I speak to those who have struggled with the anguish which comes from having deep personal convictions in various fundamental principles which are frequently rejected by others. You know who you are. There are so many facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ, all of them essential, all of them worthy of our searching out and sharing; but how does it feel when we seek to share these things with others, only to have our testimonies and expressions of truth rejected and reviled against by others?
Surely, the Prophet Nephi related to this when he wrote: “For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men.. [set at naught], and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.” (1 Nephi 19:7)
All of my adult life I have been brought into contact with great men and woman of conviction and honor who were champions of various causes. These causes include such thing as political reform, educational reform, medical reform, and even religious reform. We live in a fallen world and as it turns out, we are all in need of improvement in probably every facet of our lives. And so we find among us men and women of honor and integrity who are seeking to effect changes, each in their individual areas of expertise and within their circle of influence. However, and very sadly, I have often found in many of these individuals, including myself, a tendency to become angry, bitter, and sullenly withdrawn from the society of others when their testimonies and expressions of truth are rejected and reviled against by others. Too often, such individuals become bitter and alienated from the society of those who should have been their most beloved friends. There is a reason for this and a remedy which I would like to prescribe.
I would first like to share a thought which was shared with a friend of mine, several years ago, by an old church patriarch who has since passed away. He said: “If you ever find yourself out ahead of the train of the church, if you try to pull the church forward to where you are, you are liable to get yourself excommunicated. The thing to do is to read a Louis l’Amour novel, back off, and wait for the church to catch up.”
It is not our place to call our brothers and sisters in the church to repentance for not seeking out and receiving the revelation and understanding that we have received. If we try to do this, we put ourselves in grave danger of being excommunicated. Those who are called to preside in the church are the ones who set the pace for the church, and for the wards and stakes in the church. They will cause to be taught those things which they feel the members are in need of and which they are ready for, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation which is in them. If they do not, the sin is upon their heads—but it is not our place to judge them in this thing or to in any way seek to steady the ark. It is our duty to love our brothers and sisters unconditionally and to share with them, individually, our testimonies and insights according to the direction of the Spirit and according to their mutual willingness to receive what we are offering.
And so, this remedy is comprised of a formula involving two essential principles: 1) Honoring the agency of others, and 2) Charity.
I am sure we are all familiar with the following verses of scripture which say: “That they (the priesthood, our revelations, knowledge and understanding) may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:37 – 38)
When we seek to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” in order to gain political power and authority over the children of men, we become guilty of Statecraft.
When we seek to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” in order to force our religious views upon others, we in fact become guilty of Priestcraft, whether or not our views represent the truth, and whether or not our motives are pure.
In either case, whether we become guilty of Statecraft or Priestcraft, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved and withdraws, we are left to ourselves, and our tendency then is to fight our causes without the power and efficacy of the Spirit, and in the end we find that we are in fact merely persecuting the saints and fighting against God.
I cannot count the number of times that I have sought for occasion and means whereby I might somehow compel others to see and understand what I see and understand. I can now attest that whenever I have done this the result has yielded nothing but pain. One reason for this is because I have violated the agency of others by trying to force on them that which they did not want and were not willing or prepared to accept. Another reason for this pain is that it is very hurtful to have a freely given gift rejected and thrown back at one’s feet. This is not the way to find or encourage happiness and peace in a troubled world.
One can gain a far better understanding of the principles and powers at work here by considering the implications of the following verse of scripture. “I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.” (Alma 29:4)
God has firmly and unalterably decreed that He will grant unto men according to their desires, and according to their wills, whether it be unto death or unto life, or whether it be unto salvation or unto destruction. God gives us what we want and he does not force us to receive truth and blessings which are contrary to our desires. And so I ask, “If God’s respect for the agency of man is so great that He is not willing to force truth or blessings upon man which are contrary to their desires, how are we justified in endeavoring to force truth or blessings upon man which are contrary to their desires?”
When we find that we are in possession of principles of intelligence (or truth) which are greater than is common, we need to judiciously meter them out to others according to their desires and willingness to receive them. In fact, we will find that the greatest and most sacred experiences and understandings which we receive from the Father are almost never shared with others. Rather, we are commanded to only share little bits and pieces with others according to their preparation and capacity to receive and according to the direction we receive from the Spirit. If when we begin to share a principle of intelligence with others, they begin to become agitated, or defensive, or contentious, then we need to immediately back off and change the subject. When we say things which others do not want to hear, we violate their agency.
There is an exception to this principle. The exception is for those whose priesthood office and calling is to preside. The father and mother of a family, the bishop of a ward, and the presiding leaders in and of the church may be constrained by the Spirit to teach and to warn for the sake of those whose hearts are pure and true, so that those who are wandering can be corrected; and also so that the judgments of God will be just in the day of judgment.
