Believing in something outside yourself is hard work

Since my last post, the woman who has been calling for LDS women to become priests has been excommunicated.  The church did not publish the announcement, she did, and even though it shows that her church leaders have been working with her officially since at least December of last year, she has been obstinate in her path.  Good for her, and I wish her well, but the freedom of association works both ways: any organization who feels that one of its members is working to undermine it declared principles is free to revoke that person’s membership.

But in wondering how to approach the subject, since it tends to be somewhat outside the average American’s understanding (the doctrine isn’t hard to follow, its just that most Americans don’t even realize that the LDS church can and does excommunicate people), I came across this article:

Religion shouldn’t be this hard.

An assembly that exists to help people shouldn’t be so willing to hurt people — by declaring them worthless, unacceptable, undesirable or strangers at the gate.

An assembly that should relax into the serenity of God’s unconditional love shouldn’t be so filled with hatred and fear.

An assembly that should do what Jesus did shouldn’t be so inwardly focused, so determined to be right, so eager for comfort, so fearful of failing.

An assembly that follows an itinerant rabbi shouldn’t be chasing permanence, stability and property.

An assembly whose call is to oneness and to serving the least shouldn’t be perpetuating hierarchies of power and systems of preference.

Faith should be difficult, yes, because it inevitably entails self-sacrifice and renewal. Life, too, is difficult. Dealing with Mammon is difficult. Speaking truth to power is difficult. Confronting our own weakness and capacity for sin is difficult.

It bothered me, and it took me a while to understand why.  He first says that Religion should not be hard, then explains failings of institutions of religion, then affirms that personal belief can indeed be challenging.  I’m sorry, but my understanding of religion is that it is personal first, and then organized.  Of course religion is difficult; we have to deny the selfish impulse, learn to think and care for others, and then work at putting our beliefs into practice in a world that does not often respect or reward those who do.

He says that religion shouldn’t be hard, and then proceeds to show why it is hard: because human beings have a natural tendency to gather together in groups that have similar beliefs, but without constantly working at practicing those beliefs, the gatherings tend to become corrupt, excluding some harshly, responding angrily to criticism, seeking after monetary or social gain instead of working together for the common good.

This article offends me because he paints every church with this broad brush, says that all assemblies suffer these problems, that any organization that professes to be religious in nature will suffer these issues.  And I call foul.

Any large institution can be faulted at some point for failing to live up to its ideals, but this applies to corporations, governments, and home owners associations as well as churches.  You don’t get a free pass to apply your critique solely to church organizations because you have “36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant”.  If anything, that kind of experience should allow you to understand that men will always turn to evil in any setting unless actively fighting the impulse.  It should show you that even bad men can repent of their bad choices and make good choices, affecting not just their lives, but the lives of many around them.

And you should have seen that for every person who changes for the better, a dozen more change for the worse, because that is the easy path.

Never forget that the itinerant rabbi drove people away from the Holy Temple.  That He healed, forgave, and then commanded: go forth and sin no more.  That His teachings, though full of love and acceptance, also affirmed that no imperfect creature could return to God.  And the church He belonged to cast Him out and had Him killed, and yet even when He overcame death, He never denounced that church, that religion, and had His disciples remain faithful members even as they tried to improve it.

Evil works very hard to defeat good.  We have to work harder to defeat Evil.  And this applies not just to our institutions, but to our own hearts most of all.

Religion was never meant to be easy.  It has all the forces of hell arrayed against it.

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