Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mormon Misconceptions

At church today during a discussion on the topic of service in the community it was mentioned that many people who are not LDS but familiar with members of the church are of the opinion that "Mormons are good friends so long as you listen to their missionary lessons."

I have also occasionally heard the complaint that Mormons engaged in "Doublespeak", meaning deliberately ambiguous, or euphemistic (replacing a harsh word with a mild or less embarrassing  word, a non-controversial example would be saying "he passed away", instead of "he died", a less kind example would be "A few brick shy of a full load" instead of "stupid").

While it occurs to me that some of this is due to cultural differences, and many more come from the common difficulty we humans have of accurately expressing our thoughts through word transmission ("Your lips look like rubies", "Who's Ruby? And how is it you are so acquainted with her lips?!").

But there are a few misconceptions about Mormonism that trip people up - both in the church and out of the church.

Yep, you guessed it. I am probably going to ramble about them for a bit.

"In the World, not of the world"/"Love the sinner, hate the sin"

This isn't uniquely a Mormonism - It shows up in all of Christianity, and probably in other religions as well. The application of this is, I believe, a source of much of the ill will I mentioned at the start of this post. I think this is due to those who apply this term misunderstanding its meaning. It is interpreted to be a very pessimistic phrase. In LDS culture, this is perhaps exacerbated by the notion that we are a "Peculiar people". In essence "Just because you are stuck in a pit of losers doesn't mean you have to be a loser".

This misinterpretation of these phrases leads people in the church to believe that they must be better -and better off than everyone else. (That "must" is both "must" - meaning a logical conclusion, and "must" - meaning an expression of necessity, see what I mean about communicating with words? Two entirely different meanings from the same four letters said in exactly the same way!).

But the phrase is not meant to be interpreted with pessimism. It is not meant to be a comparison of "non-members" and "members". Since it is the "Church of Jesus Christ", it is his interpretation of the phrase which we should look to, which he demonstrated through his example. He did not avoid "sinners", he did not withhold blessings form those who were not of "the faith", he did not turn his back on those who didn't hang on his every word. Jesus was sent specifically to the Jews, yet he still healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10),  and a group of (or at least one) Samaritans (Luke 17:11-16). His help was available to any who asked for it.

In fact there were really only two groups which Christ spoke, or behaved unkindly toward. The first were the money-changers in the temple (Mathew 21:12-13), which he chased out with a whip he fashioned from the leather of his sandals. These would have been members of the church who were exploiting the religion for personal gain.

The second group were the Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees (Matthew 23) - These three groups represented positions of power in the Jewish world. The Saducees were the Aristrocratic leaders, the Pharisees were Middle-class leaders, and the Scribes were the Lawyers and Judges. (Note that Jewish culture was deeply religious, so all of these religious as well as secular in nature). Pharisees could also be considered somewhat equivalent politically to Liberals -progressive in thought, whereas the Sadducees were the Conservatives - adhering to strict scriptural doctrine.

You will notice the one key commonality among these three groups is power. Political, Financial and Religious influence. They were leaders, celebrities, people whose voice held considerable influence. Christ had a few unkind things to say about these groups, all dealing with their hypocrisy. His beef with them was that they sought for their own self-interest, they used their positions for personal gain, rather than to serve the people. He pronounced doom on them.


Also take note of Matthew 23:3 - He told the multitude, and his disciples to "Observe and do whatsoever they bid", but to "do ye not after their works". He didn't tell the people to ostracize them, to speak ill of them to look down on them. In fact, he told the people to listen to them and follow their words (They were after all teaching the commandments).

So how does this apply to a "good" Christian today? Look for the good in everyone, listen to and take positive benefit from the good things that people say, even if they are otherwise despicable people. Just don't follow their bad example. But while you are gleaning as much good as you can, and avoiding bad examples, remember, you are not called to be judge or jury. In other words, a true Christian is a kind, critical thinker with a general leaning toward optimism.

And for those who are in positions of leadership, consider your behavior carefully. Your role as a leader is to serve. Failure to do so will have dire consequences when you one day stand before your maker.

Remember also, that Christ spent much of his time among sinners, even Dining with them (Matt 9:10). But hie did not engage in sinful behavior

So, being "In but not of the world" means to be actively engaged with the world, to be friends with your neighbors, to help and "Love thy neighbor" (who is anyone, even - those who are a different religion, different race, different gender, different nationality...). It means to be part of the community in which you live. To  be involved in and in service to your neighborhood, City, County, State, Nation... (Which implies you are making an effort to get along with them).  Just remember while you are being with them, working with them, playing with them, etc.. to live to the standards set by Christ.

1 comment: