The progressive Mormon online discourse is now reacting on rumors (hmm, but what do you call a rumor that, while not explicitly confirmed, is still actually highly predictable?) that the church could be clamping down on Heavenly Mother, church leader fallibility, and the idea that God’s love is unconditional. While I think that all of these are worthy of discussion, I acknowledge that folks like Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Jacob continue to say far more insightful things regarding Heavenly Mother than I could ever, so I wanted to talk about unconditional love.
I think a lot about “love” in social and religious discourse, because as a gay man, I am acutely aware through personal life experience of how much the term is in dispute. (Most of the examples will be on LGBT issues, but I hope that you can do your own translation to replace with issues in your own life.) I have often thought that the term is so poorly defined that it frustrates our ability to speak between political or religious camps. In other words, by using this term but not unpacking what we mean by it, we talk past each other, as we assume a shared definition or shared context that increasingly and frustratingly doesn’t exist. Outside of ephemeral social media, I haven’t really set my thoughts on this yet, so I wanted to try with this post.
What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, etc.,
In LDS discourse, the idea of God’s love as being conditional isn’t all that new anymore. (Am I dating everyone to say a talk from 2003 is not new? General Authorities have doubled down on this more recently, such as in 2016.) I say this to point out that it’s not really surprising to hear that the church may be trying to double down further on this. I’m surprised that progressive Mormons are surprised by this, but maybe this is just me being so much of an Exmo that I always internalize the worst messages from LDS leaders.
I remember reading a lot of responses to these talks, whether from folks just rejecting the message, or from folks trying to ameliorate it. (Now that I’m mostly paying attention to Twitter, I will note that Calvin’s tweet distinguish love from blessings feels like something that was already interrogated way back when.) To all these attempts to ameliorate the leaders’ messages, I agree with Elise Scott:
That being said, as an exmormon, I’m also a fan of noting that LDS leaders are not trained in religious domains (e.g., theology, history, etc.,) so it’s very possible they don’t realize the implications of what they say.
Instead, I want to think about other faith tradition’s interpretations, and then circle back on what we might make sense of the LDS leaders’ view. I’ll give vignettes from Catholic/Thomist, Orthodox, and Reformed/Calvinist traditions.
Catholicism on Love
A few years back, I got into reading Catholic/Thomist blogs. One thing I saw (and I apologize for any error in summarizing, since I know Thomistic thought is very technical, but I am still an outsider) is that to love is to will the good of another.
I know just enough about Thomism to understand that “good” has a teleological implication. That is, there is a “purpose” or “end” or “goal” to things, and so what is “good” is fulfilling that purpose.
But let’s assume that we take the basic definition as a working definition of love. The problem to me is that if we don’t agree on what the good for someone is, then we are still talking past one another to use this term. Quite simply, I think we obviously don’t agree on what the good is, and I think that this is more salient to any discussion about love than talking about what is “conditional” or “unconditional.”
For example, if we accept this definition of love, then it’s very easy to imagine that someone could wish the good of another unconditionally, but in a way that would appear to the recipient as missing the mark. Fortunately, I also know just enough about Thomism to understand that Thomists have lots of strong opinions about what the good is for humanity. To use a specific example, the Catholic/Thomistic opposition to same sex marriage comes from the belief that the “telos” of marriage is unity and procreation — so if you’re missing one or both of these things, then it’s not marriage. So, when Catholics speak of homosexuality as intrinsically disordered, they are getting at it’s an inclination to something that does not aim at that telos.
I have no doubt that people who believe LGBT relationships and lived experiences are sinful or intrinsically disordered would therefore sincerely believe that willing the good for their LGBT brothers and sisters is to counsel them on celibacy (or at the very least, not pursuing same sex relationships), not transitioning (for trans folks), etc., I also have no doubt that most people who believe this would be very good at doing this unconditionally. No matter if their family and friends and acquaintances find it annoying, are not interested, do not follow this counsel, etc., it’s very easy to imagine someone still unconditionally willing this for others.
So, in this case, even if we accept this definition of love, we can say that one person believes they are loving unconditionally, but the recipient of this “love” may not recognize it as such. If someone does not accept what the “goods” of marriage are as such, then the uncompromising insistence on that is not persuasive. In fact, they may find this “love” to be obnoxious as hell.
“Obnoxious as hell” – Orthodoxy on heaven and hell
I want to pivot for a moment on that phrase. “Obnoxious as hell.”
After learning how different the Catholic/Thomistic view on things were, I became more aware that maybe a Mormon and protestant-inspired understanding of Christianity might not be all there was. So, in exploring yet other traditions, I also read a few things about Orthodoxy. Again, I apologize for any butchering of nuanced religious concepts, but an idea I read about was that hell is not a separate place, and hell is not even physical separation from God. Rather, hell and heaven are different individual responses.
In this view, no one will escape God’s presence. God’s presence is like being within the presence of the sun. The only thing that differs is whether one can withstand the light and heat, or not.
I think this also can play into the discussion about conditional and unconditional love. If unconditional love means offering the same thing to someone no matter what (no matter whether they are ready or willing to receive it), then those who find that obnoxious are in hell. (This doesn’t really convince me that I actually want love or Heaven, but I guess that is what it means to be a reprobate…an idea from the Reformed/Calvinist tradition that I’ll get more to.)
If this is true, then what does conditional love look like? Conditional love would look instead as to stop willing the good for another.
Please note that even this must be unpacked — what does it mean to stop willing the good for another? If a parent believes in “tough love” and requires that an LGBT child not bring home a partner in order to be allowed home (or to require them to sleep in separate rooms), is that conditional love?
But there was something that struck me in that second article:
Though Mindy continues to live this lifestyle, we hope that someday the gospel teachings she knows will help her remember that God loves her and wants so much more for her. Although Mindy is not currently involved in the Church—she told us, “I cannot go to a church that will not support my lifestyle”—she has said that she still believes many of its teachings. In the meantime, our hope is strong.“A Mother’s Story”, Name Withheld, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/same-gender-attraction/a-mothers-story?lang=eng
From the unnamed mother’s perspective, she continues to believe she is willing for Mindy’s good. She hopes that Mindy will eventually return to the church and abandon “the lesbian lifestyle.”
Instead, “conditional” love would look different…more callous and uncaring. It might mean wishing ill. Wishing that because a child is following something they disagree with that they experience pain and suffering because of it.
