One thing I love about the twice-annual General Conference is that the month after, we have an issue of the Ensign magazine devoted entirely to the addresses given by the leaders of the Church. My copies are often worn and faded, covered in notes and a bit rough by the next Conference, be it the October or April Conference. I read the talks regularly, and often listen to them on Sundays (or any other day, for that matter) when I need a bit of encouragement.
The past few weeks I’ve realized again how thankful I am not only to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but to have been raised until I was ten years old as a Methodist. I feel that it gives me a great opportunity to connect with other people, especially living in areas where there aren’t a lot of Latter-day Saints. I am blessed to connect with them because I grew up in the same culture. I also grew up in an area of Connecticut with a wide range of denominations. I went to my Catholic classmate’s confirmation in high school, and I kid you not, about 85% of my graduating class was confirmed that day. The rest of us students who weren’t Catholic showed up to support them, the same way that they turned out to support each other. Especially after coming South, where nearly everyone identifies with a denomination, I am thankful for the way I was raised concerning other religions. I feel just as close to Methodists and Baptists as I do to Mormons, and some of my favorite people in the world are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.
I am taking a particular class this semester on Mark Twain, and because of the very nature of his writings and opinions, religion is often brought up and discussed in a classroom setting. Most of these discussions leave me frustrated because of the narrow-mindedness of the conversations, and some disparaging remarks can be made by people about other denominations. I know that this would happen in any setting, regardless of belief, because it’s human nature to cling to what you know and defend it in the face of something you’re unfamiliar with. The “preacher’s daughter” in me kicks into motion, defending other denominations even though I’m “just as Mormon” as my classmates. I had a hard time dealing with the frustration – and even anger – that I felt with my peers, and spent a great deal of time on the phone with my mom and dad about it. The next time it came up in class, I gently reminded my peers that as Christians, we were called to be respectful and understanding of other religions, whether or not they were respectful of us. You can’t ask for tolerance and not be tolerant. Given their reactions, and the reaction of the professor, I doubted that they had understood entirely what I was trying to convey.
It was after this class that I headed to Institute, my heart and thoughts heavy as I dwelt on all of this. It bothered me to no end, and my housemates got to hear all about it (sorry, guys!). I realized that day as I walked into my Institute class with Brother Rasmussen that the Lord knew exactly what I needed in light of everything. In Teachings of the Living Prophets that day, we were going to be talking about the most recent General Conference (October 2012), and that in specific, we were going to be reviewing Elder Robert D. Hale’s address, “Being a More Christian Christian.”
This was one of my very favorite addresses of Conference, and I was excited to go over it again, especially after what had transpired in my class. I firmly believe that every Christian should read or listen to this talk, because it isn’t just for Latter-day Saints. It’s a beautiful summation of what a Christian is and does. Elder Hales issues to the world the call that same charge that Christ gave Simon Peter on the Galilean shore: to feed his sheep.
This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: “Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep” – share my gospel with young and old, lifting, blessing, comforting, encouraging, and building them, especially those who think and believe differently than we do… For many, the call to be a Christian can seem demanding, even overwhelming. But we need not be afraid or fee inadequate. The Savior has promised that He will make us equal to His work. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Elder Hales bears a beautiful testimony in his address of Christian qualities: of love, faith, sacrifice, caring, service, patience, peace, forgiveness, conversion, and endurance to the end. Preceding each of these qualities is the word “Christian.” I loved this as I first listened to him speak, and I love it still. It extends these qualities beyond one religion or one group of people, and invites all to practice these qualities as they strive to become better people.
Love, because He first loved you.
Faith, because we all face trials and need Him.
Sacrifice, because Christ sacrificed Himself for us. Can we not do the same?
Caring, because He first showed us how.
Service, because He spent His time serving others.
Patience, because He waited upon His Father, as we ought to wait upon Him.
Peace, because He asks us not to be contentious despite differences.
Forgiveness, because He asked forgiveness for those who betrayed Him. Our grievances are small in comparison.
Conversion, because to know Him we must be converted unto Him.
Endurance to the end, because He never gives up on us in the first place.
Reviewing this address in light of the incident in my class helped me to look at Christianity as a whole in a new light, and caused me to reflect on how thankful I am that my parents (and the rest of my family!) raised me in a “good Christian home” where they taught me these things, their denominational differences notwithstanding, and also for the adults throughout my life who have demonstrated these qualities. Elder Hales caused me to ask myself, “what kind of Christian am I?” I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work on these qualities, and that I have Christ as the ultimate example of these virtues. I’m not entirely there yet, but I’m on my way, and for that I am so very grateful.