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Making Room at the Table

By Rosalyn Eves

In the last week or so I’ve witnessed two friends’ vastly different experiences with acceptance from other members of the LDS church. One, who sometimes posts about controversial topics on social media, was told by someone who does not know her personally, that she ought to simply leave: the church would be better off without her. The other attends sacrament meeting with a same-sex partner and wrote of being welcomed by the ward and uplifted by Sunday meetings and worship services. It seems clear to me which response is motivated by love.

On some level, I understand the instinct to push away things that threaten us. Certainly, I’ve found my own faith shaken after confronting ideas that radically conflicted with my beliefs, and I understand the fear of negative influences on me and my children.

But I also know that at a low point in my own life (in the MTC, ironically enough), when I held my doubts to myself because I was afraid of poisoning my companion, I nearly lost myself. It took an inspired sister to bolster my faith and remind me that we are weaker when we are alone. I’m forever grateful that she didn’t see my doubts as a threat, but as a call for help.

I like to think there’s room at the gospel table for everyone—especially those who are seeking a place.

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In a recent conference talk, Elder Uchtdorf movingly said,

“Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. . . . The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven’t mastered them yet.”

Similarly, Nephi wrote that the Savior extends an open invitation to everyone: “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 26: 33)

Does this mean I think we need to adopt a gospel of open acceptance for all behavior? No. But having standards is not the same thing as acting as a gatekeeper. As a wise stake president once pointed out, if all of our sins and misdeeds were as obvious as the person showing up to church smelling of cigarette smoke, very few of us would come to church at all.

So how then do we make room for those with different opinions, political beliefs, approaches to callings—even divergent religious beliefs or lifestyle choices?

I love this advice from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”

Focusing on the good others bring to the table goes a long way, I think.

I used to subscribe to the idea of love the sinner, hate the sin. But I’m increasingly troubled by that idea, not only because I struggle to separate the action from the person, but because it turns my focus to what I think they are doing wrong (usually from an incomplete perspective).

All I know is: I’m not called to judge. (Someone else’s worthiness is between them and God—and maybe their bishop). But I have been commanded to love.

Yesterday, I read this lovely meditation on faith. The author, Cort McMurray, writes: “Faith is a little like potato salad, or Thanksgiving dressing: everyone has a favorite recipe; everyone is convinced that their recipe is the only way to do it properly; and everyone is horrified by the absolute mess everybody else makes of it. . . . Faith is not threatened by other recipes. Faith understands that you can’t force feed your spiritual experiences to others, and they can’t force feed you: real faith, lasting faith, isn’t threatened by differing voices. Real faith is respectful. Real faith is tolerant. And real faith is unafraid to embrace all that brings light and truth and love to a tired and careworn world.”

I hope all of us can have this kind of faith—a faith that welcomes, rather than turns away.

Mostly, I suppose there is a part of me that recognizes my own fragility and hopes, if I falter, there will be someone who says to me, “You are still welcome here.”

In what ways have people made you feel welcome at church? How can we better reach out in fellowship to others?

About Rosalyn Eves

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework. Her first novel comes out Spring 2017 from Knopf.

15 thoughts on “Making Room at the Table”

  1. I don't know. I have a 17 year old daughter who does not believe the church is true. She is open about it to us and teachers and leaders and we talk about it. However, she is so kind and respectful about our beliefs that besides having "the talk" with her younger siblings, she doesn't do anything to undermine their belief. She is so respectful of how we are trying to raise them. She is also so respectful of the other teenagers in the ward. She occasionally leaves a class in order to be respectful. She manages to be completely engaged in lessons and have discussions that her teachers appreciate…her teachers love her and her genuine thoughts and feelings, and what she contributes.
    I think because SHE comes from a place of love and respect for everyone around her. Maybe she is that way because I have loved her and respected her. Does it only work if it is mutual?