In the eternal scheme of things, I see a lot of people complain about a God who would send his children to hell. But of course, there are alternative interpretations that hell is a place that people choose to go through their rejection of God’s love, and of course, the Orthodox idea that hell is the mentality of not being able to bear the omnipresence of God.
But what might it look like when God or anyone actually starts will ill for people?
Reprobate vessels of wrath – Calvinism on limited atonement
Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say this, this idea readily brought to mind other scriptures…consider Pharaoh in the Exodus story (and commentary about God’s actions for the Pharaoh in other locations like Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Consider Exodus 4:21…
The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.Exodus 4:21, New International Version translation
And follow up with the commentary in Romans 9:18
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.Romans 9:18, New International Version translation
To an LDS audience, these may not make sense. After all, the Joseph Smith Translation explicitly re-addresses this scenario to suggest instead that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. However, there are distinctions between how LDS view God and how, say, a reformed Calvinist might view God that make these different interpretations plausible.
The reformed Christian views God’s sovereignty as absolute — so the presence of evil must require God’s allowance in a way that the weeping God of Mormonism doesn’t necessarily have to take credit for. Evil can’t just “slip in” as if God just overlooked it. Further, in Calvinism, God’s will is irresistible, so if God wants you, you won’t ultimately say no. So, this leads to the issue of why there apparently are those who reject God’s message. Oversimplifying, it’s because God has predestined this (usually as an example for the elect.) The previous passage I quoted from Romans continues, for example:
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?Romans 1:22-24
Please note that in Calvinism, this wouldn’t be taken to mean that God’s love is conditional. Rather, there is specifically a point that election is unconditional because there is no condition that we can have that can “justify” whether God picks us or not. God might play favorites, but it’s not because of anything we did or can do.
Back to LDS thinking
And outside of the context of an omnipotent God, we don’t have the power to force other people’s attitudes and minds to change. Still, I would say that in our limited ability, conditional love might look like willing for bad things to happen to someone if they don’t meet our conditions. So, if someone truly believed same-sex relationships to be sinful (to keep with this example), the unconditionally loving parent may still hope for the child to avoid whatever dangers they associate with “the lesbian lifestyle” as they hope that the child returns to faith.
However, the conditionally loving parent may give up on the child and wish the worst to happen to them as a result of their waywardness. It sounds very petty, but another set of scriptures comes to mind…
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.Romans 1:18-32
If I go back to President Nelson’s comments on his examples of the conditional nature of God’s love and blessings, there is a bit of the Romans 1 language here, but it is not quite as harsh or stark. The difference is that although in Calvinism a sovereign God establishes and controls the outcomes of actions, in Mormonism there is more of a sense that these are just brute consequences of the universe. God may not want bad things to happen to those who fail to keep the commandments (and may cry at these things happening), but it’s just the way that things are that if people don’t follow the commandments, then they have no promise.
Does any of this make you think differently about the discussion between conditional and unconditional love.
What does love mean to you, and how does it differ from how I’ve described it here?
If love is to will the good of another, then it seems to me there’s a big question on what that good is, and whether or not we can disagree. In the LGBT space, this is also why there are fierce debates about acceptance vs tolerance. Someone who merely tolerates an LGBT child’s relationship or gender identity still may disagree about what is good for them. When LGBT folks want acceptance, it’s that we want our identity and relationships to be viewed as we see them — as good for us.
The split between unconditional and conditional love instead becomes a question on whether or not someone can compromise on what they believe to be the good for another.
In reviewing this post, a coblogger raised Matthew 7:9 as well as the golden rule as other concepts to think about:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!Matthew 7:9-11, NIV translation
But this scripture expects us to unambiguously agree that bread is good and stones are bad — that even “evil” people would recognize good gifts. The golden rule expects that the way I want to be treated is similar to the way others want to be treated. My thought experiment is…what if the child and parent fundamentally disagree on what a good gift is?
Excellent post. I see the church’s stance on lgbtq+ issues very much what you state in this post. The church thinks they know what is “good” for everyone and they want everyone to have it (heterosexual marry or celibacy). The argument, which never really gets addressed, is if that is what is actually “good” for EVERYONE.
In my own definition of love, I include 3 parts: Accepting someone as they are, wanting what’s best for them, and then working to make what’s best for them happen.
As a parent, I do my best to accept my kids as they are, I do want what’s best for them, and I do try to make it happen. My biggest challenge is actually knowing what’s best for them. Most of the time I’m actually just guessing- but a basic principle I try to follow is “That which helps them to expand their agency and their love is best for them”.
What is good for people does seem a useful way to unpack the not unconditional love declarations. I would divide into two parts:
1. A claim that there is a universal or unitary Good. Which we often attribute to a deity.
2. A claim that we know what Good looks like.. Where the “we” is often an authority figure or institution like a church.
We could have a debate about the existence of a universal good vs an individualized good. IMO we can have a similar debate even without God, as in arguing utility for society as a whole vs utility for individuals. I think an important aspect of LDS Church statements against unconditional love is objecting to the idea of an individualized good.
We could have a different sort of epistemological debate about who knows or how we know what Good looks like. For an important real life example, consider the process of fundamentalist religions finding humanism doesn’t work for them . I think a different important aspect of LDS Church statements against unconditional love is we know and you don’t claims.
I puzzle over how to engage because while I don’t believe the church has it right (and am very far into the humanist camp myself), I’m unconvinced there is such a thing as universal or unitary good. Or if there is, it’s directionally more like the million+ words of the tax code than the ~300 words of the 10 commandments. (Or very short lines like love god and neighbor, that unpack in the million word direction.)
I have two comments on the LDS perspective of conditional love. First, I’m actually grateful that RMN is honest enough to admit that his own love is conditional. What I remember about one of his famous talks is that he discusses the death of his adult daughter and he brags about her and her keeping of covenants and it’s clear that his love for her is tied directly to her performance. I wonder what his other kids (who are also older adults) just think about their father’s love for them. They know they better stay in the boat or else. I think RMN’s perspective is wrong and hurtful but at least he’s honest about it. He could lie and say he loves his kids no matter what but he won’t say that because it’s definitely not the case. I don’t really like RMN but I appreciate his honesty. It’s like his “sad heaven” talk. We won’t always have a president who tells us we won’t be with our families in the next life unless X. And of course, because his love is conditional he has an easier time believing the same about God’s love. Sick stuff part I.
