Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pulling Down My One-Upmanship

"Latter-Day Saints are among the most generous people on earth," said the instructor in a church class I was attending. A brother in the room then called out, "And also among the most judgmental!" I could tell that the jibe was intended in all seriousness.

The comedian in me wanted to lampoon the irony of the man's statement by saying something flippant like, "In my judgment, that comment was rather judgmental" or "I see you have plenty of experience with being judgmental." But I restrained myself, realizing that anything I said in that vein would further detract from the lesson and would invite contention.

Mormons are far from perfect. We can learn much from criticisms of our culture and behavior. Joseph Smith admonished us to consider whether there is any truth in criticisms spoken of us. If so, we are to work to improve.

Moreover, the Lord has admonished us to "revile not against those that revile" (D&C 31:9). Nor are we to contend with those that contend against us (3 Nephi 11:29):
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
I heard a fellow tell of his anger against anti-Mormons that accosted him and his family on the sidewalk as they were heading to the open house of the recently dedicated Ogden Temple one hot summer day. Later as the man and his family were leaving the temple, he was humbled when he noticed smiling open house volunteers graciously bringing cool drinking water to the anti-Mormons in a literal demonstration of loving one's enemies (Matt 5:44).

The criticisms that sting the most are those that include a fair amount of truth. The natural man (Mosiah 3:19) in us wants to respond to such barbs by raising hackles and giving the critic a piece of our mind — naturally.

I have seen and taken part in plenty of unrighteous and self-righteous judgment of my fellow beings. Thus, when my friend unwittingly displayed his own judgmental attitude by projecting it onto his fellow church members, I felt to respond by mocking him, a sentiment that Alma2 warns us is cause for speedy repentance (Alma 5:30-31).

This is not to say that wrongs should not be corrected or that truths should not be boldly proclaimed. But it does mean that these activities should be undertaken in the spirit of humility and love. (Consider Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's balanced discussion of Christ-like love from the April 2014 general conference.)

Mercy is one of the Lord's most commonly mentioned traits, which he exercises according to his omniscience. Lacking his grand perspective, we are commanded to forgive everyone their trespasses whether we think they are deserving or not (D&C 64:9-11), even as we impose necessary consequences for misbehavior (D&C 64:12-14). Forgiveness in a spiritual sense does not necessarily mean removal of temporal consequences.

A few weeks have passed since the aforementioned judgmental comment was made. Yet despite my knowledge of the principles I have mentioned, part of me would still like to get the last word in on the subject. The natural man in me somehow thinks that acting in a judgmental manner will get my friend to reconsider his own judgmental attitude. In reality, it would likely just make my friend think that I'm a jerk without awakening the kind of self awareness I think he ought to develop.

Maybe I'd better get to work casting the beam out of my own eye before trying to remove the mote from my brother's (Matt 7:4-5).

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