Big tent Mormonism

When I lived in Brazil there was an older woman in our ward who came every Sunday but never got baptized. I was in the bishopric, and one day I was talking to her and I asked her why. Tears came to her eyes, and she gave two reasons: she could not give up smoking, and her deceased father was a Jewish rabbi, and she felt she could not go against his wishes and abandon her Jewish faith.

This woman had a firm testimony that the Jehovah of the Old Testament was Jesus Christ. She had a firm testimony of the Book of Mormon and of modern-day prophets. She loved everything about the Church but for her own personal reasons could not become an official member.

I felt very strongly at that time that this woman was accepted in the eyes of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They understood her pain and the reasons for her weakness, and they still loved her. So, I was inspired not to pressure her, to just let her continue on her own journey. I also felt pretty strongly that when she dies somebody will be baptized for her, and she will thankfully accept and continue to move forward.

I see the journey towards getting closer to our Heavenly Father as a climb toward the summit of a mountain.

This mountain is huge with a summit we cannot see, but we know it is there. Each of us takes his or her own path up the mountain. Some move forward quickly, others fall back temporarily. Some, unfortunately, give up the trek and go back to the bottom. Others stay on the sides of the mountain for decades, not advancing.

The Church is the vehicle that helps us get up the mountain most quickly and steadily. I see the example of the Prophet Joseph Smith as great evidence of this. Studying his life, you see that he advanced from ignorant farm boy to knowledgeable, insightful prophet very quickly. I see Brother Joseph bounding along the steep trails of the mountain, heading toward the summit at amazing speed. How else do you explain Brother Joseph learning Hebrew and German and imparting the incredible knowledge he attained during his relatively short life?

So, Joseph Smith took one path. I took another. I was baptized when I was 35 after making a huge number of mistakes in my life. Since I was baptized I have not repeated the big mistakes, but I continue to sin in relatively small ways. I am very aware of my shortcomings. But still, I also feel that I am taking my own path up the summit in my own way.

The woman from my ward in Brazil is taking another path. Any of you reading this are also taking your own paths. I simply don’t feel like I have a right to judge your paths — mine was filled with horrible errors and setbacks — how can I claim I know the only way?

I am reading the Book of Mormon with my young children every morning. I am struck at how many times we see the image of the Lord holding out his hands to accept us. He wants us to grab his hand, and He will help us up the summit. In every ward that I have been in, this is the attitude of the bishop — he welcomes all into the big tent that is the Lord’s church. He wants them to come and join the hike up the mountain. He doesn’t judge or call you unworthy — he wants to help you make it up the hillside.

Yes, some people fall short. A few people get excommunicated from the Church. Having served on the High Council, I can tell you that most of them seek out disciplinary action as part of their repentence process. I can also tell you should be very glad that the disciplinary process is dealing with others — there are child molestors and unrepentant adulterers, and frankly you should be very happy that the Church is choosing to disassociate itself from these people, for their own good and the good of the people around them.

But even these people are not “written off” in the eyes of the Lord. Their spirits have existed forever, and they will continue to exist forever. The Lord wants them to learn from their errors and He continues to hold out his arms to them, hoping they will decide to make the climb back up the summit again.

Efforts to look at the importance of Mormon doctrine are useful. I hold a current temple recommend, and go to the temple every month. I hand out a Book of Mormon every month. I firmly believe in the reality and goodness of modern-day prophets. I love General Conference. I believe in the inspiration of my local Church leadership, and I try to follow them the best I can.

But I am also aware that there are others who are making their journey in a different way. I didn’t take the traditional way: when I should have been going on a mission, I was doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have been doing, but yet I firmly believe I am making my way up the summit of the mountain now.

So, my message to you is this: the Lord is holding his arms open to you. He accepts you and loves you. There is room for you in His church, no matter your shortcomings and failures. He wants you to continue to hike up that mountain. The view from the top will be glorious!

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

13 thoughts on “Big tent Mormonism

  1. Nice message. I think the sentiment here is to be careful that we all judge with a lessor light.

    I think it’s also important that we refer to the scriptures and not just rely on our own words when in these situations. One scripture that I actually just came across and reflected on for awhile only yesterday is:
    John 12:42
    “among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him” — and if you see later on, after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 6:7) many of these did come back around and were counted among those who priests who were obedient to the faith.

    I have found that whenever I can refer to scripture in a way to allow the person to become their own judge (rather than me using the scriptures to judge them) they are able to come to their own conclusions of what to do. That righteous use of agency tends comes with an increased conviction that what they are doing is pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

    So while I agree with you that the Lord was pleased with this woman (and hasten to add my approval/agreement is irrelevant), I think she certainly would have benefited from baptism and moreover, many many others, including her ancestors (not to mention friends, church members etc.) would have benefited spiritually from her baptism.