As for love as it relates to the LGBTQ community and the Church, the mentality that many TBMs have is that you (LGBTQs) are broken. You are in a damaged state. But after the resurrection you will be fixed. After all, we’ll have perfect bodies, and they view you as having some kind of physical defect. So it’s easier to justify holding back love and acceptance towards someone who is flawed but will be fixed. It’s a kind of “love them later” mentality. Sick stuff part II.
I think this is a tough question.
On the one hand, I strongly disagree with the way Nelson defines love and the way the LDS church tells us to treat LGBT people. Generally I would say that if the person doesn’t experience the way you are treating them as love, it’s not love.
But I can see some situations where that doesn’t hold up. An addict might not experience a person’s refusal to facilitate their addiction as love, but I don’t know that love requires us to do so where the addiction causes real physical harm to the person and diminishes their quality of life right now. I imagine a lot of LDS folks would argue that supporting a “gay lifestyle” is like supporting an addict’s addiction.
But I think that comparison is totally wrong. I wouldn’t support an addiction not because it’s a “sin” but because it demonstrably hurts the person in this life.
Whereas people decline to support a “gay lifestyle” not because it is harming a gay person in this life but because of some speculation about the next life.
@christian I get what you’re saying. If you really wanted to stretch the bread / stone analogy you could say “what if the person is gluten free and really likes rocks!!!” But it is pretty clear in that example that the person has *asked* for bread, for food, and you’ve given them something they can’t eat.
Really interesting analysis, Andrew. This is kind of echoing Josh h, but I feel like Russell M. Nelson is just mad about any universalist-leaning ideas in Mormon teachings. From talks like his infamous “sad heaven” one, it seems clear that he *really* wants there to be *clear* demarcation between the holy people like him and the great unwashed who are too lax and lazy to follow all the rules. So I think he just wants to be clear that God’s love is conditional as part of this. I bet stuff like the idea of universal resurrection just burn him up, since they’re available to everyone. I bet he also hates that scripture at the end of 2 Nephi 33 where he hopes that “many of us, if not all” could be saved in the kingdom of God. Because gosh darn it! Living with God wouldn’t be nearly as fun without having a bunch of people to lord it over!
Elisa, I would restate the analogy like this. You ask for an apple, I ask for fish, God gives us bread. Is that the way it works? Is that the way I want it to work? My parenting style is to try to deliver an apple and some fish, but within limits.
Modeling that back on marriage, for example, suppose 70% ask for heteronormative marriage, 10% ask for same-sex marriage, and 20% ask for no marriage. My god model can probably deliver on that. But 90% asking for same-sex marriage (in a totally hypothetical example) might well exceed the limits of what works for human flourishing.
Great post, Andrew. So I think there are a couple of things behind the scenes here that may help explain this “God’s love is not unconditional” nonsense.
1. If I’m being charitable, I’d say that a lot of this is due to rhetorical clumsiness on the part of our leaders. I think what some of them are actually trying to say without saying it plainly is that they don’t want people to think that God’s “unconditional love” means that anything goes. So what they really need to say is this: “Hey folks, God’s love is unconditional, but there is still such a thing as sin, so God will always love you, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to rob banks” or something like that. Since our leaders aren’t theologians, and since most of them really do seem to have obedience on the brain, it’s difficult for them to just come out with a simple, clarifying statement.
2. If I’m being less charitable, I’d say that a lot of the above comments are correct, esp. Ziff’s and josh h’s: Nelson and many other church leaders really do seem to tie obedience to love. In other words, because their love for their children is conditional, they assume God’s love for humanity in general is conditional. This is an extraordinarily dysfunctional way of looking at things, but it is on some level understandable since, for an orthodox, believing Mormon, it’s only possible to be an eternal family if temple covenants are made an honored; therefore, if you love your family, you want to be with them in the eternities and you therefore encourage them to make and keep temple covenants out of love. This kind of fu**ed up logic is what contributes to the incredibly harmful Mormon idea that obedience is proof of love. If you love God, you must obey him because obedience to his commandments and covenants is how you get to be with both God and your family in the Mormon afterlife. This, of course, is both absurd and deeply harmful. I love my children because they are my children and I feel a deep emotional bond with them; I don’t love them because they obey me. I shudder to think how many young Mormon children are being taught this whole “to love is to obey” crap. That’s got to be incredibly damaging to one’s idea of relationships. Far more damaging than believing that God’s love is unconditional.
I suppose I agree with the basic premise that love is willing good for another. I’ve usually phrased it as love being a commitment rather than a feeling. If I am committed to the good of another person, however, the recipient of my “love” may not view it as such. This is because we disagree on what would be best for that person. I have a son who suffers from a severe mental illness. I am committed to helping him have as good a life as possible, but this has resulted in conflict at times because of his self-destructive tendencies. He doesn’t want advice from anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear. Remind you of anyone you know? We have had to let him suffer the consequences of his poor decisions (what else could we do?), but of course we end up having to bail him out afterward. And he doesn’t view even that as a manifestation of love. Love is complicated.
My admittedly outsider take on this rumor is that President Nelson and many others in the Q15 are frustrated (maybe horrified is a better word) by the increasing irreligiousness of society (but particularly in western society, and even more so in the United States – this is still very much an America-first church) which is rendering the missionary program less and less fruitful and also less impactful for the missionaries for themselves (who don’t stick around when they get home), the greater acceptance of LGBTQ people by younger members who are finding this to be a big roadblock to continued activity, and the decreasing rates of activity and increased apathy of those who still attend. Various adjustments at the margins have not proven effective (“We gave you two-hour church, dropped Scouts, and picked a new logo. Why won’t you come back?”). So what do you do when you’ve tried (practically) nothing and you’re all out of ideas? Double down on sad heaven and hope that fear will do the work of reason (or at least “reason” from a TBM point of view).
To me, Elise Scott’s assertion that RMN “meant what he said” has little weight or importance, in a lasting doctrinal or theological sense, since I think that the only thought behind it is to put a stop to a groundswell of Mormon universalism. And while RMN is certainly a very smart man, he’s never shown any signs of being a deep thinker on theology; he’s more of a pronouncer of edicts.
