Applying The Gospel Algebra


Much has been said about recent LDS policy changes with regards to the parents and children in same-sex families.  While I won't profess to have final answers (that's not what I'm offering here), I feel there's a need for more charitable dialogue and Christ-like discipleship to find ways forward. And I hope this can be a tool others can use to better understand each other.

I think there's some wisdom in an example from algebra. Perhaps you've seen the algebraic "proof" that "1 = 0":

  1. x = y.
  2. Then x2 = xy.
  3. Subtract the same thing from both sides: x2 - y2 = xy - y2.
  4. Dividing by (x-y), obtain: x + y = y.
  5. Since x = y, we see that: 2y = y.
  6. Thus 2 = 1, since we started with y nonzero.
  7. And subtracting 1 from both sides we get: 1 = 0.

For those that have seen this you know that there’s an error in step #4. If x=y then x-y=0, and you can't divide by zero. Every other step (by itself) is perfectly fine algebra. But no matter what you do in steps 5-7 you simply won't arrive at the right answer because an underlying step, axiom, or premise is faulty.

I believe this is what has happened with the new policies. It's my opinion, and I won't claim infallibility. But it's the only opinion I can offer honestly.

I don't think the error or incompleteness has necessarily happened recently. But I believe it has happened somewhere along the line in our era (or perhaps before) and is now manifesting in this particular policy equation. I look at the policy and I understand (and genuinely empathize with) the immediate context and rationale of why it was instituted. I see the leaders of the church seeking to genuinely apply the gospel algebra, and I sustain them as they do so. But I look at the result and it doesn't add up with the message of Christ in certain ways. It's asking me to reconcile things that I can't with the message of Christ.

Again, I don't think that the problem is necessarily something recent - and thinking we can pin it on one person or assume malicious intent in those around us is an over-simplification. But I do think that there's an error or incompleteness somewhere along the line (manifesting itself in this way) and we need to go back and invite God to help us check our work. This is exactly what Joseph Smith did as he saw the religious turmoil in his day. He asked God to help him challenge assumptions and the result was the restoration. This is what he did when he saw how things didn't add up with regards to the salvation of the dead and the result was D&C 137, birthing essentials of LDS temple aesthetics.

I think we need to be willing to humbly ask God to help all of us check our work in the gospel; and this is precisely the work of restoration.

Now, I don't think the result is that we must think the same thing as the rest of the world on this matter - I'm concerned with what God's will is. But I do think that we must find more powerful ways to be more Christlike, even radically so, including paradigm-shifting ways.

This has several affects on me:

  • If someone is hurt by the policy change, I deeply empathize with them. And I'm filled with a hope and desire to foster the beginnings of faith that comes from healing.
  • If someone's faith has been shattered by this I know how they feel and I hope to help them begin to confidently pick up the pieces together in Christ.
  • If someone thinks the policy change rationale makes sense I can agree in a limited context, but I hope to inspire them to dig deeper to engage in restorative work and ask whether we can be on a more solid foundation in Christ.
  • I have empathy, trust, and hope in the fact that the leaders of the church are applying the gospel algebra, despite the fact that I personally don't see this particular equation as ultimately correct. And I maintain faith in our ability to continue in the work of restoration and revelation by sustaining each other.
  • And regardless, to all I hope and pray I can illustrate and inspire others towards the great work and opportunity we have together in the restoration as disciples of Christ.

It's important to understand that this is but one equation in the volume of the gospel. I see so many beautiful equations in the restored gospel that work wonderfully. My personally seeing a possible incompleteness or error in one says nothing about the other equations that "check out" when I invite the Lord to help me check the work behind them.

Administrative policies are the blunt instruments in the toolbox of the gospel. And while they serve a purpose, they aren't very good at administering the gospel intimately in individuals' lives. The power to personally administer the gospel into the lives of people is found in the finer instruments of grace we all have access to in our daily lives: a kind word, an open home, a heart-felt apology, a shared meal, a comforting hug, a listening ear, serving hands, and a trusting and forgiving heart. Our challenge as disciples of Christ is to apply these to all around us, especially to those we may disagree with.

I think we sometimes fail to get to the point where our testimonies go beyond creeds and authority. My testimony is not based on whether I agree with everything administratively or doctrinally (there are times when I don't). My testimony comes from a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the power of His atonement, the ability of the Book of Mormon and Bible to amplify discipleship in Christ, the transcendence of covenant faith, and the hope, work, and beauty of the restoration. This is the "rock" the scriptures are telling us to lay our foundation on (Helaman 5:12, Luke 6:47-49).

Those things transcend creeds and opinions on particulars. So I feel empowered to carve out my own faith and testimony according to my own conscience through personal revelation which I'm accountable for to God, not to creeds or authority. But (and this is the important part), I have covenanted to sustain the Lord's servants in every way my conscience will allow me to and I see tremendous blessings when I do so. And these sustaining blessings become even more poignant and sacred when I engage with others in the Lord’s work and they extend grace to give me the benefit of the doubt and sustain me in whatever way they can even when they may disagree with me and see my faults or errors.

These are the sacred gears of personal discipleship. And they work when we live true to personal revelation and live the gospel of Christ while engaging charitably with others in the sustaining work of the restoration.

I'll end by sharing an LDS Hymn which pierced my heart that my ward sang together that a truly inspired sister chose to lead the congregation in. I share these aspirations.