This past general conference had some amazing talks, and it also had at least one talk that caused a lot trauma and issue for many individuals. Now, before I begin, let me say that this conference I did not take notes. I’ve learned that I do better re-reading the talks and have decided to just “casually” listen to the talks during the broadcast rather than intensely jot down notes. At this point, my reactions to the talk in question have been mostly what I remember as I listened and read reactions on social media.
The Plan and the Proclamation
Elder Oaks talk, “The Plan and the Proclamation,” was the talk that to me, caused the the most backlash. My husband made a remark shortly after or during the talk about how he thought that we shouldn’t use “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as a hammer with which to hit others or shame them. Just from listening to the talk and seeing the immediate reactions from those on Twitter or Facebook who were negatively affected by this talk, I had to agree. Many news outlets reacted similarly, with an article from the Associated Press headlined, “Mormon leader reaffirms faith’s opposition to gay marriage.”
We had a discussion in our Sunday School class this Sunday about this issue, with the teacher loudly opposed to the media’s “treatment” of Elder Oaks. My husband and I countered by saying that while a person may mean his words to be taken in one way, he or she cannot help the audience that hears their words taking it in another way. Yes, we have the freedom to say what we believe, but we do not have the freedom to choose how others take, accept, or reject that message. We cannot always choose our audience, and as such should not be surprised if some react negatively to what we say.
It has made me think about how the more different types of people you know and interact with, the more empathy and understanding you can gain. Having met and known those with differing beliefs, lifestyles, and values, it is so much harder to make broad, sweeping generalizations or accept the broad, sweeping generalizations of others about different people or subcultures in our society. We are all humans, and by and large, I do not think most people are out to harm or hurt others. We are simply trying to live the lives that we have been given and created for ourselves. We will not always agree with each other, but should we use our beliefs or values as dividing lines or as buoys to lift and help each other?
All of that being said, I decided today to go through and read Elder Oaks’ talk. Feel free to join me as I do so and write my reactions and thoughts: “The Plan and the Proclamation.”
In this section, Elder Oaks takes quotations from many books of scriptures about “the world,” warning and exhorting us to avoid falling into favor with the world and reminding us that, more or less, the world will probably hate, mock, or scorn us if we are following Christ and His standards.
He quotes President Monson as saying, “We must be vigilant in a world which has moved so far from that which is spiritual. It is essential that we reject anything that does not conform to our standards, refusing in the process to surrender that which we desire most: eternal life in the kingdom of God.”
I personally am so weary of the “anti-the-world” sentiment. Yes, I do believe that our beliefs as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make us different from many in “the world.” We are a bit odd in the eyes of some. But I also believe that we were made and meant to live in this world. I believe that we are meant to make the world a better place by living in it, changing it, and bringing our light and knowledge to others in a kind way.
I cannot turn my back on the world. Instead, I feel compelled to be a part of it. I am a human. I live in a society that encompasses more than just the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those who are members of it. My extended family includes those who are not members. My friends and neighbors are not members. I live and associate and love them.
I am reminded of a talk from President Hinckley, “The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” wherein two remarkable things were said:
“Perilous times? Yes. These are perilous times. But the human race has lived in peril from the time before the earth was created. Somehow, through all of the darkness, there has been a faint but beautiful light. And now with added luster it shines upon the world. It carries with it God’s plan of happiness for His children. It carries with it the great and unfathomable wonders of the Atonement of the Redeemer.”
…and: “we can live and work with others, respecting their beliefs and admiring their virtues, joining hands in opposition to the sophistries, the quarrels, the hatred—those perils which have been with man from the beginning. Without surrendering any element of our doctrine, we can be neighborly, we can be helpful, we can be kind and generous.[…] May we live worthy of the glorious endowment of light and understanding and eternal truth which has come to us through all the perils of the past. Somehow, among all who have walked the earth, we have been brought forth in this unique and remarkable season. Be grateful, and above all be faithful.”
