On Staying and Going: A Few Brief, Random Thoughts

This is going to be a fairly short blog post, but its subject has been on my mind for a while and I felt I needed to jot this down (and I apologize in advance for how unpolished this is).

I’ve been thinking a lot about people leaving the Church. I have several friends leave for one reason or another over the years, and I’ve been asked (many times by myself) why I stay. Why I don’t leave because of X, Y, or Z. And this is what I can come up with:

I stay because this is home. Because it is what I know and it is where my family is. I stay because of one single word: hope. Hope for a better world, hope for salvation and exaltation, hope for eternity with my family, hope for resurrection’s miracle, hope to return to a place where I once lived. I stay because it is here where I have learned that life has meaning and purpose and I truly have a place in the universe and what I do extraordinarily matters. I stay because I have experienced things, very personal and very real things that I can never deny that tell me that God has not ceased to speak to mankind, that He hears and answers prayers such as one uttered by a boy in a New York wood, that miracles and prophesies have not ceased, that I am a child of a real and personal God who loves me, that I have a Savior who loved me and saved me long before I ever knew or loved Him. I stay because what I know and believe and understand infinitely outweighs what I don’t. I stay because here I have found the “words of eternal life” and “to whom [else could] I go?”

Now, this is something very personal to me, so I don’t look down on anyone for not feeling the same or for not having experienced the same. And if you are reading this and you have chosen to leave the Church or are about to, I ask only one thing: if at all possible, please don’t leave for the sake of leaving. If you leave, go towards something. Don’t do something to avoid a negative; do something to embrace a positive. I fully believe that it is here where you will get the maximum positive. But if you leave, please be headed somewhere good instead of leaving something you perceive as bad.

And know that no matter what, you are my friend and that will not ever change. You can count on my friendship always and I will never make it contingent on your faith or lack thereof.

Advertisements

Rough Stones Rolling: Changing How We View Prophets

A few weeks ago I finished reading “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” by Richard Lyman Bushman. It was an excellent, albeit dense, read and my testimony of the mission and calling of Joseph Smith as the Prophet of the Restoration has been deepened and strengthened. But, another byproduct of reading it, along with the new gospel topic sections on lds.org, is a continued nuancing and change of perspective I have on prophets, both latter-day and ancient. You see, Rough Stone Rolling presents Joseph Smith in his entirety, warts and all. And seeing him in a more complete and human sense has led me to think about how we as a people view prophets and how perhaps we should re-evaluate things, perhaps at least culturally.

I think we as Mormons fall into a problem that I like to put, tongue in cheek, this way: Mormons and Catholics have the opposite problem. Catholic doctrine says the Pope is infallible, but no Catholic believes that; Mormon doctrine is that the Prophet is not infallible, but no Mormon believes that. You see, I think the view we have (at least I had) of prophets growing up is that they were nearly flawless paragons of all that is good and that they could in no way err in how they carry out their calling. But this perspective is both doctrinally wrong and dangerous.

First off, to say that a prophet is infallible is to place upon him a standard for his office that does not exist. I highly doubt there is a bishop or relief society president or stake president who would say they did everything perfectly in their calling; that is an impossible task for anyone, no matter where we are serving in the Church. To put that standard on the Prophet would not be fair to him; no one should be forced to live and serve in such a way. President Uchtdorf acknowledged the incorrectness of the idea that Church leaders, including the Prophet, are infallible and execute their callings perfectly:

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

 

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

Elder B.H. Roberts also confirmed this: ““[The Prophet] claimed for himself no special sanctity, no faultless life, no perfection of character, no inerrancy for every word spoken by him. . . To claim perfection for him, or even unusual sanctity, would be to repudiate the revelations themselves which supply the evidence of his imperfections.” Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 360.

We should hold our Prophets to high standards; we simply shouldn’t place such impossible requirements upon them.

Another problem with thinking that the Prophet is infallible is that it essentially turns him into a perfect being in our minds. We set him up to be something no one except Christ has been or can be. This, in a way, would put a limit on his agency as he would no longer be allowed to mess up, repent, and grow the way the rest of us do and how mortality is to be experienced. And this can be dangerous because when someone who has this view learns of the imperfections of a prophet, it can be earth shattering. Testimonies can be lost and people leave the Church because reality does not conform with what they believe it should be. I mean, let’s look at what we know about prophets and apostles, both ancient and latter-day: Moses killed a man and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land; Noah got drunk, stripped off his clothes, and then passed out; Peter denied Christ; Paul apparently consented to the killing of Stephen; Joseph Smith married a 14-year old; Brigham Young instituted a policy that denied many people the full blessings of the priesthood on grounds that do not appear to be from God. These are men of God but just that: men. Imperfect, mortal, biased, of-their-times men. We must let them be just that; to do otherwise is to simply set ourselves and them up for failure.