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  2. I thought this was great Rosalyn–and goes along really well with Elder Rasband's BYU devotional from last week where he talked about fairness for everyone. We cannot expect others to treat us with fairness and respect if we do not treat them that way in return. I especially liked the examples he cited from Jesus' conduct. The text of the devotional isn't online yet, but there is a summary and link to the video here:

    http://news.byu.edu/archive15-sep-rasbanddevotional.aspx

    When I was struggling with how to respond to some family members who were making choices I didn't agree with, a wise bishop once counseled me to remember that sometimes the best testimony we can bear is our Christ-like example of love, patience, and forgiveness. I try to remember that when I interact with others.

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  3. I think it works better if it's mutual respectful behavior. I struggle dealing with people who seem to need to take their gripes with the church public and have negative attitudes towards both the church and members.

    I think it's wonderful that although your daughter has doubts that she isn't trying to pull others away, and is having a positive impact and experience with others. And how wonderful that her leaders are respecting her as well.

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  4. I am a firm believer in "loving the sinner" (which, of course means loving myself) the article linked in the original post really rubbed me the wrong way (maybe this comment should be made there, not here).

    Some people are looking for a condoning of sin from the church, they essentially want their actions to be accepted as not sin. And that is just never going to happen. Sin does not bring happiness, and it would be contrary to the plan of happiness to condone it. And I hope it goes without saying that lust is not the kind of happiness I am referring to. We all have natural-man/woman tendencies that we are striving to overcome.

    Condoning and respecting agency, on the other hand, I am all for that.
    I am even (gasp) pro-choice.

    I have agency to follow the prophet and believe what I understand to be sin. I feel no conflict in being able to love the sinner but hate the sin. Sins are sins, we all have them. Pretending we (or others) don't have them doesn't solve anything. Loving ourselves and each other regardless of our sins solves a lot.

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  5. Emily, thanks for sharing. I agree–sins are sins. For me, though, if I focus too much on someone's perceived sins, it usually means I'm missing the person. Others can probably make that distinction better.

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  6. Rosalyn, thanks for your comment on mine. I also agree with you, focusing on the sin (or focusing on identifying someone else's sins) does not do any good, only harm. I have found great success and healing when my focus and intention is love, and only love. I think we are in agreement here. And I appreciate you being tolerant and loving towards me!

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  7. This reminds me of Sister Wixom's talk from last conference. I loved it so much. About a young mother struggling with her faith.

    I particularly loved this: "Ward members did not hesitate to give love, and she felt included. Her ward was not a place to put on a perfect face; it was a place of nurture." And this. As she decided to accept a calling and serve: "As she served, she continued to feel from those around her the invitation 'Come; we want you, whatever stage you are at, and we will meet you there. Give us whatever you have to offer.'"

    They did not hesitate to give love. That was the key. Excellent piece Rosalyn. Thank you!

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  8. I've done some research on the origin of the catch phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" and discovered that it is just that, a catch phrase, not scripture, and I can certainly see how inflammatory it would be to say/hear these words out loud.

    I agree that even as an idea, it is problematic, invites judgement.

    I do think of myself as a sinner, I mean, I am. And accepting my frailty has helped me mentally get out of the perfectionist trap, realizing that I don't and can't 'earn' redemption on my own, only through Christ. It speeds up my lag time moving towards repentance.

    A few months ago I was asked to sing at a funeral, asked specifically to sing "softly and tenderly Jesus is calling" the oft repeated phrase of the song is: "calling, oh sinner, come home". At first I was annoyed, why call us all sinners over and over again? (This song was recently performed by the MoTab Choir at Elder Packer's funeral). But in the song, Jesus is the one calling us sinners home, we are not calling each other sinners and then telling each other to go to Jesus.

    So I feel I have come full circle, Rosalyn. And I appreciate greatly the chance you gave me here to comment and reflect, and comment again…. and now again!

    Unconditional love is a more powerful concept, and one you expressed very well in your post. Thanks, again.

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  9. Emily, I really love this. I think you've articulated this better than I did! It's not that I think we should embrace sin–but if we're going to hate it, we should hate *our own* sins, rather than those of other people.

    And thank you for coming back to share your evolving thoughts.

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