Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Purpose of Freedom of Religion

I was supposed to speak in sacrament this morning. It was a topic that I cherish so I was really looking forward to it. My body didn’t agree. I kept throwing up.  I got up six different times determined to go and each time my body betrayed me.  I was quite disappointed. To ease my own disappointment I will blog my talk.  The upside is I get to be more opinionated when not standing in the pulpit, so I get to say all the things I wanted to. Some things, though true, are not best shared during sacrament. I’ll also have to pare it down to fit in this format.

There are two types of Freedom of Religion: External and Internal.

External Freedom

Whenever we hear the phrase “Freedom of Religion”, most of us think of external freedoms, such as we have in this country. It is something we should be very grateful for and I am positive we take for granted. There are citizens of other countries who would give up all their worldly possessions to have that privilege.  I think of the Romeike family from Germany who fled their country for the right to raise their children according to their faith. I think of the many members of underground churches in China. What they wouldn’t give for our rights! 

The freedom to worship according to the dictates of our conscience came at a high price. Many people gave their lives for this privilege. They gave their lives in the years following the Savior’s resurrection. On this soil, they gave their lives both during the revolutionary war and the years following the restoration of the gospel given to Joseph Smith. It is worth suffering for.

And to be quite frank, the current administration has been very strategic in their undermining that freedom. If we don’t wake up and start paying attention we may find ourselves one day wondering what happened to our freedoms. That however, is a topic for another post.

Internal Freedom

There is a second type of religious freedom, which is what I’d like to focus on: Internal freedom, also called agency.

In the book Gospel Doctrine  Joseph F. Smith says, “There are no freer people upon the face of the earth today than the Latter-day Saints.” Those who don’t know our culture and bylaws won’t understand just how true that statement is.

We are free to be good Latter-day Saints or bad ones. We’re even free to stop being Latter-day Saints altogether. If we chose we could write the bishop and ask him to remove us from the rolls of the church and he would oblige us, simple as that. There are no nasty consequences for not being a member (in the physical world). Even when someone commits a grievous sin and must be excommunicated, they are still welcome to services and homes. They are still loved and treated as a friend. And, when they are ready to return, they are welcomed back with open arms as if nothing had ever happened. The gospel calls that agency.

Those who have grown up as Latter day Saints won’t necessarily realize what a blessing that is. You may not even realize that not all churches have such a loving culture. In some faiths, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God overrules any agency of man. The cornerstone of those churches is submission. The membership is putting themselves not only under the leadership of the pastors and elders, but the rule of them as well. I belonged to such a church before I became a Latter day Saint. Early in my membership there, we had gotten a new pastor. Once his leadership started it was decided that all new members had to sign a form saying that they were submitting to the decisions of the elder board in order to complete their membership.

If a Mormon bishopric even considered producing such a form, they’d probably be released before the ink had time to dry. Coming from that type of church background, I had a little trouble adjusting to the mindset most Latter-day Saints held. Submission had been held up as the standard of righteousness for so long, that independence and agency took some time for me. Wives were to submit to husbands, children to parents, women to men, members to elders. It was a simple process of just do what you’re told.

Now, suddenly, as a Latter day Saint, I had to make all the decisions for myself and I found it challenging.  My children however, took to it like fish to water. Once they learned about agency, our whole family dynamic changed. In their young minds it meant total freedom. They no longer had to do anything. If I tried to ground them they would say, “Isn’t this taking away our agency?” They weren’t being disrespectful, they were trying to figure out what agency meant.

It took a while to get them to understand what agency really did mean. In the meantime, I had to remind them that though they had the agency to decide their actions, they would not get to choose the consequences of those actions. Should they decide, in their agency, not to do their schoolwork, I would fail them.  So, with their agency, they needed to learn wisdom in carrying  it out.

Wisdom is the key to any freedom. Like the Israelites, The Lord sets before us the freedom to choose between blessings and cursings. Take the time to read Deuteronomy 28 sometime. This is the type of choice set before us as well. 

Using Our Freedom

We have the freedom choose how to live our lives. We’ve been doubly blessed with the external freedom to make it easier to bring to pass.  Now ask yourself how do you use that freedom.

Do you invest it in things of eternal value, or do you waste in on pleasure seeking?

Do you choose to keep your covenants, or to tread them under your feet?

Do you know your hobbies or your Scriptures better?

With both freedom of religion and freedom of speech how many of your friends and neighbors have you shared the gospel with?

We can fill our lives with the blessings that come from living the gospel, or we can waste it and toss those blessings away.

What will you do with your freedom?


Kaja said...

I really like your post. Too bad your ward didn't get to hear it, but at least this way I got to read it. I'm fascinated by how Heavenly Father is teaching us agency and how we in turn can teach it to our children. My little girl at 2 1/2 is already very aware of the fact that there are possibilities of choices beyond the options I give her and that she has some power to make her own choices ("Would you like to wear these pants or this skirt?" "No, want to wear princess dress!"). Practicalities (weather, activities that can't be done in princess dresses) don't play a huge role in her considerations, and I wonder if that's how it is with the principles Heavenly Father gives us. Perhaps we understand far less than we even imagine about the reasons for the things we learn?

Michael Brinson said...

I'm so sorry you didn't get to share your talk Annmarie. We did pray for you and we're continuing to pray that you'll get some relief.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this very important subject. Very insightful and well presented.

brianarc said...

"Do you know your hobbies or your Scriptures better?". Oh, SNAP! I am definitely keeping that one.