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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Looking at Both Sides of the LDS Hubbub

image credit: pretamarque.com
Before I went to bed last night, I went to check my email. On Yahoo's front page, lies a perpetual list of top ten most-searched-for topics on the internet. Last night, number one, simply said, "Mormon Church." I, typically, because I choose not to be a crowd-follower (I mean, seriously, how much do I care about Lady Gaga?), don't click on any of those top ten topics, but last night, I couldn't help it. That topic is near to my heart. I had to click. I just HAD to. I wondered what made everyone so curious suddenly. I mean the LDS church has been around for a long time, and yes, we have an LDS presidential candidate, but that's old news too, so what was suddenly hot and making everyone search?

As I got to the link, I saw that it was an article about how wealthy the LDS church is because of membership donations (a.k.a. tithing). Eh, okay. No biggie. I closed the site and went to bed.

image credit: mormon.org
This morning I'm up early sitting here reading the scriptures--somedays I'm better at this than others, but as I'm reading (Alma 23 in the Book of Mormon--all about the conversion of the Lamanites), that article keeps coming back to me. I keep thinking how funny the division is. We're all human beings, but there are those who are ticked about how wealthy the LDS church is, because they don't understand, and then there are those like me, who think "Eh" and roll over and go to sleep. What's the difference? As I read about the Lamanites and their conversion, I think I'm starting to get it. I look at the change in their lives, and it all starts to make some amount of sense to me.

My brother was here this past weekend. His family attended church with us. My brother's a member of the LDS faith and everything, so his response after the meetings was interesting to me. He went on and on about the wonderfully intelligent and beautiful people who were members of our ward. He exclaimed about how many of them were converts and many of them new converts. He said, "Gosh! I'd move here just to be in this ward!" I agree. It's a wonderful place to go each week. I feel honored to rub shoulders with these people on a weekly basis. These aren't bigwigs and heads of state. These are just regular people trying to raise families and trying to live their religion....and according to the world at large, they're all brainwashed--poor souls.

Yes, the LDS church is wealthy. To me, that's no big surprise. Other churches pass the basket and hope and pray that their members will pay in. The LDS church does not. To outsiders looking in, that's odd and wrong. To those inside, paying  tithing is a privilege and brings blessings. I am a recipient of those blessings. I could share stories, and maybe someday I will, but for now, it would go on and on, and this post is already long enough. To outsiders looking in, all of those people in my ward and I are brain-washed and coerced to pay that ten percent. To me, I am fulfilling a commandment that is ages old--one that was required of Christ's followers anciently. Unless you are an insider, you will not understand. Unless you know what I know, you won't get it.

For a cult, gosh, the LDS church is doing really well. How does that work?

As I'm reading this morning about the conversion of the Lamanites, I'm seeing some of the blessings that come to them as they embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm seeing some of the wonderful things I enjoy in this life. The gospel brought freedom to them. It brought them increased love and understanding for others. It made them want to do good and be good and help others. This isn't something they had desired before this time.

Hmm....Did you ever think there might be something to this? Yes, there are those who've turned away and scoff and say we're brainwashed. Did you ever consider those individual's lives and what might have made them bitter? For the most part, however, I would like to assert that LDS people try to be just like the Lamanites were becoming in Alma 23. We try to be kind. We value our freedom. We try to follow Jesus Christ, and we are grateful for the blessings that those attempts bring to our lives, which thus, make us want to do it more. Is there anything wrong with that? Does it take brainwashing to follow Jesus Christ in our society? Hmm...maybe so. Maybe you have to be changed to go against the crowd. Maybe you have to accept completely different ideals than the rest of the world embraces. Maybe you have to be just a bit different--maybe even odd.

It's so easy to listen to the scoffers and judge, but I think you'd find, if you listen to the general membership of the LDS church, that we really have no complaints. Life is good. There are ups and downs. There are hard things in every life. We endure what everyone else does, but sometimes we look at it just a bit differently from others you might know. Did you ever wonder why? Did you ever ask?

image credit: legendsofamerica.com
In my state, the extremely liberal state of Oregon--not a breeding ground for conservative faith, the LDS church is the second largest Christian faith. In the United States, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fourth largest. Do these sound like cultish numbers to you? There's a heck of a lot of brainwashing going on.

If you believe me to be brainwashed and a member of a cult, I just wonder if maybe you've been listening to the wrong people--those who are either completely ignorant, those who have something to lose by my membership in the LDS faith (preachers, priests, etc. who are missing out on their paycheck because of me not contributing to that passed basket), or those who have been offended or somehow hurt by something that went wrong as they were members of the LDS church and have thus chosen a different way.

Do you know members of the LDS church? I know there are those who live their faith, those who live it part way, and those who don't really live it at all. I also know that it's hardly fair to judge anyone or anything by just one individual. So, I ask, do you know members of the LDS church who live their religion? If so, what kind of people are they? They may seem odd and different, but when you strip all that away, what feeling do you have about them?

You know, we often hear, "By their fruits, ye shall know them." This refers to followers of Jesus Christ. What kind of "fruits" do the members of the Church, that you know, bring forth for the most part?

