My parents were converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I grew up with ten, count ‘em TEN, protestant aunts and uncles who engaged in a whole lot of church shopping. When Janet grew weary of the pastor’s style—she found a new church; when James got in a big fight with a fellow church member—he jumped from Methodist to Baptist; when Amy disagreed with the politics of her fellow congregants, she started attending the Unitarian church down the road.
Hey, I don’t blame them. I’ve certainly contemplated attending meetings just one ward over at times. Still, I believe our system of geographic boundaries— aka: you’re stuck with these people and you’d better get along— provides some of our best opportunities to develop Christlike love.
Attending church with people who share a love for Christ, but different opinions on much else, helps us develop those muscles of compassion. When a face and a name lie behind a contrasting opinion, we are much more likely to listen with charity and love.
So, I wonder, if our physical divisions during the pandemic— months without congregating, church on Zoom, church with masks– have contributed to political animosity among church members in the past year.
You’ve seen it. Yard signs stolen or vandalized; pointed remarks made in public prayers: ugly threads on Facebook where members of The Church of Jesus Christ point fingers, and call each other racist, baby-killer, fascist, unpatriotic, misogynist, socialist, and more.
I’ve seen members tell each other they don’t understand the scriptures, they should turn in their temple recommend, they are going to hell for who they voted for, etc.
As followers of Christ, we know this hostility is wrong. King Benjamin, pled with his people to have “hearts knit together in unity and love one towards another.” Mosiah 18:21
Paul taught the Corinthians, “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Cor. 12: 25-26
Really. We do know. And in case we’ve forgotten, our leaders spent most of the October 2020 General Conference reminding members to love one another, to refrain from judgment, to set aside our differences and work towards unity.
Elder Quentin L. Cook asserted, “With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.”
Our leaders repeatedly emphasize the Church’s political neutrality: “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles.” (Oct. 6, 2020)
If principles compatible with the gospel can be found in various political parties, why do members feel threatened by differences of opinion?
We’re giving those differences too much power.
Look, church members might disagree on politics, but we share the same values. You love your family. You cuddle babies. You take dinners to your sick neighbor and rake lawns for the elderly. When an email goes around the ward looking for donations for the food bank, you don’t think about politics. You simply fill a bag and put it on your front porch.
Here’s the truth: while we share the same values; we prioritize them differently. And that’s a good thing. No one can do it all and we need people who feel strongly about varied issues. We need church members who protect religious freedom and the rights of the unborn; who collect surplus vegetables and care for immigrants.
My heart keeps returning to these words from Sharon Eubank, “The change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another.”
Not only do we become better people when we actively try to understand one another, we harness our collective power as followers of Christ to create positive change in the world.
Worshipping among people who believe differently is part of God’s plan for us as a people.
In my own ward, I benefit from the perspectives of people who prioritize different values. They help me recognize my blind spots and grow in my testimony of Christ.
I don’t want to find a congregation where everyone thinks exactly like me. God has lessons to teach me through my fellow Saints. Unity is messy and uncomfortable; we bump and bruise each other, but that refining process brings us closer to each other and closer to Christ. I’m here for it all.
- Remember how much you love people.
- Avoid any name calling condescension, scorn or making fun
- Take time to listen—ask people what they believe, rather than pointing a finger “racist” “baby killer” and telling them what they believe.
- Refrain from judgment. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37