How would you respond?

by: Mormon Heretic

March 11, 2011

Ray at StayLDS gave a talk in church a few weeks ago on the atonement, and how we all need the atonement in our lives.  You can read the outline of his talk here.  I think it’s a beautiful talk, but I want to focus on the end of the talk where he says,

End with a request for each member to consider those in their lives whom they naturally see as lepers, Samaritans, publicans and sinners and ask them to live their lives so that it is obvious they believe that those people are every bit as “worthy” of Jesus’ redemption as they are themselves – that they act as God’s hands in both the redeeming and saving of those people – that they create among themselves as a congregation their own “kingdom of nobodies” as a friend once described Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Ask point blank that they each consider what their initial reaction would be if a man staggered into the chapel in the middle of the administration of the sacrament muttering and reeking of alcohol – or if two men walked in holding hands and sat in a pew with their arms around each other – if a young woman entered in a mini skirt, visible tattoos and a nose or eyebrow ring. Would that immediate reaction be, “Ooooh, get out of here. You’re interrupting our worship service” – or would it be, “Thank God you found us!!” Would they recoil or embrace?

Until we can embrace all, especially those who are rejected and seen as irredeemable by others, we can’t say honestly that we are exercising faith in the redemption of Jesus.

So, if one of these Samaritans shows up in your ward this Sunday, what would your reaction be?  What would the reaction of most members be?

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33 Responses to How would you respond?

  1. allquieton on March 11, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    I think the person’s attitude has a lot to do with it. In my experience, people who seem sincere, humble and repentant tend to get received warmly no matter what they look like.

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  2. jks on March 11, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    They already show up in my ward. It would be great if they stayed, but they usually don’t.
    I see many people reaching out to them.

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  3. salt h2o on March 11, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    I lived in a ward where the neighborhood smoker was a key member of ward activities, where our openly homosexual neighbor sang in the choir and never sat alone on a Sunday, where a single mom of 4 girls pregnant with her 5th and still not married, came to church each Sunday- because that ward was a judgement free zone.

    I lived in a ward that practiced what they preached, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life. And surprisingly, that ward was in Utah.

    We mormons aren’t as bad as we tend to assume we are.

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  4. FireTag on March 11, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    During the Sunday evening service many years ago in which I was to be ordained to the office of Priest, something exactly like that DID happen.

    A member of the branch who was a long haul truck driver and rarely attended nevertheless chose this evening to come and to bring with him a Native American trucker friend. Both sat up near the front of what was only a partly filled sanctuary, and both were obviously sauced.

    Sitting up on the rostrum about to take my place among the priesthood of the branch, I had a clear view of both of them, and of the reactions of the congregation to them. In closer tune to the Spirit in that moment than I usually am, I saw someone proud of his faith and trying to share his Book of Mormon heritage with a “Lamanite”. Obedient to the best of his current ability.

    I also saw a group of normally more obedient people so upset by the presence of these two that they were missing the entire spiritual experience of participating in the ordinance itself. I noticed two ladies in particular who spent the entire service whispering in disapproval at the back of the sanctuary.

    A few months later, I brought this matter up in a sermon, without mentioning names. After the service, one of these very ladies, obviously oblivious to the reference, came up to thank me for my “wonderful sermon”, and told me how “she wished her teen age daughter had been there to hear me.”

    Those most in need of the atonement are those who do not know they are in need of the atonement.

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  5. Scott B. on March 11, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    If it were in any way a disruptive entrance (i.e., one that is impossible to not notice if you’re in the chapel at all), I suspect that the reactions from most of the congregation would be mass head-jerking back and forth between the individual and the leadership on the stand to see if there is any reaction there. I think that’s a natural reaction–to look to the people “in charge” for cues on what to do; it’s also an unfortunate reaction, which would prevent us from doing what we should do: pay no heed whatsoever to what others are doing, and slide over on the bench to make room and hand them a hymnal or a handful of Cheerios.

    I truly hope I would do that, I really do. I don’t know if I would.

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  6. Will on March 11, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    The message is a good one. It is the essence of the gospel. It is hope. Our arms should be open to sinners seeking redemption. We should be champions of change. All of us are sinners; however, not all of us seek redemption. Those that enter the chapel with the intent to disrupt should be decisively dismissed.

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  7. Jana H on March 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    “They already show up in my ward. It would be great if they stayed, but they usually don’t.

    I see many people reaching out to them.”

    This is my experience as well. People tend to line up to introduce themselves to investigators/new faces in my ward. If I were investigating, I think I’d find it a tad overwhelming, actually. Increase the pressure to join, I guess.

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  8. mh on March 11, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    I agree. I think it is very hard for these ‘samaritans’ to stay active, and I think it is hard for members to feel comfortable with a heavily tattooed priesthood teacher, or a yw’s advisor with a mini-skirt, or a gay sunday school teacher. and if elder c visits the stake, surely these grooming standards aren’t up to snuff.

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  9. Will on March 11, 2011 at 9:12 PM

    ‘…ym’s advisor with a mini-skirt, or a gay sunday school teacher….”

