While this comment certainly didn't offend me in the least, it got the wheels turning in my brain. That word... "offended."
One thing that stood out to me almost immediately when I started investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was how the word "offended" had been so much vilified. Members in Sunday School would trade stories about how someone they knew had gotten "offended" at church and one thing led to another and they became the devil incarnate. Like it was their fault for having their feelings hurt. I've certainly had my feelings hurt... and I'm not the anti-Christ...(?) To me, it sounded like a BIG section of the Lord's flock had genuinely had their feelings hurt, and instead of having those feelings validated, they were shunned and gossiped about at church. In my investigator's mind, all I could think was....
- Some gaggle of old biddies got mad that they let "some kid who's not even a member of the church yet speak at a youth event" (hint: the youth was me)
- Someone in my ward thought I had left my husband when I went to Europe for a month on study abroad
- Our home teachers said that they weren't visiting us because we were "doing fine" and their other family needed them more (you can almost feel Elder Holland's jowls quivering with righteous indignation)
- Someone in my ward asked if I had a speech impediment and pointed out that my "prominent" overbite affected the way I speak
- I've had people blindly assume I joined the church because my then-boyfriend (now-husband) wanted me to
- As this blog grows, I pretty consistently get called an apostate for one reason or another (haters gonna hate)
And those are just the ones I can list with a certain degree of anonymity. And we won't even get into the number of times I was offended by Mormons before I decided to give the LDS Church a chance (that's a much longer list).
On top of that I confess that I absolutely hated, abhorred, loathed attending Institute *braces for angry emails* I attended my classes and I graduated, but not with a great deal of teeth gritting and eye rolling and being offended. Out of the 16 classes I registered for, I only genuinely enjoyed three classes (two of which were taught by the same instructor). And all because those 3 classes were the only one that could go an entire semester without Brother so-and-so making some disparaging comment about whatever religion best illustrated his point or some stupid comment like "You're failing as a Saint if you're reading your scriptures chronologically as opposed to topically." It drove me straight up the wall, but President Monson urged all young adults to attend and graduate institute, and I trust President Monson. I saw blessings in my life as a result of attending Institute, but they were inarguably hard-won and a topic for another blog post.
I digress. My point is that I've spent a pretty (un)healthy chunk of my life getting offended by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But it hasn't stopped me from attending my church meetings. It hasn't stopped me from fulfilling my callings. And it certainly hasn't stopped me from my "gossip hour" of prayer where I tell Heavenly Father exactly how I feel about Brother/Sister so-and-so. So what's different? Because as I've shared the experiences I've listed above (and the juicer ones in private) with friends, I consistently get the response "I don't think I'd be able to go back to church if that happened to me!" So what's the deal?
Being a convert to the LDS Church has some pretty sweet advantages, as does coming from a completely different faith tradition that you don't have any hard feelings towards. If it's not already abundantly clear, my Catholic roots are very important and special to me, and I feel very strongly that my unique experience as a Roman Catholic has helped me develop a strong testimony.
And in the case of insulating my testimony from the insensitivities and offenses from other people, I'll make my case. The Roman Catholic Church has been around a considerably long time and over the years has gained some pretty considerable religious and political influence. Unfortunately, there are individuals who come to power who have abused that influence, leading to plenty of unsavory scandals and unforgivable offenses. And yet, the Roman Catholic Church remains the largest religious denomination in the world.
I attended a Catholic elementary school and where I'm sure my teachers had one heck of a time figuring out how to cover these topics without unraveling the faith of 30+ 3rd graders. Nevertheless, they did an excellent job of doing just that. Whether it's little misunderstandings or painful, deliberate attacks by other members, I've learned from my days at parochial school that the best way to inoculate our faith from the shameful actions of others is to draw a deep, deliberate, hard line in the sand. On one side is my faith: my knowledge that there is a God in Heaven who loves me, a Savior who died to save me from my sins, and sacraments (covenants) that help me return to Them. On the other side are all the things that happen within the sphere of religion: scandals and abuses of power and the transgressions of others. I choose which side of the line I stand on, but if I choose faith then I have to commit to employ the virtues of patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, understanding, charity, faith, and love to protect my testimony from whatever is happening on the other side.
That does not mean that if you see injustice you don't do anything about it simply because it's "on the other side of the line." We are commanded to devote our time, talents, and all other God-given resources to build up His kingdom, and that means having zero tolerance for bullying and gossiping and abuse at church (or anywhere for that matter). We must do everything we can to make church a safe place for all of God's children. It is important to remember, however, that it is equally destructive to let things like bullying and gossiping erode our faith. We owe it to our Father in Heaven to have the faith that immature, insensitive comments and actions will stay in this finite existence and they have no bearing on our individual worth.
Nevertheless, it is also our responsibility to validate and comfort those who have been offended. It's not our place to determine whether their hurt is truly legitimate or not, but it is our place and our calling to make them at home again within the flock. It's vitally important for us to listen, to comfort, and to share our testimonies that although the church may not be perfect, the doctrine of Jesus Christ is.
I think of Obadiah 1:21, where we are called to be saviors ourselves on Mount Zion. Normally this scripture is used in relation to temple and family history work, but I think it fits marvelously in this context as well: creating a welcoming space for the entire flock as we put away the offenses of those who would hinder our mission.
So go ahead and get offended! Because what hurts your feelings at church should be validated as opposed to gossiped about. There's nothing wrong with the old biddies in your ward getting on your nerves or that one woman in Relief Society making you want to tear your hair out with the things she posts on social media (and maybe that RS Sister is me). But it is vitally important to separate the issues stemming from what other people do and say with what we doctrinally know to be true.
So turn to prayer.
Turn to forgiveness.
Turn to charity.
I testify that when we are virtuous and rely on the spirit to protect our testimonies from the offenses of others, we become stronger disciples of Christ and our God's greatest asset in building His kingdom here on earth.