Sunday, May 24, 2009

So I'm An Offender

So, once again, out of my mouth comes controversy. I don't know if it's my overworked hormones that cause me to be so sensitive about it, but I find myself again in this uncomfortable place of inadvertently offending others, that I'd rather not be in.

I taught a Gospel Doctrine lesson again today on the plan of salvation & as we were discussing the premortal existence, I was trying to make a point about how where we are in this life is directly correlated to and a combination of:
1. Our preparation BEFORE we came here, AND
2. What we needed to learn or accomplish WHILE we were here on the earth.

I began by giving this quote (not in the manual, mind you) by Bruce R. McConkie in order to begin a discussion about our previous preparation:

"Is it inappropriate to ask: Why are there different races of men? Why is there a white, a yellow, and a black race? In the days of Israel's first bondage, why did the Lord send some spirits in the lineage of enslaved Jacob and others to their Egyptian overlords? Why were some spirits sent to earth among the Amalekites, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, while others at the same moments found birth in the house of Israel? Why was Antipas sent as the son of a debauched and evil Herod, while John the Baptist came into the home of a priestly Zacharias and a saintly Elisabeth?"

This is where I stopped and asked the class what they thought about coming to earth under differring circumstances. I had NO IDEA that what was about to come out of the mouth of Brother Cisney would bring the discussion train to a screeching halt. He looks straight into my eyes and accusingly says, "You've just offended everyone here in this room of a different race by reading that quote."

I'm flabbergasted. I'm stunned. I'm at a loss for words, and frankly, I'm totally knocked off my feet by his comment. The sheer audacity of him to accuse me of being at the very least, a thoughtless racist in the middle of Sunday School, and among brothers and sisters whom I am called to TEACH was just about all I could take. The Spirit had clearly left the room at that point, and I fumbled for the words to articulate my position, and how I was merely trying to bring up the point that the decisions we made premortally had and have an impact on our mortality. The remainder of the quote, which we never even got to, is as follows:

"All of these things operate by law; they are the outgrowth of long years of personal preparation in preexistence on the part of each individual; they come to pass according to the laws that the Lord has ordained. This second estate is a continuation of our first estate; we are born here with the talents and capacities acquired there. Abraham was one of the noble and great spirits in the premortal life. He was chosen for his mortal ministry and position before he was born, and as with the father of the faithful so with all of the spirits destined to be born as his seed." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 512)

Do I think that because you were born to a poor black family in the Ozarks that you were somehow less prepared or worthy than someone born to affluent white parents in Beverly Hills? Not necessarily. The reason it's not a flat-out "NO" is that we have no way of knowing what individual preparation took place in the premortal existence, nor what needs to be learned or accomplished by any one person here in mortality. In my opinion, if you believe that this quote is offensive, then you must ASSUME that McConkie is saying that being born poor or not white or not Mormon is a punishment, reserved for those who weren't prepared enough in the preexistence. I don't think he's saying that at all.

My dear friend, Lonah, was born under less than desirable circumstances in Kenya, Africa. Despite a rough childhood and MANY trials in her life, she now has a Master's Degree in Education, and has consequently helped her cousin's family immigrate to the US in the hopes of bettering their lives. She is the epitome of a Christian woman and is always praising the Lord for everything that happens in her life, because she knows from whence all blessings come. In contrast, another friend of mine was born to well-off parents here in the US. She was taught the gospel all her life, but decided not to follow those teachings. The Lord has no place in her life and it's clear by both her language and actions. Who then, was more worthy or prepared premortally? WE DON'T KNOW! The whole point of even bringing this up was to illustrate that mortality is a continuation, and not a beginning, else why would we believe in the principle of foreordination?

I'm SO thankful that there were others in the class who seemed to understand the point I was trying to make, and the ensuing discussion was enlightening in that regard. I don't think the Spirit ever fully returned, and now I feel as though I must seek out various ward members who may have been offended in the process. As for Brother Cisney, that's a deep wound to heal for me, as this was not the first time he's said something to undermine me during a class I was teaching. This truly felt like a personal attack from him, and I'm still trying to digest it.

Lessons learned:
1. Don't quote McConkie anymore. ;)
2. Don't call on Brother Cisney.

I'm really interested in what you all think of the quote, since I never even hesitated to use it before "the incident."


Fiddlefish said...

Ohhh...SO not the time to be messing with a pregnant woman. You are "right on" when it comes to this earth life being a continuation of building on what we individually accomplished in the preexistence. In order to continue progressing we have to GROW, which means there are trials and hardships. Too bad you weren't able to finish your quote. McConkie isn't always the most politically correct. :) People need to look at the bigger picture which is to see that the experiences we have in this life are to help refine us and help us become more perfected so we can be more like Christ. Various cultural/ethnic experiences provide different types of learning needed for perfection. We should be grateful. D&C 98:1-3 and D&C 59:7 for Brother Offended

Jonesy said...

Thanks for the insight, Tara!

I also love the advice my Dad gave after reading this post:

0. Talk to your Bishop about it.
1. Quote McConkie more.
2. Quote Cisney less.
3. Be prepared for teachings being attacked with an arsenal of knowledgeable responses at the time of attack.
4. Do not put up with a personal attack by anyone - respond firmly and lovingly.
5. If the truth from authorities bothers some people, that's their problem - don't allow it to be yours.

Just what I needed at a sleepless 2:47 am.