We belong to a church of assignments, and as such dealing with diversity comes with the territory. No one asks us who we want to visit teach or home teach, we are assigned companions and routes. It is bound to happen occasionally that we are assigned to visit someone each month with whom we don’t get along to one degree or another. There is almost no escaping it. In those circumstances, the odds they don’t get visited go up exponentially. If they do get visits each month, they are often strained and kept extra short.
Visiting and Home Teaching can be a real mixed bag of challenges and blessings. Some families are part-member families and may or may not want to be visited. Some families may be what you consider to be political dissidents or hold social views contrary to your own. What does the Lord expect us to do with these kinds of assignments?
In the October, 2014 General Conference Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled, “Loving Others and Living with Differences.” All full-sentence quotes in this article are from his talk.
Lessons we need to learn
When the Savior was about to ascend into heaven (Acts 1:6 – 8) his apostles asked Him when it would be that he would come and set up His kingdom. His response was evasive. He told them that it was none of their business. They were to wait until the promise was fulfilled for them to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. He promised them they would be given power to be His witnesses “unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
There was a lot they still needed to learn. These were men who were still arguing with each other over who was going to be the most important person in the kingdom of heaven. Following are six lessons we need to learn if we are going to be better representatives of the Lord to those around us, both in Visiting and Home teaching, and as we deal with our neighbors and the communities in which we live. What lesson applies in one instance can be derived to apply in other situations as well.
The Apostles only thought in terms of God’s plan for the Jews. Jesus had to teach them through the Spirit that God’s plan was not just for the Jews, but for all mankind. This was the great revelation received by Peter on the rooftop, and then confirmed through the manifestation of the Holy Ghost to the household of Cornelius, the Centurion.
Sometimes our vision of how we are expected to work with others in the gospel is too narrow, just like the apostles of old had too narrow a vision of their mission. The Lord had to work with them to expand their views and their understanding. Our field of vision is often too small. We tend to see our role in life as only including us or our immediate family. The Lord expects far more out of us than just influencing our immediate family.
He may not expect us to become the leaders in our communities, but He does expect us to become active participants in them. We may not be our Visiting or Home Teaching family’s favorite person, but the Lord expects us to represent Him in their home as though He were their Bishop’s representative. Something tells me this involves a lot more than many of us are currently doing.
Our Father in Heaven sees our potential for influencing many of those around us and wants us to extend our love even to those who hate us. He wants us to be the leaven in the lump that raises all of society to a higher level of spiritual awareness. He wants everyone to feel His love as demonstrated by His covenant children.
Does that mean that those I have been assigned to visit each month need to feel God’s love as demonstrated by His assigned servant? Yes, I think it does. It becomes my responsibility to figure out how to show my families Christlike love and concern, even when they may not be all that anxious for me to be in their home. How I do that is between me and the Spirit who will teach me what I must do from day to day.
Too often we try to protect ourselves from the world, and those we disagree with, by hiding from them. By hiding I mean by not getting involved in their clubs, organizations, activities, or politics. We don’t let our children play with their children, or we don’t invite them into our homes or to our social functions. We segregate ourselves from those who are different from us. In John 17:15 the Lord asked God not to take us out of the world, but to protect us from the evil of the world. We need to learn to live among the evils of our society while actively promoting good and worthy things and not partaking in the evils that are currently popular. This is what we need to teach our children to do as well.
Learning to get along with others means also learning to safeguard our minds and hearts against contention in all its varieties. 3 Nephi 11:28 – 30 tells us that Satan is the father of contention. This includes resentment, a condemning attitude, and feeling better than others. This means that anytime we are discussing something with another person, especially about any kind of doctrine, and bad feelings begin to creep into the conversation, we have crossed the line. Avoiding dissension and disputation means not entertaining feelings that come from Satan. This may take some retraining on our part. It can be difficult to learn how to discuss differences of opinion and maintain a kind and loving attitude toward the person with a differing view.
