Respect in Our Differences- Summary

When I first began this blog, I did have a list of specific topics to cover with it. I never had any intention of stressing the need for unity so heavily, but over the months it has certainly become a recurring theme for me. My studies just keep coming back to this idea over and over. Perhaps it is a message I really need to share, or perhaps it is a message I really need to hear.

I certainly haven’t grown tired of promoting it, though. The more I think about it, the more I see the gospel as a vehicle of unity. Unity between us and God, unity between each other. If we could remove our divisions from our fellowman, we would no longer sin against each other. And if we could remove our divisions from God, we would no longer sin against Him either.

In this study I wanted to focus on a specific division that so often falls between us: that of different religious beliefs. I wanted to advocate for holding to your own beliefs, for maintaining your confidence in your own truth, but also for being gracious to those that disagree. Here are a few of the main points from this study.

We Are a Bigoted People

To our society’s credit, we have made great strides in breaking down some of the walls that divide us. It is generally accepted that I should not look at another person’s skin color, gender, income level, or educational degree, and judge them as inferior.
These are wonderful developments, ones that break down the mentality of “us” and “them.” It allows us to truly view one another as brothers and sisters, and to work together for our common good.
Unfortunately, the same progress can’t be claimed when it comes to differences of opinion. People might be accepting of outward appearance, but they cannot tolerate someone that thinks differently from themselves. Once you call yourself a conservative or a liberal, you have made enemies. Once you disclose that you are spiritual or atheistic, people start labeling you as an idiot. Once you speak for or against any social clause, you are recognized as fundamentally flawed forever.
3 Nephi 11:29-30- For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

We Are on the Same Side

To be clear, I absolutely believe that there are forces of evil in this world. I see wolves in sheep’s clothing, trying to lead flocks astray. I fear that certain social movements have the express intention of undermining the foundation of good that Christ has given us.
But I see all this, and still believe that we are far too quick to label our brothers and sisters as servants of the devil. The fact is, most of those that disagree with you also want the exact same things as you: to spread good through the world. Just because another ideology does not use the right name, or emphasize the right focus, or worship on the right day, does not mean that it is a force of pure evil!
Human beings are basically good. They are all born with the mark of divinity within them. Yes, they are all flawed, but they are also all tended towards good by default. Take any person off the street, and it is almost a certainty that that person is your true brother or sister in their heart. Yes you have a few differences, but you also have so much more in common.
2 Kings 6:16- They that be with us are more than they that be with them.
Luke 9:50- And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

Who Are You Fighting?

I believe that all of Satan’s attacks fall into one of two categories. The first is to challenge our belief that we are truly sons and daughters of God. The second is to challenge our belief that our brothers and sisters are also sons and daughters of God. He breaks many of us with the first assault, and catches many of the rest with the second. Those that fall to the first assault will sin against God. Those that fall to the second will sin against their fellowman.
When the young ruler came to Jesus, he attested that all his life he had kept the commandments, and had done his due diligence to God. Jesus did not dispute this, but pointed out that the man could do better by his fellowman.
Peter tried to diminish his obligation to his fellowman when he asked Jesus whether seven times was not enough to forgive one that had wronged him. Jesus immediately suggested that Peter try 490 times instead.
A lawyer asked Jesus what was necessary to obtain eternal life. Jesus said to love God and love one’s neighbor. The lawyer did not dispute the first half, but trying “to justify himself,” asked for clarification as to what qualified another as his neighbor. Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which he meant that all others are our neighbor.
So which side are we on when we condemn our fellowman? Whose war are we championing? What way would Jesus have you treat your brother or sister, even one that is flawed? The same way that he has treated you.
Luke 11:17- But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.
John 13:35- By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Knit Our Hearts- Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

COMMENTARY

Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.

Knit Our Hearts- Amos 3:3, Genesis 2:24

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

COMMENTARY

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
I’ve already mentioned that an essential element to building a companionship is sharing a cause. When two agree on a principle, then they can agree on an action, then they can walk together. Not only do they achieve the fruit of their labor, they also sow a relationship with each other in the process.
Sometimes finding that shared principle takes some work, but I am convinced every two individuals can find one. We all come from the same divine source, after all, we are more alike than different.
Perhaps one brother could be your companion in community service, while another sister could be your companion in wholesome creation, and yet a third could be the one you are accountable to in your repentance.
Not any one person is meant to be all things to us, but all are meant to be something.

Therefore shall a man…cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh
I would be remiss to do a study on mortal companionships and not make note of its most significant form: the marriage covenant between husband and wife.
In every other relationship we can have brotherhood, sisterhood, and friendship. We can unite our strengths, and we can mutually improve one another. And of course, husband and wife should also have this same standard of brotherhood and sisterhood, and also of being friends.
But to that base marriage adds something more. It is the union of the two distinct halves of humanity. One male, the other female, each essential to creating the one. Masculinity perfecting the feminine, and femininity perfecting the masculine. The two find completion in one another and discover God within their oneness. A union so consummate that God has reserved to it the very creation of life.