    Or a Relief Society president carrying a loaded weapon on her side during a visiting teaching message, or an EQP drinking coffee at a PPI at his house, or missionaries watching hardcore porn with some investigators. (all actual events)

    Yea, let’s be more accepting of everyone. No rules. Just love.

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  10. mh on March 11, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    careful will. with a comment like that, you may actually begin to start understanding why jesus’ parable of the good samaritan was so controversial when he said it.

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  11. Shorty on March 11, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    Except, MH, I get the feeling that Will is simply being sarcastic.

    Will: does your not drinking coffee with the EQP make you a better person than the EQP? Does your not carrying a loaded weapon when you home teach make you a better person than the RSP? Does you not watching whatever show it was make you better than either the missionaries or the investigators?

    I don’t think that we know that much about what Christ really was like (or is like). We are all too judgmental, all too much like the Pharisee [and not like the Publican] (Luke 18).

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  12. Ray on March 11, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    Thanks, MH, for mentioning my talk. Just a few things:

    1) I live in a ward in which I am sure most people I described would be welcomed my most members of the ward. I understand how fortunate I am.

    2) I did not speak from a position of full implementation of the principle I was trying to teach – and I only am where I am because I have spent decades intentionally focusing on trying to live this concept more fully. It doesn’t happen naturally for most people; hence, my belief in preaching it actively.

    3) Elder Wirhlin’s talk “Concern for the One” had a great impact on me. His orchestra of God analogy is powerful.

    4) Will, that is a gross mis-statement of what I said. I hope you can re-read the post itself and understand better what I meant in the talk. Do you truly believe the people I mentioned have not been redeemed, are not savable, should not be embraced and welcomed into our midst, etc.?

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  13. Ray on March 11, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    Wow, I even proofread that comment prior to posting it and still missed the mis-spellings.

    I’m WAY too tired. Good night.

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  14. Joshua on March 12, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    Unfortunately my ward would not be the best. There are some seriously judgmental people in it.

    @Wil–chill out. Our wards should be inviting to “the sinner”. Relief Society Prez carrying a gun to visiting teacher. Oh jeez.

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  15. mh on March 12, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    ray, one of will’s favorite techniques of debate is to grossly exaggerate someone else’s statement beyond recognition. he really doesn’t recognize his own pharisaical positions, and as jesus said, ‘has eyes to see but is blind’.

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  16. E on March 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    What’s wrong with carrying a loaded weapon while performing church work? You never know when you might need to kill someone.

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  17. FireTag on March 12, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    When I lived in New York City in an island of stability around Columbia University, pastors in Harlem a few blocks away chose to carry guns into the services to keep their congregations from being robbed.

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  18. Will on March 12, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    Jesus said, go thy way and sin no more; not, go thy way and keep sinning. The purpose of his plan us to distribute the souls of men — some to eternal life and some to eternal damnation. Redemption is for all, but will only be applicable to those that apply it. “Fo I God have suffered for all, but those who do not repent must suffer as I”. His plan is to separate the wheat from
    tares.

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  19. Paul on March 12, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    A number of years ago Clayton Christensen visited as an area authority and said that if we didn’t smell alcohol or tobacco in sacrament meeting then we were probably mission someone we shouldn’t be missing.

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  20. Paul on March 12, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Er, that should be “missing”, not “mission”…

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  21. MH on March 12, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    It is a pretty well-quoted fact in the church that people with callings are more likely to stay active. So if we’re all sinners, then none of us are fit to serve are we?

    So Will, if a gay person commits to the Law of Chastity, then they still can’t teach Sunday School because of a sin that they may commit in the future? I thought men were punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression or future sins that they may or may not participate in.

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  22. MH on March 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Paul, nice quote. I had a bishop in Georgia years ago that said something very similar. He said that tobacco smoke was one of the sweetest smells in Sacrament meeting.

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  23. Ray on March 12, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    There is exactly nothing in my talk or this post that addresses continued sin of any kind and the eventual state of those who sin in various ways. There is exactly nothing in my talk that implies we must embrace any particular sin. My talk simply draws the distinction between being redeemed, which has happened already for all who are born (except the sons of perdition, who intentionally reject it), and being saved after being redeemed – and then addresses how we can exercise faith in that redemption. I’d suggest reading the full talk outline, if there is any question or misunderstanding about the difference between redemption and salvation.

    Finally, it is not our place to judge the condition of someone’s soul based on the visibility of their particular sin. I sin in my own ways; Will sins in his own ways; MH sins in his own ways; everyone here sins in their own ways. One of the points of my talk is that we need to admit we ALL need redemption and salvation (that, in a very real and valid way, those we scorn and judge and reject can do so to us and be totally “justified”) – and that we are told that the same judgment we mete will be meted to us. We also are told that even the publicans and sinners love those who love them – and, by extension, those with whom they are comfortable (those whose sins are less repugnant to them).

