I have only his side of the story, but among the things that kept my father from joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during my youth in California were a couple of business experiences with members of the church in which he felt he had been badly wronged.
I well recall a Sunday when, out of the blue, he suddenly decided to attend sacrament meeting with me. I was elated. We sat on the very back row. Unfortunately, the principal speaker turned out to be a visitor from another ward — and one of the very men by whom he felt he’d been cheated. As the man approached the pulpit, Dad whispered to me that he would return for me after the meeting; he quietly stood up and walked out the door.
Fortunately, I was finally able to baptize him years later, on the evening that I was set apart as a missionary.
I’ve learned over the intervening decades that it’s surprisingly difficult to avoid ever giving offense, but I remember resolving then not to be someone whose bad example kept someone from the kingdom. “It must needs be that offences come,” taught the Savior, “but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7). As one paraphrase of the famous Hippocratic Oath for physicians commands, “First, do no harm.”
“What you do,” says a remark often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” As the deeply serious joke asks us, “If you were arrested on charges of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
But there’s a positive aspect to this topic, as well. We need to do more than merely avoid offending. Jesus also admonished us to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
In a weekly column explicitly dedicated to “defending the faith,” the most important method of commending and defending the gospel — and infinitely the most relevant to our own salvation — should not be neglected. True and faithful discipleship is by far the most effective tool for drawing souls to Christ, more powerful than any argument, deeper than any display of clever scriptural interpretation.
We all fall short, of course. That’s why we’re so grateful for the Atonement of Christ. But serious disciples try to make the gap between what they are and what they aspire to be as narrow as they can. Not just in appearance, but in reality. And when they fail, they repent, ask forgiveness and try again.
In so doing, they can function for others as pointers toward, and as representatives and representations of, the Master they seek to serve. There is no higher calling, no more noble purpose in this life.
“Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence” and “an eye single to the glory of God” (see Doctrine and Covenants 4:5-6) aren’t merely pleasing to the Lord and desirable for our eternal welfare. They will catch the attention of many in a world where such qualities are rarely found, and which suffers greatly in their absence. Not a few yearn for such things in their own lives, and for their families. “The deeds you do,” St. Francis of Assisi (d. A.D. 1226) is alleged to have insisted, “may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”
The hymn lyrics of Latter-day Saint poet Karen Lynn Davidson come powerfully to mind:
Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.
What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.
When such a friend from us departs,
We hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory,
Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.
For worthy friends whose lives proclaim
Devotion to the Savior's name,
Who bless our days with peace and love,
We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.
(see "Each Life that Touches Ours for Good," Hymns, No. 293)
Dedicated to the treasured memory of Elder Bruce D. Porter (1952-2016), whom I came to know during our freshman year at Brigham Young University. He has fought the good fight, run the race set before him with exemplary patience, finished his course, and kept the faith (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 12:1).
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.