Now, I am sure some of those reading this are probably yelling President Woodruff’s oft-quoted statement about the Prophet not being allowed to lead the Church astray. I am not denying that and I don’t think anything I’ve written does. I do think we need rethink what he meant by that.

Let’s look in the scriptures. When has the Lord intervened to put a stop to the actions of someone? Two examples come immediately to mind for me: Paul on the road to Damascus and Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah. While they were not prophets and apostles when the Lord intervened, I think it is still instructive: the Lord will not allow His servants to lead people away in such a way as to jeopardize their salvation. This does not mean mistakes cannot be made, that everything a prophet says or does is divinely inspired, or that he is infallible. What it means is that there is an upper-control limit to where the Lord allows the imperfections of His servants to go: they cannot and will not be allowed to put the salvation of people in jeopardy. For example, during the entire time period of the priesthood ban, everyone could still be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; that was never denied anyone. So, while it can be argued that the priesthood ban was not inspired, it does not mean that the prophets from Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball were leading the Church astray. I personally believe that Brigham Young was a brilliant man, an inspired leader, and a wonderful prophet through whom the Lord revealed and taught many important and glorious truths. I also believe that he was a man of his time, with his own biases and attributes that reflected the thinking of the mid-19th century. That doesn’t make him less of a prophet or a fallen prophet or whatever; it simply makes him what he really was: a mortal human like you or me who was called to an important calling. And at no point do I believe he lead the Church astray, at least not how I understand what that means.

So, what are we to do? If the prophet is not infallible, how are we to know what is inspired and what is not? Well, here Brother Brigham has taught us the way: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” President J. Rueben Clark also taught this: “We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” Church News, July 31, 1954.

We have been given the Holy Ghost to guide us and help us understand truth. If we want to know if what the prophet is saying or teaching is of God, we can simply ask God and learn of the truth of the matter through the inspiration of the Spirit. We cannot simply shut off our minds or our hearts and abdicate to our leaders our agency on the false belief that they are infallible; to do so would, in my opinion, frustrate the basic purposes of our mortal probation and ultimately lead to our own spiritual destruction.

So let us love and support the prophet and treat him with the respect and dignity he deserves; let us also treat him for who is: another one of God’s children trying his hardest to make it home and serve Heavenly Father to the best of his imperfect, mortal capacities. Let us follow Gods teachings as they come to us through prophet as they are confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost and know that they, while imperfect and not infallible, are simply trying to their best as they too, like us, “see through a glass, darkly” here in mortality.

Rethinking Our Baptismal Covenants: Mourning with Those Who Mourn

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of mourning. I don’t know why, but it has been on my mind. Part of what we believe to be a part of our baptismal covenants involves mourning. We read in Mosiah 18:9 “Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.”

I feel like we as Latter-day Saints skip over that first part and jump straight to everything else. As such, I think we as a people are really bad at mourning and mourning with those that mourn. When we ourselves go through a loss, we try to put on a happy face, remind people about the gift and hope that comes from temple sealings, and try to will ourselves out of sadness. When we see someone who has experienced a loss and is sad, we feel an almost compulsive need to shove the Plan of Salvation and temples down their throats to force them to stop being so sad and be happy.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we abide sadness, whether it be our own or someone else’s? It feels like we get the scripture wrong and try to “comfort those who mourn” instead of mourn with those who mourn.

I think our problem is that the Plan of Salvation is sometimes called the “Plan of Happiness” and we thus think that our purpose in life is to always be happy because we have the Restored Gospel. I think we sometimes see happiness as some sort of external expression of our righteousness and strength of testimony. I also think that, in turn, our own inadequacies and personal doubts cause us to shun sadness (both in ourselves or others) out of a fear that sadness reflects a lack of righteousness or a weak testimony. And I think we err in acting this way.

(Before I go on, I feel a need to make sure everyone knows that I have a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, am eternally grateful for temples and the ordinances performed in them, and find happiness in the Restored Gospel. So before you type any responses calling into doubt my testimony or lack of understanding the Gospel, calm down and try to understand what I am saying.)

