The recent apostolic push by David A. Bednar for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “all in” regarding the gospel of our Savior emphasizes obedience, sacrifice, and consecration, offering each as a marker of all-in discipleship. I appreciate his message of devotion to our Savior and commitment to become like him. But as my soul dwells on his message, I keep sensing it isn’t complete. All-in is good; but all-inclusive is greater. The difference between all-in and all-inclusive is that all-in focuses members on being fully committed to the formal Church while all-inclusive would focus the formal Church on its members.
Its common practice to offer the Church as the stand-in for the Savior. For instance, in recognition that all things come from God, the temple ceremony asks members to consecrate to the Church (aka Kingdom of God) because the Church is an earthly stand-in for God. Yet Jesus taught something else; he taught that individual human beings are his stand-ins.
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt 25:38-40)
This is no small disparity, particularly when we add the increasing tendency to view anything spoken by those ordained as a “prophet, seer, and revelator” as the literal words God would speak. Nearly lost is the caution that men so ordained speak for God only if, when, and where God designs it.
The increasing propensity of leaders to claim, and members to believe, that whatever is spoken by the hierarchy is what God would speak were He present is fostering a culture of silence and silencing. No apostle or other leader will dare publicly contradict a member of the hierarchy for fear of shattering the illusion of God-speak. Yet, we see in the rise of Russell M. Nelson clear evidence that he believed both Presidents Hinckley and Monson helped Satan’s cause with their casual use of the word “Mormon.”
On the other hand, members who disagree with church authority are frequently hushed, warned (formally or not), marginalized, isolated, and even excommunicated, regardless of their good intentions or just cause. Those who disagree with Church leaders, even over a point of policy, risk being labeled disobedient to Christ. In this way, all-in becomes unquestioned submission not to Jesus, but to Church leaders. Indeed, silence has become, for many, an additional step for salvation.
When I think of the “all-in” theology that equates commitment to Christ to commitment to churchly obedience and submissive labor, my mind and heart go first and foremost to our LGBTQ+ members, particularly those born into a covenant that rejects them. Next it moves to those members with the faith to quest for knowledge, even when doing so invites them to weigh hard realities against lofty hopes. The faith to move directly toward the contradictions that, once unraveled, can bring us closer to the divine is a mighty faith and not a threat to the personal progress of goodness, though it may be a threat to fragile power structures.
I have room enough in my heart to allow everyone (from member to church president) the space to make mistakes without condemnation and rejection. I can and do sustain church leaders who I know, through the witness of the Holy Ghost, are sometimes incorrect, imperfectly correct, or dead-wrong. Sustaining does not mean to agree; it means to strengthen and support, neither of which suggests we look the other way or stop looking and evaluating.
In that vein, I write this, hoping that both our highest leaders and average members who encounter it will ponder ways to model the Savior’s all-inclusiveness. Jesus’s love was a gathering behavior. He may have corrected the hypocrites, but to everyone else, he said, “Come to me.”
There is an endless supply of pew space. If one building runs out of space, we will build another. And another. And another. And if we can’t build another, we will, like our pioneer forbearers, find a stretch of land large enough to host us. Imagine a church so large and inclusive that we stop marking our faithfulness by our differences in perspective and understanding, or sexual attraction, or gender identity, or even thirst for knowledge.
Imagine a church in which we value learning from one another and seeing the myriad of ways God and goodness thrive in our messy lives. Imagine a church where we focus more on sustaining one another through the challenges that arise than on conforming ourselves to fit a mold. Imagine a church where we truly trust God the Father to sort things out, where we truly trust Jesus to save, heal, nurture, and forgive us our shortcomings. Imagine a church where we all belong without losing our individuality.
This is not the church we currently have, by policy or by doctrine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints is not an inclusive place. You’re either all-in or, too often, you’re a candidate for marginalization and/or rejection, a person to be silenced. It is often a place of condition, of strings, and of illusion. These are evidence of mortal construction. Yet, the evidence of inspired construction is also present. Those tasked with leading the church will wrestle their way through their differences and limitations and, I hope, someday rise to the podium to encourage members to become all-inclusive and not simply all-in.
In the meantime, it’s on me and on you to live rightly. We are accountable for our own choices. I choose to live all-inclusively. To me, that choice is the true all-in commitment to live like the Savior. After all…
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25: 43-45)
When we exclude, who are we excluding?
Answer: the Savior.
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Through the lens of pure love, we see immortal beings of infinite potential and worth and beloved sons and daughters of Almighty God. Once we see through that lens, we cannot discount, disregard, or discriminate against anyone. Dieter Uchtdorf, Oct. 2018
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