So when I hear “Nelson meant what he said,” basically I don’t hear any deep analysis (from him or any other church leader) about what God’s love really looks like; we need Spriggs and others for that. What I hear is what I think he really meant: “Stop talking about God’s love as if it means you don’t need to repent, stay on the covenant path, pay your tithing, obey the WoW, etc.”
Can someone point me to more of this “groundswell of Mormon universalism?” I thought I was the only one.
Interestingly enough, the Brethren’s imperial style of governance works fabulously for wealth creation – so if LDS eventually fails as a church per se, perhaps it will re-emerge as a mutual fund.
your food allergy: I know Terryl Givens has talked about it often. I think it’s in The Christ Who Heals, among other things. That’s a book he wrote with his wife, Fiona. Brian Birch had something about it in Dialogue a while back, too (Summer 2018, I think). Those might be places to start.
The Givens’ really seem to be kind of on the shit list with RMN don’t they? In spite of towing the line line on “The Family”.
Cafeteria Mormonism really is here to stay, thanks not only to the nuanced crowd, but the anti-vaccination and anti-mask-wearing crowd. Any attempts to stop it will just create a smaller tent. But I don’t think the Brethren care about that; they clearly only care what the wealthy BYU donor crowd has to say about stuff.
The idea that love is the choice to will the good of another is powerful and not a phrase I was previously familiar. I think I’ve got some work to do on how I love people, based on this definition, so thank you for this, on a personal level.
Otherwise what Brother Sky says. I stopped tieing obedience to love when my toddlers ignored me. I knew they loved me. They just wanted to try things. It’s funny that Mormonism is so focused on families when it’s the creation of my own family that helped me see that worshipping a God like this didn’t make sense.
Lots of great comments. I just had to say that the little story from the Church’s website in which the mother claims her gay daughter said “I cannot go to a church that will not support my lifestyle” is ludicrous. There is zero chance that someone’s gay daughter referred to her own being gay as her “lifestyle.” That’s what a cishetero person who doesn’t listen or believe LGBTQ people might say, like “same-gender attracted,” but it is not what a person actually experiencing it might say. Which, to me, goes to the heart of the issue: the limits of parental love. Within the Church we have a lot of parents who overstep their bounds and try to infantilize their adult children rather than listening to them, letting them pursue happiness, and stepping back to the role of supportive friend rather than domineering parent. Control isn’t love. RMN isn’t the only Mormon parent who doesn’t get that. It’s kind of ironic that the people who think everyone else is broken (but we’ll suddenly love all the stuff they think we will, once we’re dead) are the most dysfunctional among us. And in many cases, the least self aware.
I was shocked when I hear RMN say that God’s love is conditional. He is an prophet for crying out loud and he doesn’t understand basic doctrine? Put someone else in charge. I always want to ask people who have this Old Testament view of God, “why do I want to try and get back to that guy?”
Really nice encapsulation. I like these principles, but I also note that people who disagree probably also think they are doing the same. (I am reminded of all the leadership quotes saying, “Don’t identify as gay — you are a child of God!” If someone sees those things in conflict, then that’ll change what they can accept as what someone is.
I think that breaking out into these two areas also makes sense. What I find interesting on the question of universal vs individualized good is that there is some semblance of rhetoric toward personalization…we are supposed to liken the scriptures to ourselves, seek personal revelation, we are told about patterns and exceptions, etc.,….but in practice, this gets interpreted in a unitary way: “seek personal revelation that confirms what the leaders are saying for everyone.”
I get the perspective that it’s more helpful for people to be upfront rather than hiding/misleading with their intentions. Wanted to address the last part of your comment
See, if we accept this framing as true, then I don’t think it follows that someone is “holding back love and acceptance.” Rather, if someone comes from the perspective that something about a person is a flaw, it totally makes sense to me that they would want to fix that, and that they would view trying to fix it as being the most loving behavior.
The problem still gets to a disagreement about what is a flaw. While I recognize I am an imperfect person in many many ways, I just don’t identify my sexuality as being one of them.
The analogy to addiction is one that I always think about because it is such a polarizing extreme case. It’s just hard to do so because obviously, one side thinks it’s an entirely irrelevant analogy, while the other thinks that of course it’s relevant. (e.g., even taking out the question of sin and afterlife, some people would still think the analogy works because they think same sex relationships are harmful. So, even what we describe as “harmful” or “beneficial” is also up for debate!)
Even calling an approach to addicts “tough love” (which is, I think, a very common approach) highlights the ambiguity of the term love here.
Like, if I could completely remove all the negative connotations of the example, I’d just really want people to answer: what exactly would unconditional love look like in dealing with an addict? What is the Christian response here? This gets into a lot of other really thorny issues — questions about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, especially in the face of harm and abuse.
Looking at things objectively, the LDS emphasis on works and differentiation between salvation and exaltation make it really easy for me to see a difference between a limited universalism along with a component of differentiation. I don’t think anyone has any issues with an unlimited resurrection because of that distinction between salvation for all and exaltation for some.
I mean, maybe the universalists can educate me, but I don’t think I’ve heard a compelling Mormon case for universalism meaning everyone reaches the highest degree of celestial glory no matter what they do. I’ve heard suggestions that maybe we’ll have more time to work on things than just this life, but that’s still conditional.
I think that a lot of this has exactly to do with, “God loves you, but that doesn’t mean anything goes.” But I also think that is a “hard” problem.
Going into your “uncharitable” interpretation, I think that this is a hard problem too.
Like, the analogy I am thinking of is about gifts. A gift is given without any strings or attachments. So we can think of a gift as being unconditional. YET, the response from the gift recipient does say *something*. I wouldn’t say that someone gives a gift in order to receive gratitude or thanks or whatever, but if you gave someone a gift, and they ignored it or mistreated it or just flat out didn’t like it, then there’s *something* about that.
And consider as well…what if the gift giver is giving a gift that the recipient doesn’t want?
I think a lot about how one of the dominant LDS analogies for grace and atonement is about piano lessons being provided as a gift. (Hmm, is that an area where Brad Wilcox isn’t making himself look bad, or are we still not down with piano lessons?)
Let’s say the piano lessons are free, given without conditions, but I just don’t like the piano and have no interest in learning. What does that say about me? What does that say about the person who gave me piano lessons?
you encapsulate the complexities and hard aspects super well in your comment. It’s tough.
but I think the latter is a statement about what God’s love looks like. In other words, however clumsily stated, there are going to be people who think that God’s love doesn’t mean you don’t need to repent, stay on the covenant path, etc., How do we reckon with that?
