The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Dear Will:

James E. Faust died earlier this month. His passing caused hardly a ripple in the national press, but for us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was a significant loss.  Faust served over 12 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, and during that time we came to know him as a wise and sensitive man. Personally, I will miss his sense of humor and clear, articulate sermons. Although he was by any definition an “old man,” when he spoke my children always listened. I think it was because he never talked down to them nor did he talk over their heads. When President Faust addressed a congregation, the message always seemed personal and heartfelt.

In his honor, therefore, I will spare you my usual ramblings and share with you instead something much more meaningful: James E. Fausts’ discourse on “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” delivered during the April, 2007 General Conference. After we heard it, many of us commented on what a remarkable discourse it was. Little did we know at the time that we would not be hearing from this great man again.

You can read it here, or watch it here. This is a little longer than my usual letter, but it’s well worth the read. I hope you enjoy it.

PW

The Sort of Thing Good Parents Do

Dear Will:

My daughter is standing beside me—right over there—waiting for me to make a difficult decision so that she doesn’t have to. It’s the sort of thing I do too often: I tell my kids what to do instead of letting them figure it out on their own. It’s one of the things that makes me an ineffective dad.

But tonight—ever so briefly—I actually exercised some restraint. It was an imperfect effort at best inasmuch as I started to tell her what to do before catching myself, but at least this time I showed a little more forbearance than usual. For once it occurred to me (as no doubt it occurs to most parents on a regular basis) to ask her to lay out for me her various options, even while knowing that none of them was any good. Then I asked her which solution sounded like the best one to her.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. This is the sort of thing that good parents do. They guide their children and help them learn to make decisions for themselves. But what I too often do is swoop in to solve the problem for them, depriving them in the process of an opportunity to grow and learn. I read somewhere that we males have a strong tendency to do that in relationships. We’re always trying to fix things, even when no one has asked us for a fix. We come up with solutions at times when maybe we should just shut up and listen.

It occurs to me that this little family vignette—of absolutely no consequence in the eternal scheme of things—is really not all that different from the way God oversees the activities of his children in this world of ours. The cynic or the agnostic wonders why He doesn’t simply intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth, eliminating the suffering, counteracting evil, solving our problems for us. “If He’s all powerful,” the thinking goes, “then why does He allow so much bad stuff to happen?” The flaw to that reasoning, of course, is that it fails to recognize that life has much more purpose than to get us from birth to death without too much misery. In fact, we are here upon this earth to learn for ourselves, to grow and become, to face tests and challenges and (one hopes) come out the other side better people for the experience. Were God always to intervene—to solve our problems for us in the same way I tend to for my children—there wouldn’t be much point to our earthly existence at all.

Meanwhile, my daughter has picked up on some subtle behavioral clues (namely, that I’m typing and not talking to her any more) and she’s headed off down the hall, perhaps to mull over her options (or more likely to see if she can get my wife to make the decision for her instead). I think ultimately I know which way this is going to go—as God pretty much knows ahead of time what our next move will be as well. Hmmm. Perhaps there’s food for thought in that as well.

PW

How to Choose a President

Dear Will:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the Mormons have been in the press a lot lately. For instance, recently there was a four-hour Frontline special on PBS tracing the Church’s history from the early 1800s to the present days. But much more has been said about the Church (and will be) due to the candidacy of Mitt Romney for President of the United States. As every semi-conscious being in and around the United States must know by now, Romney is a Mormon. And it has caused much hand-wringing.

I continue to be surprised by the frequency with which politicos include Mormon theology in the discussion of Romney’s suitability for the office he seeks. What I find especially remarkable is that they do not, at the same time, at least make a gesture toward discussing the religious beliefs of any of the other candidates. In fact, I couldn’t tell you which church ANY of the other candidates belongs to, nor could I so much as confirm whether he or she so much as believes in God. I’ve now voted in six or seven presidential elections, and not once were the religious affiliations of the various candidates included in the public debate—even though (it should be noted) my voting life has coincided rather directly with the growing influence of the so-called “religious right.”

Most surprising of all is that so often you will hear that such-and-such a spokesperson for some ostensibly Christian political group will state emphatically that he/she would never vote for Romney simply because he is a Mormon. The implication, of course, is that such people would rather vote for a candidate who may or my not be a Christian and whose beliefs may or may not align with Christianity. Better to do that (they seem to be saying) than vote for a fellow Christian who happens to be a Latter-day Saint.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to use religion in deciding for whom to vote. But what I find hard to understand is the arbitrary application of such criteria. If you eliminate one candidate because of the teachings of his church, shouldn’t you be equally diligent in determining the accepted teachings of each candidate’s religion? To do otherwise is to be guilty of a kind of bigotry which I find inconsistent with the ideals which Jesus taught.

Please do not misunderstand. Personally, I have no idea if Mitt Romney would make a good President. I can assure you that I would never vote for him because he is a Mormon any more than I would vote against someone else because he isn’t. I would be much more interested in examining the personal integrity and motivations of each candidate. Let me know what he truly believes in, what he cares about, how he acts when the pressure is on and the right thing may be neither popular nor politically expedient. Then I will know whether his beliefs align with mine, regardless of where or if he goes to church on Sunday (or any other day, for that matter).

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who dreamed that one day his children would be judged not by their skin color but by the content of their character.  I sometimes find myself dreaming a similar dream on behalf of the Latter-day Saints (whom I know and love): Judge us on our character, not on some mistaken understanding of what we believe. Jesus said: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (see Matthew 7:15-20). That’s a standard up to which Mormons should rightly be held—and one worth discussing in reference to all candidates in any political debate.

PW