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.
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.”