This post is aimed at people who have left the Church or are thinking of leaving the Church.
This post is going to be unusual and not what you usually read at Mormon blogs.
Here is my plea: “Stop expecting other Church members to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. No Church member believes he or she is perfect. We all know that we are ALL imperfect. And this means that occasionally, for reasons beyond our control, we may say something tactless or mean-spirited or intolerant or judgmental. And the reason we may do this is that we are not perfect.”
I am asking people who have left the Church or who are thinking of leaving to have charity and love for those of us (yes, that includes me) who are imperfect. And because we are imperfect, we will not always interact with you the way you would like us to.
I will be frank: it is a bit unfair of you to expect other people to deal with you perfectly when you know that is an impossibility. Nobody can read your mind. And even if we spent hours upon hours in training trying to become more tactful, it is extremely likely that we will still say or do something imperfectly. And we would probably say something you find offensive, or hurtful or intolerant or judgmental — even if we did not intend to.
Here is the thing about mortality: the people around us, especially those in the Church, are both A)well-intentioned but B)flawed. Just about every active member around you *wants* you to stay at church. If you have ever attended a bishopric meeting or a ward council meeting, one of the primary subjects being discussed is: how do we help sister or brother so-and-so feel more welcome at church? So, the point I am making is that people are trying, in their imperfect way, to help you feel more comfortable in the Gospel.
But again I must be frank: articles like this one seem to miss an important point. They miss that everybody is accountable for their actions, include those who decide to take offense at something an imperfect person does or says.
I want to emphasize this word “accountable.” This is a very unique word and sometimes not pondered enough. “Accountable” means you will be held to account for your actions. Yes, this means you will be held accountable for deciding to take offense when some imperfect person says something stupid to you in Elder’s Quorum or Relief Society or over the pulpit during testimony meeting. This means that you are responsible for your reaction to what another person says or does just as much as the imperfect person is responsible for saying something stupid.
Everybody reading this right now knows somebody who has left the Church because somebody said or did something hurtful at church or at a social event related to church. I know many people who have done this.
Here is a question I always think about: when I am talking to the Savior, telling Him about my life, how will He react when I am not accountable about the things I have done? I see him saying, “Geoff, yes, what that person did was really hurtful, but did you really have to go and insult him back? Couldn’t you have just walked away and learned to forgive?”
So, let’s say the Relief Society president in your ward is really pushy and annoying. And let’s say this Relief Society president keeps on saying things you simply cannot stand in meetings. And then one day she says something really mean-spirited to you, and you decide to leave the Church and not come back because of this awful person.
Can you see that two people are at fault here? Yes, the relief society president, an imperfect and fallible person, did something wrong. But can you see that you also did something wrong by deciding to leave the Church? And the reason is that you let another person, a seemingly awful, terrible person, get in the way of your eternal progression. In effect, you let this other person control your life.
Here is the bottom line we must all face: we are all accountable for our choices. And this includes the choice not to come to Church when imperfect people do or say things we don’t like.
Elder Anderson said the following in the October 2010 general conference:
I promise you, as you choose not to be offended or ashamed, you will feel His love and approval. You will know that you are becoming more like Him.35
Will we understand everything? Of course not. We will put some issues on the shelf to be understood at a later time.
Will everything be fair? It will not. We will accept some things we cannot fix and forgive others when it hurts.
Will we feel separated on occasion from those around us? Absolutely.
Will we be astonished at times to see the anger a few feel toward the Lord’s Church and their efforts to steal the struggling faith of the weak?36 Yes. But this will not deter the growth or destiny of the Church, nor need it impede the spiritual progress of each of us as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elder Bednar also said the following in October 2006:
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.
In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.
So, in summary, I would please ask readers to note that I am not justifying people who say tactless or mean-spirited things. I am not saying that people should not be more careful and loving in their interactions. Of course, we all should. But we are all of us imperfect. What I am asking those of you who have left the Church or are considering leaving the Church to think about is that the people who did or said things that are hurtful are also imperfect. Forgive them. Do not let them get in the way of your eternal progression. At the end of the day, that is the most important goal.