If there is one thing I love — and I mean love — with a blazing passion that burns like wildfire in my soul, it’s bad movies. And not just any bad movies. Bad religious movies. I love them so much I cry. I watch them whenever possible. They fill a special hole in my heart that nothing else can touch.
There are literally dozens to choose from (and believe me, I’ve seen them all), but here are my top 5.
A recent conversation got me thinking it was time to revisit the question of what makes for charitable and effective inter-religious dialogue–especially the proselytizing variety. I first published this post back in October. Of course, at that time, I only had about 3 readers (and God bless you if you’re still here). 😉 I decided it might be interesting to re-post it again today. Enjoy!
There’s a lot of bitching about God on the Internet.
And I’m kind of tired of it.
So let’s have a genuine “come to Jesus” moment, shall we? And talk about how to be effective and kind as you boldly share your version of Truth with the world around you.
And before you get all up in my grill, let me make a couple things clear from the get-go.
First of all, I don’t think that pointing out what you believe to be error in another person’s perspective is uncharitable, nor is standing up for what you believe, testifying, or seeking to convince others of the truth as you understand it. I don’t even have a problem with sharp rebukes. It is important, however, that it come from a place of genuine love and respect.
It is VERY EASY to fall into a trap of pride and hostility when it comes to discussing matters of religion with others. So I think it’s especially important to double check what’s going on in your heart and mind whenever you engage in this kind of discussion.
Here are my basic “do’s” and don’t’s:”
Five years ago, in Pernik, Bulgaria, I sat in our cluttered living room, my head in my hands. It had been a particularly discouraging day. My mind was heavy with confusion and doubts.
“I don’t know if I have ever felt forgiveness from Jesus,” I told my companion. “I don’t think I know what the atonement even means.”
It started a few weeks before my mission began. A desperate struggle, battling guilt and despair over all the sins I had ever committed. I’d always considered myself a good person, righteous, worthy, etc. But now, in the heightened state of spiritual strain only a full-time mission can bring, as I ran the last few years back through my mind over and over again, I realized I had not exactly been a model Mormon.
The ones that hurt worst were the ones I’d done deliberately, almost with glee, sure that God had better things to do than worry about my minor indiscretions. And they were mostly minor. Watching R-rated movies, for example, or kissing boys I barely knew just for the helluvit. Oh yeah. And cursing.
It ate away at me. I plead with God constantly for an experience like Alma the Younger or Enos, who had sweet and undeniable assurances of their worthiness before God. But every time, disparaging thoughts came haunting back…They were different–they weren’t believers–you should have known–Jesus shouldn’t have to bear your load–how dare you even ask?
It lasted all through my mission. It’s probably why I had so few baptisms. I worked so hard my feet developed blisters and my body ached every night, but I taught without testimony. How could I preach the Savior when I hardly knew Him myself?
After I came home, it didn’t get better. If anything, it got worse. Persistent fear. Guilt over every mistake. I was angry at how much more difficult it was to be righteous at home than it had been in the mission field, and I began to resent my mission experience for creating an expectation for a standard I would never be able to achieve again.
Then marriage. And motherhood. Every mounting responsibility brought the looming specter of potential failure. It paralyzed me.
Around this time, Lanny began dialogging with evangelical Christians online. I watched their discussions from a careful distance. They spoke of a concept I had never understood–in fact, a concept I had Bible bashed on my mission–the concept of salvation by grace, not works. It seemed too good to be true. But considering my misery, I gave it a closer look. I spent hours reading books and talks and articles and blogs. I attended lectures by visiting Christian theologians. I felt the tug of mercy.
I began to learn that repentance isn’t a checklist, but a realization of your total dependence on Christ. That you can never be “good enough,” no matter how hard you try, and so you ask God to cleanse you–and He does. That good works can never save you, no matter how good or how plentiful they are. That you serve God because you love Him, because He created you and saved you, not because you’re trying to work your way to heaven.
It was a revolutionary paradigm shift for me. I lightened up. I found joy in living again.
It still disturbs me that I had to learn this from sources outside the Church. In fact, when I compared my newfound understanding with everything I’d learned about salvation from my Mormon upbringing, I almost left the Church entirely. The works-centric vocabulary…the constant injunctions to “be worthy”…and that incomprehensible scripture in 2 Nephi that still gives me heartburn: “After all we can do…”
In the end, I stayed because the Book of Mormon is, at its core, a Christ-centered volume. I stayed because, for all my doubts and confusion, I’ve had spiritual experiences I can’t deny. And I stayed because I hope my sweet grandma is waiting for me on the other side…and I’d sure like to be with her forever.
What’s more, I feel the winds of change in the Church. I know I’m not the only one to have suffered needlessly from an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of grace. I see it preached more openly and freely now than even 5 years ago. Perhaps it’s because now I have ears to hear. Whatever the case, I hope that in some small way I might be able to contribute to a Christ-centered revolution within Mormonism, where He takes His proper place at the core of absolutely everything we do in the Church.
*Please note that when I say “Evangelical Mormon,” I mean I subscribe to a religious philosophy that declares that salvation is through the grace of Christ, not works, and advocate that position within Mormonism. I do NOT support much–if anything–of what the Evangelical movement stands for politically.