Consider these words by the Prophet Jacob, concerning his responsibility to magnify his office. “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. (Jacob 1:19, 2:2)
This responsibility held by those who are called to preside does not apply to those of us who are not placed in such an office. Nor should we desire such an office or responsibility. If we do desire such an office or responsibility, then we had best consider the possibility that we are in fact endeavoring to “undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, [or] our vain ambition..”
When we find ourselves in a situation where we have the opportunity to share with others our thoughts and testimonies, we should not bring against them railing accusations, rather we should share our testimonies and express our love for them and for the Savior. Consider these two verses.
“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil.. durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee..” (Jude 1:9)
“Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.” (2 Peter 2:11)
Another powerful tool to use in helping others to gradually come to the truth is to ask simple questions in a spirit of love and intelligence. In this way, we can help them along the way, rather than shoving them along the way.
Please understand, I am not advocating in any way that we become apathetic, or disengaged, in our fight for truth and righteousness; I am saying that how we fight the fight makes all the difference. Everything we do should be done in a spirit of love, acceptance, and understanding.
We need to always seek to do things the Lord’s way, not our way.
In everything we design to do, we should pass it through two qualifying filters by asking ourselves two questions: 1) Will this strengthen our testimonies of Jesus Christ and of the Restoration? 2) Will this strengthen families?
It is far more important that we learn to love and serve and edify others, than to win others over to our way of thinking. The question should never be, “Who is right?” Rather, the question should always be, “What is right?”
Additionally, we would do well to keep in mind that none of us have all the answers. We would be wise to recognize and remember that there are always many aspects or facets to every principle and doctrine. This being the case, we should always be willing to learn from others. We should never assert ourselves as having the only valid answers, solutions, or definitions. Rather, we should learn to give and take equally and graciously. Those who insist that theirs is the only correct interpretation, solution, or definition, demean their constituents and alienate themselves. Let us always remember to honor others as we ourselves would like to be honored by giving equal validity to the opinions of others.
Of course, we are going to meet those, like ourselves, who have not yet learned, or who are yet trying to learn, how to honor the agency of others. When this happens, when we find that perhaps a little too much has been shared, we need to love them and act graciously toward them; we need to put a loving arm around them and see if we can’t help them see where they are going wrong. Or more likely, we need to wisely choose to stay silent.
We also need to keep in mind that we are not the first ones who have gained these insights in regard to honoring the agency of others. So lets not judge others as uninformed, understudied, spiritual pigmies just because they are not telling us all they know or understand about a given topic. I hold it as sage advise to always treat others how they may become, rather than how they are or how we may perceive them to be. Hence, it is often a good policy to treat every man as if he may be your presiding spiritual leader some day. With such an edifying approach to one’s relationships, it is hard to go wrong.
Finally, we must ourselves be filled with Charity, which is the pure love of Christ. In order to be filled with charity, we must ourselves be living lives of worthiness, faithfulness, and kindliness. If our hearts and minds are pure, and if our hands are clean, and if we are continuously seeking to love and serve others, then our souls will be prepared to be filled with Charity. When we have Charity we will be able to love others for who and what they are, unconditionally, and we will then be empowered to lift them up and edify them according to their desires. What is more, we will be empowered to inspire their desires and to then help them to achieve their righteous desires.
One vital fruit which comes with this gift of Charity is the faith and hope that Heavenly Father will take care of all His children in every needful way. With this faith and hope comes a profound peace as we allow the Lord to care for His children (individually and collectively) when and where we find ourselves powerless to do more. When we love our brothers and sisters with the same love that Christ has (which is Charity), then we understand that His love is greater than our love; hence, it becomes easy to put things into his loving hands.
Those who are filled with the Holy Ghost are also filled with Charity. Such individuals are filled with happiness, peace, enthusiasm, and joy. We can not fake this. We have to set our lives in order. We must be worthy and clean. We must be filled with humility and childlike submissiveness to the will of the Lord. We must be continually focused on the Savior and look to Him for strength, guidance, and the power to do His will.
Learning to respect the agency of others and to love others unconditionally comprise two critical keys to a happy and productive life, and to a life that yields those fruits necessary in order to achieve exaltation and eternal life.
I encourage everyone to delve deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness which we are repeatedly commanded to seek and to receive, which are necessary for salvation; but as we do this we need to remember to keep these things in our hearts and to only share those things which others are prepared to hear and to receive, as the Spirit directs. As we do this we need to always strive to love and to serve all of those around us patiently and unconditionally. That we may all learn to do these things is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.