The other day as I was running at the gym, I watched an interview with Sarla Chand, vice-president of IMA World Health, a charitable organization that provides health care to the poor in various parts of the world. She and other members of IMA were in a hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the earthquake struck last week. After 50 hours under the rubble, she and the others were rescued, though one, Rev. Samuel Dixon, Jr., died in the hotel collapse.
She said something that really hit me. She said that, although she is a devout Methodist, she believes in all religions. She keeps in her office “artifacts” from every religion she has come across to celebrate the faith of others, as she believes that we are all trying to find our way to God in our own way.
When I was an active Mormon, I was concerned for the spiritual welfare of millions of people who did not have a knowledge of the true and restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It was that concern that motivated me to serve as a missionary and to share my beliefs with my friends.
Some people see the desire to “save” others as a sign of spiritual arrogance, but I don’t believe it is. Most Mormons genuinely believe that people would be happier and the world would be a better place if everyone were Mormon. I know I did.
But I’m not really a Mormon anymore, though I’m still officially on the rolls as a high priest. And I don’t believe that people will be necessarily happier if they join the LDS church. Of course, if Mormonism works for people and makes them happy, I’m all for their joining and participating in it.
For a time I took the opposite approach toward Mormonism: I genuinely thought that if Mormons really understood the truth about their religion, they would be happier. I knew I was right about Mormonism, and I wanted others to know it, too. But I realize that’s just as wrong as my prior assumptions. I know a lot of people who are much happier having left the church than they were as active participants. I don’t know that I’d say I’m happier out of the church, but I do feel better about myself, and I’ve become a little better equipped to deal with my own problems. But I know people who have had a miserable time after leaving the church. A small number have gone back simply because being Mormon is comfortable and safe for them, whereas “apostasy” is uncharted waters.
I was reminded that there are much more important things than being right, however (I still think I’m right, though I reserve the right to be wrong). No one group has a monopoly on kindness, on charity, on compassion. On Sunday, I sat in the beautiful Provo LDS Tabernacle for stake conference with my wife, and we ended up sitting behind the man who was our bishop some twenty years ago when I was in graduate school. Christmas of 1990, we were about as poor as we could be, we had two small children, and we had nowhere to go. This good man and his wife invited us to share Christmas dinner with them and their children. We spent Christmas that year feeling as if we were family, as we joined in Christmas traditions and activities with people who had, up to that time, been relative strangers. Twenty years later we still remember how much that meant, and it was wonderful to be able to thank them after all this time.
At the same meeting, a young man in our ward approached me to thank me for words of encouragement and specific advice I had given him a few months ago when he had been laid off. He said that my advice (I do not remember what it was) had helped him land a job at BYU that was much better than the previous job. I barely recalled the conversation we had had months ago, but I was glad that something I said was helpful to him.
That’s when I realized that I will have a much more positive impact on the world by focusing on doing good, rather than on being right. I’ve been accused of “evangelizing” for the ex-Mormon cause, and that’s always puzzled me. But I realize that most people see things in terms of doing rather than being. For me, expressing my thoughts about Mormonism was about being right and being true, but for them, it was the doing that mattered. And what I was doing, from their perspective, was tearing down their religion. I still disagree with that perspective, but I think I understand it better.
But these days I am going to try to remind myself to do good. It’s amazing the effort I’ve spent in trying to be right. I’ve looked up sources, read books, made logical arguments, all in the service of showing I was right. But I wonder what has come of it. As far as I know, no one has either joined or left Mormonism because of anything I’ve said or done, and that suits me fine. But what I have noticed is that my relationships with people have become based less on friendship and shared values than they have on which side of the fence we stand on. That’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you insist on being right. Eventually you start seeing things in terms of a battle with enemies, and you try to score points or get revenge. That gets us nowhere.
I’m about as opinionated a person as I know (as my dear wife can attest), but what would happen if I gave up the need to be right all the time? It’s probably not a realistic goal, but it’s something I can work on.