Feeling Comfortable at Church

Stephen Marshbabies and bathwater, church, grace, Peace, plan of salvation, religion 17 Comments

Recently someone noted that the covetous feel comfortable at church. Indeed, neo-Calvinists tend to embrace the doctrine that you don’t need to choose between God and Mammon — if you worship God he will deliver Mammon. They tend to think Christ was just a little bit befuddled. They often embrace a “style of their own” and complain if they are not fully welcomed outside of special clusters of believers who understand that, perhaps, if she is wealthy enough a young women’s advisor should be expected to wear trendy clothing, perhaps with see-through shirts and no bra, usually baring her midriff and diamond stud.
But what about those who do not feel comfortable at Church?
I’ve known those who stayed away from the Church because they felt that the smell of tobacco they brought with them was not welcome enough. Indeed, there have been sermons on how we should embrace members with problems with the word of wisdom, helping them return to full faith and fellowship and helping them overcome, though I’ve known a number of members who felt that rather than helping them overcome the Church should just embrace coffee and tobacco, a little ice tea, a small amount of daily weed. In fact, some areas have had approaches that embraced all or portions of that list.
And we all know people who feel that the Church would be just fine if they would give up on home teaching and loving each other. Or just close all the Temples. Or just drop that claim to authority. Or that claim that Christ is the way, the truth and the light, that no man comes to the Father, but by him.
Every issue in the Church has the potential to be divisive. Christ noted that when he said that he was not come to send peace, but a sword, dividing people, families and groups over his doctrine. Not only is having any doctrine divisive, it is very easy to underestimate how divisive doctrinal changes can be. Especially in our Church, given how smoothly the change in extending the priesthood went.
I have dispute resolution as a kind of hobby, or I did (you can visit http://adrr.com/ to get a feel for what I used to do). A major part of the community is the Mennonite organization and those who practice healing congregations and Churches. Some of the best trained and experienced people, dealing with some of the most liberal churches they knew, engaged in more than a year of conciliation efforts on some issues that we discuss regularly on Mormon Matters. They were stunned at the lack of progress they made.
Not that people do not continue to try. Not that they do not continue to fail. In the Anglican Communion, for example (all of the various forms of the Church of England, a Catholic, though not Roman Catholic Church), they recently had a schism that took a majority out of the mainstream of the communion (so to speak. If a majority schisms, are they out of the “mainstream?”). Over forty million members are in the schism. Several other denominations have had similar experiences over gay issues.
We’ve had a pope express that the unusual pedophiles in the Roman Catholic Church are really just an expression of American clergy issues. (Most pedophiles target pre-teens of the opposite sex. Those who target same-sex 14+ year olds are extremely rare and a different pathology). That the statement occurred in the context of discussion AIDS spread in cloistered communities, the transfers of male priests with their life companions and the general acknowledged celibacy exception for homosexual priests in the United States Catholic priesthood is probably not a coincidence. Was he correct? I don’t believe in papal infallibility — and it would not apply to that sort of off the cuff remark anyway.
What is the proper resolution of gay issues in the Church? I don’t know.
I do know that like all of God’s other children, God loves gays, they should be welcome in the Church and that Christ is there to receive them home again as heirs of exaltation. I also know from complexity studies that it is more likely than not (by an r squared of around .75) that the solution we will see will not be one that anyone in the first round of discussion has proposed.
I think it is important to stay respectfully engaged. Very important. I also think it is important to remind people in the Church of the need others have to feel loved and hopeful and of how much pain they feel. That is why when John Dehlin asked if members here felt he should post http://mormonmatters.org/2008/08/14/the-lds-church-homosexuality-and-suicide/ I told him yes — it is important to pay attention to the need to bring all to Christ and to the Church and we need to be sensitive and engaged.
Do I think every issue can be abused? Of course.
But that does not mean that we should not stay engaged, even with the neo-Calvinists, who seem to be having a hard time fitting through that eye of the needle.
Just remember, with man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
I’ll get my post on understanding General Authorities done and up latter. I just thought this needed to be said.

Comments 17

  1. Christ noted that when he said that he was not come to send peace, but a sword, dividing people, families and groups over his doctrine.

    Who did Christ say this to, and when?

  2. Very interesting post, Stephen. You are right that any particular doctrine or standard has the potential to cause division. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I am not surprised that many religions outside Christianity lack any focus on doctrinal regularity – keeping everything strictly up to the individual within very general moral platitudes. It’s also why many denominations within Christianity are moving that way – to de-emphasize doctrine and focusing strictly on a “personal relationship” with Christ.

