Recently, we were asked about our stance on racism. We believe, as Neil A. Maxwell stated, that “God’s second commandment, love thy neighbor, clearly leaves no room for racism.” (“Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,” Ensign, May 1995) Thanks for your question!
When I was a kid I used to think that everyone was just like me and that for the most part their lives were like mine–they had a warm, safe place to sleep, more than enough to eat, and that they felt safe and knew that their mom and dad loved them. When I got to be a teenager, I realized that that wasn’t always the case, but I erroneously thought that it was their own fault if they weren’t happy, or if they had “problems”. In the last few years, but in particular the last few months, I have seen and heard a lot of sad stories, heart wrenching really, that have truly changed my perspective .
I see a lot of people who have been shot, stabbed, hit by a car on their bike, run over while waiting at the bus stop, and in one case, a drunk woman hit a van with a woman and three or four kids, killing them all and yet she lived with a broken ankle. Meanwhile there was a husband and child, who were lucky enough to not be in the van, whose lives were changed forever that night.
We are all quick to point our fingers at the drunk lady and say, “how could she do that– drink and drive. She should be the one who is dead.” But, I would almost guarantee that if you were to ask this woman about her life she would have a heart-wrenching story of her own to tell, which would probably turn your stomach in knots. I would almost bet that her life was so bad that the only way that she could deal with it was to drink until it didn’t hurt anymore.
We all do it; we all judge each other. Christ taught, “judge not, that ye be not judged” (St. Matthew 7:1) He was speaking with a some experience, remember He was Mary’s son, who was pregnant before she and Joseph were married. I am sure the young couple was the talk of Nazareth for a while.
I have thought about those seven words a lot and the more I hear these sad stories and see the scars, either emotional or physical, that people carry, the more I realize that I have no room to think, “well, if you would just . . . then you wouldn’t be like this.” If I had to go through what some people have, maybe I would drink myself to death too. Or how can you not be violent to others, when all you have experienced was violence from those who you are supposed to trust?
I am not advocating that people should not be punished for their actions, or that sin as defined by God’s laws is excusable, but what I am saying is that we should all have a little more compassion. We can hate the sin, but still love the sinner (as a contributor to this website put it). We should all view people as who they really are–sons and daughters of an Eternal Father in Heaven, who have divine and unlimited potential. So when that guy flies by you on your way home tonight and then proceeds to slam on his brakes and cut you off to get in the turn lane, take a deep breath and say, “I bet he is on the way to the hospital to see his wife who is taking her last breaths.”
When my family and I moved to south Texas three years ago, we joined a student Christian group for married couples. It was a great little diversion once a month–to get out, talk with others who are devoted to religion and Christ, and to learn about what they believe and (we hoped) let them see that Mormons can be normal people.
One term that came up several times in conversation with them was “fellowship”, which I came to understand as a sort of social network of other Christians (like that group); to lend support, help each other and just provide friendship. I thought at the time, what a great idea, but also, how sad that “fellowship” isn’t built into their churches already. I’m not claiming that Mormons are perfect at fellowshipping, because there are plenty of former Mormons who will say we really stink at it, but it is built in to the Church’s organization. And although there are some places in the church that don’t do it well, I’ve been in many places that do it perfectly, and it is a blessing to everyone involved.
The Visiting Teaching and Home Teaching programs are two complementary programs within the Church that provide “fellowship” from two different groups. Home Teachers are men, anywhere from age 14-110 who are paired up into a companionship (like our missionary program) and then they are assigned usually three or four families within their same ward (congregation) to visit monthly. While visiting them, they teach a spiritual thought from the First Presidency (the Prophet and his counselors), get to know the family generally, and assess any needs or concerns that they have. They are the first point of contact for that family if there is a problem. It may sound like having assigned friends, but it is a lot more substantial than that. Home Teachers are assigned by the leaders of the Priesthood quorums by inspiration and after serious prayer. It’s amazing to see some of the home teaching miracles that happen because just the right person visited at just the right time. While the first visit or two may be a little awkward, especially if you are new to a ward (whether recently baptized, or recently moved), Home Teachers quickly become comfortable friends. Growing up, our family had one home teacher for years. Lanny. He was also our neighbor across the ditch bank, and he took us all out to Chuck-a-Rama every Christmas. He got to know us really well and we got to know him really well. He wasn’t just an assigned friend, he really cared whether we were okay and was happy to help.
