I recently finished Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt by Patrick Q. Mason, which I think is a very useful and accessible entry into the subject (though I personally prefer The Crucible of Doubt, but recognizing the broader applicability of Planted). There were several things throughout reading that struck me, but one was from a section towards the end (page 174 if you want to look it up yourself) about embracing Mormonism:
“In order to fulfill its mission to invite all to come unto Christ, our meetings must be a place where all people feel welcome…This inclusiveness is not by way of contemporary political correctness; it is by way of commandment.”
I firmly believe that Mormonism and the Church should be expansive and welcoming and open to a diversity of experiences and peoples. I stay partially because I want to help make that a reality—to be one of the people that shows you can be a Mormon and doubt, that you can be a democrat (or worse, a socialist), that you can have questions, that you can think differently than those around you, that you can believe when you know about the messiness of history.
I don’t think we’re as welcoming as we should be. I’m definitely not. It may be useful to frame some of my thoughts on how we can be more welcoming with a scriptural passage that Mason uses in that same section:
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matthew 9:10-13
So, here Christ suggests that he came to heal those that are sick and to call sinners to repentance. I think it’s probably a fair extension of logic that the Church today should do those things as well. The oft-quoted adage that the Church should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” I think is appropriate here. But what does all that mean for us? For me? What can I do to make Church meetings a more welcome place? There are undoubtedly institutional changes that could make Church more welcoming, but I have little to no control over those, so I’ll focus on changes that I can make in my own lived, practical Church-going experience.
- Be Vulnerable. If we all were a little more open with our struggles and doubts and concerns, we’d start to break down the idea that you need to be relatively “perfect” to be at Church. My experience suggests that most of us have some concerns and doubts that we just keep to ourselves for fear of judgment, disciplinary action, or whatever. And those are serious fears that can’t just be waved away. But the more vulnerability we have in meetings the better they’ll be and the more we can help each other. The Spirit comes when we share our truest, most sincere thoughts and feelings in the hopes of finding that “balm of Gilead” that Church is meant to bring. We need to open our wounds to feel the true power of the “healing words of Christ.”
- Reach Out. Talk to people. Be friendly. Get to know them. Know if they want someone to sit next to them during Sunday School or if they sit by themselves because Church is their pondering time and they’d rather not be disturbed. Let people know that you care. Do your home-teaching and visiting teaching. Not just your visits, but actually care about them and reach out. Watch for people and talk to them every week, so when someone doesn’t come you can sincerely reach out and be like, “yo, I didn’t get to talk to you last week, what’s up?”.
- Speak Up. Say something when you have a thought to share. When potentially insensitive (however well-meaning) things are said, share a different perspective. Be the voice that actively pushes for more inclusion. Kindly offer new insights so that others that struggle or may feel alienated by what’s been said know that they aren’t alone. This is hard, especially to do in a way that leaves everyone feeling better off and doesn’t insult the half of the group that wasn’t alienated by the comment you’re addressing. It may not always be the best to share in front of the class, which is why it’s important to reach out and be a friend, so that you can talk to those people that may have been impacted by the comments made in a more private setting, to show that solidarity.
- Be a Friend. This is similar to #2, but for me is more specific. In an earlier chapter of Planted (page 168), Mason says to “Be the type of friend, family member, or fellow church member who provides the safe connection that we all so desperately need.” Whereas we should “reach out” generally to everyone and those we have assigned stewardship over, I think we can best befriend those that are in similar circumstances to us. Church can still be rough, but for the most part I go and can find something good from my meetings and I don’t leave feeling upset or weighed down. I can be the safe, understanding link to the Church for those like me that may not have found the positive space that I have. I know what that’s like. I get feeling out of place and unwanted. I am pretty familiar with historical, doctrinal, and social concerns. I can be the listening ear to the worries and frustrations of others, allowing them to maintain some positive relationship to Mormonism when all else is failing them.
- As always, love is the key (all you need, as they say). The piece that holds it all together. Specifically here, I think love requires that we strive to comfort always—after all, we’re all afflicted. I think the Spirit, people’s own conscience, and numerous other places provide plenty affliction for the comfortable, so I try to focus on offering some small comfort—like fruit snacks or snarky commentary.
I don’t know if we can make room for all people. But we can definitely make room for some more. I’m definitely better at laughing with the sinners than crying with the Saints Pharisees, but they’re welcome too. ALL should have a place at the table. Some final words from Mason (175), “We do not have to agree on all matters to be good friends, to love one another, and to feast together at Christ’s table.”
Let’s feast together—all of us.