For the past several years, many in society have been working hard to persuade us of what I like to call the “Gospel of Facebook.” It’s very popular in memes and blogs, and it boils down to this: being Christlike means never ever standing up for gospel standards and teachings, because that will make people feel bad, which makes you a self-righteous Pharisee.
When we’re reminded of our duty, as when President Dallin H. Oaks called us “divinely assigned guardians of the eternal family,” the larger culture has been socializing us to squirm and look away because we don’t want to get all preachy. We’re being taught to think that only a self-righteous judgy Pharisee would believe and say that sin leads to misery, that God commands obedience, that a broken heart does not produce holiness without a contrite spirit, and that God’s commandments are unchanging.
The problem with this is that it’s wrong, it ignores and twists the scriptures, it doesn’t actually help people, and it neglects our duty to God.
Jesus taught plainly about judging and what the real problem with the Pharisees was. But because we so often absorb our understanding of the gospel from Facebook instead of the scriptures, we’re ignorant and easily misled.
The Pharisees were very legalistic and quick to point out others’ sins, but they weren’t just being holier-than-thou. They were justifying their own sins. If you told a Pharisee to love his neighbor, he might respond “sure, I’m great at keeping that commandment—because this guy is my neighbor, but those sinners and Samaritans are not.” Pharisees justified their lack of charity through finicky definitions.
The Pharisees might say “we’re righteous because we keep the commandment not to kill people.” But Jesus sets that straight: “the bare minimum of not killing people isn’t making you holy. You have to restrain yourself from even getting angry with other people.” Likewise, “nice job not committing adultery, but your lustful eyes and heart are still a problem. Stop thinking you’re righteous because you obey the narrowest possible interpretation of the law.”
In other words, Jesus was not saying “Pharisees, you need to loosen up about sin because sin isn’t a big deal.” Jesus was applying the commandments more strictly, and more broadly, than the Pharisees were (credit to my friend Jeffrey Thayne for the back-and-forth with the Pharisees device).
Even when Jesus condemned the Pharisees for judging others’ sins too harshly, Jesus never excused the sin. Jesus and the Pharisees agreed that sin was sinful; the disagreement was whether the sinner was worth saving. Pharisees would stone an adultress in their hypocrisy and pride. Jesus taught her hope through repentance.
So when the Gospel of Facebook implies you’re a judgy Pharisee for defending moral standards of chastity, think clearly: “I don’t want to condemn people like a Pharisee. I want to teach them truth and freedom from sin like a disciple.”
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught a few years ago, if anyone would try to use Jesus’ teachings as justification for tolerating sin, Jesus responds that if your eye offends you, pluck it out, and if your hand offends you, cut it off. If your desires and temptations are making it difficult to keep your covenants, use God’s help to overcome them, not the internet’s help to justify giving in to them. Jesus did not come to teach us smooth, comfortable platitudes, but to be the way, the truth, and the life. “Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others.”
Many of my favorite books were written by C. S. Lewis, and though he’s most famous as an apologist, my deepest lessons from him are how we humans have a hard time being honest with ourselves and with God. We like to tell ourselves the story that we’re being authentic and daring and heroic, when we’re actually acting out of self-righteous pride, the desire to fit in with what’s fashionable, and fear of rejection and ridicule (Chapter 5 of The Great Divorce is an excellent example). As we lie to ourselves, the adversary of all goodness is right at our side, reinforcing our story.
Satan isn’t dumb. He’s really smart and persuasive. If he appeared to you with horns and a pitchfork and asked you to ditch your sacred commitments, love evil, and worship him, you’d tell him to take a hike. Instead, as the Book of Mormon teaches us repeatedly, he is subtle and patient. He pacifies and lulls. He flatters, so that it feels righteous and morally superior to follow him. He doesn’t always promote the stark evils that the world still broadly condemns, like murder; instead he mixes the philosophies of men with a few scriptures so that we can embrace his false doctrines even while telling ourselves that we love the truth.
One current example of this is our ministry to people in and out of our faith communities who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The Church of Jesus Christ, through its prophets and other leaders, is unequivocal and unchanging in teaching that God’s work and glory is to prepare all people for exaltation in the celestial kingdom (which the Apostle Paul himself referenced in his letters to the Corinthians), and that highest destiny is possible only through marriage for eternity. Eternal life includes the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female. It is literally impossible to overstate the importance in our theology of marriage between a man and a woman.
I, like you, have LGBT+ friends whom I love and admire. I, like you, have tried to think carefully about how to love and respect them and keep my covenant to be a witness of God at all times, in all things, and in all places.