(I also would like to know more about what Mormon universalism really means here. Because even the Givens would probably acknowledge a distinction between salvation and exaltation and recognize the importance of works in Mormonism. (Although they would probably make it more of a growth mindset rather than a deficit mindset.) Even if the model shifts from a model of “we’re all bad and must be saved” to a model of “we’re all god, but we must progress”, there’s still a difference based on what people do.
I believe love evolves. It never stops doing so. Can one describe love, as such, as ever conditional? No, I don’t think so. Love’s diversity of its meanings and uses, along with the complexity of its related feelings in human life, make it very difficult to define with any consistency at any given time. The question of how God would treat love brings up the question, in Mormonism, of eternal progression. If mankind resurrects, does progression for mankind continue on eternally? If it does for mankind, why wouldn’t it, in Mormonism, for God. And love? What about hatred? Is it conditional?
Going back to the tweet at the very top of this post, I can confirm that my stake president just gave instruction about “spiritual drift” with respect to both Heavenly Mother and unconditional love in a stake leadership meeting in the last few weeks. We then spent a bunch of time on the unconditional love part in a recent ward council. I don’t have any insight into thoughts going around at the GA level in SLC, but as for my ward and stake, I think Brother Sky is very accurate in his first point. No one in any of the discussions I’ve been a part of recently is actually trying to argue against God’s unconditional love for every person. But many people are under the impression that there are a lot of members using this unconditional love as a justification for all sorts of behavior that the church disapproves of. (Whether there really are members doing this or whether this is an unwarranted worry from the leadership, I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’ve seen this going on in my interactions with people, but I concede that I am not involved in all the conversations that EQPs, RSPs, bishops and stake presidents are having with people.)
In all the discussions I’ve been a part of recently, I see a number of local leaders that do a pretty bad job of expressing their thoughts. When they try to push back on the idea that “God loves me unconditionally, therefore I can be in a same sex relationship” (or whatever the particular idea is) they do a bad job of separating the premise (God loves me unconditionally) from the conclusion (I am justified in doing this or that). They start making ham-fisted statements about how God super-extra-loves the righteous, which are quickly interpreted as a rejection of unconditional love, and then the person on the other side of the discussion feels that they are staying “God doesn’t love you because you do X”, which then leads to that person basically saying that the church leader believes in a pretty awful sounding god, and now everyone feels attacked. I tried to make the argument to my bishop that everyone would be best served if leadership would separate the two thoughts as much as possible. God loves everyone unconditionally. I don’t believe there is anything anyone can do that would make God love them. God loves Putin. I don’t, but God does. God loves you, God loves me. Once that idea is fully settled, if we need to have a discussion about commandments and “God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance,” and everything else we can. (Whether it will be a profitable discussion is still an open question.)
Basically, people can be terrible communicators, and local church leaders are no exception. In fact, in their zeal to try and uphold church standards and stand up in defense of a handbook that they probably don’t always 100% agree with to begin with, they might end up being below average communicators in many instances.
Andrew S: I think you are right to point out that there is no (or maybe scant?) evidence in Mormon theology for unqualified universalism. As you point out, it’s more of a “progress continues after death.” So I think the real disconnect is “who needs to repent?” IMO, those who think LGBTQ people are broken, who make it their mission in life to make their lives a living hell (regardless their motives, this is also based on not listening and not believing, and having an overconfidence in one’s rightness about other people’s lives) are the ones who need to change, not the people they are persecuting, even if it is for a “good reason” (e.g. to teach them the so-called error of their ways). I mean, religious crusades have all been based on the same types of logic, and they have carried a high death toll. Every action every person takes is justified in their own mind. I suppose we can argue/discuss what “repentance” a just God requires given that this is so. I suspect something starting with the toll one’s beliefs took on other people is a good starting point.
The Platinum Rule is a much better moral code than the Golden Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. I actually think Jesus (of the New Testament) would be down with this rewrite; RMN and Mormon Jesus not so much.
Partly echoing Angela C, to understand or grapple with the Mormon version of universalism we would want to delve into the movement between kingdoms discussion. Which some have preached and some consider heresy. My opinion, my read on the discussion, is that it closely parallels the present unconditional love discussion, where “we can’t talk unconditional love because people will go sin indiscriminately” parallels “movement between kingdoms would let people rely on deathbed and after death repentance and we can’t have that.”
I would suggest that love begins with the willingness to encounter another person on their own terms, without the filter of biases or preconceptions. The obvious objection to this is that biases and preconceptions can’t be avoided; the only way we can encounter the world is through the prism of what we have learned in prior experience. So, to be more precise, love begins where I succeed in setting aside all biases except one: the conviction that I must encounter the other as they are, on their own terms, as dictated by their experience, not mine. The more nearly I learn to accomplish this, the more authentic my love can be.
This type of encounter is a necessary condition of love, but not the fulfillment of love. As I develop relationships with others, I run up against the problems that Andrew wrestles with here. The willingness to encounter a person on their terms does not necessarily mean agreement about the best course of action or agreement about what is good. (And it certainly doesn’t mean agreement about what is Good in the abstract.) However, it does mean that the other person’s experience has a fundamental claim on the judgments I make, even when I disagree with the other person or when the other person is wrong. If I love, no set of ideas can displace the priority of the other person’s human presence for me.
The priority of the other’s presence is one way of thinking about love as unconditional. Love is never complete, in the sense of being finished. Its course is not predictable. Loving another does not mean that we will always be in harmony, or even that we will always like each other. However, if I love I always strive to accept the other person as they appear to me, face to face. My experience has been that when I do this, my heart is softened and paths open up to authentic communication and authentic feeling. That feeling is not the definition of unconditional love; it is the consequence of unconditional love.
What I’m suggesting here can feel dangerous. In addition to a softened heart and better communication, I have also consistently experienced personal change as I have tried to do these things. That is to say, I discovered that I was wrong about something. Sometimes I have discovered that I was wrong about things that I had assumed were very big and immovable. Loving unconditionally opens us to the frightening possibility of fundamental change.
“God may not want bad things to happen to those who fail to keep the commandments (and may cry at these things happening), but it’s just the way that things are that if people don’t follow the commandments, then they have no promise.”