Here Elder Oaks talks about how the Plan of Salvation gives us unique knowledge that informs our decision making, remarking that the decisions we make will help us “endure the frustrations and pains of mortal life” and will also “cause misunderstanding or even conflict with family members or friends who do not believe its principles.” He says that this “conflict is always so,” and that this is the way it’s always been.
I am reminded as I write this of 3 Nephi 11:29-30, wherein the Savior himself states,
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
Yes, we make different choices than those “in the world” and people who don’t follow the same standards or believe the same things that we do will likely not understand why we do those things. But I do not believe that it has to cause contention and conflict. It requires both parties to accept differences. It requires the love and compassion of both us towards those we may not understand or agree with and the love and compassion of those who disagree with our practices or beliefs.
In this section, Elder Oaks talks about “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” same-sex marriage, and cohabitation. He states that the values stated in the Family Proclamation differ from “current laws, practices, and advocacy of the world in which we live” and implies that the world is very accepting of these current laws and practices and that “the corresponding media advocacy, education, and even occupational requirements pose difficult challenges of Latter-day Saints.”
I think this statement hurt many in and outside of the Church who deal with same-sex attraction or are LGBT. What exactly is he saying here? That giving jobs, baking a cake, or renting to those who are living with someone without being married or are gay, bisexual, or transexual should be or is hard for Latter-day Saints? To me and hopefully many other members, it should not be difficult to love others and show them respect and compassion—this is simple human decency! We all have the right to work and live without fear of not being able to be survive. We shouldn’t make our sometimes literal and (as we believe) spiritual brothers and sisters feel as if they are not worth simple human kindness and rights of survival.
Elder Oaks said, “We must try to balance the competing demands of following the gospel law in our personal lives and teachings, even as we seek to show love for all. In doing so we sometimes face, but need not fear, what Isaiah called ‘the reproach of men.'”
If we are “seeking” and finding it hard to show love for all, that, to me, is a huge problem. We need to be aware if something is making it difficult for us to love others. As Christ said in answer to what is the great commandment in the law in Matthew 22:37-40:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Christ said loving God and loving ALL OF OUR NEIGHBORS are the two great commandments. Not getting married or being honest or whatever else. Love. We need to be careful that we are not giving ourselves the Mormon martyr complex and thinking that “the reproach of men” is something that can only be given to us—no, we need to be careful that we are not showing or giving reproach to others by failing to love them as Christ would have us do.
Here Elder Oaks reminds us of various doctrines contained in the Family Proclamation, including, as he quotes, “ ‘that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ It also affirms that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’ It further declares ‘that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.'”
I believe these things to be true, just as I believe in baptism and the importance of ordinances and covenants. I believe that following the Word of Wisdom will bring safety and health to me in my life, and I follow it. I think members of the Church who desire to keep the commandments and seek exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom should also strive to follow these teachings and commandments.
But do we force anyone to believe the same things we do? Of course not. Should we demean or not befriend or love those who do not believe the same things we do? Of course not. Do we try to shame or reject others who aren’t baptized or who drink or smoke or do drugs? I hope not. I hope that we love others. I hope that we try to be good examples without shunning them or implying that we think their behavior is awful and evil and that we don’t want to have anything to do with them.
I believe it was Elder Renlund last conference who taught us that love is a greater motivator for change than shame, guilt, and ostracism. Similarly, President Uchtdorf spoke on fear being a negative manipulator or reason for action. Elder Renlund began his talk by saying, “We get a glimpse into our Heavenly Father’s character as we recognize the immense compassion He has for sinners” or I would add, those who do not follow the same commandments we do.
He beautifully stated, “The Savior’s mortal ministry was indeed characterized by love, compassion, and empathy. He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of sinners. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy. Like the true shepherd He is, He seeks us and finds us to offer relief and hope.”
This is the gospel that I am trying to subscribe to. As we discussed in our Sunday School lesson yesterday, I want to try to be a light to the world and use that light to guide and lift rather than as a torch to burn others who don’t share my beliefs. I would hope that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel the same way.