I'm not sharing all of this to cram it down your throat. I'm simply urging you not to make judgments only knowing one side of the story. So often it's the outsiders point of view that judgements are made by. I'm just asking you to be careful of that.

Outsiders are offended and outraged. Insiders think it's fine. Unless you understand, you just won't get it. Unless you reap the rewards that come from being part of the LDS faith, you won't be able to conceptualize what makes us tick. Here, I'm not referring to financial rewards because we really don't get any of those. It's the intrinsic rewards that we benefit from. So, the next best thing to being an insider is seeking to understand just what's going on inside the mind of an insider. This holds true with anything you might read or hear about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You can take the time to read up on it all you want. I mean, seriously, I guess enough people were last night to make it Yahoo's number one, but do you ever stop to ask someone who lives it and loves it? Do all of your opinions come from people who watch from the outside? I don't think you'd do that about anything else, would you? An opinion should be created by looking at all sides, shouldn't it?

So, the things you read and hear about us being intolerant, those things are either written by outsiders (who don't get it) or by those insiders who aren't catching the vision of what being a Christian is all about. There are many ignorant members of the LDS faith; actually, we're all ignorant in one way or another, but aren't all human beings? We're just all at different places in our development. I will openly admit that I am ignorant about so many things. I have areas in life that I haven't experienced yet, and thus, haven't made up my mind about those things yet. This is a big world. There are lots of things to think about and learn from. But, I will also assert, that my bottom-line is this, I want to follow Jesus Christ--religion or no religion. I don't always succeed, but I try. In my mind, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that; on the contrary, there are so many things right with that.

So, as the LDS church seems to be at the forefront of many minds these days, I want to urge those who seek to understand us brainwashed cult followers to seek out good members of the Church. Seek out someone who is truly trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the LDS faith, and ask them what they think about things. I would also urge you not to condemn us, approach us with an open mind and see if what we say doesn't make a little bit of sense.

Clearly, at some point in my history, actually in many places in my history--my mother (Ruth Hamm), my paternal grandfather (Roscoe Hamm), and my paternal great grandparents (George and Julia Dye) and even one more generation back (Isaac Riddle), had it make sense to them. Thus I am where I am today. I strongly feel that they have allowed me to reap some wonderful benefits in my life that I don't know I would have had if I'd had to find them for myself.

If you've been intimidated to approach an LDS friend and ask questions, don't be afraid. We're open. We know what the world at large thinks of us. It doesn't matter. We're happy to share. We may not know how to verbalize all that's in our hearts, but we'll do the best we can.

If you truly want to have an opinion, don't just read what the outsiders are saying. Seek out the insiders too. I mean, really, what are you afraid of?


Patrick and Paige said...

Love this post!!!!!!!

Lauren said...

You know, Julie, I hear you. There are plenty of angry people out there anxious to demonize a faith they don't understand. But there is something interesting about the tendency we have to put people into categories like "insider" and "outsider." I feel like most people are somewhere in the middle: there are non-LDS people with great "values" and LDS people with lots of honest questions. Isn't this kind of black-and-white characterization unhelpful when what we want is love and charity?

Julie said...

You know what, Lauren, you're probably right. Is there a better way to characterize this? There are members of the Church and non-members. There are those who know the doctrine we believe and those who don't. You're right, though, there are people somewhere in the middle who know some things and understand part of things. I think for the sake of the extremes--like those I mentioned, those who freak out over the wealth of the church and those who find that not surprising at all, I went with the "insider"/"outsider" terms. I just, honestly, wasn't sure how to phrase it and probably should have been more sensitive.

Lauren said...

I hesitated to comment for this very reason -- there probably isn't a great way to characterize this! Belief runs a huge spectrum, and I think you'd almost have to ask every individual how they believe in order to get an accurate picture. Not really the scope of a blog post. :) And the "extreme" people are certainly those who get the platform most easily in this 24-7 news cycle world, so it's hard to hear the moderate voices.

Tammi Beers said...

Julie, Your writing is always thought provoking in an anything but boring way. That takes talent! I really enjoyed this post. I ifnd it hard not to be defensive when coming across people who make snap judgements about things that are dear to my heart. unfortunately, in the pursuit of defending the issue, I become guilty of making snap judgements too. Your writing is so balanced and mindful. I love that. Your writing is the stuff that Ensign articles are made of.

Lisa said...

I really enjoyed this, especially in light of our RS lesson on Sunday, where the bottom line was sharing the gospel with love is foremost.

I will tell you that just by being real, and kind, and non-judging of non-members or less-active members, I've been able to have some great conversations and made great friends.

Our neighbor grew up LDS, but hasn't gone in years and is married to an anti-mormon man. At least he was a year ago. He's been able to get to know our family and seems to have softened his views. We move next week, and they have said they will really miss us. It takes getting to know each other in a human, personal way to learn to love each other and accept each other. To me that is truly following Christ no matter where your religious development lies.

Jamie said...

We ARE a peculiar people, aren't we? It's a good thing! :)

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