This past Sunday I attended church for the third time in my new ward. I'm struggling a little bit because I miss being in Primary, but I'm powering through.
Our Sunday School lesson was on Isaiah Chapter 1-6. One of the discussion points outlined in the manual was this:
Many of Isaiah's warnings and prophecies apply both to his time, which was a time of great wickedness, and to our time. How are the conditions described in Isaiah 1-5 evident in the world today?
After quickly skimming the reading assignment as I waited for class to start, I had a feeling that the verses that stood out to me about our time would not be the ones that stood out to everyone else. In fact, I guessed that the verses that caught my attention wouldn't even be brought up by anyone else.
I was right.
Once the instructor moved to that discussion point, most of the “conditions” that everyone glommed onto were the following predictable issues:
- The gays are ruining everything.
- No one respects their elders.
- People are asking questions and even dissenting.
- Mormons are so persecuted today for “standing up” for decent godly values and trying to make sure that everyone else lives according to our religious sensibilities.
Everyone wanted to jump on the finger-pointing bandwagon. I raised my hand, but it went unseen. However, after more discussion, we managed to reach a point at which my thoughts were once again relevant. I shared the verses that really stuck out to me:
Hmmm… There's something right on there. Perhaps about the growing wealth inequality we see now, and how the “princes” are taking from the poor and grinding them down. There were also verses in the reading assignment that talked about the neglect of the fatherless and the widows.
As Mormons, we like to look outward and condemn all of the perceived immorality we see, and we feel good about yelling about it in Sunday School, and enjoying that self-righteous glow, sure that we do not stand accused, since we are the moral anchors of society.
We also like to talk about how materially blessed a people can become when they follow they gospel. But we almost never, in any meeting I've been in that talks of the ills of today, address the fact that, even as the wealthy continue to grow richer, we cut assistance to children and ignore the poor, insisting that they somehow “deserve” what they get.
Our collective persecution complex over the gays and other issues of the “moral” fight is so great that we often forget that we are supposed to look inside ourselves first. And we forget that the mission of Christ is not to condemn, but to care.
Even though it was a little hard for me to “out” myself as a progressive in my mostly-conservative ward so soon after moving in, I spoke in a clear, strong voice. I was out of my comfort zone, with no one I knew nearby to offer support. But I did it anyway.
But, later, something encouraging happened. Three different people converged on me afterward to say that they appreciated my comments — and that they liked that I brought a different perspective in. “I never thought about it before, but we really do focus too much on what everyone else is doing and not enough on what we could be doing for others,” said one of them.
I felt good about that. I rarely feel as though I'm contributing much, and it feels nice. Even as I risk sounding like a self-satisfied prig. And, now that I'm established as the resident progressive, I can feel ok about speaking up about a number of other subjects. The cat's out of the bag already, and I don't have to worry about keeping my secret for yet another week.
Another wondered, helplessly, what we could do in this world beset by these huge problems. For her, I pointed to another verse in Isaiah that had been skipped over by others eager to just absolve all the truly righteous through the Atonement:
Once you realize that “seek judgment” = “seek justice” and “judge” = “speak on behalf of”, you've got a pretty solid foundation for the way you can live as you should.
You don't have to fix all the world's problems. But you can fix you, and you can do what you can to improve your corner of the world.