THE FANTASTIC ELDER SILVER FOX: PART 3
This is the final part to a three-part series about President Uchtdorf’s Saturday Morning General Conference address.
As one who has struggled with the faith of my parents and at one time considered resigning my membership from the Church, President Uchtdorf spoke a sublime truth to me that not all will appreciate. As a person of faith, who has seen friends leave the Church, and who’s heart has broken as they have severed ties with our LDS community, President Uchtdorf’s talk spoke truth to me. The Holy Ghost testified to me that what was said this past Saturday morning is true. Allow me to pick out some of the parts that touched my soul.
“…there are some that leave the Church they once loved. One might ask, ‘If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?’ Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended, or lazy, or sinful. Actually it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
“In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found. But we honor their right to worship almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Just as we claim the privilege for ourselves.”
There is a tendency to see those that have severed ties with the Church as being immoral; to see them as sinners. That has not been my experience. Of course there are always exceptions; some who leave the Church completely lose their moral compass, but that is usually not the case. Just because you leave the Church, does not automatically make you an immoral person. In fact, the majority of my friends who have left are still very, very good people. I still enjoy their company. They love their spouse, their children, and their neighbors. They continue to give to charitable organizations. That has been my experience. I honor their journey and President Uchtdorf is admonishing us to do the same.
I want to be careful with my next words. I don’t want to be misunderstood. Friendship should be an end in unto itself. Joseph Smith put it this way:
“…Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism, to revolutionize and civilize the world – pour forth love…” (Joseph Smith 23 July 1843 (Sunday Afternoon) in Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, pg. 234)
Friendship should NOT have an ulterior motive. When people sense that we are only being their friend, for some other reason than friendship alone, they will feel betrayed. Just think however, if a friend does decide to return to the Church, how easier it will be if they have a friend, who is an honest friend, who did not abandon them because of a decision to separate themselves from the institutional Church. They must know that there is a place for them. I want to emphasize that this however should not be the object of one’s friendship. Friendship should be for friendship’s sake. Friendship should be an end in unto itself.
“…To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, ‘My dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.’ Come and add your talents, gifts and energies to ours. We will all become better as as result. Some might ask, ‘But what about my doubts?’ It is natural to have questions. The acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who at one time or another have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith, even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty.”
Those who have left the Church have taken their talents with them. We are less as a community because of their absence. President Uchtdorf said it this way:
“…Brothers and sisters, dear friends we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples around the globe is a strength of this Church…Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us.
“…If you have left the faith you once embraced, come back again. Join with us. If you are tempted to give up, stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here. I plead with all, who hear or read these words, come join with us. Come, heed the call of the gentle Christ. Take up your cross and follow Him. Come, join with us. For here you will find what is precious beyond price…I earnestly pray that your own search for truth will impress upon your heart the desire to come and join with us.”
I would be lying if I were to say that I didn’t miss my friends that have separated themselves from our faith community, but I do honor their journey. Mormonism is a lived religion. It is a religion that demands its members to ask questions. And sometimes those questions lead to unreconcilable doubts. I miss them. I love them. They are my friends.