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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Take a Look at Yourself, and Make a Change

by Rob T:

The use of so-called “swear words” generally goes against religious sensibilities.

It also follows that a few garden-variety words are treated with the same disdain as swear words by some more conservative religions.

One of those words is “change.”

“We will stand firm!” “We will not waver!” “Our doctrine never changes!” Having been raised Catholic and now being a practicing Mormon, I’ve heard rhetoric like this in both faiths.

Catholic writer Damon Linker discusses the appeal of this notion and why there is resistance to change with his commentary on Pope Francis’ new, pastoral approach to divorced and remarried Catholics in relation to the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Linker writes:
“For someone who feels troubled by a culture in a constant state of instability and change, the Catholic Church can feel like a rock in a stormy, windswept sea. Finally, something is steady, permanent, unchangeable, fixed, immobile. The church's very stability can end up looking like the strongest sign and confirmation of its divinity. Everything changes! But not God and his church.

“For someone drawn to Catholicism by the promise of order and stability, any sign of change in the church will be unwelcome, threatening. The fact that social and cultural mores shift and develop around it is an argument for retrenchment and improved outreach to a world tempted by sin in new ways.”
The piece resonated with me for many reasons, chiefly that I feel a kinship to Linker. He notes that 16 years ago, he—theretofore a secular Jew—converted to Catholicism. Coincidentally, 16 years ago is when I made the switch from my Catholic upbringing to Mormonism.

And his subsequent thoughts mirror how my personal faith has evolved during more than a decade and a half in my new spiritual home.

Linker continues:
“The Catholic conservative doesn't want to live spiritually within a debating society or an ongoing, open-ended conversation. He wants matters to be definitive — done, settled, fixed for all time. Even if, considered objectively, the teachings of another authoritative Christian tradition in one area of doctrine appear more humane and less prone to alienating millions of parishioners. Because that's just not the way Catholics do it. We had that debate. It's over. End of discussion.”
I felt that way for a time when I joined the LDS Church. This is where the truth is! Why look for other sources? It’s a one-stop shop! I also believed the church was “perfect.” I often repeated the “church is perfect, the people aren’t” mantra.

But it isn’t perfect, it can’t be, and it doesn’t need to be. The church is a vehicle for Christ’s perfect gospel, I believe, but it is a human-run institution, with the flaws and imperfections of humans. I believe the humans who lead seek the will of God and receive direction from the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless they are human.

My time as a Mormon also has instilled in me almost a duty to look at what I admire in other faiths, including my former faith. The result has enriched my view of humanity’s capacity for devotion and goodness.

And I arrive at another point where I shout “Amen!” to Linker’s thoughtful musings:
“The Catholic Church is like any other human institution: admirable in many ways, deeply flawed in others. Its need for reform is incontestable. As the great mathematician and Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal put it in the mid-17th century, ‘It is an appalling thing that the discipline of the church today is portrayed to us as so excellent that to want to change it is treated as a crime. In former times it was infallibly excellent, and yet we find that it could be changed without committing a sin. But now, such as it is at present, can we not even want to see it changed?’”
Today, I feel the same about the LDS Church. While my experience in both religions showed me their pride in standing stalwart, I also have seen that churches can change.

When I was a young Catholic altar boy, suddenly girls were allowed to be altar servers in our parish. This meant I would serve Mass with my two younger sisters—at the time, not a welcome change for the easily embarrassed and annoyed teenage boy that I was, but definitely a good change that allowed girls greater participation in the rituals of their faith.

A few years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered the age for both men and women of when they could begin missionary service, a change gladly received by the general membership of the church.

Not long before I was born, the LDS Church ended its ban on black men being ordained to the priesthood, and the Second Vatican Council opened Catholicism to many positive reforms.

There are more changes I would like to see my church make. To be fair, there are things I don’t want the church to change (e.g., teaching of salvation and mercy for little children, I really really like that one). But above all, I would love to hear the word “change” described as a positive thing.

As a religious convert, I know what it’s like to make a big change, and no doubt so does Damon Linker. “Change” isn’t a swear word in my vocabulary, and I’ll guess it isn’t in his, either.

Admitting flaws and vulnerability on a personal and institutional level is healthy. Believing that you have the best to offer for the people in your pews also should mean taking a look in the mirror, seeing if there is any policy or practice that may not be best for all, and considering change.

It has happened before, and that’s why I have hope. We can open up windows to refreshing winds of change and not be afraid of being blown away.

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Rob T is a native of northeast Pennsylvania and a convert to the LDS Church. He works as a copy editor in Salt Lake City, where he lives with his wife and three sons. Twitter: @RobTmanJr.
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