I had a long discussion recently with a wonderful student who has been in and out of activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the last few years. He had a pretty rough-and-tumble youth before converting and is now married with children of his own. He knows the church is true but, having moved frequently and being somewhat unconventional, has felt unwelcomed and “judged” in some of the wards in which he has lived — thus his drift into inactivity.
I have no intention of critiquing either the “offendee” or the “offender” in these types of situations. I have been and imagine I have offended at times at church and suppose all of us have, either intentionally or unintentionally. Members of the church are, after all, human beings. Rather, my aim here is to consider what the Savior expects of his disciples.
After his resurrection, while explaining to the Nephites the importance of partaking of the sacrament worthily, Jesus Christ encouraged outreach to those with whom we worship — even those whom perhaps we disapprove of in one way or another. He enjoins us, “Ye shall not cast him (or her) out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name ... for ye know not but what (he or she) will ... come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them” (3 Nephi 18:30, 32).
Our determination to love and welcome others who worship with us perhaps begins with being mindful of, and careful to distinguish, between Christ’s doctrine and LDS cultural practices. Our study of scripture and the teachings of living prophets are sometimes inappropriately interpreted and misapplied in different cultural settings. Doing so can sometimes lead members of wards and branches to create an exclusive environment rather than an inclusive one. Every time we attend church gatherings or enter our buildings we ought to remember the words outside: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Visitors Welcome.”
My husband served his mission in the Washington, D.C., area during the late 1960s. At one time he was assigned to a ward loaded with political and military bigwigs. One day while tracting he knocked on a door that was opened by a long-haired, wild-eyed young man encircled in sweet smelling smoke. The 12 or so “hippies” drifting in and out of the house thought it “far out” when he asked to share a spiritual message with them. He and his companion did so and returned three more times. When several began to read the Book of Mormon, he invited them to church.
They came late, but they came — and by that time my husband and his companion were already seated and the meeting had begun. Five or six wandered in wearing sandals, psychedelic T-shirts, peace signs and torn-up bell bottoms. They were sporting headbands and long-flowing hair. They parked themselves by the missionaries for the duration of the services. After sacrament meeting ended my husband was called into the bishop’s office and chastised for inviting them to church. How dare he bring those types of people to such an upscale ward? My husband’s reply — “Whose Church is this?” — led to a phone call from his mission president, reminding him to be respectful of the bishop, followed by encouragement to continue to teach and invite these young people to church.
Seven of those “hippies” subsequently joined the church. Several years later, shortly after my husband and I married and were students at BYU, we got a call from one of those young men who was in Salt Lake City with his fiancee to be sealed in the temple.
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When I taught in London, I loved attending the Hyde Park Ward. It was and is a melting pot for people from all walks of life and from countries around the world. One woman stood out. Every week she came to church in a gym suit — velour, to be sure, and she had a number of different sweatsuits. No one minded; no one judged or avoided or criticized her for violating certain LDS cultural practices. They were thrilled that she was there.
I am certain that the Savior was equally pleased — with both the woman and those who warmly welcomed her participation in the Lord’s church. This is a lovely model for disciples of Jesus Christ — loving, welcoming and inclusive rather than exclusive.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."