A Church for All, a Gospel of Inclusion

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "A Church for All, a Gospel of Inclusion" from the book Voices of Hope.)

Truthfully speaking, we are all still works in progress. Qualification for temple recommends and Church callings does not signify that we are free from temptation and shortcomings. So where do we derive the idea that some challenges or temptations make us unworthy to serve or belong?

Some time ago, my ward’s gospel doctrine class was engaged in a discussion about the “designs of Satan” in the latter-days. A man who was visiting our ward that day raised his hand to comment. He emphatically told of the most “devilish” design he had observed—devilish, he explained, because it was so subtle in its trap. He related that the evil thing was placed right by the checkout stand in the grocery store and looked quite innocent to the casual shopper. When the man finally identified the wicked design as bottled, caffeinated water, I felt a comic relief ripple through the class. I remember thinking, If that’s the worst Satan can do, I think I’m pretty safe!

Later in the discussion the man again commented, this time revealing his previous problem with substance addiction. Immediately I felt pangs of remorse for thinking the man was foolish. I began to appreciate what made caffeinated water so devilish to him. For someone who had struggled with addiction, any substance that was habit-forming could become the catalyst that whirled him back into its captive hold. I then thought of how easy it would be to mock and even play tricks on such a vulnerable man without ever realizing how tenuous his condition was. That day the visitor helped me to be more sensitive to others’ weaknesses and less quick to judge. I do not have to experience substance addiction or same-gender attraction to empathize with those who face such challenges; my own struggles with other temptations foster feelings of understanding, respect, and love for courageous believers who do not let their weaknesses define them or their Church participation.

In one of the most life-changing sermons of all time, King Benjamin directed a people who were “diligent in keeping the commandments” to a remarkably new level of humility and reverence. After Benjamin’s inspired witness of the Redeemer, his people “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth,” rather than taking pride in their obedience. Crying for the Savior’s mercy through the Atonement, they fell to the ground and pled to God for forgiveness and purified hearts (Mosiah 1:11; 4:1–2). In their humble state of rebirth, King Benjamin taught them how they would naturally act toward others when they retained this reverence for God and dependence on Him. He instructed, “Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; . . . and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. . . . For behold, are we not all beggars?” (Mosiah 4:11, 16, 19).

The prophet Nephi explicitly taught that we are rejecting the Savior’s commands and proffered power when we exclude others from association in the household of faith. In several verses that focus on the Savior’s generous and free salvation, Nephi wrote:

“Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price. Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men. . . .

“Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. . . . He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:25–28, 33).

By extension, does the Lord deny fellowship or salvation to those among us dealing with same-gender attraction? I say unto you, Nay, for all are alike unto God. By sincerely acknowledging our fallen natures and admitting that we have not come this far in life without “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save,” we are filled with God’s love for others (2 Nephi 31:19–20). Our covenant with God to succor those who stand in need of succor is finally doable. We are divinely enabled to see others as the Lord sees them.

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