~Shared from Richard Ostler Facebook with permission.
Is she wearing her garment in that wedding dress photo?
During my life, I’ve heard this question at times … usually when someone is looking at a bridal or a wedding photo. I’m sure I’ve asked it. I don’t think that is a question we should be asking. It’s a reflection of our ‘check-list’ culture that marginalizes some in Mormonism … making it difficult to fit in … and is exactly one of the things Christ was trying to undo during his ministry. I use this question as an example for the broader issue of judging people in Mormonism thru our “list of rules” eyes … rules that I believe in and teach … instead of seeing them as Heavenly Father’s children doing the best they can.
As a YSA Bishop, I performed many ring ceremonies. The purpose is to bring the families together in celebration of a wonderful day. A few times I received comments after posting ring ceremony or temple bridal photos. One faithful member asked me “did you see what was missing in that photo”? I had no idea what the member was talking about. The member then said something about what “was missing below her shoulder straps”. I then knew what the member was talking about … I turned and firmly said “all I saw was the beauty of that couple” and walked off … it was disappointing for me that this is what the member ‘saw’ and chose to discuss … instead of goodness and beauty of that couple … and gave me better understanding how some in Mormonism feel marginalized and withdraw. However, I recognize that I might have said the same thing a few years ago, so I pass no judgement on this good member as I’m still learning and working to improve.
I reflected on that ring ceremony. I never noticed that her garment may have been missing … it never entered my mind. All I saw was the beauty of that young couple coming together to be married. Her tender hearted father walking her down the aisle presenting her to her new husband. Could it be they were new converts and their family were not members? Could it be only the couple to be married, two witnesses, and the Sealer attended the Sealing to make sure no one felt excluded? Could it be as a new convert she didn’t have a lifetime of instruction on and preparation for this issue? Could it be she was wearing her own mother’s wedding dress?
Yes, we covenant in the Temple to wear the garment … something I deeply believe in and my wife and I teach to our six children and while serving as bishop to my ward members … and honored to be part of as a Salt Lake Temple ordinance worker … but it is a covenant between the individual and Heavenly Father (see: https://www.lds.org/topics/garments). That covenant doesn’t give me permission to use this as a measuring stick to ‘see’ and ‘judge others’. For some it may take a little time to figure out garment wearing and each will come to their own conclusions working with God on what is right for them. What is right for me, doesn’t give me permission to project that to other people. We should stop looking at a bride’s wedding dress and wonder if she is wearing her garment. It feels judgmental but also may prevent us from ‘seeing’ the overall goodness and beauty of a bride and/or her wedding day. Now in saying this, I’m not giving permission for members to not wear their garment or take a more casual approach. For me, my garment reminds me of the Savior, His sacrifice for me, and my Temple covenants … and there is power in those covenants that give me great spiritual strength.
But this post isn’t about the Temple garment! Rather I use it as an example to illustrate a broader challenge in the church … the culture of judging and shaming others. I meet with so many on the fringes of Mormonism and it is often this culture … not the doctrine or the commandments … that causes them to withdraw. They feel judged … so instead of coming to church and having it feel like the ‘Balm of Gilead’ where they feel loved and accepted … people “walking with them” as they try to move forward in their life … they feel ‘eyes’ on them judging them. Do we have thoughts like: Is that skirt to high? Is that a double pierced ear? Why is he home from his mission early? Why is she in that political party? Is he acting on his same-sex attraction? I wonder why he didn’t take the sacrament? Why didn’t her marriage work? Why doesn’t he date? Not sure about her working outside the home. Why is he not wearing a white shirt? Why does she have tattoos … doesn’t she know her body is a temple? Heard at school he/she messed up. Why hasn’t his mission call come yet? Why didn’t he serve a mission? Why did he march in that cause? Asking a newly engaged couple what Temple they are being married in (partly as a way to access their ‘worthiness’)? I wonder why they go skiing on Sunday every other week? Why haven’t they had kids yet? What is going on with that Bishopric member with a goatee? I don’t want to be too negative here as many individuals and congregations are doing a good job … but there is room for improvement.
We often extend this way of ‘seeing” to social media posts. Do we see that outdoor activity post and wonder if that took place on Sunday? Do we look at that glass at a restaurant dinner and wonder what’s in it? Do we look at that swimming suit and pass judgement based on our family rules?
Yes, I invite everyone to keep the commandments and enjoy the blessing that follow. But we need to retrain our brains and eyes to stop “seeing” this way. After meeting with so many on the margins of Mormonism and hearing their stories, my heart and consequently my way of ‘seeing’ has changed. I now try to see everyone as my equal … a daughter or son of loving Heavenly Parents trying to do their best as they move forward. I look for their Christlike attributes, talents, the way they are contributing to society and what I can learn from them … the way I believe their Heavenly Parents ‘see’ them. I take them where they are and extend my love, understanding and encouragement.
