Friday, August 22, 2014
Unity is a guiding principle in most of the world’s religions. But more often than not, the pursuit of unity becomes a demand for uniformity—so much so that the two concepts become confused.
Religions begin issuing commandments or enforcing policies on everything ranging from the type of clothing worn, to hair styles, to the use of language, to which books should be read, what music should be heard, which movies and TV shows should be watched, what types of thoughts should be entertained and what thoughts should be repressed. Even those who express their faith using words or phrases not in common use, become suspect; other adherents begin to worry that such a person “is losing their faith” or has “lost their testimony.”
Obey. Don’t doubt or question. Follow the fold—or leader—or the prophet. Don’t cause waves. Conform. One’s willingness to negate one’s self and blend into the crowd becomes the litmus test of one’s faith, one’s moral character, one’s spiritual health and one’s relationship with God.
In many Mormon denominations, uniformity is usually mistaken for unity. If one uses the same words used by everyone else when bearing one’s testimony , one is seen as faithful—regardless of one’s inner spiritual or ethical condition. If a testimony is born using phrases, language or images that are not familiar, many listeners become uneasy, looking with suspicion upon the person bearing the testimony. If a little girl wears a sleeveless shirt or blouse, many worry that her moral character could be more easily corrupted than the little girl who wears a top with sleeves that meet that denomination’s dress standards. The same goes for young women and their choice of clothing. Men have traditionally been encouraged to have their hair cut at certain lengths and to avoid beards. Often men are not allowed to pass the sacrament or participate in certain ordinances because they are not wearing white shirts and ties—even though there is no official policy on the matter. Uniformity is such a powerful force in some denominations of Mormonism that many believe—sincerely but mistakenly—that they can spot another Mormon at first sight.
The result is that the sacrifice of one’s individuality comes to be seen as an act of great virtue, while being true to one’s self is often denigrated as “selfishness,” “hard heartedness” “being proud” and “having a rebellious spirit.” In such a culture, hypocrisy comes easy since uniformity is more about outer appearances than inner substance. Most tragic of all is that sincere, well-meaning, highly ethical individuals who crave an atmosphere of emotional and intellectual transparency—a space where there can be a true meeting of the minds; an honest discussion of the actual issues confronting human beings; a thoughtful examination of their faith’s history and theology; a respectful and even loving difference of opinions—become frustrated to the point where they conclude Mormonism is simply not a viable, meaningful religion for them. These individuals finally succumb to the false idea that uniformity equals unity; unwilling or honestly unable to any longer wear a one-size-fits-all uniform, they leave the faith they once deeply valued.
This problem is not unique to Mormonism. One finds it in all religions. The demand for uniformity destroys true unity.
To first century followers of Jesus, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:4)
Paul believed that Jesus’s followers were united by the same Spirit, which could manifest itself through them in diverse ways. In the midst of strife between Jesus’s followers—usually revolving around how to incorporate the traditions of distinct cultures into the movement that Jesus began—Paul encouraged them to keep in mind the bigger picture…to stay focused on moving forward, on cultivating the image of God within themselves and on transforming the earth so that it was in harmony with the Kingdom of God.
Divisions continued, of course—usually because one group, one church or one body would try to enforce uniformity in the name of establishing or preserving unity.
Shortly before Joseph Smith published “The Book of Mormon,” he revealed the reason that the book was being brought forth:
“…if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a REFORMATION among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priestcrafts, and envyings, and strifes…” (Book of Commandments 4:5)
The reformation that was the original objective of the movement that became known as Mormonism was a reformation of religion that would end such things as “envying and strifes” and bring about religious unity.
This unity was not a matter of establishing a new system of uniformity. It was to be a unity brought about by the Spirit, which would manifest itself in all people and all cultures the world over in many different ways. “The Book of Mormon” itself declared:
“…I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God,
for they are many; and they come from the same God.
And there are different ways that these gifts are administered;
but it is the same God who worketh all in all;
and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men,
to profit them…
…all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ;
and they come unto every man severally, according as he will…”
(Moroni 10: 8, 17)
Reform Mormonism embraces this concept.
Reform Mormonism celebrates individuality and personal differences, declaring that these need not undermine spiritual unity within a community of faith.
One does not sacrifice one’s individuality in being a Reform Mormon. We declare that the purpose of life is the eternal progression and growth of the individual.
Reform Mormons declare that in developing a relationship with God, people need never put on a uniform.
Rather, Reform Mormons proclaim that in order for the Spirit of God to work in and through people, they must shed all pretentions, discard the labels that have been placed upon them and approach God honestly, as they are—knowing that they are fully embraced as they really are, here and now, by a loving Heavenly Father and Mother.
The foundation of Reform Mormon theology is the old Mormon adage: “As we now are, God once was; as God now is, we may become.”
Therefore human nature is nothing to be repented of, or overcome, or forsaken. Rather human nature—in all its complexity—is our most potent link to God. Existing in the image of God, humans share with God a common nature.
Reform Mormons openly deal with all aspects of human nature, all fields of human endeavor, all episodes of human history—for we declare that God intends for us to deal with reality, here and now; that only in doing so can we grow and progress and become like God.
This does not mean that we all are progressing toward some cookie-cutter image of God, but that the Divine image we are cultivating within ourselves is the result of our unique and distinct experiences, relationships, preferences and points of view—and the interaction of all of these things with the Spirit of God, which is universal and at work in all things.