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How To Be a Latter-Day Saint

By Lisa Meadows Garfield

There seems to be some uncharacteristic upheaval in the church lately, similar perhaps to some of those periods of strife in the Nephite church. It makes me wonder, as I and many others feel batted about by conflicts between conscience and conformity, compassion and consensus, what we’ll be facing in the near future as a body of saints. There seems to be a sharpening divide between “liberal” and “conservative” members, and for moderates like me, that can be highly disconcerting. The danger, of course, is in taking a stand on either “side” and declaring it the “righteous” side. Anyone can find scriptural or modern prophetic quotes to bolster their position. Even prophets say weird things sometimes, sometimes even “in the name of the Lord”. Years later, we read it, and say “Huh?”  Or if it’s helpful to our cause, “See?”

I have no ken for politics, I do not keep up on the bloggernacle or read the Ensign, and I’m not currently involved in church councils. All I’ve got is my own gut, my own spiritual practices, a few close friends, and church hallway gossip. And I’m worried. I’m alarmed at the number of strong saints leaving the church, many of them close friends and family. These are people with deep convictions and real relationships with God. I honor and trust their spiritual acumen, so when they jump ship — or more alarmingly, are pushed overboard — I get upset.

Based on my own deep convictions and powerful personal revelation, I’ve decided to stay in the church. (Read about that here: https://segullah.org/daily-special/stay-in-the-church/) But that makes me all the more anxious to help make the church I love the Zion it is meant to be. I know I am not alone in this divine desire. But the critical questions seem to be: how can I be a true saint in this era of divisiveness and rubbed-raw feelings? How can I be obedient to the counsel of church leaders when it conflicts with my conscience? Whom do I believe? What does an “approved by the Lord” Latter-Day Saint look like?

I actually enjoy engaging these necessary questions daily. For example, does God care if you (as a female) wear pants to the temple? No. It’s even in the temple rules. But have you? Would you? Would you be self-conscious? Would you judge another sister you saw arriving in pants? How about jeans? How about dirty, torn jeans?

Does God care if you think differently about a gospel topic than your Sunday School teacher? Or does He just care that you think? Do you speak up in charitable disagreement? Should you? Should you not?

My friend, Jan, rides a motorcycle. She’s also my Stake President’s wife. When a General Authority stayed at their house during an ecclesiastical visit, she felt obliged to ask him if that was OK. Not the motorcycle. The motorcycle + female + church position. Should she feel obliged to ask?

I am hopeful that this current fiery trial in the church will burn away the pettiness, the unchristian judging, the over-reliance on tradition and human authority that so pervades our church culture, at least in the First World. I’m hoping those recent lessons on Unity will help. I love the “I Am a Mormon” campaign, because it highlights for members and nonmembers alike the fact that there is no one right way to be a Latter-Day Saint. The one right way is YOUR right way. Now I know some commenter will say, “There’s only one right way” and if we’re talking about the Savior, yes indeed. But no matter what color your hair or your skin, no matter your sex or sexual preference, no matter if you’re single or unsingle, fat or thin, wealthy or poor, or anywhere in between — this is a church for all God’s children. Of course, He (and She) gave commandments to obey, leaders to guide, and fellow saints to support. All for our sake. My rallying cry is to fix our eyes on the Savior, listen like crazy for the sound of His voice, and love one another. That’s all.

About Lisa Meadows Garfield

Lisa Meadows Garfield is an award-winning poet and author of “For Love of a Child: Stories of Adoption.“ An avid traveler, she is generally away from her homebase in Vancouver, Washington 9 months of the year, exploring the wide, wonderful world. Mother of 6 and Nonnie to 11, Lisa loves sunshine, words, good friends, and especially, Jesus.

10 thoughts on “How To Be a Latter-Day Saint”

  1. So much to think about in this post, Lisa. I've noticed that people who have a secure testimony don't judge others. It's our insecurity, our fear of not measuring up, that leads us to find fault with our fellow saints.

  2. I'm a Gospel Doctrine teacher. I'm terrified most of the time I teach. I'm socially awkward. My parents attend a very small ward in a rural town with farmers as Sunday School teachers. Is it horrible of me to ask that for our sakes – those of us less capable of handling the controversy in actual lesson settings where we feel so uncomfortable anyway – that those controversial questions be VERY charitable, and rare? We already feel the tremendous weight of responsibility to teach doctrine and invite the spirit. I dread those questions in such a setting when I'm the one up there taking the brunt of it.
    Otherwise, I very much appreciate your invitation to judge less, interact with more love. It's vital.

  3. Your advice is something that I can agree with. So many people seem to be reacting out of hurt feelings. They have friends or family that are affected by this policy or that policy. However, I trust greatly that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. I also believe that He has chosen wise and good men to lead it.

    I also know, via LDS theology, through revelation given to those prophets, that no one will be held back from the Celestial Kingdom if they do not receive all of the proper ordinances through no fault of their own.

    Everyone is claiming a "revelation" in this case (and others which have been disagreed with. Stay with the church and we will know the right of it in the end. Leave the church, and we will still learn the right of it in the end.

  4. I really, really appreciated this post. Church is a very painful place for me right now, and I often feel what you alluded to: that those with more "progressive" views are leaving, and the people left at church are more and more… rigidly defensive (for lack of a better term) of church doctrines (real and perceived). I'm not comfortable in either camp, but I feel like my middle ground is becoming non-existent.

  5. Holley, thank you for a well-deserved and charitable criticism. You are so right. And so brave — I've never had that calling and I'd be terrified, too, and for the same reasons. I guess the question is: where CAN we talk about these hard questions? I don't think the internet should be the only or even the primary discussion forum. Nor the church hallways, which is where it's happening because people are afraid to speak up in class, usually for fear of judgment. We need to bring this discussion into our classrooms, but with SO much tender and mature Christian love and respect. Maybe I'm being too idealistic. (One idea for you: if something like this comes up in class, be quiet and let the class members talk. Then hopefully, all you have to do is say "thank you for your comments" or in the worst case, "let's remember we are sisters and brothers and be kind.") Much love and respect to you.

  6. Rozy, it's not a statement or a rebellion or anything. It's just not on my radar. I do spend a lot of time on lds.org, so I pick up some of it. The Ensign is certainly worthwhile if it furthers your spiritual growth. For me, for now, I find my time is better spent with the scriptures and other writings. I think it's important to do what works for you in the particularly season of your own life. That is, we always need to be checking in with our own spirit to see if we are growing, feeling stretched, feeling faithful, pushing the envelope, staying pure. It's a constant process of adjustment, based on our own spiritual "evaluation." Other than the constant Shoulds of daily scripture study and prayer, the rest is personal choice, IMO.

  7. I hear you, Elle. May I suggest you talk to God about this nonstop until you find your own holy middle ground? It may be just a small atoll in the middle of a sea of confusion, but God is very mindful of the isles of the sea. I do know He will lead each one of us safely through, if we seek and obey His voice. I really do know that.
    You can share my atoll if you want. Love and light to you.

  8. Lisa – Such good suggestions – thank you. My co-teacher is actually incredibly gifted, able and willing to open those doors, so conversations do happen. Maybe I'll refer the stumper questions to him :). It's been interesting to have a number of people come up to me after a lesson, or in casual visiting teaching settings, to talk about their friends or family members who are hurting and questioning. Those interactions are much more comfortable, intimate, productive, much more satisfying to my mind and heart.


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