    Mormonism itself has struggled with how to balance acceptance of divine command to accept certain standards of action and how to allow grace to work when those actions cannot be performed. If there is one thing that causes real angst and division, it is this tension between grace and works – what we are allowed to let go and what we must continue to hold inviolable.

    Fwiw, I dream of some kind of comprehensive unity, but I don’t want the elimination of individuality. I actually have a post coming out on this on Tuesday, but it’s something with which I believe nearly all struggle to some degree or another.

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    Thanks for posting the link.

    Matt. 10: 34-39
    34 Think not that I am come to send apeace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
    35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
    36 And a man’s afoes shall be they of his own bhousehold.
    37 He that aloveth father or mother bmore than me is not worthy of me: and he that cloveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
    38 And he that taketh not his across, and followeth after me, is not bworthy of me.
    39 aHe that findeth his life shall blose it: and he that closeth his dlife for my sake shall find it.


    You make some good points.

  4. Thank you for the reference.

    I can see how this causes trouble for people who believe these to be the words of God. The scriptures really need a good editor, some of this stuff should be on the cutting room floor. (imo)

    It doesn’t seem to be inspiring or becoming. Maybe there’s some fear value but beyond that I don’t see it.

    Do passages like these add value to anyone’s lives?

  5. I think the Matthew text probably says more about the Matthew author and his community (Jewish Christians not greatly fond of the post-Temple era Pharisees nor of liberalized Gentile or Roman converts) than it does about Jesus, since we don’t have quite a parallel in the other Gospels. Not that the passage has no value — but there are obviously other ways to express the paramount ideal of loyalty and fidelity to God without characterizing Jesus as a family-destroying revolutionary. (Not that I think that’s what Stephen thinks of primarily of Jesus; mine is more a critique of the passage being the most complete answer for weighing the subject of divisions.)

    I think there are very few issues worth dividing over, but they can be valid reasons. When division happens it should be done with charity and fellowship despite Christendom’s poor track record in this regard. There are issues where we can debate and disagree over interpretation but should find ways for unity to prevail. And there are some issues that, as Paul said, are disputable matters (Romans 14). To elevate these to points of division and discord is to undermine Christian liberty and propagate legalism. I actually think there is a great deal of these latter issues that divide, when they really should not, yet do because they are frequently distinguishing characteristics, practices or preferences of holiness standards in differing faith cultures / communities.

    As an aside, while neither of the Calvinist nor Reformed traditions myself, I think the characterization of Neo-calvinists as materialistic, worldly and petty is uncharitable. Maybe I misread the intent tho…

  6. “I actually think there is a great deal of these latter issues that divide, when they really should not, yet do because they are frequently distinguishing characteristics, practices or preferences of holiness standards in differing faith cultures / communities.”

    I agree that distinguishing characteristics needn’t divide. The Word of Wisdom is a great example. Who cares if some believers drink and others don’t? As long as those who do either don’t go to the extreme of insisting the others follow suit – or as long as the drinkers (in this example) don’t get so drunk as to be obnoxious, there needn’t be clear division because of the “distinguishers”. Unfortunately, there are people who drink AND those who don’t who just can’t let the others worship “how they may” – and that truly is sad, since the subsequent division simply needs not be.

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    There are two strains of neo-Calvinism. The one follows the Calvinist doctrine that you can tell the elect because they have good fortune and that bad fortune is a sign that one is not of the elect. It is generally cast in terms of discerning the elect because they have inherent virtue that is manifest by possessing wealth.

    The other strain of neo-Calvinism happens to bring back a doctrinal set.

    I’m referring to the first strain. Just as members of the Calvinist communities hid bad fortune from each other, so those who subscribe to the rebirth hide lack of money from each other.

    If anyone has a way to distinguish the two strains of neo-Calvinism from each other, I’m more than open to a different set of terms.

    As for Christ, he was being clear that sometimes he created division. Think of what Paul did when his name was Saul. He divided families, tore people from their houses, etc. I’ve seen divisions caused merely because someone believed in Christ and others could not accept that.

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    I’d encourage you to read http://mormonmatters.org/2008/08/14/wealth-worthiness/ in the context of the young woman’s leader I mention above. She had money, so she felt that her manner of dress was more than acceptable and appropriate, because if she had money, she surely had virtue. If she had virtue, she was appropriate by definition.

    I’m frankly amazed at the permutations sometimes, though once you understand the logic, it becomes easy to understand.

  9. I am not sure if I am totally understanding this, but it seems to me that any organization that requires loyalty to a strict set of requirements is always going to have those who just want to know what they need to do, those that object to the rigidity and those that just do what they think is most important and not be bothered by the rest. Some folks don’t really exercise their agency very much and just “do what they are told.” Some give theirs a real workout. and most fall in between.

