No More Strangers

KC Kern Mormon 8 Comments

The church in California is initiating a Young Single Adult conference of unprecedented proportions. On August 7th and 8th, all of the YSA’s in the state will gather by temple district for 2 days of doctrinal workshops, sports activities, a humanitarian project, a variety show, dancing, and a special sacrament meeting . As part of this conference, some state-wide goals have been defined. Among these goals is a massive search-and-rescue effort to reach out to less active, inactive, and non-member single adults. The theme of the conference is derived from Ephesians 2:19: “No More Strangers.” (See the YouTube Promotional Video)

A website (http://californiaysa.org/) has been set up to coordinate the efforts of this conference. An entire section is dedicated to providing resource for those wishing to reach out, and includes scriptures, conference talks and other resources (link) My current ward (San Francisco YSA) has been actively participating in the pre-conference activities and initiatives, and the Ward Mission Committee is spearheading the outreach efforts. I have found myself in certain positions in which I have been able to reach out to some less-active individuals and others who easily could have slipped through the cracks unnoticed.

We have already begun to see some fruits of these outreach efforts. Each Sunday it seems like some new faces sprout up, often announcing that they are returning to Church participation after some time of inactivity. These people are greeted with warm smiles and encouraging words, and a collective sense of progress and unity is felt.

Lost Sheep

The principle of reaching out to the lost sheep and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment seems to be increasingly emphasized by the Church leadership. In Elder Wirthlin’s second to last General Conference address, he gave a sermon entitled “Concern for the One,” in which he said:

“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

The examples that are usually given about those who feel excluded because being different often involve people with disabilities or handicaps, language or cultural barriers, difficult economic circumstances, or other spiritually benign issues. Members are encouraged to look past such issues, and see these people as children of our Heavenly Father, and fellow citizens in the household of God.

But what of those whose issues or differences are of a more spiritually compromising nature?

Welcoming the Sinners

Among those who are newly returning to the ward are some whose appearance, grooming, language, or comments make it clear that their opinions, views, behavior or lifestyles are not in accordance with certain teachings of the church. Elder Wirthlin pointed out that those in these circumstances often find their way out of the church:

“Some, after making mistakes, stray from the fold. This is unfortunate. Do you not know that the Church is a place for imperfect people to gather together—even with all their mortal frailties—and become better? Every Sunday in every meetinghouse throughout the world, we find mortal, imperfect men, women, and children who meet together in brotherhood and charity, striving to become better people, to learn of the Spirit, and to lend encouragement and support to others. I am not aware of any sign on the door of our meetinghouses that reads ‘Restricted Entrance—Perfect People Only.'”

He makes a very clear case that even sinners—especially sinners—have a place in the Church and are welcome to come partake of the goodness of God with the Saints. An interesting dynamic is emerging in the ward in that the “core” members are making efforts to bring one and all back into the church, but are at the same time at a loss of how to react or interact with those who’s spiritual struggles are more outwardly apparent.

I am very interested to see how things will play out. One of the realities of reactivating members is that old habits or lifestyle elements don’t evaporate the instant that they start attending meetings again. I expect the ward the continue to grow more colorful, and to me, at least, that is a good thing. I try to make a point to have church be an environment where people can work through their spiritual issues without feeling that they are being judged or pressured to leave.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”

King Benjamin reminded even the most righteous members:

I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (Mosiah 2:21)

Acknowledging our own frailties and our dependence upon Christ and our need for redemption is crucial to developing the attitude that will enable us to become effective keepers of our brothers.  While no member that I know of makes the claim of perfection, I sometimes hear references to avoiding “big sins” versus “little sins,” and there being some sort of spectrum in between. (The idea of sin valuation is an issue worthy of its own post…)

It’s easy to identify extremes on this spectrum, with a little sin like exaggerating a good story on the ‘mild’ end, and premeditated serial mass murder on the more heinous end. But implicit within this ranking of sins is the threshold that determines if one is “good enough” or “bad enough” to merit some blessing or consequence. The subconscious judgement—even self-judgement—that sometimes occurs in church is related to the placement of this threshold. To a point, it is invevitable human nature to make these kinds of judgements, even when it is not malicious. But I believe there is great value in learning how to see beyond that, and consider people for how much they are valued in the eye of God. Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate Judge, commanded:

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”

No More Strangers

I don’t have the solutions to all the world’s ills, and I can’t force anyone to live a life that they don’t choose. But I do know the charge and the responsibility that has been given to me, especially in terms of reaching out to those who are in particular need of the Savior’s loving, healing touch. I look forward to this conference, and have high hopes for the effect it will have on the landscape of the Church. I truly hope that we can foster an inclusive attitude, and extend the offer to any and all who will receive it, to be “no more strangers,” but “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

Comments

comments

Comments 8

  1. I think this is interesting. I think more of this teaching should be emphasized in the church, to welcome everyone and not judge others unrighteously, since we all have our own things to deal with.

    I think the problem is inherent in the teachings of the church, however. We are asked to shed our “natural” self and become more like Christ. Doesn’t that mean everyone needs to do that? If I’m doing that, you should do that. If I have to wear a white shirt, I should ask you to wear a white shirt too. If I view you as a lost sheep, doesn’t that mean I think I’m right (in the fold) and you’re wrong (lost) so I better go out and save you from yourself?