Odd to me that this is such a big issue, I can’t say I’ve ever seen in all the teachings, talks, whatever over my lifetime as a member of the church any idea but that the Father and Son loves everyone, but do predicate obedience to their commandments to be able to return to them (meaning the celestial kingdom; also taking into context how much knowledge a person has about commandments/chance to join the church in mortality vs in death, etc). The whole salvation vs exaltation delineation. Everyone saved, but not exalted. Hence why a third of all of God’s children were cast out for rebellion. Etc, etc. How is this a surprise ? ‘There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated…”
Quick Google search: “God’s first step towards us is that of an anticipated and unconditional love. God loves first,” Pope Francis said June 14 (2018?).
“God does not love us because there is some reason that causes love. God loves us because He Himself is love, and love tends to spread and give by its nature. God does not even tie his benevolence to our conversion: if anything this is a consequence of God’s love.”
“Saint Paul says it perfectly,” he continued: “‘God demonstrates his love for us in the fact that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rm 5:8).”
To summarize the op: Love means wanting good for someone. If you and the person you love think different things are ‘good’ then love starts looking conditional. As many have mentioned above, wanting something for someone that they don’t want for themselves is the problem.
The difference between someone extending conditional or unconditional love, then, is how much God/parent trusts the recipient’s judgment. Does a parent trust an adult child to know what’s best for himself? That’s unconditional love supported by trust. Does a parent distrust an adult child and override their judgment about what’s best? That may be unconditional love from the parent’s point of view, but it doesn’t trust the recipient. @Tom explained this very clearly and gave a thought-provoking example about a mentally ill child, and how he can’t trust this child’s judgment.
I thought @Loursat explained the mix of unconditional love without expectations eloquently:
“So, to be more precise, love begins where I succeed in setting aside all biases except one: the conviction that I must encounter the other as they are, on their own terms, as dictated by their experience, not mine.”
Set aside your own judgment, and TRUST that the other person knows what is good for them. If you don’t trust the other person, you’ll substitute your judgment for theirs about what’s good, and that leads to conditional love in an attempt to control them (earn my approval!). Having unconditional love means taking the risk that the recipient might have different beliefs about what’s good and what isn’t. It is a risk; it is scary; finding out someone is different than you can challenge your worldview. It’s a growth experience that some would prefer not to have. Love based on trusting the other person requires a lot more humility than love based on insisting the other person meet your expectations.
I didn’t express my idea very well. What I’m getting at is that unconditional love is based on acceptance and trust and equality. You accept the person you love, trust that he knows what will make him happy better than you do, and (eventually) see him as your equal rather than as someone who needs to be fixed or guided. I put the (eventually) in there because in a parent-child relationship, the sense of equality develops as the child matures. It’s more equal because you’re NOT saying “my judgment is better than yours; my ideas of good and right is better than yours.”
Conditional love is based on the idea that the person you love wants things that are bad for him, so he needs lots of rules or else he’ll waste his life wearing crocs, hanging out at Dairy Queen, and playing video games in the basement. This love is based on expectations. It’s unequal, because you’re substituting your judgment for the judgment of the person you love. Maybe you’re “right” but you’re still not accepting them.
So, Janey, I wonder, do you believe in God, if that’s not insensitive? If so, is God omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent? How would you describe the God you believe in?
@ushallbcot, I believe in God. I was raised by a father who practiced conditional love, and once I failed his expectations, he discarded me. I have learned to love unconditionally by loving my children. They aren’t my equals in experience and wisdom yet, but they’re people separate and apart from me, and they don’t have an obligation to live their lives to make me proud. It’s my obligation to be proud that they don’t feel like they have to meet expectations for me to love them.
You asked a big question, and I’ve only got a few minutes to answer, so I’m going to tell a story. I was at a very very difficult time of my life. My emotional bucket was so empty that I frequently felt like I had nothing left for my children, who were very young at the time. I got so wrung out that I started praying to have charity for my children – to love them the way God loves them, because all I could see when I looked at them was my own exhaustion.
I took my four-year-old to a swim lesson. He was very clingy at this age. The only time he would get more than five feet away from me was during his swimming lesson, and I couldn’t leave the pool because rules. He exhausted me – I was struggling so hard that his constant need to be close to me just wore me out.
As he was bounce-walking towards the pool, I was given a gift from God. I saw him with a perfect understanding. I saw him as a person, a complete entire person, who had struggles ahead of him, and good times, and I was SO EXCITED that I was going to be able to share in those experiences with him. All the hard times would be us, together. All the good times would be us, together. I couldn’t believe how much joy I felt in my connection to him. Just the privilege of being able to watch him grow and develop and find himself as a person seemed to be the most glorious thing I could ever ask for. There was not one bit of worry about him following my rules or living up to my expectations. All the joy was focused on being able to come with him on his journey of finding out who he is and learning to love himself. It was the sort of excitement young kids feel on Christmas morning. The energy, the excitement, we need more synonyms for joy to describe how thrilling it was to think of both of us finding out together who he was.
Then he got in the pool. He turned around and made eye contact and grinned and waved at me. My heart nearly exploded with joy. There he was in the pool! His favorite place in his little four-year-old world, and he thought to turn around and wave at me! He loves me! He trusts me! He wants to share his excitement about swimming lessons with me! I felt so full of light and joy that I was going to overflow.
Then, in the middle of that glowing, expanding feeling, God dropped the thought into my head: “This is how I feel about you.” And I cried right there next to the pool. I knew God loved me, but I’d gotten used to thinking of myself as the problem child. God loved me out of obligation because he has to love everyone. It never occurred to me that he was excited about our relationship – that he found joy in our connection – that he was excited for me to find out who I am.
It changed my view. God isn’t tapping his foot with impatience and frowning about the rules. He’s excited for us to discover who we are; he’s there in the trenches of the hard times; he high-fives us in the good times. He accepts me. When I told him I couldn’t stand to be married anymore, he accepted that. When I said I need to quit Church, he accepted that. When I was getting judgmental about a friend, he gently reminded me that she needed my love and support more than my opinions. When I said I wasn’t paying tithing anymore, he’s showed me how to be a tithing blessing to others (I’ve had two people tell me I’m their tithing blessing, and that’s lots more fun than paying tithing). Etc and etc and etc.
