This past week we have celebrated the words of Martin Luther King Jr. He said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And from Hebrews 3:13 “But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (exhort: intransitive verb: to give warnings or advice: make urgent appeals. Merriam/Webster)
Imagine a time near Galilee about 2000 years ago. “Let us find a way to shut him up.” “He comes from Nazareth; what good can come from there.” “He is stirring up the people so that they are thinking that they have freedom and capacity to understand God’s will.” “We cannot let this happen.” “We have established protocol after all.” “How would we be able to maintain order and control?”
Freedom of speech is a sacred opportunity and one that is threatened in every hovel of humanity. What I have to say today I do not say lightly or without a great deal of prayer. I understand the sensitive issues and do not have any desire to name names but I do intend to speak about a grave injustice and attitude that I believe is not uncommon in the congregations in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or in other circles where humanity congregates.
Two weeks in a row I have heard in my classes at church that someone is speaking too much. Someone is not giving others a chance to be heard. I have been in classes like that and have not heard it stated. We simply cringe as the monopolizer makes their statement knowing that we all must be given a chance to bear witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ from their particular place of experience and reference. And no, this does not occur frequently, but it does happen. I have lived in several wards and have seen it only on rare occasion.
I do know how uncomfortable that can be for the class. I take great care to be prayerful in church before I speak. For years I would race my speech when I talked in church as if I had no right speaking and indeed I did feel this way. My testimony was great but I was well aware that I did not speak as others did in my testimony. I have been 30 years studying this doctrine and “cult”ure from many angles. I sustain the doctrine, The Book of Mormon, The Prophet, and The Apostles with all my heart, but the “cult”ure could use some major improvement. I know that I speak boldly, my testimony does not come from being born in a place near the “Tree of Lehi” or even holding to “The Rod”, which we understand is the word of God. (See 1 Nephi 8 in The Book of Mormon) My testimony comes from the raging river of the world and treacherous torrents that seek to drown all who would seek the light of Christ.
People treat me and those who come from where I do (and the number is growing) as they do those who have HIV thinking that they will be contaminated by them if they talk to them. Where is our faith in Christ and our love for one another?
I ruffle the feathers of those who think that because they are in the church they are in a place “literally” where “all is well”. They forget that Christ’s fear and warning was about the wolves in sheep’s clothing that would be among us and those that would flatter us off into false truths and tell us we are doing well, there is no harm in a little sin, etc.
They get frightened by the way I teach as if we were in a war or something! Guess what?!! That is where we are. We are in a war and there is not safe place on earth. Safety is in the presence of the Lord and that is found within the heart and soul of each and every man, woman, and child who accepts the atonement and offering of God’s sacrifice to mankind in his Son. It is not a place. And it must be preserved and protected and God gave us one another to help us do just that. We are to warn one another and look to see if that is something that we need to adjust to walk in his path and it is to be done by all, each and everyone who has entered the waters of baptism, not just a chosen few. If we allow a chosen few to do this we will be as in the time of Christ and can be led into false teachings but if we all participate under the leadership of the General Authorities we will help ourselves stay close to the Lord’s teachings.
I often ask a question or make a comment that sheds light from a different angle on the topic or scripture and it rings with truth even if it makes us aware of the dangers in the world in which we live. It is hard, sometimes, not to believe they view my witness as “offensive or threatening” because I do not come from the stock of Mormon pioneers or those who are willing to bow to those who do. And this is heart-breaking from my point of view.
I have learned different things from the scriptures because of the places I have experienced in life. I do not come from what could be called a place of privilege and it shows in my testimony. There are those who would have me hide that away and pretend it was not a part of my life so I can fit into their idea of a comfortable society but is that really what Heavenly Father wants us to do? See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil was an interesting adage in its day but does it really fit the truth of the gospel? Another one is “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. That is fine in a world where deceit and manipulation and “destroying our neighbor” as a sport is acceptable but is that what the scriptures teach us? Is this how Jesus Christ lived?
I believe our histories are to be used to share our testimonies. That is exactly what the scriptures are, isn’t it….yes, I know, as defined by the Holy Ghost but how do you know that the Holy Ghost has not given me a witness that my history is valuable to the progression of the kingdom of God? I believe that there are many more that feel the same way but society has used “politically correct” and “polite company behavior” to put a gag over the mouths of so many who would be prophets and help us understand the character of God and the process of repentance and how to overcome the offenses of others and forgive and so much more. We are all called to do this, but how can we when we cannot speak of life and its challenges and realities of pain and discomfort in the world, especially spiritual and psychological pain?!!!
I consider all of us pioneers in this journey into the darkness as we seek to be a reflection of the light of Christ for others. And because I am willing to share testimony from my place of experience and struggle instead of privilege or heritage, I do not fit the cultural norm for the latter day saint who typically speaks in class. I was 27 when I joined the church and had no desire to “fit in” culturally. I wanted to know Christ and how to fulfill what I was sent here to do and to overcome my weaknesses.
I really do try my best to speak only as the Spirit prompts and with intent to bring the light of Christ to the class and not just to impress somebody else. There was a time when I wanted others to understand me so they could help me, but I have no need or desire for that any longer. I am able to glean what Heavenly Father is trying to teach me through others or circumstances on my own because I have aligned myself with his will and have learned to listen to the Holy Ghost. That is the “confidence” in God that is promised in his word.
However, when the dignity of the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be maintained and testified of in church we are in some serious straits. Jealousy toward me has always been a big issue. Most of it seeming so irrational. It continues today and is often over such issues as who is more spiritual!??! That breaks my heart because this should not be a contest. We are each on our own journey and it is our opportunity and privilege to bring the light of Christ into a dark world. There does not need to be any competition in this. There is work enough and light enough that we all need to be voices and examples. The gospel is a living, breathing, life-giving entity. And it is to be defended today as it was in days past. Also I, and perhaps you, have made sacred covenants in the temple of our God to do just that.
