Loving the Prick Kickers

That phrase has a naughtier connotation now than it did in 1839 when Doctrine & Covenants section 121 was written. But verse 38 describes the phenomenon of those who try to exercise their priesthood unrighteously:

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (D&C 121:38)

I posted that scripture at the top of a news article announcing that a judge in the UK threw out the frivolous complaint mentioned in my previous post.  That led to an exchange with an old friend from Scotland who attended the hearing. This friend is no longer a member of the church.

“I was there,” he wrote.  “[T]his was not a total win. But enjoy the win.”

Enjoy the win. I read those words with astonishment tinged with – what? Sadness? Regret? Pain?

I winced. What “win?”

How was this in any way a “win?” For it to register as such, I would have to have been in a fight or a contest, and my side would have had to have prevailed.  But I don’t live my life at war with the people who hate my church and are trying to tear it down.

“I don’t see it as a “win” so much as a correction of an egregious legal error,” I wrote back.  “This should never have gone as far as it did.”

This prompted another exchange about the merits of the case, accompanied by my friend’s assurance that the efforts to bring down the church’s “constant lying on basic ideas and principles” would continue unabated, and that he would continue working on the front lines to make that happen.

He is not alone.

Let me step back for some background. I remember when another friend was moving to Utah years ago and expressed concern that she was going to find herself surrounded by “Utah Mormons.” That phrase is used to describe Latter-day Saints who, surrounded by fellow church members along the Wasatch Front et al, participate in the culture of the majority while taking their commitment to the principles of the gospel lightly.

I confess to to having used that label rather liberally to describe others myself prior to my own relocation to the Beehive State. Now I find it to be a generally ignorant stereotype which is usually tells you more about the name caller than the name callee. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Anyway, when I shared my friend’s reticence about becoming a “Utah Mormon” with one of my cousins, my relative responded that he was more surprised, upon his own Utah move, to find how open and prevalent anti-Mormonism is here. And, as a transplanted Californian-turned-Utahn of twenty-plus years, I have to agree.

My family moved from Utah right after I graduated from high school in Calabasas, California. I stayed behind in Southern Cal and attended USC before heading off for my two-year stint as a full-time missionary in Scotland, and then I returned to a home in Utah in which I’d never lived. I spent that year at the University of Utah, and I found myself appalled at the stark divide between that which was Mormon and that which hated that which was Mormon.

Every classroom discussion that touched on philosophical ideas degenerated into a Mormon/anti-Mormon thing. It was like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches had all found religion, and the ones who didn’t have “stars upon thars” were railing on the ones who did. And, to be fair, the Mormons didn’t conduct themselves with any degree of distinction, either. Things would get heated very quickly, and I always found myself wishing the division wasn’t hanging over everything that happened on campus from beginning to end.

So I returned to USC, where Mormons were blissfully ignored. I liked it better that way. I still do.

Things have changed since then, however. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, and the Church has become too large and too prominent to be ignored. We’ve endured the so-called “Mormon Moment,” after all. The kind of religious vitriol that once largely confined itself to classroom debates in Orson Spencer Hall on the U of U campus has now spilled out over the global virtual canvas of the World Wide Web. Every article about the church that appears on every website is inundated with hordes of nasty comments belittling and misrepresenting everything I believe.

But nastiness I can handle. What breaks my heart are the “exit stories,” the ex-Mormons who go online to share how and why they lost their faith. Everything was going fine until they learned Joseph Smith polygamously married other men’s wives/discovered the Book of Abraham is really a funerary scroll/DNA proved the Book of Mormon false. They felt betrayed; they were lied to; they had to leave. And now they’ve been shunned by their families/lost their jobs/been hung out to dry.

Please understand my tone here. I’m not writing this to mock these people. I’m also not trying to offer an apologetic explanation for the doctrines they find so troubling, except to say that there are resources that address these issues better than I could – fairmormon.org is a pretty good place to start if you read the preceding paragraph and lost your testimony. I think the church is becoming more proactive in responding directly and honestly to people’s doubts. In the age of the Internet, there are no secrets, and the Church is now telling its own story rather than letting its enemies tell it for us.

But there will still be those who leave. And as much as I’d like to persuade them to come back, I know that, for many, that’s not an option.

My point in all this is not to affirm my testimony of the church I love, although that testimony remains vibrant and strong. I am not even trying to cast aspersions on those who hate my church, either out of ignorance or, as is too often the case, sad experience brought on by the mistakes of imperfect people.

My point is that I will never shun someone who leaves the Church. I will not cease to care for them. I will not cease to pray for them. This includes both friends and family. If my children grow up and decide to be Jehovah’s Witnesses/atheists/carnival folk, I will adore them and do everything in my power to let them know that their father’s love is unconditional, just as I believe our Heavenly Father’s love for all of us is.

Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. I knew I had a point in here somewhere.