    The thing that needs to be taught and absorbed by members is that others are no more lost than we are without Christ. So let’s all get together and worship and you bring all your goods and bads and teach me, not come and shed your bads so you can be more like me. I just think it is difficult if you are active in the church to not feel others are “wrong”. And that mentality is a barrier to sincerely loving others.

  2. re 1:

    The problem I see is…what is necessary to a Christlike life of wearing a white shirt? If the church is pushing people away simply because they wear colored shirts, that’s sad. That’s kinda pathetic on the members’ parts. The rest of the message you have isn’t too disagreeable in intention.

    to the article in general:

    I think we need to distinguish a difference in the types of less actives or inactive members. For example, it may be true that there are inactives that can/should be reached because of alienation due to some rogue and petty part of church culture (like looking or speaking differently)…but how are we going to reach those who left or who stopped going because of more central reasons (disagreement and displeasure with doctrine). While we can easily be more flexible on “white shirt issues” (because these are not central), other issues are non-negotiable.

  3. Just to clarify, the white shirt thing was thrown in as an example of how some leaders in the church are honestly striving to teach respect to God, and ask their congregations to conform out of respect, IMO, in hopes the symbolism translates to true respect in people’s hearts and minds. But I have never been a fan of that whole thing.

    I remember my dad allowing a 16 year old to bless the sacrament with pink-dyed hair. Several members were outraged, but my dad really felt it was important to that individual who was rebelling to know he was cared about as a person, and was wanted in the group. That young man later grew and matured, served and mission and was married in the temple, and became a Branch President. Not all because of my dad, but a lot of it was, and it was important at a critical time in his life he wasn’t shunned from the church.

    I think there are few central “non-negotiable” issues to draw a line in the sand. Even if people aren’t worthy to enter the temple as judged by a judge in Israel, they should still be welcome in the sunday worship services…in fact, that is exactly where they need to be.

  4. It’s pretty clear that there are some sins that are accepted in the church, and some that are not.
    Adultery: Ostracized (generally)
    Drinking: Ostracized (if you’re caught)
    Smoking: Ostracized (since we can smell you)
    Mocking people from the pulpit: Okay, if you happen to be the “beloved SP”
    Demanding people tell you why they don’t want to come to church picnic: Okay, because no one else will be activities chair.
    Generally being a bully: Okay for a teenager, if the parents are either “good people” or we desperately want to keep them in the church.

    It can be hard to stomach, as a missionary, hearing lectures about how “God cannot look upon sin with least degree of allowance” from a man who yells at you and calls you worthless because you aren’t baptizing.

    Too often, the causes of inactivity are believed to be minor and trivial. I’ve known active mormons who have moved out of stakes because they can’t tolerate the behavior of the SP. When the housing market isn’t so good, what’s the alternative? When the other teens make it clear than your children aren’t welcome, what can you do? Especially when the bishop just wants to avoid problems, and not actually fix them.

    It may sound like a have grudges, but I’m sure I have no more than most. I’ve just been in the church my whole life, and I’ve seen people come and go, and claiming that they have minor or trivial reasons for doing so is just insulting and judgmental. Such an attitude towards our spirit brothers and sisters is contemptible. Sadly, that kind of attitude is one of those sins that the church members tolerate all too easily.

  5. I have worked hard to repent from the major sins in my life after 20 years of inactivity (I still have the smelly problem which I am working on) – I know I am not a jack Mormon, just one who is still working to be better. Anyway, I decided a long time ago that I refuse to let some jackball, who doesn’t even really know me or what’s in my heart, keep me out of the Church and the Kingdom because I am offended by what they say or do! I don’t have to answer to them! Carry On!!

  6. Although I agree that some issues are non-negotiable I am not sure this means that no effort should be made to fellowship or love those who have those disagreements. It seems like your distinction suggests that some people we reach out to in the hopes of bringing them back, others we reach out to because we love them. Maybe reaching to bring people back is bad as it is, because there is another agenda. Perhaps the emphasis should always be just believing that people everywhere need help and that we can help them, even if it is not to do with the Church.

    In the ward I go to the sin thing is not a problem, in that we ignore everyone that comes in; smartly dressed or wasted. But on Sunday a girl came to Church for the first time in a long time who was 8 1/2 months pregnant and not married (shock! horror!). However, it was so weird to see everyone run round this girl and show her kindness. So it got me thinking that maybe awkwardness stops people, or causes Mormons to be unfriendly or say stupid unthoughtful things. The bump was an easy talking point, and talk they did.

  7. KC, I loved that talk; it literally is my current “favorite of all time”.

    I also like what you have said in this post. All issues of practical implementation and cultural issues aside, what you wrote here is important and needs to be internalized. All of the issues that cloud the central point would evaporate, imo, if we really, truly, deeply loved one another. Not everyone would return, but the issues themselves would disappear.

  8. Hmm. Thinking about the SL Valley singles ward bishopric member who asked an elder not to attend its meetings, but to go elsewhere. The elder is socially clueless, and the bishopric decided that he wasn’t the marriageable material sought by the ward. Some reach out for the one; others look out for the 90 and 9.

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