So what am I to do? Listen to the goals or direction of the teacher or conductor rather than the witness of the Holy Ghost? That is not something that I look forward to doing. Someone told me, just before announcing that we want to be sure that our comments are short and that we give time for all, “it is not you, there is someone else who is monopolizing, just wanted you to know”. I felt in the pit of my stomach that something very wrong was going to take place, but I thought if it is not me and this is a leader in the branch then I should be still. I feel ashamed that I let it go. I feel as if I betrayed not only my sister -whoever it was they wanted to quiet down-, but the Lord as well.
I had not heard anyone speak in the classes that has been out of line. There was a newly baptized sister though who maybe did not speak with the finesse of the culture of our fine LDS environment. Tears filled the eyes of this newly baptized sister shortly after the announcement was made and she claimed allergies but I suspect that she felt like she was the one they were speaking to.
If she was perhaps they forgot the adversary does not lift you when you decide to “chose the right”. Instead he comes at you with everything that he has and so it had been for this sister on several accounts. Had these “well-meaning” sisters forgotten this? Perhaps they forgot what it is like to be new in the church or in unfamiliar surroundings. I do not believe that they intended to harm her or threaten any of us but I certainly felt the sting.
Even more so when a week later the message was repeated and this sister was not here. It came from a different source and she had not been privy to the whispered statement that these words were not meant for me. It was clearly stated that someone is monopolizing the time in the classes and this would not be tolerated, at least not by this teacher.
We need to be able to bear our testimony’s from many places and a challenged background or circumstance does not need to make the congregation hide its head in shame. Life is just life. That’s all. My witness is just as valid as someone’s who has not had molestation in their background.
I personally believe that rape and child abuse are able to be so prevalent because we are not allowed to talk about it at church or anywhere else. Let me tell you something, in case you did not know, they are talking about it everywhere else. In church it is made to be “dirty or titillating” instead of the great sin that it is. Do I or should I talk about the “details”? No! And I do not appreciate anyone who asks me about them or who tries to “visualize” it in any way. But to say that I cannot acknowledge where I have been is not okay. We need to be able to say this happens and life goes on and it can be washed in the blood of Christ just like every other aspect of living and turned to his glory. I do not speak because I need to drudge up what happened to me. I speak for many reasons, the main one being because it may be and probably is happening to someone else in any given group where humanity gathers and they need to know that you at least live through it and God can still bless you.
I repeat: Why is my witness of the truth of Jesus Christ not acceptable? My witness may just help someone who is experiencing it or has experienced it to have a greater witness of God’s love for them and isn’t that what this gospel is all about? Lifting others up to Christ. Likewise if I share my witness, after living here and serving among the community for an extended period, perhaps they will see that not everyone that goes through these things is so horrific. Then again, maybe that is what they think and if it is, all the more reason for me to stand and state who I am experience-ally and bear witness of the atoning power and mercy of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
If one were to look at this without being on the “inside” and knowing that it was not the intent of the sisters to do this, it would truly seem that we are behaving as a group of snobs or a “cult” that demands that we “fit a mold or shut up”. I believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly what it claims to be in doctrinal teaching. I believe that it is the one place that, in principle and doctrine anyway, the ideals of liberty and freedom are upheld.
This is something that I have struggled with most of my life. To be allowed “to be”, to honor that God that I know and to know that I have a witness of his truth through the study of his word. I have seen people be willing to speak that have not before in our classes, the women’s and the combined class, in part I believe, because I am willing to speak. I also know that there are people quite afraid to speak and I am beginning to see why. There is a lot of difference between economic and sophistication in the community. Working class, farming people, transients, and many graduate students or professors. But that is irrelevant to God. He sees only the heart and the desire of the person to know his will and to serve him.
I needed to go through 30 years of my own repentance and get to the place where I am today and know that I would stand before this Church and declare that it was not made for the “righteous” and “cult”ured. I will speak for the poor and down trodden and declare that Christ can lift them up. The church was established for me and my neighbor and my children and my brothers and sisters throughout the world. It was put on earth for the sick and infirmed and it is to be a place where all mankind may gather to learn the will of God and not the “cult”ure of man. We need to allow each other to bear our witness of the gospel from where we are today and not put parameters on it that dis-allow the Holy Ghost to reveal his testimony, because HIS is the only one that really matters anyway.
I believe that we get uncomfortable in the presence of pain and unless we have been prepared for it such as, “You are going to hear from someone who lived through the genocide of Rwanda or the holocaust” we are not willing to hear about pain. Well, pain is experienced and lived on a daily basis and immoral pain is awful and maybe if our children, husbands, and wives heard more about its effects they would be less inclined to turn their heads when they suspect or do it in the first place.
It is not a goal of mine to “fit in” with mankind. It has been made very clear to me through the scriptures and through life that this means I have to separate myself from the will of God. I wish to come into the light of Christ and by my own life bring others unto him. If I cannot do this I can do nothing. I would be living a lie. I will not stand in the congregation or with my family and allow insult and abuses to occur once I recognize them. I did not do it with my family or my children and I will not do it with the church.
I would love to be able to do this with finesse and decorum but if I need to be a Samuel on the wall then that is what I will be. And I will make no apology for it.
Between my meditation and my radio shows and my other work and challenges my confidence is growing and I will do what I can to lift the poor and the needy, to succor those whose arms hang down and to challenge those who are privileged and may be growing in apathy toward those things that will give them courage to carry on the work we have all been called to do. My voice and stamina are not diminishing, they are growing. By their fruits ye shall know them. You be the judge and decide where you stand on the issue.