And he never never even thinks that his love or blessings depends on me keeping a ton of nitpicky rules. He’s totally fine with the fact that I don’t like procreative sex. I know because I prayed and asked him.
That’s the God I believe in.
I asked around in some other communities about whether they think God’s love is unconditional and what that means to them, and the responses were interesting especially to compare/contrast from LDS concepts.
So, this kinda gets to the third vignette, but with a twist. It emphasize that God’s love is unconditional because it doesn’t depend on any pre-existing status or merit (and in fact, it’s notable precisely because by our actions, we deserve nothing of the sort.)
I think where Mormonism gets into a different position is in several areas:
1. Mormonism doesn’t accept the total depravity of humanity as is discussed here.
2. However we work out the difference between “salvation” and “exaltation,” Mormonism allows that there is something beyond just “acknowledging and accepting the gift.”
(Honestly, thinking about the gift of salvation and exaltation makes me re-think things like the priesthood and temple exclusions. Brother Wilcox, why didn’t blacks get the priesthood, huh? Why didn’t whites get the priesthood until 1829? Insidiously, what folkloric answers end up revealing is that Mormons don’t believe these revelations were free gifts, but in fact conditional upon the status of the country. And of course, the folk doctrine of premortal war in heaven would also suggest a “conditional” approach.)
In this way, it feels like Mormonism’s attempt to “answer” perceived flaws in greater Christianity actually created larger problems.
@andrew I agree the addiction question is thorny which is why I used it (as is the mental illness example used in comments). And I have no idea the answer. I suppose if I were in that position I would take @loursat’s advice and to my best to remove all my biases, meet and accept the person as they are, and then … honestly I don’t know what. I guess probably do some research on the best things to do. And above all make sure my actions are not based on my own ego or need to save face.
But yes, as people have noted, unfortunately many church members pathologize homosexuality like they would an addiction. So they *genuinely* believe they are acting out of “love” by not supporting a “lifestyle” that is sinful or a marriage that can’t be “eternal.” But, I can’t totally give those people a pass because everyone in my life will has taken the time to really listen and really try to understand the experience of LGBT folks comes out realizing that those former beliefs and actions were *not* loving. Hence, Loursat’s bias point is so critical.
Lots of comments on people being afraid that unconditional love = people will stop following the “rules.” I have a lot of thoughts on that but I’ll just say (1) in my experience, feeling completely loved and accepted as I am is essential for me to be willing to change (otherwise change is too scary), and (2) of being radically oriented to love causes one not to care about particular commandments, then I have to wonder whether those commandments matter.
Because love thy neighbor and love thy God are the commandments on which everything else supposedly hangs.
So if a commandment isn’t rooted in love, I think we should seriously consider whether it comes from God. And that means I don’t think we ought to worry a whole lot about unconditional love causing bad behavior.
Thank you, Janey, for your loving charity, for using your precious time tonight to recount an answer to my question. Especially, thanks for you telling us here of your personal, emotional, and solemn experiences, as well as the conclusions you’ve drawn from it.
I will take it all to bed with me tonight. It will give me rest and joy, I’m sure.
@Elisa , yes! Your comment of “do some research on the best thing to do” seems right to me. I think knowledge and intelligence are a crucial part of love -and the more we have the better we can love.
I’ll also add on that one of the foundational principles in Carl Rogers humanistic therapy, is that when people feel unconditional positive regard (unconditional love), that creates the condition where people can change for the better- to be their true selves. To me, it has a lot of parallels to Christ’s perfect love and the atonement being able to change us. (That’s my lds-centric view interpreting it through my lens. Carl Rogers would disagree with me.). Anyways, I don’t know of anyone in psychology who has put forth a theory that says unconditional love (or positive regard) will ever cause people to act worse. When people truly feel loved, it seems to always cause them to behave better and become their best selves.
I think that fits nicely with the gospel and could be taught and practiced more at church.
“Godliness characterizes each of you who truly loves the Lord. You are constantly mindful of the Savior’s atonement and rejoice in His unconditional love.” Russell M Nelson October GC 1991
Not sure what happened between 1991 and the 2003 article. I did a search of the term “unconditional love” in General Conference addresses. It popped up in the 70s, peaked in the 80s and hasn’t been uttered since the 90s.
This is more semantics than anything else if you ask me. There’s been a lot of that lately. There’s a million ways to describe gospel concepts but apparently we need to have an approved lexicon.
I will keep using the term to describe God’s love, regardlessof any training from higher up. If God is a parent, which is implied by His title Father, then His love must be unconditional.
I’ve been actively involved in the church for more than 40 years and was surprised by this concept of conditional love. A hardliner member of my ward gave a talk with that theme and I was sure he was wrong. In fairness to me, there are at least a handful of examples from general conference and church magazines that cut against the claim that God’s love is conditional. Others focus on Christ’s love being unconditional, but aren’t God and Jesus one when it comes to things like loving people? Can both of them be perfect of one’s love is conditional and the other’s unconditional? There are also lots of talks that urge parents to love their children unconditionally, so apparently the church holds God the Father to a lower standard. Anyway, here are a few examples from lds.org:
“I testify of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. The unconditional love the Father and the Son have for us is so real.” –Victor L. Brown
“Jesus’ unconditional love for us motivated His atoning sacrifice for our sins. Without His love, we would be unable to return to our Heavenly Father.” –Robert J. Whetten
“I hope that each person who attends will be welcomed at the door and will sense a great feeling of love and caring that the bishop has. That is symbolic of the Lord’s great, unconditional love for each of us. We should feel wanted, valued, and accepted at these meetings. No one should feel like a stranger.”
–W. Mack Lawrence
“The tenderness of this experience was that Robbie went from challenging the idea that Jesus could love everyone to a sweet trust of Christ’s unconditional love.” –Ruth B. Wright
“The one whose name this church bears has equal and unconditional love for each of his children—both those who know him and those who do not know him so well.” –Ruth H. Funk
“I have learned that, despite the unconditional love from a kind, loving Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, none of us makes it through this life without tribulations.” –Elder Laurian P. Balilemwa
Yes, these are all bench players in the Mormon pantheon but here are quotes from Maxwell and RMN.
