Thursday, June 9, 2011

On whether all roads lead to Rome

While I was on my mission (back when we rode dinosaurs to appointments), my last companion somehow got invited to present a paper at a local university in Saarbrücken during a symposium on religion. There were other papers to be presented on a variety of topics, but his was entitled “Alle Wege Führen Nicht Nach Rom” (Not All Roads Lead to Rome).

His point, as one might imagine an LDS missionary’s point would be, was that there was only one way back to Heavenly Father, namely through the authorized ordinances of the restored priesthood. He did a credible job presenting; his non-native German was wonderful, and he was well received by the small crowd at the lecture. (We were actually working in a different city; he’d been transferred after he’d committed to present, so he got permission to go back.)

As I’ve grown older, I’ve had some different thoughts on the matter. While I agree with my companion that the saving ordinances of the restored priesthood are required for exaltation, how we get to those ordinances may be on very different paths.

I have for several years participated in 12-step programs. Part of the concept of most such groups is the acceptance of a Higher Power whose attributes are not specified except to note that the power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity. The lack of specificity allows people of diverse beliefs to share the benefits of the 12 steps without reference to a particular religion. Many participants I know are Christian, so they have a similar (though perhaps not equal) concept of God to mine. But others do not worship God as we understand him, and still they are able to find a place on the spiritual journey of the steps. I should add that some who come to one of  my 12-Step groups without religion take some time to sort out how to get past the idea of a Higher Power, but many eventually do, finding their higher power in nature or in the group itself or some other way. (The church’s Addiction Recovery Program is different in this point, as one might expect. There, one openly acknowledges Christ’s role in allowing us to change, and rather than restoring us to sanity, he restores us to spiritual health.)

I quietly worried about this Higher Power model for my first while in my non-LDS 12-step program. Should I not confess Jesus Christ as my savior? The answer is yes, but the traditions of the program I attend prohibit the discussion of specific religions. In the end, here is how I sorted it out:

  •  I can believe as I do, but “check my belief at the door” when participating in discussions of a Higher Power in order to allow the group to function as it does. In so doing, I can contribute to the greatest recovery for the greatest number (another part of the organization’s traditions) by avoiding polarizing discussions of religion that have little bearing on the other elements of the program. I do this already in many other aspects of my life. I do not discuss religion at length in the workplace. Nor do I discuss my faith with my doctor or mailman or plumber.

  • I can also acknowledge God’s power to reveal Himself to people when He and they are ready. It occurred to me that if others in recovery accept a Higher Power to allow their progress on the spiritual journey of recovery, they will also find God eventually. As they work the steps, they will apply the lessons and blessings of the atonement to their lives, and in that process, God will speak to their hearts in His way and His time. And eventually He will help them to be prepared to take another step and learn about saving ordinances of the gospel. I can respect that God’s timeline is not mine, and I can strive to see if I have a place on His timeline, and I can be patient if I don’t.

  • I can share my faith quietly and privately as moved by the Spirit (or invited by others) to do so, just as I can with my co-workers, my doctor, my mailman or my plumber. In the meantime, I can recognize that God has far greater power than I do in the sharing of His word. In recognizing that, I don’t seek to avoid my responsibility to share the gospel, but I recognize that since it’s His work, I can seek to understand His plan for me and act upon that.

Gospel truth is gospel truth. If someone learns truth in an LDS sacrament meeting or in self-study of the Bible or in the hands of a Buddhist monk or at the tables of recovery, it is still truth. In time, a person can learn enough truth to begin to want the ordinances of the priesthood. The paths to that point may be quite diverse. And that’s ok.



  1. Can i ask who your mission companion was?

  2. I sent it separately to you in an email. :-)