I love what Elder Uchtdorf said in April 2012: “Stop It! It’s that simple. We simply must stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”
Am I someone that needs Elder Uchtdorf’s counsel? Yes, absolutely! Are you someone that needs this counsel? I will leave that up to you. The only person in a Mormon congregation that has a right to judge is the Bishop and that in a private and thoughtful visit assessing temple worthiness, helping someone return to full activity, or exploring a significant calling.
But don’t I have a duty as a member of the church to “warn my neighbor”? Yes, but I feel the principal behind this concept is love. I replace the ‘warn’ with “love my neighbor”. When my ‘neighbor’ feels my genuine love for them … meaning I will ‘walk with them’ on any road they choose and my friendship is not ‘agenda based’ or conditional on any specific outcome (like commandment keeping or joining Mormonism), then my ability to lift, build, and help them increases. They trust me. They know I truly care about them … not as part of a church assignment or fulfilling a quota … but because I love them and see them as an equal daughter or son of Heavenly Parents. Once here, I might feel impressed to visit in a quiet moment about an item or two on from the above list such as ‘do you want to talk about why you came home from your mission early’, ‘how do you feel about the temple’ or ‘I here if you want to talk about perhaps not being able to have kids’. Yes, people need trusted friends in their life to process what is going on behind those questions … and often those conversations are both healing and helpful. My post is not suggesting we no longer want to help others come to Christ or talk about sensitive subjects … but open this door once love and trust are established. Its a two-way street as I need to be humble enough to accept/desire suggestions to improve … my dear wife and also my business partner (not in Mormonism) often do this for me. Moreover for those outside of Mormonism, this might lead to invitations on how Mormonism might be their path. I’m honored to have walked several into Mormonism over the past few years.
The leaders of our church have a broader mission with their worldwide responsibility to be a ‘voice of warning’ to help everyone come closer to Christ and do this through means that are available to them such as conferences talks, meetings, books and articles. I do that in my life by living the second great commandment ‘love they neighbor as thyself’.
Some may think this not is a problem … and maybe it is less of a problem outside of Utah … and maybe it is not between active members of our congregations … those that fit the mold … have all the right boxes checked. But if we could listen to those on the margins and really hear them we might be surprised to learn their true feelings and feel their pure hearts. They are some of the finest people I know and are often not the margins because they are ‘weak’, ‘Satan has got hold of them’, or ‘aren’t reading their scriptures’. One young man articulated it this way saying, “I don’t feel Mormon enough” to belong. Yikes! Everyone should feel “Mormon enough” to feel welcome, valued and loved in our congregations. Elder Uchtdorf said: “The Church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, your testimony must be this tall to enter” (October 2014). Elder Causse said “In this church there are no strangers and no outcasts. There are only brothers and sister … Our wards and our quorums do not belong to us, they belong to Jesus Christ … Whoever enters our meetinghouses should feel at home … Unity is not achieved by ignoring and isolating members who seem different or weaker and only associating with people who are like us.” (Oct 2013).
Big tent vs small tent Mormonism: Big tent Mormonism is where our congregations are safe, welcoming, loving and healing for everyone who considers Mormonism their spiritual home … all those that still want to “give it a go” and try and make it work. They may not ‘fit the cultural mold’, may have ‘work-in-progress’ testimonies and may (like me) working to keep the commandments. But they want to attend and feel the Spirit, worship their Savior, take the sacrament, hear uplifting talks/music, and feel the support of members figuratively putting their arms around them and say, ‘you are welcome’ … ‘I’m your friend with no ifs, ands or buts’. I believe Christ taught big tent Christianity during His ministry as he reached out to those on the margins of society, spent time with them, served them, talked about their good and invited them to join Him. Likewise Christ wants our congregations to be welcoming for all His children. The Temple is different … this is where there is a believe and behavior hurdle … but not at the congregation level. I look at our congregations as the ‘big tent’ … helping more people into straight narrow path that starts with the temple … but the path is wide at the congregation level.
I believe deeply in Mormonism! The purpose of my post is only to make it work for more of our dear sisters and brothers … leading to more covenant making and keeping … the central mission of Mormonism bringing us closer to Heavenly Parents and our Savior. Further, I need those on the margins of Mormonism in my life to help me be a better follower of Christ and having them in our congregations strengthens Mormonism. I invite everyone to consider it as their path … It helps me grow closer to my Heavenly Father and my Savior … it has deeply blessed my family and me and I want to share that joy with others … and as our culture improves more can enjoy these same blessings.
With love, Papa Ostler ❤
*Respectful Comments Please*
**The photo of the bride is not an actual Mormon bride. It is one found on the internet that illustrates the point of this post. I choose not to post the actual photos out of privacy. The facts of the above post are accurate**
***Sorry this is long and wordy … I should have paid attention in my High School writing class***