The Three Interwoven Distinctions

I know this is a long post, and I apologize.  I have highlighted the parts that I feel really catch the essence of each section in red to give you the option of skimming through this to get the point of what I am trying to say.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and my beliefs in the past few years, particularly the last year and last few months.  I’ve learned that my beliefs are often challenged by those in the LDS church because they aren’t normal.  I want to share some of these beliefs here, and I hope those who read this will be understanding that this is what I believe.  If you disagree, that is fine and I expect it; in fact, feel free to express your disagreements here, but do so kindly.

This particular post will be about the way that I view the LDS church.

I have to divide the church into 3 distinct areas:  The Gospel, The Church, and The Culture.  The three, to me, are seperate, but almost inseparably interwoven into the others.  It is important to recognize these distinctions and what role they play in our lives in order to examine and refine our beliefs.

THE GOSPEL

The Gospel is what the church is all about.  The gospel is easily contained in Matthew 22: 37-39 and John 3:16

Matthew 22:

37 – Jesus saith unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 – This is the first and great commandment.

39 – And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

John 3:

16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might be saved.

To put it simply, we are to love God, and to love others.  We have to recognize that we are sinners and that we must rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be saved.  This sounds very simple and evangelical – and it is.  But isn’t this what Jesus Christ taught?  Is this not the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

This doesn’t discount the word of wisdom, the law of chastity, etc., and I’ll get to those in a minute.  This is the plain and simple message of Jesus Christ.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what I love and believe whole-heartedly.  I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  I love it so much; more than anything really.  It is my life and my love.

THE CHURCH

The church, as I see it, is the structure that encloses the gospel.  The church is organized to help us follow the gospel.  Rules and standards are set forth to keep us on the straight and narrow path.  The church is what teaches us the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity.  It is the church that teaches us to do our home teaching, to go to church, and to pay our tithing.

This seperation of church and gospel does not discount the teachings of the church.  Just because these teachings are not necessarily the gospel, they are given to us by God.  They are here to help us live the gospel.

Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in the rules and guidelines so much that we forget to actually live the gospel.  For example, we are to love our neighbors.  This is a lot easier to say than to do.  So, we are assigned families in which we are to visit each month and teach and help whenever they need it.  This is great and should be seen as an opportunity in which we can learn to become more like our Heavenly Father.  Unfortunately, we (me included) tend to see this is a chore.  We need to please the Elders Quorum President and make sure our numbers are up.  We get so caught up in following the rules and programs that we forget the actual reason these rules and programs were established.

I love the church too.  I believe the rules and programs are inspired by God to help us live the gospel and ultimately become like Him.  I also think it is more important in most cases to live by the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law.  We need to remember the real reason these programs and rules are in place and go with that reason and not the pressure we feel from our leaders to live these rules.  (Which, reminds me – I could go on for pages about bishops pushing young couples into marriage/missionaries pushing investigators into baptism before those being pushed are actually ready to make those commitments, but I will refrain.)

I agree with the programs and rules, but I think we tend to be too strict with them.  We need to realize in a realistic way what we can and can’t handle. I am sometimes tempted to break the word of wisdom, but I know I would rely on drugs and alcohol and I would ruin my life with it, so I am very strict about that.  There are things that are part of the church that I might be a little bit lax about because I feel like I am getting the full benefits of how I follow what is being taught.

In short, individual circumstances vary, and it is up to us to choose how we will follow the teachings of the church, keeping in mind the goals of the gospel. Along with that, we need to allow everyone the opportunity to follow the teachings of the church in whatever way they choose to do so (Article of Faith 11: We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may).  Last of all, I think it is important to not hold everyone to our own personal standards, but to hold them to their standards (another thing I could talk about for pages, and probably will sometime, but not now).

THE CULTURE

This is where I have issues with things.  This is what I don’t love.  I know that culture is so important.  It gives us a feeling of belonging and can reinforce teachings of the church and gospel.  I just hate how it can become the most important thing to some people.