Our purpose in life is to have joy, not to be happy. Happiness and joy are not the same. After all, Christ was perfect in all things, so I can imagined He “rejoice[d] evermore” even though there were certainly moments when He mourned. Lehi tells us that we are “that [we] might have joy,” not that we might have happiness. I believe joy is something altogether more profound than happiness. Happiness is some fleeting, superficial feeling that comes and goes and depends more or less on our own whims and fancies. Joy is deeper and stronger. It is interwoven with our hope for salvation. “Joy means when you have lived such a life that you are ready to enter into the presence of the Lord.” If we were less concerned with being happy and more concerned with joy, I believe that we could more easily allow ourselves to mourn and mourn with those who mourn.

And we need to develop this ability because life is haaaaarrrrrrrd. When I was at BYU, I was fortunate enough to take a New Testament class from Stephen E. Robinson. Ever the colorful character, I recall once in class he went off on a tangent and said (and I am only slightly paraphrasing), “For crying out loud people, life’s a (bad word)! Let people cry every now and then before you try to remind them to have an eternal perspective or whatever it is we Mormons do!” President Hinckley said it a little more eloquently:

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

By being willing to mourn and be sad, we can actually live life. If we become acquainted with grief, through our own sadness or the sadness of our brothers and sisters, then can we truly comprehend and genuinely appreciate the good life has to offer (See 2 Nephi 2:15-25). If we are unwilling to allow ourselves or others to mourn, we are not only failing to live our covenants, we are shortchanging our mortal experience and limiting the impact that the positive moments of life can have on us.

So, with that in mind, what do we do? How do live our covenants and mourn with those who mourn? And how do we ourselves mourn? I think this is best illustrated by a story from my mission (because, after all, every spiritually amazing thing happened on someone’s mission):

When I entered the MTC, my maternal grandmother was very ill. We all knew she did not have much longer to live. For me, my grandmother was incredibly important because I did and still do not have much of a relationship with most of my extended family. Being an Army brat whose father was an Air Force brat means lots of moving and lots of family scattered all over the globe. But the one person we always seemed to see at least once or twice a year was my grandma. She was one of the most wonderful people who has ever graced this earth and I always felt very close to her. I always felt her love for me and, because I had pretty much no other strong connections to the rest of my extended family, she was incredibly special to me. I saw her the Christmas right before I left on my mission and a part of me knew that would be the last time I would see her in this life. But, I thought because I was going to be serving a mission and the Lord would bless me, she would somehow make it through until I got home and then we could say our goodbyes. So, I left her without saying a final goodbye or telling her how much she had meant to me.

Fast forward about three months and I am in my first area and in the thick of my first transfer. One P-Day, while the four of us who lived there were lounging about the house and resting, we got a phone call from one of the AP’s: the mission president (the now Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge of the 70; shameless name drop, I know) was on his way to our place. Well, you can guess how we reacted to that. We began to furiously clean our house, thinking this was some sort of surprise inspection. Just as we were finishing, he pulled up in his car and rang our doorbell. He walked in and we could tell something was up because of the somber look on his face. He then asked for me and I stepped forward. The first thing he said to me was “Elder Partridge, your parents just contacted me about your grandmother.” That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. He then told me she had passed away and he wanted to tell me in person. It was the last thing I expected to hear that day. I didn’t think she would pass away during my mission, especially this early into it. He then stepped forward, gave me a big hug, and asked me if she and I were close. I told him yes and he expressed his condolences for my loss and assured me that if I needed anything, I could count on him. And that was it. He let me be sad. He listened to me as my tears soaked his shoulder. He didn’t try to teach me the Plan of Salvation or remind me to have an eternal perspective. He simply gave me the opportunity to grieve and extended to me his own grief for my pain and his willingness to help me in any way I saw fit. In short, he mourned with me. His examples showed the other missionaries in my house and zone how to react, as they also mourned with me and gave me the space to grieve. That space allowed me to be sad and work through different issues and emotions that came up, such as being upset with God for allowing my grandmother to die while I was serving Him (that’s a story for another post). In my own time, as I worked through my sadness, I came to terms with my loss and was then (after I finished mourning) comforted by both the Lord and my fellow missionaries. I felt a peace and joy that I believe could not have been as profound and long-lasting if I had not first experienced such deep sorrow.

