The Gospel Doctrine lesson #29 manual objective is “to help class members recognize that the work of the Church is done by many people, all of whom contribute their talents and testimonies to strengthen the Church.”
To address the lesson manual’s question: “How does diversity among members enrich and strengthen the Church? How can we differ from each other and still be unified?”
After the death and resurrection of Christ, the Church began to grow rapidly through the labors of the Apostles, at first only among the Jews. Acts 6 describes one event in a historic conflict between two groups: the “Hebrews” (Aramaic/Hebrew-speaking Jews) and the “Grecians” or “Hellenists” (Greek-speaking Jews). The former were traditionalists, strictly following the customs and laws of their millennia-old religion. The latter mingled religious tradition with elements of Greek culture and thought, which permeated the Roman Empire wherein they lived and moved. The Hellenists and the Hebrews were at odds culturally and philosophically, and they carried their conflict with them into Christianity.
Do we have Hebrews and Hellenists in the church today, along with a thousand other divisions across the globe? Do we sometimes fear each other’s differences, distrust each other’s methods of living and transmitting the Gospel, and engage in (even polite) conflict?
I’m an eternal optimist, and I’ve observed among church members mostly good will and charity. But I see that we tend to be more compassionate toward the foreign branch with which we have the least in common, than we do toward the ward or family member who does not meet our expectation of membership (our personal model of Gospel living). I have also observed us forgetting that the general Church leadership is managing a tremendously diverse world-wide membership, and has the impossible task of standardizing its texts, policies, and rituals, while respecting cultural integrity on the local level. I catch myself expecting that my concerns and interests be prioritized.
The ancient Apostles appointed local leaders to manage local concerns and interests, comparable to our bishops and RS presidents today (Acts 6:3). But I also am appointed. Do I have the wisdom to accept other models of living and worship, that I might forge unity in my ward and family?
I married a Hellenist. My husband had an agnostic upbringing and converted to Christianity and then Mormonism not long before we were married. I was raised a Hebrew. My whole life I kept my Sunday clothes on after church until bedtime, never watched a rated R film, and had family scripture study and prayer daily. (Ironically I even got a graduate degree in Hebrew). When our worlds collided we were both excited about what we could learn from the other, and how we could grow together.
But then I found him sunbathing after church in the backyard. And I was bothered at how he didn’t take a kneeling position for our evening prayers. I expected he would be in the temple with me every week, at every church activity possible, and volunteer for extra on top. This was how I was raised. When he showed signs of feeling such a schedule was overwhelming, I accused him. I was loving (as my family also taught) but I couldn’t distinguish my lifelong practices from eternal principles.
It didn’t take too long for him to step away from the church entirely, which was the end of my world. Although he is accountable, I do believe now that I partly drove him to it.
And then, although he is accountable, my changed heart opened the door for his return. I learned directly from God in that marital crucible that my only responsibility is love — not judgment. That my primary role toward my husband is supporter and friend, as his is to me. I learned that in the grand scheme, I’m walking the same road he is. We now enjoy a much richer model of Gospel life, one based on respect, patience, trust, and love. Not every day! But we’ve got a foundation to build on.
We accept the diversity within our family, and our unity is all the truer for it.
The pathway of my husband’s ongoing return to full activity in the church has been carved by acceptance and love. Our goal is to guide each other toward truth and peace, to listen to each other and to teach, but never to control or condemn.
In the end the diversity of believers is one of the greatest testaments to the Gospel’s truth: All these believe? The homeschooling mother of five, and the unmarried biology professor? The Palestinian street vendor, and the New York investment banker? The diligent, and the errant?
We do believe. Because Christ has reached us all. He has encircled us about in the arms of his love, and we are all encircled, Hebrews and Hellenists.
We can dislike, disfellowship, or disown each other, but we cannot cast each other out of the circle of Christ’s love.
And the message is that we ought to love one another.
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Understanding What is Real, Sarah Street
People Like Us Do Thinks Like That, Raquel Cook
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