2015 has been a relatively turbulent year for the LDS Church. Beginning with the February ex-communication of John Dehlin and culminating in the November release of “The Policy”. Continued releases of LDS Gospel topics essays as well as the release of a photo of the seer stone used by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Mormon have also contributed to this discussion.
Many have considered this year to be pivotal in the church’s future with very clear statements made about “apostates” and “homosexuals”. Thousands have apparently left, either officially or unofficially. However, a lot of the talk has been around those who have not previously been liberal in their leaning, just your average church attending member. This, to me has been the most interesting development.
A bit of the talk, particularly around “The Policy” spoke of the Church not being very Christlike – that we were not showing the love Christ would have – the Charity… Hearing friends of mine speak of the Church lacking a basic and fundamental aspect of the Gospel was surprising. I read blogs, and their comments, with people expressing very strong emotion, strong spiritual feelings – many were negative. Forgive my crassness – many were dumping on the Church. On the policy, the behaviour, the leaders, those supporting such a policy – people were and are upset.
Allow me to share a short story. In my professional capacity, I received a call from a police officer who was at an Emergency Department following them having just brought in a person. This person had just tried to commit suicide by jumping from a cliff face, but was fortunately talked back by these fine police. The police indicated to me that the head Doctor was refusing them entry, which was seemingly against the law. I was able to later speak with the Doctor in an attempt to resolve the impasse. During my first sentence where I was introducing myself, the Doctor interrupted and said, “Look, I don’t care who you are. I’m running one of the busiest Emergency Departments in the state. I don’t have time to be dealing with these people. Your police are bringing in these people all the time! It takes me away from the genuinely sick people that need my help” He then hung up.
Apart from being one of the rudest people I have ever spoken to, this Doctor did not have the belief that a person who, only 15 minutes earlier wanted to kill himself, belonged in an Emergency Department. He saw these people as outside his area of responsibility. People with a mental illness were not able to receive his help as genuine people with sore stomachs, broken limbs and whiplash were more deserving.
I have often reflected on this most heinous example of discrimination to remind me that there are some people and organisations in this world who have the legal, cultural or moral obligation to care for a certain population of people – but who don’t. School teachers who sexually abuse, carers who fail to extend proper care and treatment to those in their charge and churches who condone and support systematic sexual abuse of children fall within this category.
I have often thought about the way in which our church responds and deals with the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. My experience is we don’t do it very well. Unlike most Christian churches we do not have much ability to extend ourselves into our local communities to reach out. No soup kitchens, no visits to homeless, no community gardens. (I have heard very few and isolated examples of this happening across the church population). Most of our humanitarian efforts seem to be focused on developing and struggling nations. A couple I know recently served as a Humanitarian companionship in Bosnia – doing some wonderful work. But such work is limited and is directed at a general level of the church. What about the poor and suffering here in Australia – what are we doing to help them? Not much.
A recent example highlighted my frustration at our response to this population.
A member friend of mine indicated that the missionaries had brought a homeless man to his Ward. This member began to outline, rather negatively, the fact that this man was wearing a leather coat and pants that did not match – totally, in his opinion, inappropriate for visiting his Ward. He continued. Apparently at some stage during the meeting, the man took himself to the bathroom and, due to the cubicle being occupied, did his business (number 2) on the floor in the corner. He was also seen to be taking food from the fridge and eating it.
This friend of mine then made a remark similar to the Doctor I mentioned above. He said, “What sort of people are the missionaries bringing here to Church. Can’t they find anyone normal”. What a comment!!! There was some chatter about this situation with the many family and friends that were in attendance and once it settled down I said, “So, what did you offer him – how did you help” He didn’t answer and was somewhat taken back by my challenging remark. I noticed that he was a bit embarrassed and then, to take the heat off, I said, “So with 15 million members, billions of dollars in the kitty, churches dotted all over this city, missionaries in record numbers – with all of this, what, as a Church, can we offer him”. He looked similarly puzzled and I ended up answering for him, “Nothing. With everything available to us we can offer him nothing”.
And so like my Doctor friend, there are apparently people in the Church who think that we should exclude people on the basis of complex or difficult needs. Further that there is a lack of ecclesiastical support to provide such assistance. And finally, that there is a culture that promotes the benefits of baptising of functional rich people over the care of the poor and needy.
This man obviously had complex and significant needs. He obviously needed a suite of services to help him. But, with all of what we have, the best we could do was ultimately to kick him out the door. My experience is that the missionaries would not bring him to church again and probably not work with him to get him help or assistance. We actually could do so much more and it saddens me that as a church we just don’t engage very well with people unless they come to church clean, married, employed and with kids.
For all the “crap” people heaped on the Church for the issues in 2015, this homeless man, to me, highlighted our most critical flaw. That with all the resources available to us as a church, that we do not honour the admonition contained throughout the scriptures we profess to believe – to relieve the suffering of the poor:
11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
Book Of Mormon
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
Doctrine and Covenants
Doctrine and Covenants 52:40
40 And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.
And so it is with this thought that I enter this Christmas season. I will try to do my bit to help those around me who are poor and needy. Unfortunately, this will not be achieved through the institutional church. I will have to leave that space and search out a need to assist.
It is my hope that for those who literally crap on the Church that we find a way to see that as an opportunity to help and not a distraction to our meeting schedule.