me she forgot her snack in the car; I saw it as the perfect excuse to break out of church. I walked her out to the minivan and then walked her back. I opened the doors to the chapel and then turned around to head back to the car. Just as I was leaving the foyer, I heard someone over the speaker that had just returned to activity begin talking about his struggles. My heart opened. I went back in the chapel and sat with my family – sandwiched between my two daughters.
His testimony didn’t annoy me. He spoke about repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It touched my calloused heart. Then a sister got up who has often rubbed me the wrong way with her snarky comments toward those that have more liberal theological, sociological, or political views. I knew something about her. She had recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She got up and spoke of the love she has for her primary children and how much she has missed them. She then spoke of how motherhood is equal to priesthood. I strongly disagree, but I understand why she feels that way. Her life’s meaning had been built around the existential meaning in which that very narrative has provided in her life. Now, she was looking at death. She was looking at the meaning the church and her activity in the church has given her. I forgave her at that moment. I could see and feel her soul. That was unexpected.
I then looked at the middle pew. There, sitting alone was one of my friends from an older generation. I had taught his wayward son in Young Mens. He was
a good boy, but struggled with school and other things. His father continued to love him. Last week he had a going-away party for his boy who was leaving the next day for Marine bootcamp. How proud he was of his boy. His wife struggled with drug addiction. They are now separated. My friend had been a bishop of our ward long before I moved into the Medford 4th ward. He has a big heart. He has a manner of speaking truth, complicating the simple narratives we get in church, and people still love him. I love him. I am beginning to understand and appreciate his mature faith. People in our ward know of the family struggles he has had despite being a faithful member. I think it is because of that openness and vulernability that people will listen to him. Now, there he was in the pew with no family sitting next to him, in a tweed sport jacket and head bowed. Yet he isn’t alone.
I decided to go to Gospel Doctrine class. An older sister, in her nineties stood up. When I was the Young Men’s President I would go to her house with the two priests in our ward to give her the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. She was homebound because of all the hip pain she was having. I was able to get her in to see one of the specialists in my orthopedic group. She was always so grateful for me being able to help her. I didn’t see it as a big deal. It really didn’t take a lot of effort on my part. So, there she was in Sunday School, standing with her walker, no longer home-bound. Her daughter had just died suddenly due to a stroke and many family members were in town for the funeral. Now her home was once again filled with her children and grandchildren. She was happy to be surrounded by her posterity.
I held my tongue during the Sunday School lesson. I kept my eyes closed during most of the lesson. I swear my tongue was going to bleed because I was biting it so hard. At one point my wife leaned over to me during one particular part of the lesson that she knew just wasn’t historically correct. I looked at her and said, “No. I am not going to say anything.” Toward the end my bishop sat next to me.
I had recently given my bishop a copy of Russell Stevenson’s biography on Elijah Ables. We chatted for a moment about race. We then chatted about a book I had lent him about the Book of Abraham. It was a good open chat.
I don’t remember who told me. It might have been Dan Wotherspoon, Phillip Barlow, or Greg Prince, but I was told that Eugene England’s essay, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, was originally going to be called, Why the Church is Truer Than the Gospel. I think the original title is more correct in many instances. The Church is the gospel-lived experiences of its members. It is the community; it is the struggle, individually and together; it is our vulnerability that comes as we try to become the God-like people that our Heavenly Parents wish us to become; it is relationships. That is why the Church is truer than the Gospel.
Could these experiences have happened somewhere else, to someone else? Yes, but they didn’t. They happened to me in my ward with my ward family. They are my experiences that opened my heart.
I’m glad I didn’t go home early this past Sunday.
When people ask me why I—as an out and proud gay man—have returned to Mormon activity, I point them to this sentence in Carol Lynn Pearson’s book The Hero’s Journey of the Gay & Lesbian Mormon: The Hero is a gift to the Tribe, and the Tribe is a gift to the Hero.
I have a lot to offer the church, but to my surprise, the church has a lot to offer me. I find beautiful words and acts of love more often than not when I go to church.
Thanks for your wonderful post!
That’s beautiful Edward!
I am always happy to see you at church, Brother Barker.
I had a similar experience on Sunday, probably my third fast and testimony Sunday in over five years. It wasn’t as much the polish as the vulnerability and the life stories. One sister told of her struggle with a testimony of the temple. Others spoke of similar things. Nobody holier than thou. Maybe one guy mentioned Joseph Smith. The rest were just speaking from the heart.
I was “that guy” in gospel doctrine, but not throwing bombs. Others mentioned how messy the succession crisis was, and I pointed out that William Marks was not a pretender, but had a pretty legitimate claim. The conclusion I drew was that it wasn’t a perfunctory sustaining. The saints struggled and had to develop a testimony that BY was “the man”. They would need a strong testimony to follow him. It wouldn’t have worked any other way. Honestly I was learning all this for the first time listening to it come out of my mouth.
In HP group we talked about “the rescue” The HPGL made the mistake of asking my opinion. He got it. He heard my diatribe against judgmentalism, the fact that nobody really knows why anybody is inactive or how close they are to coming back. Don’t judge. Just love. I was sort of combative, but the HPGL told me afterwards that he asked me precisely because he knew what I would say, and that I would draw others out of the woodwork.
A good Sunday.
We forget that the church is filled with broken people. That is when we forget patience, then mercy, then purpose. If the Lord had been one of us broken people He could not have endured the twelve apostles, so maybe we should cut each other some slack.
MIchael, it’s my experience that it is neither your sophisticated world-view, your self-study, nor your intelligence that is primarily responsible for your experience (although each of these help)–but your humility or teachability. I know how cliche’ this sounds to most Mormons. But cliche’s normally become such because they’ve some kernel of goodness that causes us to pass them along. The sad thing is, most of us who enjoy these enlighten moments from time-to-time are those who quietly sit back and keep our mouths shut. I’m glad you chose to share this experience and insight (the comments here are also rich). Bless you.
Really liked this post. We’re all in this together and, if we’re looking, we can find help in many different ways.
I know the people in the Church aren’t perfect and I’m far from it; but I also know that when I try to do what I feel is God’s will for me, things always end up turning out for the best.
Thanks again for the insight.
I WAS NOT going to read this article, but because of my love for the Barker brothers, I thought, “Oh what the heck, it won’t kill me to read it.”
It was hard to keep going once Mike had decided to listen with an open heart to what the members were saying. I wish that the members would listen with an open heart to what the ‘dissidents’ are saying too.
The people in the church are NOT broken, they are whole – they just believe the lie that they are broken if…
The church is run by broken people who don’t know how to deal with the church’s history. So now they are coming up with the JS papers which actually validate many of the issues that members had and couldn’t live with.
It’s time for a major apology to those of us who believed with all our hearts and felt compelled to stand by ‘truth’ that church leaders have demanded of us. We became apostates, anti-Mormons, unfaithful, wanting to sin because we studied, pondered and prayed.
The tribe (the church) is all there is and all there ever was. Members of that tribe are some of the most awesome individuals I will ever meet. Unfortunately their very goodness and desire to be faithful creates a huge blind spot for them when it comes to looking at ‘truth’ in their very own unique way.