“I testify that he assisted in the creation and management not only of this planet, but other worlds. His grasp is galactic, yet he noticed the widow casting in her mite. I am stunned at his perfect, unconditional love of all. Indeed, “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.” (“I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 80.)” –Neal A. Maxwell
“Godliness characterizes each of you who truly loves the Lord. You are constantly mindful of the Savior’s atonement and rejoice in His unconditional love.” -Russell M. Nelson (October 1991)
@Andrew, thanks for a thoughtful response. I agree, Nelson’s view IS a statement about what God’s love looks like. I just think that his view of God’s love comes from his “creating God in his own image,” if you will, rather than from any serious study of millennia of humanity’s struggle to understand God.
FWIW, I’m not a “Mormon universalist” but think of that as the (unwarranted IMO) desire to break down the barriers between kingdoms and between standard-issue “eternal life” and gold standard “exaltation.” I’m agnostic on eternal progression although I like it and it makes sense to me; mortality seems like a thin gruel on which to nourish one’s eternal destiny.
Ultimately, I think Joseph lacked enough language to describe things in full accuracy, as all humans do, and I tend to agree with his general attitude that we’ll all be just about as happy in eternity as we can stand to be.
“we’ll all be just about as happy in eternity as we can stand to be”
Sounds pretty universalist to me
Janey, as I parented my 4 year old today, I thought several times about your comment and saw him noticeably different than I ever have before. Thank you so much for offering your perspective and inspiring me to love him more deeply and wholly.
@Elisa. Yes. “I guess probably do some research on the best things to do”. I think that knowledge and intelligence are a part of love. The more you know, the better you can love.
I also think that that idea that unconditional love will lead people to stop following the rules/commandments is utterly ridiculous! Carl Rogers proposes the idea as part of his humanistic therapy, that unconditional positive regard (or I’ll substitute unconditional love) creates the conditions for positive change. When someone feels truly known and accepted in their flaws, they no longer need to justify or rationalize negative behavior, and instead they will naturally improve their behavior to be their ideal selves. (If you ask me, there may be some parallel’s to Christ’s unconditional love and how the Atonement can help change us – but Carl Rogers wouldn’t agree with me).
I’ve never heard of any psychologist, or anyone who studies human behavior, suggest that unconditional love will lead to worse behavior. When people actually feel that unconditional love, it always changes them for the better. My ideal dream is that instead of a focus on keeping the commandments and following the “rules” that the church becomes a place where people come and feel Christ’s and God’s unconditional love for them, and then they naturally change to become their best selves.
For various reasons—being a middle child, having a depressed mother and perfectionist father etc I grew up feeling unlovable. It feels like a stone inside me that will never ever go away. I remember as a child one time, hiding in a closet to see how long it would take my dad to notice I was missing. When I was 9 yrs old my mom took me to a counselor. She would just drop me off. The first thing the counselor said to me was “you’re just crying to get your own way.” It confirmed my worst fears—I was the problem child. I needed fixing.
But I couldn’t ever figure out what I needed to fix.
When I was in my 30’s I asked my mom why she took me to the counselor. She told me it was because I was crying a lot. Wow. If only I had known that at the time. I was sad because we had moved and I missed my best friend.
One of my missions in life has been to let children know they are loved. As a primary teacher I taught the kids in my class that Heavenly Father, Jesus and our parents love us unconditionally. When we do wrong there can be consequences and our parents might be mad or sad but they still love us.
We are taught the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors.
Too often that gets lost in the messaging.
Leave the judging up to God.
I have an overly simplistic model in my head that helps me navigate Mormon culture/Utah culture.
I think that Mormons: 1-are genuinely trying to BE GOOD. 2-are genuinely trying to LOOK GOOD, and 3-want to help others BE GOOD and LOOK GOOD.
#3 I think comes from a place of “Love”, but almost never feels like love to those on the receiving end of it. I think what happens is, people know that I’m trying to BE GOOD, so when they see me doing something I’m not “supposed to” be doing, they will “help me” by reminding me of the cultural norm, or what the prophet has said. To me, it comes off as self-righteous and judgy, but when I really look at their motivation, I’m pretty sure it’s actually coming from a good place, it’s just executed in the worst possible way. We have so many lessons that talk about “letting your light shine, bringing others unto Christ, sticking up for your standards, etc…” that people are really trying to follow.
We need some really explicit lessons that teach ” QUIT TRYING TO “HELP” PEOPLE BY LETTING THEM KNOW WHAT THEY CAN DO BETTER. You don’t bring people unto Christ by telling them what behaviors they need to change. You bring them to Christ by sharing Christ’s unconditional love for them.”
Mormon concept of God is very ill defined. We believe that God and Christ are “fresh and bone”? But what does that really mean? What about Mother in Heaven? What is Her role. How interventionist is God? Goes He.help Mormon’s find lost keys and not help starving refugees? Is God all of the Omni’s or is He progressing as JS and BY taught? BRM claimed he knew the answers, but did he really?
We can only assume that God is omni-benevolent. Other than that ask 10 Mormons about the nature of God and you get 10 different answers. I chose to believe that god is just and forgiving. And will judge by the good we do.
I actually worry a bit that LDS thinking tried to “resolve” perceived issues with the traditional Christian understanding of God and has actually introduced its own problems as a result. When I was growing up, I was taught that rather than a confusing and amorphous trinity, we knew through revelation more details about the Godhead (including that the Father is embodied, similar to humanity, etc.)
But I think this creates issues that don’t exist in other contexts. It commits Mormonism into speculation about heavenly mother because otherwise, women are excluded from divinity (whereas in traditional Christianity, being created in God’s image isn’t meant to be taken in the sense of literal body and gender because God is not flesh and bone.)
This leads to speculation that suggests heteronormativity baked in (e.g. heavenly father and mother as template for a divine marriage will exclude singles, LGBT, etc.)
These things spill over. What we believe about God spills over into what is possible or likely about how that God interacts with humanity. What is considered “just” and “forgiving”, even.
This is for Lois: Thank you for your candor and for your story. Mine is quite similar. The burden of never truly believing that one is loved or is worthy of love is absolutely crushing. I don’t know how on earth we’ve gotten to a point that leaders of Christ’s church are splitting hairs over how unconditional (or not) God’s love is, but it’s absolute madness. You’re right about love being at the heart of the two greatest commandments.
I’ve got to ask, it’s driving me crazy. What’s the GIF at the top from?
Never mind, Google is my friend. I found it.
Hopefully W&T will review the new book by (the one and only) Steve Young – The Law of Love, coming soon to Deseret Book.