I think this is a good model on how we can mourn and mourn with those who mourn. We should let people grieve and let them work through their grief in their own way. We should show kind gestures, such as my mission president taking time out of his day to meet with me in person. We should most of all show others that we are grieving with them and are willing to mourn with them for their loss. When we ourselves are in mourning, we should be willing to actually be sad and experience the pain and emotions that come with that. As we do these things, we will truly feel the deep joy and peace that can only come after going through those experiences with grief and sorrow.

Understanding Amulek: Making Sense of Alma 34

A passage of scripture that I have always had trouble understanding is found in Alma. In Alma 34, Amulek is teaching about the Atonement. In verses 10 through 12 we read

10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.

11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.

12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

Verses 11 and 12 in particular have always been very confusing to me. Amulek essentially says that the one that commits the sin must be the one punished for it. Justice won’t allow another to take the law-breaker’s place. Yet, he explains Christ’s role in the Atonement with the opaque phrase “therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.” To that I say

 

wut

I mean, seriously. Given how we oftentimes teach the Atonement, this passage of scripture doesn’t make sense. How can Christ pay our debt if “the law requireth the life of him who hath [sinned]?” WE have to be the ones who pay the debt according to justice; Christ cannot. If we interpret the Atonement in the traditional, “paying-our-debt-for-us” way, Amulek is basically saying we are wrong and the Atonement cannot and does not work that way. Now, some will say to me, “That’s why Amulek says it’s infinite. How the Atonement works is just so doggone infinite we can’t understand how it works.” That explanation has always struck me as being…how do I say this kindly…simple? Others might say that we are still required to pay the price of our sins, we just pay it to Christ now because He has become our Sin Creditor of some sort by paying our “debt.” This seems to fly in the face of what He said Himself about our role. I want an explanation that actually reconciles things in my mind.

So, I’ve spent years trying to come up with an interpretation of that scripture that makes sense to me. This past conference weekend I feel like I finally had a “moment of clarity” on the subject. I thought of two explanations that I think both work (for the second one I am indebted to my dad and a conversation we had).

Interpretation 1: Paul teaches us that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” 2 Cor. 5:17. Elsewhere in the scriptures Moroni tells us to “be perfected in [Christ].” Moroni 10:32-33. We read in dozens of places in the scriptures that we are to “born again” through our covenant with Christ. What if that is to be taken a little more literally than we usually do? What if when we covenant with Him we, in a more literal sense, become a new creature in Him, essentially becoming one with Him? Because then the one who committed the sin has received the punishment. Christ suffering for our sins is us suffering for our sins because we have become one with Him so long as we covenant with Him and live up to our part of the covenant. If we do not live our part of the covenant, we alone will suffer for our sins (D&C 19).

Interpretation 2: Elsewhere in the scriptures we read that Christ will “take upon him the sins of his people.” Alma 7:13. What if we need to take that a little more literally as well? Perhaps when that time comes for us to stand before God to be judged, Christ will say something along the lines of “This is So-and-So. He was a good man, lived an honorable life, and should therefore be admitted to the Celestial Kingdom.” To this God will say, “No. So-and-So did Sin X, Y, Z, and a whole host of other sins. He cannot be admitted to the Celestial Kingdom.” To this Christ will reply, “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare [this] my [brother] that believe[d] on my name, that [he] may come unto me and have everlasting life.” D&C 45:4-5. Christ will point to His sufferings for sins He took upon himself. By taking our sins upon Himself, they no longer are our sins; they are His sins. In a way that I don’t quite understand (infinite you might say), Christ literally took my sins and made them His and He paid the price for them. Justice has been served because the one “who hath [sinned]” has paid the price. He having been the perfect, sinless Son of God was somehow able to literally “take upon” Him our sins and then pay the price for them. But the only way that suffering will count is if we “[l]isten to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading [our] cause before him” and abide by the covenant He proposes. Otherwise, He does not take upon Him our sins but rather they remain with us and we must suffer for them.

So, I finally feel like I can read Amulek and not get confused. At the very least, I have found an answer that satisfies me.

Introduction

Dear everyone,

Hey! I started a blog! I’ve never been good about journal writing, so I thought I’d throw my thoughts up on the interwebs and maybe that would motivate me to actually write things down. Also, I’m arrogant enough to think that my thoughts and opinions are something others actually care about and want to read. Anyway, I hope to write a post every few weeks about something that’s been rolling around in my head, usually related to Mormonism. Thanks for reading this and please read in the future!

Sincerely,

Son of a Bishop