Sunday, June 5, 2011

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

We spent a bit of time today talking in Sunday School about a passage in JSM 8 “ And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” We looked at the word “offended” and talked about what that meant.

I took issue with some of it. Did I say anything? No. Because Gospel Doctrine class is not a safe place to say anything that doesn't go along with the consensus of the group.

Basically it was stated that when someone is offended then they are the ones at fault.

In some cases I think this is true. We have all been in situations of innocently offending someone. Or been in situations where we disagree with someone and our disagreement causes offense even though we have no intention to offend. We know or may have heard of members who have left the church over something someone has said. And yet I think there is a bit of shirking of responsibility going on with this belief. One person stated something to the effect (I don't dare try to exactly quote someone), “no one can make us feel anything. We choose what we feel. If we're offended we choose to be so.”

Really? If someone comes up to you and calls you stupid or ugly and you're instantly hurt, are you choosing that emotion? Isn't that a natural reaction?

And aren't we creating a “blame the victim” attitude.

Because believe it or not, there are people within the church who are cruel and mean. People who will tell you that you're stupid (yes, it's happened to me), accuse you of being a bad parent (yep, happened to me again), question your faith (yes to me again) go behind your back to the bishop making false accusations while they keep in the shadows not allowing me to know who they are (the me is a give-away) tell you that you're worthless (yep, again), call you a liar (yes it has happened) and blame you for what ever had gone wrong (all this and more has happened to me.)

None of this was accidental. It was not me misinterpreting things. It happened.

A lot of this was done by a leader.

But we're not supposed to speak out against the leaders. We can say they're not perfect, but we still have to accept whatever garbage, punishments, and misjudgegments (withholding of temple blessings, church callings, etc. etc.) that comes from them. We are warned not to say anything or else we are in danger of being an apostate – yep, I've been accused of that one too. Note - I am not saying that we shouldn't be held accountable for our actions and in some cases its necessary to take away church priviledges, but there should be proof or confession, not because a leader doesn't like you or believe you or because its a case of he said/she said and they always believe the priesthood holder because he has the priesthood.

So if we can't speak against the leaders the answer is to suffer alone in silence.

I wonder how many suffer alone in silence and would feel much better if they knew they were not alone. I wonder how many bad things happen that are kept quiet and continue to happen because we are not supposed to speak out against our leaders.

All the leaders are men. If there's a problem between a sister and a leader, then its the leader (the man) who is to be upheld and believed. The sister must at all costs be kept quiet and disbelieved. It is her reputation and standing in the church that is threatened, never his, because he is a leader and therefore innocent of any wrong doing. There might be some who take offense to this - yes I used the word offense - but it stands to reason that if the leaders cannot be questioned and must be followed and all leaders are men, then the sister cannot be supported.

I think this whole thing of saying “if you're offended then it's your own fault” stance is a nice way to let everyone else off the hook. It allows us to say or do anything to each other and not suffer the consequences. “I can tell that sister that she should take better care of her children and if she's offended then oh well, it's her problem.”

And then we wonder why people leave the church and blame them for leaving. "They don't have enough faith. They are not righteous enough. They shouldn't feel hurt when someone says hurtful things."

Why would you stick around if you do not feel loved? If you are not loved? If people chase you away?

I have chosen to stick around. Yes I have been offended. I admit it. I have an off/on switch when it comes to my emotions. Either all my emotions are on and accessible, or none of them are. When I was a teenager my switch was off. I shut everyone out. I had no friends. I didn't care about my family. I chose not to feel emotion. It was an experience that I don't recommend to anyone. Consequently, with my on switch on, I feel things. So when people are mean to me, I get hurt. I get offended. I feel those things strongly just like I feel joy, humor and love. If someone comes up and tells me I'm a bad mother then it hurts and I get offended. If someone comes up and gives me a compliment, then I feel good. Having my on switch on, enables me to love my children and makes me a better mother. It enables me to feel the spirit. It allows me to forgive and understand others. It also causes me pain. The pain I feel is worth the joy I get to have. It's the price. I do not want to give it up in order to not be "offended". It is not that my emotions rely too much on other people, but it is the result of not being an island. I do not live in this world alone and consequently I am affected by other people and other people are affected by me.