Knit Our Hearts- Personal Example

Last week the city I live in had a festival, one where the entire community pitched in to create a number of family-centric events. On Saturday they planned to have a little carnival, and each of the local church groups volunteered to run a different booth. At each one children could pay one ticket and then play a simple game and win prizes.

My church branch called me the week before to see if I would be willing to take ownership of the booth along with one other couple. They probably would have asked my wife as well, but she was had volunteered to take the women youth to a girls’ camp that week.

All of which is to say that I was assigned a task, and had as my only companionship an older couple that I did not know very well. I knew of them, I had heard them speak at various times in church meetings, but I honestly couldn’t remember ever having a direct conversation with them in the past. I felt that we simply moved in different circles.

Over the course of that week we spent hours together. We had planning meetings, we sought out additional volunteers to help run the game, we setup the booth, manned it, and finally took everything back down at the end of the day.

In all that time we spoke a great deal, but never did we have that “magical moment” where we suddenly realized that we had so much in common. Life is not a Hallmark Movie, and at the end of it all we still move in entirely different circles.

And yet…at the end of it all I did feel that I had made two friends. Because in the end we did actually share something together. An experience. It was a little something, but it was mutual. And whenever we share something, no matter how small, we start to build a kinship.

Too often I limit my friendships to those that I share personality traits with. To like you, I have to find something like me in you. And there isn’t anything wrong in seeking those relationships, but it is restricting if they are the only ones I will consider.

Sharing personality traits is good, but I can also learn to love others by sharing experiences with them. And then, if I continue to share experiences and build bridges with a wide variety of brothers and sisters, perhaps eventually I will also learn to love others just for sharing in our common humanity. For sharing in the journey of Earth life. For sharing a Father in Heaven. For sharing a divine potential.

The Family of God- Summary

While there many wonderful lessons in this study, there was one particular message that spoke to me most of all. While reviewing the scriptural verses on the Family of God, I found myself constantly drawn back to our tendency to put up barriers between ourselves and others, and the need to break them down. I guess this was the message that I needed most, and I am glad to have found it.

I don’t think any of us would deny that there is a lot of division in this world right now, and that it is holding us back as a society. We each have a vision of a united people, but we can’t seem to agree what that unity should look like. Different ideologies each come with different pros and cons, and none of them leave everyone entirely satisfied.

But this endeavor to fashion a new family structure is just us reinventing the wheel. We do not need to solve an already-answered question, the original answer is still the best. Our role as children in a divine family was chosen before we were ever born. The unity we need is God’s unity, and the path we need to follow is His.

Our Fates Are Tied Together

I do not know why we try to make reaching heaven such an isolated effort. We seem to have this idea that I am to get myself to heaven, and you are to get yourself there. We might expand it a little bit to say Jesus and I will get me to heaven, and Jesus and you will get you to heaven, but there is still no overlap between you and I.
If this was truly the model God intended for our salvation, why not just create a few billion individual worlds where He could work with us in isolation? Each of us in our own little bubble, getting saved separately one at a time.
But that isn’t the environment God chose for us. Because in the end, none of us was meant to come to heaven alone. Our very existence here mandates that we are directly tied to at least two separate human beings, and then by extension to all others. God tied us together because we are supposed to be tied together. Our salvation is not mine and yours, but ours.
Matthew 18:20- For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Malachi 2:10- Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?

There Is No Place for Contention

Because of our dependence on each other, all that is necessary for us to to fail is to see our friends as our foes. No wonder, then, that Satan prioritizes sowing discord. Once we are unable to work together it doesn’t matter how much good we try to do in isolation. He has cut us off upstream, and there is nothing to work with down below.
In his ingenuity he has taught us to be self-righteous about it, too. We tell ourselves that we cannot work with that person because they are bad. If we had some real Christians to work with that would be something else, but to associate with these would be compromising our standards!
And so we undo the ties we were literally born with, and divide the one world we were meant to share into those billions of isolated ones I mentioned above. And then, separated and alone, we are far more easily overpowered by the adversary.
Luke 22:24- And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
3 Nephi 11:29- For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Rely on One Another’s Strengths

Now to be clear, there are certain things that we brothers and sisters can simply never do for one another. I can never atone for your sins. You cannot cleanse me from past mistakes. No brother or sister can teach us all the mysteries of heaven and earth. There are needs of ours that will only ever be answered by God, the Savior, and the Holy Ghost.
But on the other hand, there are also things that we are only going to get from each other. Not because God couldn’t directly give these things to us if He wanted, but because He doesn’t want to. Anyone who has prayed and asked for answers knows that often God insists on sending us the answer through another person.
Think of it another way. What are your personal strengths? What God-given gifts do you hold? Okay…now what are you supposed to do with them? Surely it is to help other people in some way, to do something essential for them. To fill a role in their life that only you could fill. Alright, now if you have strengths that God gave you for the express purpose of helping others, doesn’t it only stand to reason that He also gave gifts to your brothers and sisters for the express purpose of having them help you? To do something essential for you? Something that only they can?
By myself I have many weakness and many flaws. But with my brothers and sisters, I start to approach the perfection God meant for me.
Romans 12:4-6- For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.