Humans tend to be pretty divisive. We can be divided between individuals or, it seems even more commonly, between groups. We group ourselves in all kinds of ways, and then we cling to our groups and hiss and claw at other groups (yeah, I have cats). I’ve written about this before, and here I am thinking about it and writing about it again.
I just finished reading, for example, a compelling and fascinating book, The Good Spy by Kai Bird, about Bob Ames, a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s who worked tirelessly to build and maintain relationships, even friendships, with key players in the Middle East, some of whom the U.S. would have considered enemies, so he could contribute to peace between some very, very divided groups in the Holy Land and its environs. He did make great contributions to the peace process, and then he was killed in the 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut. The book’s examination of the complex, longstanding issues and conflicts in that area and of the passionate, extremist beliefs and actions of individuals and their groups reminded me just how bad things can get among us very flawed humans. And before anyone thinks, “Well, that’s just one small area,” let me remind them that this small area’s conflicts deeply affect the entire world.
The most recent divisiveness I’ve seen has involved a group I’m a part of, this one my religious group. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been in the news for some time now, for a variety of reasons, but very recently it has been the focus of discussions about women’s place in the church. A very small group of LDS women felt that women were being marginalized in our church, so they ultimately decided a straightforward way to solve this problem was to ask, then demand, that women in the church be granted the priesthood, which for the church’s whole history has been granted only to men. I do not have the space to discuss the doctrine involved here, but I can only say briefly that my understanding, my study, my experience, my feelings about the topic lead me to conclude that giving the priesthood to women is not the answer to certain problems that may exist (and I word it this way to recognize that some individuals in the church, human as they are, are definitely not perfect — none of us are!! — and have made some poor decisions or behaved in ways they shouldn’t have, thus making some women feel marginalized, and that does need to change).
From what I have read, the leader of this group finally made some choices that were too far out of the boundaries that have been set for and by the LDS Church, and she was excommunicated, or put out of the organization, according to its own rules, well known to its members. It is sad, for many reasons. But from everything I’ve learned over the years, this seemed to have become a necessary action for the church to take. It is not permanent; anyone who is “disciplined” in any way by church leaders is given opportunities and time to resolve their problems and concerns and find their way back, with support and help from these same leaders.
What I have found particularly distressing is the divisiveness this has caused within our church group. Because, the thing is, there are plenty of other groups within this large group, and these groups are now rallied against each other to some degree. Some — again, human and imperfect as they are, somewhere along the long path to being more like Jesus Christ, whom we strive to emulate — have made unkind comments on news stories online or have posted negative things on social media about the issue. Whichever “side” they’re on, their approaches are wrong.
I have many dear friends I admire greatly who disagree with me on this issue and other topics that relate to “groups” within this larger group we all share. I wish we didn’t disagree, but that’s the nature of things: we all have different life experiences and different ways of interpreting and seeing issues. Usually, we can simply remember that each “adversary” is a friend, a fellow human being, a fellow child of God, and treat them with compassion and kindness, even as we respectfully disagree on opinions. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, division will happen and sever people permanently. Jesus himself spoke of this happening. When he sent out his apostles to teach his doctrine, he told them, “I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
I believe as part of the doctrine of my faith that we are living in a time close to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These latter days are ones that will be difficult for everyone, on many, many levels and for many reasons. I do believe we are being “sifted” and “tried,” to see where we stand, as we prepare for Jesus’s return. That’s my belief. I do make judgments about issues and where I stand on them; I cannot stand by and not make a judgment call, a decision, on most topics because Jesus has also said we cannot be lukewarm. We can’t sit on the fence. We have to choose a side, and we must do so as wisely and thoughtfully as possible, weighing things, considering, praying, seeking inspiration for ourselves. My friends and other groups may very well end up on the different side of the fence from me. Strangers I read about may end up on a different side. All I can do is state what I believe and possibly why, and still be kind and compassionate even as I disagree. I do have to judge an issue for myself, but I don’t have to judge a person who disagrees. I don’t have to be mean. I certainly don’t have to be mean and nasty online.
I do not know the future or the details of the big picture. Only God does. In the meantime, I can follow my Savior’s teachings as well as his example, by making choices that are the best ones I know how to make, trusting that we all will someday understand more of the big picture in which these issues fit, and by being loving and compassionate to all, even as I stand firm in my beliefs and decisions. I appreciate and support the statements made in a video by one female church leader:
Those who are struggling for whatever reason should be able to find within our sisterhood a spirit of warmth, inclusion, and love.
Occasionally, some of our brothers and sisters may find themselves away from the fold because of personal choices. Without condoning those choices, it is important to remember the Savior’s message of leaving the ninety and nine safely in the fold and reaching out with love, with kindness, and with compassion to the one. We can demonstrate that compassion by ensuring that our communications with one another are respectful and kind.