So why have I stuck around when I have experienced so much pain within the church? Because it's where the Lord wants me to be. That I know, and I will follow the Lord, not some leader that would lead me off a cliff. Do I expect others who have left over becoming “offended” to understand this? Nope. Instead I understand them and feel compassion for them. Not because I have great spiritual insight – I don't, frankly I'm not a leader in anything and I'm constantly struggling, and no one is looking to me as an example – but because I came so close to leaving myself and only my stubbornness (he is not going to chase me away) and knowing that the Lord wants me there, as well as the example I feel I need to set for my children, has kept me within the church. There were many times I wished I had the money to move away to get distance between myself and a bad leader who told me that I was not spiritual and could not received revelation for my own life, but alas, I was not able to just pick up and go to another stake, another ward, or else I would have. I do not perceive that as running away from problems, but merely as going to a place where I can be better loved and understood.

People can be offended and leave the church over little things. In that case, they are probably on the edge anyway and just looking for an excuse. But sometimes there are big things and big reasons. It is arrogant of us to point fingers at those who have been “offended” and blame them for sorrows that have been heaped upon them by others. It is unfair to ask that people not feel anything when others are being cruel. “We choose how we feel.” Really? If someone punches you in the face with his fist would you not feel physical pain? If they punch you in the face with their words, would you not feel emotional pain? If you are punched in the face with a fist you can go to someone and complain about it and no one would condemn you for it or tell you that you shouldn't feel sore or you shouldn't be damaged. But we are to suffer word punches silently. I feel tremendous empathy and understanding towards those who have left. For now, I have chosen a different path, but I completely understand why they have chosen the other one.

Abuse happens when we keep silent. Leaders have lead people astray. The scriptures are full of examples both ancient and modern. History has shown us, both in and out of the church, examples of leaders who have done atrocities while victims have kept quiet, out of fear, out of respect for the office of the leader, of knowing they will not be believed. The result is that the leader continues to do his misdeeds. What do you do when a leader denies you blessings, for instance the blessings of the temple, because they have misjudged you? What do you do when a leader says “I have the priesthood and you have to abide by me”, again a statement that makes women powerless.

It was also said something to the effect that if we are offended then perhaps there is truth in what was said. Again, really? If someone says something, makes an accusation, then it's true? So if someone comes up to you and says “you're stupid,” then that makes it true? Frankly, I didn't know I had that kind of power that I could run around pointing fingers making all kinds of statements and magically that means they are instantly true.

I have been offended because people have deliberately hurt me. I have chosen not to be offended when I recognize that there was no malicious intent involved and we all say things that can be taken two ways. In this case I choose to look at it in a more positive light and give them the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes deliberate hurt is unmistakable. There are those who would not believe that others in the church would be hurtful. They have led lives where they haven't experienced it and so they believe it doesn't happen. It's like the atheists who haven't experienced God so they come to the conclusion that there is no God because they haven't experienced it.

I have chosen to stay in the church. Fortunately for me there are kind people in my ward as well, who have been there for me and often have a nice thing to say to me. If there are those who disbelieve me, it is perhaps because they themselves are kind and can't imagine why anyone would say those things to a sister.

There is the parable of the lost sheep. We are to search out the lost sheep and bring them home. Perhaps we wouldn't have so many lost sheep if we didn't chase them away. So lets not chase the sheep away. Let's not be wolves in sheep's clothing. Let's not be the mean sheep that turn our backs on others, keeping to our own little cliques and saying nasty things. Then we wouldn't have to search for so many lost sheep.

There is also the story of the prodigal son. I have always felt empathy for the son who stayed home. I think we judge him unfairly yet I think he has a point when he tells his father “ Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment (admittedly an overstatement but lets look at the spirit of it and recognize that he was hurt when he said it): and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends."

Basically I think he's saying “Hold it. I'm here. I've always been here. Why don't you celebrate me? Don't you love me?” If you look at the scripture, he wasn't even invited to the party. No one came and told him that his brother was home. He was left out in the field, working hard, and he was forgotten. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

Are we doing that? Are we forgetting the ones that are here? Are we not inviting them to the party? Do we fail to celebrate them? Are we failing to love them? Or are we instead blaming them after they leave and saying “well, if they're offended then it is their own fault.”

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

When we look at this scripture it's natural to assume that it is the ones who are offended that will do the betrayal and the hating. And certainly there is a case for that. But we can look at this scripture another way. Perhaps there are those who are offended because they have been betrayed and hated.

And maybe that's what she should be focusing on. Not betraying, and not hating, and loving instead, so that people won't be offended and can come to us and solve differences and misunderstandings instead of going away to suffer alone in silence.


Mary and Eden Z said...

LOVE this post! I wish I could remember the reference, but there's a spot in the BoM where it talks about a man (maybe one of the prophets...I kinda forget) going about his life in righteousness and everyone around him being offended. I totally wish you'd spoken up in Gospel Doctrine class...I think more people need to. And I am a bit offended that those meanies at church have said/inferred those things about you. Shame on them! :) I've always thought you were lovely.