    I believe strongly that the truest manifestation of our charity is how we view and treat those who are most unlike us – those we see as the publicans, sinners, Samaritans and lepers of our own time. (I am repeating that here, just in case some who are commenting did not read my actual talk or consider carefully the part that MH quoted in his post.) I think that message is crystal clear throughout our scriptures – and, especially, in the Gospels.

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  24. Ray on March 12, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Oh, and I would love it if there was a sign on all of our churches that said, “Smokers and sinners are welcome.”

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  25. N. on March 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    So, if one of these Samaritans shows up in your ward this Sunday, what would your reaction be?

    I’d honestly like to know what church you guys are attending. I’ve seen all kinds of people come to meetings and be welcomed, introduced, befriended, etc.

    I’ve seen people go out of their way to welcome the “guy with 70% tatoo coverage,” or the “guy who still smells like weed,” and the “guy who dresses like Michael Jackson.”

    Sometimes they stick around (tatoo guy) sometimes not (Michael Jackson guy), but we try to give them the words of Life as best we can while they’re with us.

    This has been my experience my entire adult life with the church. Why the presupposition of exclusion?

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  26. Justin on March 14, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    Why the presupposition of exclusion?

    Because no matter how smiling and welcoming a congregation may be when the “wayward” one first attends — every LDS knows the endgame: conformity or bust.

    The guy who still smells like weed is openly welcomed insofar as he gets in line once he becomes a regular. They are loved for who we want them to be — not for who they are.

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  27. N. on March 14, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    They are loved for who we want them to be — not for who they are.

    I respectfully disagree.
    How is this not the way that God deals with his children (as far as we can tell)?
    Why can’t we love people for who they are, but still want them to be better than they currently are and help them to be better than who they are? We can, and do. Just as He can, and does.

    Doesn’t He want me to better than who I currently am? Doesn’t He expect me to love Him (*more* or even at all) and love my neighbor(*more* or even at all) when every natural inclination I have is to fight and conquer for what’s mine?

    If God had the kind of full 100% unconditional love that transcends “first attendance”, he wouldn’t have to teach/reveal/guide creation in any way. His love conquers all, and so it doesn’t matter how we are or how we change.

    So yeah. God wants us to conform to His ideal if we want to hang with Him as a regular. Conformity or bust, as it were.

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  28. Justin on March 14, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    N.

    So it doesn’t matter how we are or how we change

    He cares about our change — but you seem focused on making it about some Church-approved standard of worthiness.

    “Worthiness” is never an issue with the Lord b/c there is no one worthy.

    …For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

    Those with hard-hearts are obsessed with worthiness.

    You can do all the church service and works of man to pass all the necessary worthiness interviews you want — but nothing in the gospel is based upon a person’s merits.

    I wonder — do you think that by “conforming” just a little bit more today that God now loves you more? Do you think that He loves that new visitor less b/c he hasn’t gotten in line and started wearing the white shirt and tie yet?

    It is only the unjustified believers in Christ that would sit around discussing what types of other unjustified believers in Christ will be allowed to frequent their church meetings.

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  29. mh on March 14, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    n, I don’t know if you saw my previous post about dress and grooming. short story is a guy in my ward couldn’t be in the eq presidency because of long hair and beard, despite regular temple attendance. some people go inactive over such stupid measurements of righteousness. (will thinks a min-skirt at church disqualifies a woman from yw leadership.)

    I live in utah county, so perhaps my ward is more flawed than most by looking at appearances. but, when general authorities make stake presidents enforce a ‘no beards’ policy, then it goes beyond 1 ward or 1 stake. (see my post from 2 weeks ago.) I can’t imagine a heavily tattooed man serving in the eq presidency in my stake, due to elder c’s edict on grooming.

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  30. Ray on March 14, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    That’s just wrong, mh – just wrong.

    I was in the temple once, and the witness couple included a man with a nice beard and a ponytail that was braided and hung halfway down his back. Anyone who would keep him from serving in a presidency because of something that doesn’t disqualify him from attending the temple and participating as part of the witness couple just doesn’t understand the heart of the Gospel, imo.

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  31. Ray on March 14, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    N, I actually agree with almost all of what you said in your last comment, but, with all due respect, I think the issue here is a question of what really constitutes God’s ideal and what simply is a cultural norm – and how cultural norms can get in the way of understanding and practicing the Gospel that Jesus taught.

    He lived his life serving and loving and healing **and associating with** those who were despised and rejected by the society in which he and they lived. Everything else aside, I think there’s a profound lesson in the life he lived – and we focus so much on his suffering and death (rightly so) that sometimes we forget that his life also was a major part of the Atonement.

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  32. Badger on March 14, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    …if a young woman entered in a mini skirt, visible tattoos and a nose or eyebrow ring.

    Well….as long as it’s just one nose ring.

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  33. MH on March 14, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    Ray, I’ve heard more than once that there are plenty of people to hold callings in Utah. If leadership doesn’t think a person conforms enough, then it’s easy to release the person and find someone else. I think that outside of Utah County, it isn’t so easy to replace someone.

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