Ten years ago, Elder Jensen spent some time publicly explaining that good members of the Church can belong to a variety of political parties(Salt Lake Tribune: "GOP Dominance Troubles Church"). Elder Jensen is a Democrat, and he has become one of the examples in life that I would like to emulate. It seems to me (I thought as I listened to Elder Jensen's talk this morning) that somehow those who are of the Democrat persuasion, despite (or because of?) the fact that they often urge more governmental support for the poor and needy, have a more developed ability to see the importance of caring for and understanding those who are "different".
In a similar way, a Democrat friend of mine at work got me thinking about this tendency as we talked politics for a few minutes last week. Today, reinforcing that point in my mind as he spoke to a gathering of 135 LDS Stakes in Utah and Wasatch counties, Elder Jensen helped me to see, in a way that I have never noticed before, that I, a Republican-turning-Independent, am not nearly as good at “different” as I should be.
I’ve had many good contemporary examples, the best of which was my dad. My father, even though he was very popular during his high school and college years and throughout his adult life, was always seen as a champion of the weak, the less fortunate, and the less popular. His experiences in the military and in politics helped him to be comfortable around all kinds of people. Following his tragic death in 1986, a man his age confided in me that my father’s example and caring during high school had made a critical difference in his life, and that he owed his life successes in large part to the concerns of my father—his friend. It’s too bad, then, that I haven’t learned to be a little bit better at “different”.
Customs and morés in the LDS Church are personally painful enough when we don’t live up to their inherent ideals--we don't need anyone else to remind us with the "loving scorn" of their faux righteous indignation. Elder Jensen listed some of those ideals: the young man who chooses not to serve a mission, the racial minority, the family that has been reconfigured due to divorce, the individual who suffers from bouts of depression, and those who have violently conflicted feelings due to their inclinations of same-gender attraction—all of us at some time or other feel the pain and failure of not measuring up, but that pain can become unbearable when the love or respect of others is withheld because of that failure--real or perceived.
Perhaps due to the fact that members of the LDS Church are commanded to (eventually) become perfect, we have a tendency to avoid, or even shun, those things and people that aren’t themselves perfect. Forgetting that we, as much as those we shun, are not only entitled to the atoning help of Jesus Christ but are required to seek it for our imperfections, our resulting insensitivity to the “different” can provoke in others the feelings of worthlessness, capitulation, and self-abandonment.
The Scriptures teach us that Christ does everything for the benefit of the world. Elder Jensen stated that Christ never did say or do anything to injure the feelings of the weak, no matter how vile their shortcomings may have been.
The young girl described in a currently popular song by Augustana reminds us how often we forget to be kind and compassionate to “different”.
In the light of the sun, is there anyone? Oh it has begun...We're pretty good at teaching our children how to behave around “different”. The children’s primary song, I’ll Walk with You, quoted by Elder Jensen, says in part:
Oh dear you look so lost, eyes are red and tears are shed,
This world you must've crossed... you said...
You don't know me, you don't even care, oh yeah,
You don't know me, and you don't wear my chains...
If you don’t walk as most people do,Maybe the Church needs to develop a six-week primary course for adults!!
Some people walk away from you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
If you don’t talk as most people do,
Some people talk and laugh at you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
I’ll walk with you. I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.
Jesus walked away from none.
He gave his love to ev’ryone.
So I will! I will!
Elder Jensen began his talk by telling us about his mentally challenged brother, Gary, who never got past a 6-year-old mentality. Regularly, because of this, Gary was unfortunately the butt of varying levels of cruel jokes. As I thought about this story, I thought back about my childhood and how, because I was often a friend to the less popular, that I didn’t really ever break into the ranks of the uber-popular. That was okay with me, though, and it still is.
It seems I’ve still got a way to go, but maybe I am a bit better at “different” than I thought. Actually, it might be simply because I didn’t pay attention to the notion that it was.