    Just like the old saying used to go in computing, “no one got fired for buying IBM.” In the LDS sense, no one will get any criticism for trying to do it all.

    One of the reasons modern Christian denominations have trouble retaining members is that they are willing to sacrifice doctrine for attendance.

  10. Yesterday in Sacrament meeting a returned missionary told the story of a young Russian convert who was disowned by his family for joining the church. My wife of 29 years divorced me when I returned to the church after a 35 year absence.

    Matthew 10:34-39 predicts this outcome and worse. It is a warning to the Apostles of what they will face as they spread the Gospel.

  11. Jeff said, “One of the reasons modern Christian denominations have trouble retaining members is that they are willing to sacrifice doctrine for attendance.”

    I think this can be true, but American religious data from the 08 Pew Forum study doesn’t bear that out. All Christian denominations including the Latter-day Saints are declining in market share percentages save a few segments such as non-denominational Christianity and charismatic christianity. You get some Prosperity Gospel types in the mix, but they are not the norm. Certainly the “megachurch” phenomena accounts for a good chunk of growth, as is the “Emerging Church” movement. These segments consider doctrine as very important, though not to fundamentalist levels. They have other values emphasized more. “Emerging” churches are often less “stuffy” and more casual and consensual atmospheres, emphasizing worship, celebration, evangelicalism, and some “bells and smells” aspects of liturgy — though not “high” liturgy by any means. Many are engaging postmodern culture head on, and while postmodern in the decentralized, non-authoritarian, counter-institutional, cultural community sense, they are, on the whole, strongly NOT postmodern in doctrine. Guiding paradigms that are favored and pursued are relational ministry, community outreach, content-richness, pursuit of discipleship. Charismatic churches are also generally quite doctrinally centered to the point that worship becomes very “works and manifestation of the Spirit” oriented. Charismatic churches often seem very intense for those in the mainstream.

    While prospering Christian church movements don’t all have the same structure, are not without faults, shortcomings or criticism, nor are they the only churches in Christendom doing positive things, they should give us pause to inquire why they are growing so strongly while Christendom in the total American market share mix is declining. Save a few very quickly growing segments, like I’ve mentioned, what is growing at a tremendous rate compared to the many Christian denominations in decline are those adults who consider themselves unaffiliated — yet 40% of whom still self-describe as religious. Those who firmly self describe as athiest or agnostic are about a quarter of the unaffiliated, and that percentage is not what is accounting for Unaffiliated growth. It is those who are institutionally alienated, but still self identify as “spiritual” or “religious”. And also those who are skeptical of the whole religious system, yet non-committal on questions like God’s existence.

    There is a more complex explanation to the general decline of Christianity than doctrine being sacrificed — though it may be a fair criticism at times. I think it is more a reflection of changing American culture fundamentally shaped by institutional skepticism and postmodern worldviews. 45% of adults change affiliations to something different than which they were raised. More and more are suspicious of dogmatic and divisionary approaches. More and more are suspicious of institutional religion while a huge percentage still consider belief in God, faith and scripture as foundational personal values. A huge chunk of adults are surprisingly open toward others and do not consider their faith the only way to heaven, even as about 50% of adults say they don’t want their church to “modernize”. Many adults want to appear very open and tolerant toward differing viewpoints than their own tradition while at the same time there is a strong personal, tradition-oriented, emotional counter pull defining the faith experience many individuals are seeking.

  12. My wife and I have felt increasingly uncomfortable at church the past two months. It is not unexpected because of we live in California with our gay son and we listen to weekly admonitions re: prop 8. An anti-prop 8 TV ad has been running the last few weeks. It references a woman unsuccessfully trying to marry her fiance. Various things at the wedding ceremony make it so the wedding does not happen. It closes with a comment something like “What if you could not marry the one you love?”

    With that, a sister in our ward stood up in gospel doctrine (the class I teach) during the weekly prop 8 request for action and talked about the “subtle, deceitful people” doing “that TV ad”. She added that “we need to remember what they are really all about.”

    The assigned topic for my wife’s Relief Society lesson this week is about ministering “to the one”. She has decided to talk about herself, as the mother of a gay LDS son during this prop 8 campaign, as “the one” in need of nurturing, not in need of hateful prejudice. 98% of the class does not our son is gay and that her sister (also in our ward) has a gay son.

    Anybody want to buy a ticket?

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  14. Amen. I hope it is received in the spirit in which it is given. It generally is much easier to understand when “the others” suddenly are understood to include “ward family members” whom you love and respect – when “those people” becomes “us”.

  15. Pingback: Points of Interest #27 « Mind, Soul, and Body

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