Cindy Beck, author said...

Lots of good food for thought in this article. Sorry to hear that ward members have been so rude, though. I think you're a blast! :)

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Anonymous said...

Wow..... And not all in a good way. No offense.

M. Harrison

Anonymous said...

While it is true that actions and words can be hurtful, I would suggest that we only become "offended" when we choose to dwell on the hurt, when we refuse to let go of the anger ("hate one another"), when we start looking for ways of getting even ("betray one another") or getting away. Extending to others the forgiveness we should like from them for our shortcomings helps us not to go from being hurt to being offended.

David Forsberg said...

I am deeply saddened by your comments. That doesn't mean that I am disagreeing, but rather that I am saddened that you are feeling the pain you express. As a Bishop, I constantly live with the fear that I have said or done something that caused someone else pain. I also live with a wife constantly injured by the unkind comments of many in the ward, who don't agree with something the Bishop has said or done – but won’t come and talk to him about it. They would rather attack his wife; an easy target.

I try to recognize that we are all on this earth, bumping against each other like rocks in the tumbler. As we hit against each other, the sharp edges are sometimes broken off - sometimes ours, and sometimes theirs - and we feel pain in the process. Then we are further forced to endure a multitude of small irritations that continue to wear on us; grinding us away, it sometimes seems.

Why are asked to endure such "punishment"? Don't we sometimes feel like we are losing ourselves, amongst all the painful impacts, and constant grind?

I wonder if we will be surprised at how polished we have become, when we are presented to our dear Savior, at final judgment. If we have been willing to accept “all that our Father has asked” of us, then perhaps it will not be so much of a surprise. He knows the exact rough edges that need to be knocked off, and exactly how much polish will bring out the true beauty in each of us. But we must be willing to accept, and trust, as we are in the midst of the process. It may not seem just, but perhaps it is just what each of us needs to be heirs of the Celestial Kingdom.

My dear sister in the gospel, I hope you know just how much your Savior loves you. He loves you enough to have suffered all the pain you have felt, and will feel, in this life. If you will give the pain to Him, He will gladly take it from you. If I have caused you any pain, in my comments, I humbly apologize for doing so. It was not my intention, when I happened to have bumped up against you. Thank you so much, for all the polish you have given me.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Dear Bishop, what a beautiful post, and you did not cause me pain at all.

I hope I did not give the impression that I walk around looking for revenge. I actually have a pretty good sense of humor and most things bounce off of me.

I merely wanted to point out "blame the victim" mentality and the shirking of responsibility when we judge people who have been offended.

Anonymous said...

I was really surprised this also happens in other areas, besides where I live. This seems like a disease that is going around and hurting the LDS members. Furthermore, you are so right about having good and bad leaders. But guess what... Those leaders will be held accountable for all their misbehaving and someday they will have to be judged by it. Moreover, I do not think that a person should keep quite, the person should defend her/him self and take the best decision for him/her self.

Keep doing your best and only God can judge you because his understanding is perfect and he loves you so very much we cannot understand it sometimes.

Your a daughter of God and do not forget you precious to him and to your Celestial Mother.

Christie said...

Thank you for this! It is something to really ponder. About people who get themselves offended out of the Church, my husband has always said, "If you allow a hypocrite to come between you and the Lord, it only means that the hypocrite is a little closer to the Lord than you are." It may be a little sanctimonious of me, but when I have been in situations when people have been mean and cruel at Church, I have had to repeat that to myself in order to keep myself "in" with both feet.

Anonymous said...

I know about leaders not believing you over a priesthood holder or not making the right choices, but I also know that most mean well. But we are given a recourse when we feel that unfair things are happening to us.
The scriptures tell us that we are not supposed to just "blindly" follow along with what our leaders say, but also gain a testimony for ourselves that what they say is true. We can all gain revelation for ourselves and if it seems that what we need to do for ourselves goes against what our bishop says, for example, then we can always talk to someone in the stake presidency.
The Lord knows you and knows who you are, he loves you and gives us opportunities to grow because he wants us to become like him so we can live with Him someday.
We need to take the opportunity to gain a testimony for ourselves that what our leaders say is right, and then if it isn't, then use the chain of priesthood authority to make things as right as it is in our power to do so.
We do not have to live with it in silence as you say is the only choice in your article.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

I praise you for your strength and choice to follow the gospel and endure all that you have suffered.
As a priesthood holder, an honor that I have been entrusted by Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, I am saddened by your trials.
You have been a blessing to so many, I for one have been awakened to strive harder to be ever so watchful in all my actions and words.
I love you for your faith but above all else because you are my Sister, another child of God.

Dear Sister-I thank you.