Our faith community has, within the past few years, put out a lot of great resources to help us understand and love those we disagree with in matters of belief and sexuality. President Oaks has reiterated that everyone “should be treated with the love our Savior commands us to show toward all our neighbors.” Your solemn obligation and personal ministry to love your neighbor as yourself does not change in the slightest when your neighbor is gay. That is the second great commandment.
But President Oaks also reminds us that there is a first great commandment. In the printed transcript of his talk, he uses italics to emphasize Two Great Commandments. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
Why do we need a reminder of something so obvious? Because we fib to ourselves in order to avoid the discomfort of feeling alienated from our culture, and our culture is all too ready to help us tell ourselves a false story.
The Gospel of Facebook tells us that in order to keep the second great commandment, we must downplay or even reject the first. It says we cannot love our LGBT+ neighbors unless we deny and despise teachings about eternal marriage. It says we cannot love our LGBT neighbors unless we believe the world’s philosophy that there is nothing amiss in their self-definition or behavior.
Then it turns on the flattery. You are extra-loving, extra-Christlike, and daring and heroic for being willing to jettison old-fashioned, bigoted teachings. They are the silly foolish traditions of narrow-minded old guys, but you are inspired to reject them and enjoy your rights as a modern, enlightened, educated, inclusive person.
But you’re making two grave errors. First, if you tell someone that whatsoever a person does with regard to sexuality is no crime, you are telling a lie. We stand as witnesses of God in all times and things and places, including loving, sharing, and defending the glorious truths the Lord has revealed to us. We have no excuse for teaching lies and pretending they are manifestations of Christlike love.
Second, if you tell someone that Christian teachings on sexuality are bigoted and backward and that eventually those narrow-minded old leaders will come around, you’re not even succeeding at being loving. It is not loving to tell someone who wants genuine, eternal happiness as much as you do that they’ll be able to obtain it outside the bounds the Lord has set. It is not loving to tell someone who desperately wants to reconcile their sexuality with their covenants that the Church of Jesus Christ will just cave one day, because it won’t.
President Oaks reminds us: “This Church was restored so that families could be formed, sealed, and exalted eternally. That is the destiny we desire for all we love. Because of that love, we cannot let our love supersede the commandments and the plan and work of God, which we know will bring those we love their greatest happiness.”
What does this mean for our actual relationships and real-life conversations? President Oaks says: “We must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love—keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way. This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process. Our walk demands that we not compromise on commandments but show forth a full measure of understanding and love. Our walk opposes recruitment away from the covenant path, and it denies support to any who lead people away from the Lord.”
Perhaps you’ll feel inspired to simply be friendly and kind, but also to not hide your genuine beliefs. Put a picture of Christ or His temple on your desk at work. Talk about how much joy your family brings you and how you cherish the hope of being together forever.
Perhaps some day a friend or child will confide that the temptation to break God’s law of chastity is becoming overwhelming, or has already. Depending on your stewardship and your relationship with that person, you might express the Savior’s infinite love for all, especially for those who suffer and struggle, and also testify that the family is ordained of God, marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan, and that you have sought and received your own confirmation from the Spirit of God of the truth of this doctrine.
Perhaps someone will accuse you of bigotry and hatred for believing that God does not simply accept all people, including their sexual acts and identities. (If so, you’re in good company. Why would we think living the gospel makes us popular?) The Gospel of Facebook argues that “God created them that way, so He must have meant for them to be that way!” You might be inspired to testify of God’s love and Christ’s glorious work to redeem all people from both their weaknesses and their sins. You might remind your accuser of scriptural teachings that God didn’t create us to be static, but to learn over time to discern good and evil, and to progress in developing a Godlike character that prizes the good.
You might, in other words, be inspired to preach the gospel.
This might horrify you, because according to the Gospel of Facebook, only bigots and dweebs preach the scriptures. Why invite controversy? Why be offensive? Shouldn’t we just keep to the easy stuff, like loving one another?
But don’t we value the truth? Is it loving to withhold truth from people who don’t have it, but want the same joy we have? Is it loving to protect our social standing instead of offering redemption through Christ’s blood and the riches of His grace?
As members of the Church of Christ, we consider ourselves members of covenant Israel. We are given immense blessings and responsibilities to gather in all who will come and bless the whole world with our knowledge of God’s love and His laws. We can’t be timid or half-hearted. We can be confident that God will give us power and courage to succeed.
At the end of it all, when the unimpeded light of God makes all things bright and clear, I hope to be able to sincerely say that I loved others no matter their choices or chances, and I loved God and His truth so dearly, that I couldn’t help but defend and share the gospel–enthusing about it, really. Even on Facebook, and even when I knew I’d be rejected as a bigot and a dweeb. We are God’s messengers to offer the joy of redemption, the joy of families, and the fullness of joy in the presence of God.
Let’s make the invitation.