Race, Divorce, Depression, Homosexuality, and the Non-Missionary: I Need to Get Better at “Different”

Sometimes it seems to me that I and other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a hard time accepting those who are different than we are. We often expect others to naturally understand a culture that is completely foreign to them, and to accept the reproof of our “loving scorn” when they don’t measure up to the culture's norms. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a member of the Church’s Quorums of Seventy, reminded us that Christ wouldn't act this way.

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...
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,
She said
You don't know me, and you don't wear my chains...
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:
If you don’t walk as most people do,
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!
Maybe the Church needs to develop a six-week primary course for adults!!

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.




Comments

  1. Certainly a great point. That said, we do need to be careful to not project our private feelings, dysfunctions, and circumstances into public policy. Public policy is a different beast than our personal experiences. Of course, policy can reflect personal experiences. In fact, governing principles such as the importance of private property, free markets, charity, the moral compass of religion, family structure and personal responsbility are vital in our public policy decisions precisely because they are based in a correct understanding of human nature, human experience, and human happiness. But we fail when we rest our governing principles on human dysfuntion and try to "repeal the Fall" for everyone so on one feels pain or hurt or sadness.

    It is one thing to be sympathetic or even empathetic to the plight of others...it is quite another thing to base public policy, affecting all people, on standards of human dysfunction, personal indulgence, and whim because we feel sorry for someone.

    Frank, you are clearly on the right track here...more of us should think this way as professed Christians.

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  2. Frank,

    Great post. Thank you for the reminder. I think Elder Jensen's point should be made more often than it is on Sundays. (Mainly because I need it more often than I hear it!)

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  3. Paul is right, we can't afford to "project our private feelings, dysfunctions, and circumstances into public policy." The question is, can we be better at showing our acceptance of those who are different in some way while still promoting public policy that is impartial to personal circumstances?

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  4. Paul,

    I will go so far as to agree with you in two areas related to moral hazard (that are not necessarily applicable in this context), which are (1) The egregiousness of forcing taxpayers to pay for the failures of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and (2) the tacit encouragement of flood insurance and FEMA for more and more people to build homes in flood plains and areas most susceptible to hurricane damage.

    Do you have any specific examples related to dysfunction, because I'm not sure otherwise that I completely agree with you.

    Jeremy,

    As I listened to Elder Jensen yesterday, I thought, "I know that every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 (and beyond) feels the same way about the worth of every person, but why does it take Marlin Jensen to articulate it so magnificently?"

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  5. I taught a young women lesson on the worth of souls yesterday. As I was preparing it, I thought about how to help the girls understand why it is so important to treat everyone with love and compassion.

    It's sometimes a hard concept to understand or remember until you have children of your own and realize how much pain it causes you when other people do something that makes your child sad.

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  6. Frank,

    Thank you for that gift. It was different And brave.

    This is the conversation happening across this Christian Nation. A Murderer-in-Chief certainly has a way of knocking you on your ass don’t it?

    But I digress.

    Even we atheist appreciate Jesus for his laser-like focus on the meek and weak.

    I think Pauls response was a knee-jerk reaction to seeing 'Jesus' and 'poor' in the same sentence. For hard-cores like Paul, that’s code for ‘socialism’

    Your response was unmistakably, the Clint Eastwood silent stare. No budge. Good for you. That Paul sure can be a punk sometimes huh. …but always lovable.J

    I’m hardly an expert on church-speak, but it seems to me Paul’s response started pretty think and got thicker.

    ""But we fail when we rest our governing principles on human dysfuntion [sic] and try to "repeal the Fall" for everyone so [no] one feels pain or hurt or sadness.""

    "Repeal the Fall"? Do you know what he means? All I could find when I google ‘Repeal the Fall’ and ‘Mero’ is this interesting exchange in which Paul apparently coins the term ‘repeal the Fall of Adam.’