I don’t like the way that people seemingly don’t think for themselves because everyone else is doing it (I could be wrong in saying that, but I know I have been caught in that trap).  I don’t like it when people follow blindly.  I don’t like it when people “bury” their tesimonies with every fiber of their being.  When I was an EFY counselor, we had to teach the kids that just because someone isn’t crying doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling the spirit because that thought is so much a part of our culture.

I hate the way that my friends K and L are thought of.  Both of them have left the church in the past few years, and people tend to think that because they have left they church they are liberal, anti-mormon, and unhappy.  These two might be a little bit more liberal than other people in Utah, but they are not what I would consider Liberal.  I would actually just consider them open-minded and understanding.  They are not anti-mormon, but are just not a part of the church.  They may not agree with everything that is taught in the church, but that doesn’t mean they hate it.  In fact, K and I are almost the exact same person as far as our beliefs go (politcally and religiously).  The big difference is that she just feels like the church is not for her, and I feel like it is for me.  And these two girls are genuinely happy.  And I know it.  They have their ups and downs, just like everyone else whether or not they are in the church.

I don’t like the way people try to “keep up with the Jones”.  Why do we try to hide everything under a mask so that we look perfect?  Perhaps it is because we are afraid we will be judged or misunderstood.  I think Dean Hughes said it best in his book The Cost of Winning* when he said:

I hear people say that we should avoid the “very appearance of evil.”  I suppose.  But I’d rather avoid the actual evil.  And above all, we need to avoid the  “appearance” of righteousness as we search for actual righteousness.

I’m sorry that this last section seems to be a place for me to vent my frustrations about Mormon (especially Utah) culture.  I don’t mean to do that.  As I mentioned, the culture attracts a lot of people to the church and it creates a bond that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  I just don’t like that the culture seems to be such a big part of our lives and that people don’t distinguish the culture from the church and the gospel.

*I highly recommend this book.  It is an easy, one day read that changed the way I viewed what I was focusing on and helped me to realize that I need to live the Gospel and not the culture.

THE CONCLUSION

The Gospel is true and I love it.  The church is here to help us live the gospel, and I believe that what it teaches is true.  The culture is an important part of the LDS religion, but we must focus on living the gospel.  Let’s not get caught up in appearing righteous when we should be worrying about actual righteousness.

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7 Responses

  1. I see nothing wrong with your points of view.

  2. Awesome post. Amen.

  3. Sometimes, it seems like this should be obvious to everyone, but it’s not. Thanks for vocalizing it in a clear and succinct way.

  4. Great post. Well, the red parts anyway. I have ADD :). I love the quote from Dean Hughes. All that stuff (church, gospel, culture) all gets swirled into one hot mess and people forget which is which. Thanks for pointing out the difference.

  5. Nice title: “Interwoven Distinctions”. The oxymoron is alluring.

    Loving those around us (family and friends) who frustrate us by their culture or their pedantic focus on rules/policies IS the gospel, as you indicated at the beginning of your post.

    Love love love love love. We gotta love ’em, love God, love ourselves. Things will work out. And no matter how many bumps we receive along the way, we can love all the participants of life who give us those bumps–including ourselves.

  6. […] Filed under: A Little Bit About Me, Just Thinking, LDS, Mission, Rambling, SGA, Things That I Believe, gay lds, gay mormon, homosexuality, homosexuality lds, lds sga, same gender attraction, same sex attraction, ssa « The Three Interwoven Distinctions […]

  7. I love what 3 Nephi 28:13 says about “the gospel”:

    Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

    To add to what you’ve said, I understand the gospel as such: in all things we need to discern God’s will and just do it. It’s pretty simple, really. And I guess where a lot of my personal frustrations come from is when God’s will for me seems contradictory to cultural expectations place on me by the people around me. Example: I’m 26 and not married, to which people say, WTF Ryan! You bad, bad person. It’s not like I’m rebelling or avoiding marriage, I just feel that God wants me to work on a few things before that is even a viable option for me, and even then, I’m trying to care more about what God wants than what people within a certain culture expect. It’s a hard process.

    Anyway, thanks for posting! I love it and I agree it’s pretty important to distinguish between the 3.

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