Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On inclusion

The discussion of white shirts over at Mormon Matters has gotten me thinking about inclusion. You know the deal: A number of different general authorities (including Elder Nelson and Elder Holland) have suggested it's good to encourage young men to wear white shirts while blessing and passing the sacrament. Some are ok with the idea and agree that there's symbolism in the action: white shirts mirror the white of baptism and the temple. Others are not ok, and find this another intrusive near-commandment that allows some to judge the righteousness of others.

You can guess where I stand. I'm the guy who shaved his beard happily to work in the temple. And, as I told a young friend who questioned why, I would gladly have shaved my head if they'd asked me to. Those who make those decisions can make whatever decisions they like, and I can choose to accept them, and that's ok by me. Others don’t feel the same way, and think there are too many rules.

The good news is that the tent of the gospel is big enough for both camps and more. In fact, the gospel tent is big enough for all of us, as long as we are seeking to find and follow the Savior.

Here’s an example that illustrates the point:

I was reading in 3 Nephi 18 this morning where the Savior institutes the sacrament among the Nephites, and he counsels them only to partake of the sacrament worthily, and to prevent the unworthy from partaking of the sacrament. But, he also says of the unworthy, "Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name….Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship…" (3 Nephi 18:30, 32).

I don't mean to link shirt color to worthiness! Instead, I mean to suggest that the Lord's standard is high for believers: We should strive to be worthy to participate in priesthood ordinances, and we should be willing to include those who are not. There are those whose calling it is to judge worthiness; the rest of us just shouldn't. Period. We should love and accept and encourage and invite all to come unto Christ.

When Elder Clayton Christiansen, then an area authority 70, visited our stake a number of years ago, he suggested that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for the righteous – and he reminded us that we were all in the former category in one way or another. Further, he suggested if we couldn't smell tabacco smoke in our meetings, then we weren't working hard enough.

Knowing that, who are we to judge another who may think or act differently than we do? Indeed we're taught to invite with "persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge…without hypocrisy, and without guile" (D&C121:41-42).

The tent is big and there's plenty of room. Come on in!


  1. Recently, we went to church with Sis and BIL at their ward. BIL rarely, if ever, wears white shirts (and often wears jeans). He explained, at dinner that day, that many investigators (there are a lot at that particular ward) feel excluded/turned off by showing up to church, and seeing everyone wearing the same outfit. Many converts don't really know how to react; seeing someone who looks like them (e.g. who's wearing regular clothes) helps them to feel more at home. Church members are pretty diverse, but, sometimes, superficially, anyway, don't look it.

  2. Nice of him to help people feel welcome. I know for me, I am pretty straight-laced for church, but I sure don't mind people coming "as they are" -- better to have them there, I say.

  3. Love this idea of a big tent. So often I'm think I'm totally outside the narrow "mormon" box.

    My husband, a Bishop, and I have this white shirt conversation often and it irritates me that this whole idea has become a sort of 'doctrine' and that boys can't pass the sacrament if they are dressed in a clean cute suit but a blue shirt....grrrrrr.

    Either way, the tent is big...I'm in it to come unto Christ. Thanks for making space for everyone!!


  4. Lisa,

    It's easy to feel outside, I think. And I think we do need to help others not feel excluded, but on the other hand, I think it's up to those who feel outside to keep on coming anyway for a bit to help teach those of us on the inside how to open up a bit.

    I had a friend in another ward who was a very unconventional member -- raced motorcycles, led a pretty hard life. But he followed me as elders quorum president and he was awesome in his own way, with his own gifts. I would never in those days have thought to recommend him, but I was glad he served and taught me as he did.