I recently attended a stake conference where a visiting Area Authority made comments about a sensitive topic. The comments made me uncomfortable for a number of reasons, a lack of sensitivity and an oversimplification of the subject being chief among them. Without realizing it, I had begun to look down and hunch myself over. It was painful to watch and to listen and I tried to make myself as small as possible to wait it out. From the stiff bodies and hushed tones, I could sense others were doing the same.
Suddenly, there was a pause and a hitch in the speaker’s voice. I looked up and saw he was crying as he continued to try and address the topic. My heart softened and I looked at his face. In my mind, I heard the words over and over again, “He’s trying. He’s doing the best he can.”
Though I did not agree with everything the speaker said or how he presented it, I was invited by the Spirit to extend grace to him. For me, it allowed me to experience peace and maintain my connection with the Spirit for the rest of the meeting.
This week, Brother Bradley Wilcox made controversial comments about race, women, and other churches and issued a public apology. I was saddened by some of his comments and it brought the question of grace back to my mind. How do we extend grace to leaders of the Church who make mistakes, whether it’s in the public sphere or in our private lives? What does this look like when our natural and cultural instincts are to rage? I know many reading this will also ask if we should even bother extending grace. If the oft-public damnation of one soothes our fury and prevents someone from misstepping again, isn’t it worth it?
I’ve written this article with my personal belief that Jesus Christ has called each of us to extend grace to others and perhaps especially to those who do not deserve it. I also believe grace is more powerful in changing hearts and turning us away from harmful ideas and incorrect ideologies than any other course we could take.
Education, Not Evisceration
Extending grace does not mean we allow toxic, harmful, racist, or even insensitive thoughts or teachings to continue without recourse. Rather, it means we focus on the education of our souls and not the evisceration of people.
After that stake conference, it would have been easy to demean the speaker. In the long discussions I had with loved ones afterward, we could have found the most cutting words to belittle his preparation and calling. We could have called him a bigot, weak, and uneducated about what he spoke. We could have whipped him in our minds with lashes and stripes. There may have even been a grain of truth in it.
But where is Christ in such canceling? What would such a reaction have done to our hearts and our ability to connect with Christ? Would we have been made like Him? Thus, would our hearts have then been prepared to enact true change?
We can help educate others with zeal and courage while still extending grace. Consider these words by Chaplain Andrew Teal at a Brigham Young University forum:
“It is necessary that a beloved community have boundaries, norms, and expectations. No one should be hurt or damaged on the Lord’s holy mountain. There cannot be exploitation. We cannot seek to exploit the vulnerable or collude with oppression or unkindness; we must especially safeguard the most vulnerable—those who need our help the most.”
Teal went on to describe one of the traps we often fall into when we try to build a “beloved community” full of imperfect people.
“Are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters and for the truth, or have we fallen into the role and nature of the accuser? Remember that our Lord is always the Advocate; it is our enemy who is ever our accuser.”
We become the Advocate when we extend grace. We extend grace when we share resources to help others understand the problem while refraining from personal attacks. We extend grace when we speak of our personal experiences and how we’ve been impacted by harmful rhetoric without using hurtful words towards others. We extend grace when we seek to have safe conversations and discussions without contention. We extend grace when we love our enemies and “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Reaching Out to the Hurt, Rather Than Hurting Others
In today’s culture, we have a bad habit of focusing on performative actions that we believe show solidarity but often have no significant impact. We care more about our social capital and ensuring we’re seen “on the right side” than doing the back-breaking work to enact real change. This includes sharing social media posts (which range from educational to inflammatory) and seeking to have our own opinions heard in whatever forum we can find.
When we believe a member of our faith has done something hurtful, our first reaction should be to reach out to those who may have been impacted. We will find Christ is already ahead of us, waiting for us to join Him. We may consider contacting friends directly or offering up an open invitation on social media for people to message us if they’re hurting. Instead of commenting on all that a speaker may have done wrong, as in Brother Wilcox’s case, we might post a comment directly to those impacted by his words, telling them we stand with them and we see them and love them.
The truth is, there are people hurting because of things leaders and members have done in the Church. We must be bold and brave enough not to turn away from them. However, we can’t also become so distracted that we prioritize sharing our opinions over soothing souls. It’s been my experience that we use more of our fighting amongst ourselves than banding together to do good. Do we feel spiritually prepared to stand with the brokenhearted? Do we see and notice those opportunities? Ultimately, do we ask ourselves what Christ would do in any situation?
In being able to write publicly, I’ve had ample opportunity to share my own thoughts and feelings on a variety of gospel subjects and issues. Some time ago, I made a decision that before I ever shared anything, I would pray that I could reflect Christ’s words and not my own. That I would amplify His voice, not mine. Though I am not perfect in this by any means, it has changed many parts of my life and I’ve always found Him leading me to healing and hope rather than discord and contentious discussions.
Of Beams, Motes, and Doing Our Best
At the end of the day, we all will fall short of the glory of God. Our eyes are full of beams and motes. This isn’t to excuse wrongdoing, but to help us focus on what we have power over and how we should look at our brothers and sisters.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “Think the best of each other…assume the good and doubt the bad.”
Is it possible that in most instances the people we judge aren’t filled with hatred and a desire to do evil and harm, but simply human? That their desire is to do good and testify of Christ, but they are influenced, as we all are, by a number of factors only God can truly understand?
What then do we do, when we desire change and progress but are faced with the weakness and imperfection of humanity? Elder Holland also provides insight on this subject.
“So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men, and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”
A friend of mine recently shared a quote from Scottish author and minister George MacDonald that resonated with me.
“I think, when Judas fled from his hanged and fallen body, he fled to the tender help of Jesus, and found it—I say not how. I believe Jesus loved Judas even when he was kissing him with the traitor’s kiss, and I believe that he was his Savior still.”
Jesus Christ is the Savior still of Brother Wilcox. He is the Savior still of that Area Authority. He is my Savior still, even though I’ve been weak, foolish, and harmful. Extending grace, for me, is a constant and living testimony of that fact.