    ""Liberals go one (to a million) step further by wanting to solve everyone's problems through government coercion (i.e. this is what "politically-correct" means). Sort of like, if you had the power, you might try to repeal the Fall of Adam.

    We like laws that support marriage and family structure because we know what works...what creates freedom and prosperity...liberals like laws that tend to mediate the "quality" of life, like the marital relationships (i.e. mandatory marriage education before a couple could marry).""

    Since a google search of just “repeal the Fall of Adam”, returns ONLY the Amicus comment above, I think what we may have here is a new biblical euphemism by Paul, which can only be interpreted to mean; if you include sinners in your charity, you disrespect our collective suffering of our punishment for original sin. Phew, did I get that right? That was hard. I’m drenched in sweat.

    I’m not aware of any place in the record (including BOM) where Jesus suggests that charity be given based on some judgment about moral character.

    This is certainly not the Church’s view, but is surely a religious argument. I getting dizzy.

    But the last paragraph Frank, I do believe you are been given an ‘Admonishment By Paul’

    ‘’It is one thing to be sympathetic or even empathetic to the plight of others...it is quite another thing to base public policy, affecting all people, on standards of human dysfunction, personal indulgence, and whim because we feel sorry for someone.’’

    A designer admonishment no less…updated for the times.

    Don’t take it personally. You are the victim of an Elder Mero Special Cut (cut and paste job ) (and a Biblical Expression Inventor). He’s got that stuff packaged and at the ready just for strays like you.

    Anyway, thanks Frank. I’d of course love to see this posted on OneUtah. It speaks well for your faith and your Church.

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  7. Legislating dysfunction? The best example is no-fault divorce. Up until 1995 (or was it 98?), when Bill Clinton signed welfare reform, the entire welfare state was THE case study in legislating dysfunction.

    I would argue that "gay" legislation does the same.

    In a nutshell, what I mean by that term is perversely incentivizing the natural consequences of dysfunctional personal behavior (typically justified, and not altogether unjustified, by life's hard knocks) in public policy. We do it most often in our desire to help those in need. One very easy way out of this habit is to allow civil society (i.e. private sector institutions) to care for our neighbors in need.

    I know such an abbreviated summary leaves me open to many questions (as well as Cliff's pedantic pathology), but so be it for now.

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  8. Great post Frank. I also enjoyed that talk. I immediately got to thinking of the various discussions and attitudes I see as I follow the Bloghive and political discourse in general, some in my opinion embodying the principles of Elder Jensen's remarks and others not.

    We were discussing the talk with another couple, and with those thoughts in mind, I stated that his talk reminded me of politics. I got a short silence and a really weird look and was only sort of able to explain myself afterwards.

    They share some of my cynicism about politics and generally just feel the negativity in politics. I think it's easy to be weighed down by the loads of shrill, accusing arguments in this political season, and I also think that's something I love about the Bloghive. There is plenty of negativity and finger pointing, but there are also regular doses of goodness, acceptance, and sound judgment--even between those who disagree on most political issues. Thanks for the post Frank.

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  9. A very important and brave post, Frank. I've always been disappointed how often Mormon communities, especially when they are dominant, as they are in the suburban Davis county city where I grew up, are typically rather divisive instead of inclusive. I noticed many families who did not allow their children to play with those of other faiths and cultures. My own parents, though generally fairly tolerant, let me know under no uncertain terms as a teen (in the late-80's) that I would not be allowed to go on a date with a black girl, justifying the rule with some arcane quote from President Kimball about keeping relations within our culture. I was made keenly aware in High School that when popular, the youth of our faith unsurpassed on establishing cliques and excluding those who do not fit in with their standards of acceptability. I continue to see this day a propensity for cruel mockery of those who do not fit in by people of all ages within the Church: terrible and bigoted jokes and statements about people other faiths or no faith, other races, or homosexuals. It's tragic that we, who should know more intimately than most the Savior and his love for ALL his children seem no better than any other group at living up to that principle.

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