    What I see in your discussion of paths speaks a lot about the origins of us all – Adam fell that man might be. Eve and Adam took their own path, which could be judged as wrong, but out of that action much good can spring forth.

  2. Chris, good points. Certainly the woman in my ward in Brazil would have benefitted more by being baptized. Should could have gone to the temple and helped her own family members, for example. But sometimes people are simply not ready. She had to take her own path.

  3. Outstanding, Geoff.

    This reminds me of that statement from Pres. Kimball. “God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another mortal that He meets our needs. Therefore it is vital that we serve each other.”

    I’m very thankful for ward members and friends in the past who have encouraged me strengthened my faith. Through their efforts I have felt God’s influence upon my life.

  4. Well said. I am convinced that God meets the needs of many people through other denominations – that may not be ideal, but I imagine God works with what he has, not what he wishes he had.

  5. Philosophical question: does God wish?

    In this sense, I think so. Calvinists, most Muslims, and many Catholics probably disagree.

    And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart (Gen 6:6)

    Translate “repent” as “regret”. I don’t see how one can regret something without wishing it were otherwise. Similarly:

    And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the aresidue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? (Moses 7:28)

  6. Thanks for those thoughts. I have thought a lot about these kinds of people, those who don’t quite make the cut required to get a temple recommend, for whatever reason. What does this mean for them eternally? How are we to view them? The more I get to know these people and the diverse complexities of their lives, the less inclined to judge I am.

    I like the mountain metaphor. You are suggesting that we all take somewhat different paths up the mountain, and perhaps benchmarks like baptism lie in different places for different people, in a long journey that spans more than just this life.

    May I add an additional thought:

    Perhaps there are other mountains. They may not be as high and spectacular as the LDS mountain we climb, but maybe they also provide magnificent vistas, offer great exercise, and contain many wonderful paths that we have no idea about. Those who climb these other mountains sometimes reach incredible summits of spirituality, like some of the Catholic Saints. Even without LDS baptism, many of them have gone farther to becoming like Christ than most Mormons could ever hope to achieve in this life.

    When I think of some of these people, I feel a bit sheepish about our baptism for them in the temple. It seems so mechanical, so bureaucratic. These people gave their lives to Christ with a depth of commitment I can scarcely comprehend. Their gracious acceptance of our pitiful baptism on their behalf would require such condescension on their part, such humility. But of course, if this is God’s will for them, and he makes known to them that this is his will, I am sure they will accept it.

    Sorry, kind of went off topic.

    Thanks for bringing up a great subject.

  7. Nate, just to be clear, I think God’s mountain is one mountain. My personal view (and this is why I am LDS) is that the very spiritual saints you discuss are also going up the same mountain. Some of them progress rapidly as well. I honestly don’t know what happens to them if they do not have the ordinances of baptism or the endowment, etc, done for them. Do they stagnate in their progression? Again, I don’t know, but there is a reason for the temple ordinances, which I don’t see as mechanical but instead inspired and necessary.

    If our spirits have existed forever and will exist forever, then the only thing that matters in the long run is progression. Being like Jesus Christ is the goal. Temples help us progress in ways we don’t complete understand. The ordinances are important, again for reasons we don’t completely understand (but it is clear if you go to the temple that most things point to the Savior). This applies to all human beings on this Earth.

    But at the same time, people take their own paths and progress at their own rate, and we need to recognize that and accept it.

  8. I am not sure I have ever felt the Spirit stronger than while performing baptisms for the dead in the temple. Soteriology aside, I believe that those who have passed on are deeply honored that we think of them at all.

  9. Geoff- I love this post. I have mulled it around in my head for a day or so, recalling people I have known in my life. I have thought about a few converts, whose membership in the church is best described, as a “way-station on a life-long spiritual journey”. These individuals possess a unique sort of wisdom and insight, and are Christlike to all. They very much have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, but do not stick to the expected norm of activity within the church. Because they have the saving ordinances and follow Christ, I think they are, on the mountain you so eloquently described, just on a different sort of path as well. Perhaps their life experiences lead them to influence others the rest of us would not ordinarily encounter.

  10. Joanna, good point. I once knew a guy at my Miami ward who was a convert who got baptized but could not become active. He just couldn’t hack the word of wisdom. But he was a young guy and would get to know different young women and would talk to them about the Church while they were dating. He brought in three or four young women who got baptized. Those women became active even though the guy could not. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

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