I gave a talk in church yesterday and wanted to share it here. It was inspired by my interactions with so many of you. Thanks for broadening my worldview in ways I never could have imagined over the past 5 years.
As Mormons there are a lot of lifestyle decisions we make which can set us apart from those outside the faith. When we lived in Dallas a few years ago my husband had a large number of coworkers who were also LDS. I looked around at the Christmas party one year and realized that though most people were clustered over in one area of the room getting something to drink, the Mormons had gravitated toward the cupcake dessert bar. I think this spoke both to our commitment to avoid alcohol as well as the sweet tooth I’ve found to be a common characteristic in all of the wards I’ve lived in.
These lifestyle commitments affect our daily choices in a number of ways. We may choose to say no to invitations on Sunday, keep our Monday evenings clear, get up extra early for seminary, drink sparkling cider on New Year Eve, and gather as a family for daily scripture study. My nonmember friends with families have often expressed to me how positive and appealing these practices are. In fact, I have a nonmember friend who has no interest in being baptized, but has adapted the concept of Family Home Evening for her own family!
Many of the talks and lessons we hear in church speak of “putting on the whole armor of God” or as a recent Relief Society lesson stated “Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line”. These messages are important to consider because we each have different weaknesses that need to be overcome. I know in my own life making good nutritional choices is one of those areas of weakness for me. The only way for me to succeed is to keep the cookies, candies, crackers, and chips completely out of the house. Otherwise I give in every time I have a craving and have to deal with the consequences!
Sometimes though, when we are seeking to avoid harmful practices, we end up excluding people who are different than us. It is critical that we differentiate between inherently sinful behavior and choices made because of commitments to God. Sinful behavior hurts other people in some way, such as attacking someone physical or verbally, taking from others what doesn’t belong to you, etc.
An excellent example of a behavior that isn’t inherently sinful is drinking alcohol. Wine and other fermented drinks were used extensively throughout history before potable drinking water was readily available. We abstain from alcohol now because Joseph Smith revealed not a commandment, but a “principle with promise”, now known as the Word of Wisdom. Members of the LDS church have faith that following these principles will lead to happier, healthier lives for them. Throughout the world there are people who do not follow this principle, often because of culture or scientific beliefs, and it would be a shame to miss out on their fellowship completely because we are unsure how to approach their alternative choices.
For several years now I’ve written a personal blog with a diverse readership base, and one of the stories emailed to me by Rachel*, a non-Mormon reader, has remained with me ever since. A new couple had moved into Rachel’s neighborhood, and they invited Rachel and her husband over for dinner. As was custom for their own specific culture, Rachel and her husband carefully selected a bottle of wine to present as a housewarming gift for the new couple. When they arrived for dinner, their gift was outright rejected because the new tenants were LDS. Although religion was cited as the reason for the refusal, Rachel was really hurt by this encounter and didn’t understand why she had been treated that way. She was trying to communicate fellowship with this new family the best way she knew how.
Some LDS families wouldn’t be comfortable accepting the bottle of wine, and I understand that. Each person needs to evaluate how they feel would comfortable approaching these situations, but keep in mind how your approach might come across to those outside of our culture and church.
We’ve been counseled to seek out everything “virtuous, lovely, and of good report”, and it would be a shame to go through life missing out on those good and lovely people and things found outside of Mormonism.
James Ferrell has written a book called “Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness”. In it he has an excellent chapter called “Superiority by Association”, which I’d like to read a quote from.
“One of the most common phrases in any Latter-day Saint testimony meeting is the declaration that “This is the true church”. And so we believe it to be. However, we risk becoming as the Zoramites if we think that being a member of the “true church” makes us the “true people” and other the untrue. With a little reflection, it becomes obvious that one of the foundational teachings of the Church is that mere membership in it does not make one better than anyone else.”
Let’s make sure that when we’re seeking to insulate ourselves from situations that will test our areas of weakness, we aren’t isolating ourselves from the wonderful, diverse, kind, and loving people outside of our church and culture.