I’m hoping to solve Ben’s perplexity (raised in a recent comment), and give all those who come here something to reflect on at the same time.
There are those who are kept from active church attendance because they have read something about history or doctrine which has alarmed and/or discouraged them. There are those who, because of their circumstances, are embarrassed to come to church. There are those who are poor and ashamed, or they are living with the heavy burden of sin and choose to stay away from our meetings. Perhaps they suffer from depression or anxiety, have addictions and feel unclean and unworthy.
I have home taught or spent time with people with all of these issues, concerns and experiences, and more. They stay away because they do not feel welcome among us. Many feel judged, some feel like they just can’t abide hypocrisy, some are hurting and the church makes their hurt worse.
From the time I joined the church until today, I look for these people. I volunteer to go and visit with them in every ward I have attended, in every stake where I have served, and across the Mission when missionaries have asked me to come help teach. I was honored just a few days ago to meet with a man and his wife who are inactive, but who have a towering understanding of the church, gospel, its history, the scriptures and doctrine. They have figured out a great deal more than either their bishop or stake president. As a result, I think the local church authorities are somewhat intimidated by their understanding, and the leaders cannot answer their questions. It was, for me, a joyful visit and I hope to return again and talk with this wonderful Latter-day Saint couple soon.
I have met with people whose son committed suicide while attending a church-owned university because he was so lonely and isolated that his last desperate act was intended to end his life and rebuke those who had dismissed his pain. I loved these people who spoke with me about their son’s life and death. They possessed a sensitivity to the feelings of others which can only be purchased at the price of enduring great personal pain.
I have close friends who struggle with addictions. Some of these people struggle with things so haunting, so terrible a force in their lives that rising each day to face the coming fight takes greater courage than I can even imagine. They are acting in faith at every waking breath, as they fight against a foe I do not comprehend and could not face.
I have helped women whose husbands are esteemed as church leaders, but the husbands’ private actions are hellish and abusive. Women who have nowhere to turn, because their husband IS the leader with jurisdiction over them. No one will believe them because their “righteous” husband says they have mental or emotional illnesses. These women somehow manage to continue to serve their children and remain steadfast despite the hell they find themselves in.
It is not possible to set out all the different ways wherein the men and women I have met struggle. It is a great privilege to know these people. People whose insight into life and difficulties is far greater than I can begin to comprehend. People whose strength is not even recognized, because others are too busy dismissing, belittling or judging them as “a thing of naught.” (2 Ne. 28: 16
I have marveled at how very much these broken souls, these discouraged people, these victims of our judgments who we have discarded or neglected are the very ones with whom I feel the Lord’s presence and love as I have the honor of meeting and talking with them about the Gospel. These are the ones He loves the most. These are the ones with whom He associated during His ministry. He associates there, still.
We have driven many of them away from activity in the church because of how we behave. In turn, the Spirit does not dwell with many of the “righteous” and proud active Latter-day Saints because hearts have not been broken nor spirits made contrite. We are made to think God favors us because we have worldly successes. We prosper. It is the successful, the financially well-to-do, the educated, the bank president, the lawyer and doctor whom we hold up as the model of a true Saint. Read the resumes of those who are called to lead the stakes and missions of the church in each week’s Church News. We draw from a very narrow social gene-pool to find those who serve. They come from among those who have the financial resources in place to spare the time it takes to serve. In the process we get a ‘Gospel of Success’ mentality, right out of one segment of the Evangelical movement.
I am NOT saying that nothing good can come from the Stanford Business School. I am NOT saying bankers are damned (though they are in truth damnable). I am not talking about them. I am talking instead about those broken souls whom I know the Lord loves, but who are not among us because of our own pride and haughty attitudes.
If we were to flood the wards of Zion with those whose hearts are broken, who mourn because of issues that weigh heavy upon them, and who feel that there is nothing in the church for them, but who look to Christ to lift them from their torment, we would be enriched by their homecoming. In much the same way as the Prodigal was worthy of a feast, but the resentful but faithful son who stayed behind was not, so also are the riches of eternity reserved for the poor, downtrodden and broken hearted.
We are the poorer because of their absence. Our wards are not informed by hearing of their dilemmas and struggles. We are not what we could be if we were to make such people welcome – throwing our arms open to greet them. We do not hear their struggle to keep a testimony after learning about some serious failing of a past leader. We are not informed, as we should be, in our meetings and discussions.
This is a lamentation, and not an explanation. This is not the fullness of the subject, but merely a hint of what I know displeases the Lord about us. It is not my responsibility to define fully the Lord’s displeasure with us at the moment. I can, however, assure you He is not pleased. Some of what we think ourselves best for doing is not what He would want us to take pride in. Our Lord’s heart is broken still. His ways are higher than ours because He values the least more than do we.
I cannot say more. But I am left amazed at the hardness of the hearts of this generation who claim they are the Lord’s. Many, many will be told by Him to depart from His presence at the time of Judgment because they never knew Him. They speak today in His name, yet they know Him not. It would be better for them to not speak at all, than to toss about His name as the author of foolish, vain, proud and evil notions while claiming He agrees with such things.