Visiting Teaching is about the same thing, only it is women, and they just visit women–not their entire families. Every woman in the Church who is over 18 years old is a member of the Relief Society, and are assigned visiting teachers. These relationships are some of the dearest in my life. Again, at the beginning it may just feel like assigned friends, but there is a real power in having people visit you in your own home, who really care about you. I look forward to their visits every month. They are also assigned by the Relief Society President after receiving inspiration about how to pair up the companions and who to assign them to. I think this is an especially inspired program because of the inherent social needs that women have. We need to talk! We need friends! If we are new to an area, or to the Church, we need someone to sit by at our meetings. We need someone to call if we are stuck sick in bed. And visiting teaching gives a woman 6 possible friends automatically: their companion (who are often the dearest friends of all), the two visiting teachers who come to them, and the three ladies that they visit. And because it is a church-wide system, there doesn’t need to be awkwardness, or worry that we are stepping on someone’s toes. It’s just a lovely way to “fellowship”.
As you well know, the people of Haiti are in desperate need. The earthquake that hit near the capital has already decimated the population and more are in danger as their injuries and wounds lie unattended. People from around the world have been congregating on the island to help, including an airplane full of returned LDS missionaries who served in Haiti, know people there, and speak the language fluently. Here is a brief account from one of those former missionaries serving as a medical doctor to the Haitian people he loves.
President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors have sent a message to all Mormons to contribute to Church Humanitarian Services, even despite current economic hardships:
Our hearts are filled with sadness as we have watched the suffering in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. We turn to the example of Jesus Christ who reached out to “lift up the hands which hang down” and “strengthen the feeble knees.” We are keenly aware that many in America are dealing with economic challenges caused by the recession. However, we are appealing to members to donate to Church Humanitarian Services as their means allow in order to help our Haitian brothers and sisters. Many have already contributed and others are anxious to do so.
Money is not the only need in Haiti. People are frightened, bewildered, and wholly uncertain about their future. In addition to what people can do in helping with food, water and shelter, there needs to be a calming influence over that troubled nation. We invite our people everywhere to supplicate God for a spirit of calm and peace among the people as urgent aid and reconstruction efforts continue.
I would like to extend this appeal to all those who read this blog.
There are many noble charities you may give to. If you donate to Church Humanitarian Services, one hundred percent of your money will go towards helping those in need. None of it goes to administrative overhead expenses. None. That is where I’ve sent my donation, and I intend to send more as I continue to reevaluate my wants and needs.
Please also pray for the survivors. Distress, panic, and fear are their worst enemies right now. Pray for angels to attend to them. Pray that they will feel Heavenly Father’s love. Pray that they will be given assurance of their future, and ask Him what more you can do.
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he was criticized for eating with “publicans and sinners” (Matt 9:10-11). His opponents felt that he was being too friendly with people whose choices were not those of righteousness. However, Jesus consistently taught love for those whom we are not inclined to love (Matt 5:44). He showed us the example by his love for Roman invaders, thieves, harlots and other people whom he had every apparent reason to despise. An important aspect of the Savior’s example is that even though he loves all with an incomprehensible love, he “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance”. As members of His church, we seek to emulate this characteristic, which is summed up in the oft-quoted maxim “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Of course this phrase isn’t strictly doctrinal, but it serves as a simple reminder of some very Christian practices. In our quest to emulate the savior we seek to become as he is: perfect, just and merciful (Alma 42: 15). Of course, we know that all men sin and “come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Yet we still cannot, as disciples of Christ, condone sinful practices, either in ourselves or others. For this reason we strive, as individuals, parents, friends, voting citizens and in all other capacities, to promote measures that encourage righteousness and discourage practices that go against the revealed will of God.
I personally find that understanding a person’s motives allows us to sympathize with them as individuals even though we do not condone their behavior. I think of Dostoyevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment”, in which the protagonist is a murderer and another main character is a harlot. Throughout the novel you discover that the murderer and the harlot are both very human—almost pitiable. They are motivated by such common emotions as individualism, helplessness, despair and caring. This understanding does not justify them for doing wrong nor does it exempt them from punishment (as shown in the end). However, committing ourselves to treating all people as humans with human motives and desires allows us to love them more fully.