Christ’s commandment to love one another as He has loved us means that we must be willing to learn how to see another person’s value, even through their sins and prejudices. A person’s value as a person has nothing to do with behaviors and beliefs held by that person. We need to recognize that Jesus loves us even though we often don’t demonstrate His values and His beliefs. When it comes to the value of families we have been assigned to visit or the people we work with in our community, are we able to look past their differences of opinion and focus on their intrinsic value as a child of God?
Are we able to love them because of who they are as children of our Father in Heaven, no matter what opinions they have chosen to espouse while here in mortality? If they knew what you know they may behave differently, but then again, they may not. But that doesn’t change their inherent value as a child of God. We need to seek help from the Spirit to learn to see the value in each person, no matter what their economic, social, or political views might be.
We need to learn to speak to each other in words of love with feelings of love, just as our Savior speaks to us. This requires us to separate our personal opinions of the person we are addressing from the Savior’s opinions of that person. The goal is to try to feel for that person what Jesus feels for that person. If He were taking your place in the conversation, what would He want that person to hear to help him/her feel His love and gain a desire to accept His proffered salvation? The point is that it isn’t about us, it is about that person and their Savior. We are merely the Savior’s servants doing our master’s bidding. The only reward we should seek is our master’s approval.
In modern revelation the Lord commanded that the glad tidings of the restored gospel should be declared “every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41), “with all humility, … reviling not against revilers” (D&C 19:30).
Our instructions are to be meek and mild. But meek and mild doesn’t mean letting others control what we believe or how we behave. Being meek and mild is how we express our humility before God. It defines how we stand up for our faith in front of others. Being meek and mild in our behavior demonstrates our humble obedience to Christ and His teachings. It demonstrates our acceptance of His leadership in our lives and our commitment to our covenants to God.
Loving-kindness is required, but a follower of Christ—just like the Master—will be firm in the truth.
The commandment to love one another surely includes love and respect across religious lines and also across racial, cultural, and economic lines.
Sometimes we distance ourselves from those who make us uncomfortable, whether by their social status or cultural status, or by their espoused ideological beliefs. We often don’t even see ourselves do it. For example, someone comes into the Church house on Sunday who “clearly” doesn’t belong. She is unkempt, of another race, and looks to need a bath. Often our first impulse is to pull back and be suspicious, questioning why someone “like that” would be here in the Church house.
I speak to my own shame that this happened to me recently. And I instinctively pulled away from her and was suspicious. I had to remind myself that it was a privilege that she felt safe enough to enter the church to come ask questions. I deliberately went out of my way to help answer her questions and help her feel welcome. But my shame is that it did not come naturally, like it should have. It felt a little forced, and I was embarrassed at my own lack of natural love.
In so many relationships and circumstances in life, we must live with differences. Where vital, our side of these differences should not be denied or abandoned, but as followers of Christ we should live peacefully with others who do not share our values or accept the teachings upon which they are based. The Father’s plan of salvation, which we know by prophetic revelation, places us in a mortal circumstance where we are to keep His commandments. That includes loving our neighbors of different cultures and beliefs as He has loved us.
My hope is that I will find myself more frequently in situations like I did that one. I obviously need practice reaching out to others and need more help in feeling comfortable in situations that are not common in my daily experience. I may not have instinctively reacted like Christ in that situation, but I can sense that I at least showed a seed of compassion that, if nurtured could grow to be something the Lord could use to bless the lives of others.
We may not always get to visit our best friends each month as representatives of the Bishop. We may not currently be active in associating with others in the community who share differing opinions about life. But that can change, and maybe should change if we have kept too much to ourselves and haven’t been the example the Lord expects of us to His other children.
Remember, our association with others is not about us, it is about us taking Christ’s love to them. When we got baptized we promised to help bear one another’s burdens and mourn with those that mourn. We promised to get involved in each other’s lives and support them in their mortal journey. I don’t remember any part of that baptismal covenant saying it was restricted to those just like me in the Church. Perhaps this is another one of those instances where our field of view is too narrow and we need to be more inclusive in who we think the covenant is talking about.
Dallin H. Oaks