(Rats; it looks as if AvantGo has fubared, probably because I tried to delete some channels. Now it always comes up with the Channel Manager and not with the normal home page, so I can't submit updates via PocketLJ. I'll just have to type them as notes and submit them later.)
I was reading an article from General Conference this morning that was listed as a source for my lesson Sunday after next, and I had some thoughts on it.
(This is from a talk entitled Doctrine of Inclusion by Elder M. Russell Ballard at the October 2001 General Conference.)
Occasionally I hear of members offending those of other faiths by overlooking them and leaving them out. This can occur especially in communities where our members are the majority. I have heard about narrow-minded parents who tell children that they cannot play with a particular child in the neighborhood simply because his or her family does not belong to our Church. This kind of behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot comprehend why any member of our Church would allow these kinds of things to happen. I have been a member of this Church my entire life. I have been a full-time missionary, twice a bishop, a mission president, a Seventy, and now an Apostle. I have never taught--nor have I ever heard taught--a doctrine of exclusion. I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.
The Lord expects a great deal from us. Parents, please teach your children and practice yourselves the principle of inclusion of others and not exclusion because of religious, political, or cultural differences.
On the other hand, youth are encouraged to work towards a temple marriage--which, of course, entails marrying within their faith.
It's not such a great leap from there to say, "Seriously date only other members," especially if dating is viewed as the process of meeting people who are potential partners. After all, statistics such as "marrying a non-member in the hope that they will convert later have only a one in seven chance of succeeding" strengthen the suggestion that members should only marry other members.
So I can understand parents who tell their children that dating someone "seriously" (whatever that means) who is not a member is a potential hindrance--since if they become romantically involved with that person, they probably can't marry them in the temple later.
And from there, it's a small step to "don't date non-members" and from there to "don't make friends of them"--a slippery slope where it can be difficult to say where to stop.
Is it OK to play with children of other faiths? To make friends with them? To go out with them on an activity? To date them once or twice? To go steady with them? To get engaged to them? To marry them?
I suspect that for many LDS parents, the answers to the first and last questions are "Yes" and "No", respectively*--but where is the boundary between the "Yes" and the "No" questions? It's probably different for everyone.
[* I don't mean this in the sense that most LDS parents will disown their children for marrying outside their own faith but rather that they'll think their child did not reach its full potential, since the highest degree of salvation is reserved to those who were married for time and all eternity (D&C 131:1-4), so they will want their children to marry in the temple.]
So I think I can understand where those families are coming from who won't let their children play with those of other faiths (though I think they've gone a bit overboard). On the other hand, statements such as, "I cannot comprehend why any member of our Church would allow these kinds of things to happen" are one of my pet peeves since I sometimes feel that the speaker is being disingenuous. Maybe it's a rhetorical device to say, "I can't understand why X," but I often don't like it.
And on the other hand, Elder Ballard says, "Neither am I suggesting that we should associate in any relationship that would place us or our families at spiritual risk." So what is it to be? Associate with people of other faiths or not? Or maybe only if they're "good enough"?
Maybe this bit is part of the key: "I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths."
In other words, be kind and tolerant, but don't marry the stinking goyim, since that's what they are. Not a statement I particularly like.
To their credit, the church's pamphlet For the Strength of Youth doesn't forbid relations of any kind with non-members. In the sections on "Friends" and "Dating", it talks about associating with "people with high standards" and who "share your values".