Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Dictates of Our Own Conscience

In Mormonism we don't have professional clergy, and we don't use the word "sermon". Instead members of the congregation are asked to give "talks" during Sunday services. Like any practicing Mormon I've given a good number of talks over the years. Since I try to put a lot of myself into these talks, I really wish that I had the text of some of them, particularly the ones that had special meaning to me: my "farewell" talk just before leaving on my two year mission at 19 years old; my "homecoming" talk when I returned from that mission; my talk the Sunday after 9/11/2001; my eulogy at my mother's funeral. Some of these might be squirreled away somewhere among old papers, but for the most part I think the text of those talks is lost. Anyway, I gave a talk today in church. I'm publishing it here more so that I know where it is than that I think anyone will really be interested in reading it. Without further ado, PB and Jorgees goes religious:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where, or what they may. (Article of Faith #11)

I took my kids, a couple of weeks ago, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in DC. The memorial consists of Dr. King emerging as it were from the "stone of hope" cut out of the "mountain of despair", thus splitting it into two pieces, with two inscription walls. Like the King memorial my talk splits into two pieces.

…According to the dictates of our own conscience

First, worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Our own conscience: that's really what it comes down to. Ultimately we are answerable to our own conscience, and the inspiration that we receive for ourselves from God. We read in Moses 6:56

    "it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves,"

and Moroni 7:15:

    "it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil;"

Not that we should think from these scriptures that anything in this life is cut and dried. It's a very messy world. I'm also not trying to say that others don't help us along the way. We can learn a lot from one another. We need one another to help us know what's right. And we'll all fall short of the dictates of our consciences to some degree. We shouldn't be too down on ourselves over that. But a clear conscience is what we are striving for.

Implicit in our 11th article of faith is our demand that we be allowed to worship as we see fit and not be compelled to worship, by government or by anyone else, according to any prescribed forms.

Fortunately for us, we belong to a nation where separation of church and state is fundamental. Thomas Jefferson put it this way in an 1802 letter:

    "that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship"

and he said that the First amendment had built "a wall of separation between church and State."

In a later letter Jefferson said

    "We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries."

As a concrete example of how the teachings of our faith intermesh with the separation of church and state consider the following model taught in the scriptures. From 3rd Nephi

    "go ye unto your homes…and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand," (3 Ne 17:3)

and again from 3rd Nephi

    "Pray in your families unto the Father," (3 Ne 18:21)

and from Alma:

    "Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening."  (Alma 34:21)

So, for those of us, for example, with children attending public schools we can follow this gospel model of praying in our families and then sending them to school, as opposed to sending them to school for prayer. Our U.S. Constitution protects this model by preventing the state from sanctioning or mandating some form of school prayer. Rather, that freedom is left to us as families and individuals.

One of the quotations inscribed on the Dr. King memorial reads:

    "We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."

For me it is not, or I hope that it is not, so much the counsel that comes from or through any other mortal that dictates how I live my life as it is how I think and feel in my own mind and my own heart.

…All men the same privilege

The second part of my talk addresses allowing all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where, or what they may.

The flip side of separation of church and state is that we do not try through government or any form of coercion to enforce our mode of worship on others.

Not only that, but as Christians we should have real heart-felt respect for the beliefs of others, honoring what they hold sacred, as we expect them to do for us. That's the Golden Rule. This goes not only for those of other faiths, but for those of no faith at all. If we have arrived at our convictions through careful examination of our own conscience, then others deserve the benefit of the doubt that they have done the same. If we were sent into this world to live by faith, if this life is meant to be a trial, if faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, then ridiculing the agnostic or the atheist or those of any other faith as insincere, and their positions as unfounded would be tantamount to saying that this life: greatest of all challenges carved out of the ether by a council of loving gods…were no challenge at all. We would be saying that the faith we proclaim were not faith, but an acceptance of the obvious. Let me say that another way. Our belief in the Gospel leaves no room for us to criticize the unbelief of others, because we see this life as a trial, meant to be lived by faith, which faith is left for each individual to strive for and is given as a gift by God according to the economy of Heaven, which economy we mortals scarcely understand. If we believe in God because our hearts have been touched by the Spirit, who are we to say how, when, or why anyone else's heart might be touched?

I would like to posit that our faith is of substance; that it is a moral choice for us to make; that trials of faith are real and often require our all plus the loving hand of the infinite. And thus that faith demands (as stated in our 11th article) that we respect whatever beliefs others may have or not have, because doing so only affirms the truth that all of our paths through life are not the same, that all of our actions are imperfect, that we all sometimes falter, and that we all need a strengthening hand, a loving smile, and a healing heart.

Respecting others' beliefs and acknowledging them as well founded does not take away from our own faith, it adds to it. Another quotation from Dr. King inscribed on his memorial reads as follows.

    "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation;"

Finally, how do we square this view, a view embracing of the beliefs of others with missionary work. It's a question that was posed to me when I was asked to give this talk. I hadn't given it a lot of thought previously, but I think it is worthy of our consideration. I'll just say a couple of things concerning it. First--obviously--using any kind of coercion in our proselytizing efforts would be completely inconsistent. Second, my approach to missionary work is that I live my life trying to be a disciple of Jesus. Anyone that knows me more than casually knows that I am a Mormon (the fact just comes up very naturally). If that really has any deeper meaning beyond a label that I stick on myself, (I hope that it does) then again, I hope that that meaning comes out in the ways that I behave. And so it should be the way that I live my life that generates real interest  among my friends in our church. Invitation, then, to learn more or to participate as appropriate should follow very naturally.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm naturally a very shy and reserved person. Putting on some affectation of being outgoing would at best come off as insincere. So if I haven't gone out of my way to get to know you yet, well, I'm working on it. I know that I appreciate people reaching out to me.

Sisters and brothers, I believe in God. I've felt the love and influence of God in my life, and that really is saying something.

1 comment:

Cory said...

I like your talk.


blogger templates | Make Money Online