Thanks for Asking

jesus-with-a-child-medium

Dear Will:

It’s true. I’m a Christian. Have been all my life. I think you probably knew that already.

Yeah, but what kind of a Christian are you?

Well, I suppose that by some external measures, someone else might consider me relatively devout. I’m a scripture-reading, services-attending, Sabbath-observing, tithe-paying, prayer-offering Jesus-follower. But we both know that there are plenty of people who do those same sorts of things and yet don’t seem especially Christian, just as there are plenty who do none of those things and seem a lot more Christian than so-called true believers. So I suppose those external measures really don’t tell you much, do they?

Nope. Seriously, what kind of a Christian are you?

Let me try this again. From the time I was a small child, Jesus and His teachings were a central part of my life. Thanks to a devoted mother, I suppose I was swept along by the current of faith that swirled around me. So when I was about eight years old it seemed only natural to own being Christian in some sort of formal way. Although I’m sure I didn’t fully understand it at the time, when I was baptized I was making a public declaration of my Christianity, taking His name upon me in a ceremonial way while committing to follow His teachings and keep Him top-of-mind in everything I do. Inherent in that vow of faith was a pledge to help others, to lift them when they fall, to comfort them when they’re hurting, to mourn with them at times of genuine sorrow. To love others in the fullest sense possible.

More importantly, in choosing that path I accepted a gift that Jesus offers to everyone. In pledging to follow Him, I acknowledged Him as my Savior—one who had willingly taken upon Himself responsibility for my sins and weaknesses. It wasn’t an offloading of my accumulating burden so much as it was a releasing of it, an acquiescence to Him and His desire to take it from me. It wasn’t granted based on personal merit—I  could never earn charity of such magnitude—but rather given freely as an incomprehensible act of love. That free gift—that grace—He offers still, day after day, and as I strive to honor my baptismal promises I accept it from Him again and again and again.

(Sigh.) You’re still not answering the question.

(Sigh.) Do you mean what brand of Christian am I? What denomination do I belong to? Well, for all my life I’ve been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the popular vernacular you’d probably call me a Mormon. Just like the name Christian, Mormon was originally coined as a pejorative, but I don’t really mind it if categorizing me is for some reason helpful to you. Still I fear that in using that label you may mistakenly believe that I worship the prophet Mormon, which would be kind of like accusing a Lutheran of worshiping Martin Luther. If you ask what I prefer, however, I’ll ask you to call me a Christian. As I told you, that’s the name I claimed as my own and have retained since I was a boy.

Fair enough. Now I understand.

Actually, if that’s what you were asking, then I’m afraid that you don’t understand at all. So let me try this one last time: On Sundays, the children sometimes sing a song by Janice Kapp Perry that answers your question better than anything else I can think of. This is the kind of Christian I am:

I’m trying to be like Jesus; I’m following in his ways.
I’m trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers,
“Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.”

That’s me. Trying, getting it wrong as often as not, and trying again. And trusting in Him that somehow, through His grace, it will all work out. I’m that kind of Christian.

Thanks for asking.

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