Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Apostate's Reflection On Christ

I believe we can learn from all our brothers and sisters, whether inside the Church or outside, whether loyal to the Church or disaffected by it. Take, for example, Paul Toscano, who spoke at the Sunstone Symposium in 2003, ten years after being excommunicated by the LDS Church as one of the disgraced "September Six." Read (or watch) this refreshingly honest yet stirringly poignant statement he made about testimony and Christ :

I love Jesus even though he may be a fictional character. I see him as a combination of Henry V and Dionysus--a king in disguise among his people, eating of their limitations and drinking of their disappointments, yet able to descend into the abyss and rise again, pulling out of meaninglessness both soul and cosmos.

Testimonies and other expressions of certainty disturb me. But I can say that if Jesus was not the Christ, he should have been. If he is not God, he should be. Even as a fiction, he is the best of all possible deities. His disciples claim that:

-He loves us in our sins, before we love him and more than he loves himself;

-He prizes us above his sovereignty;
-He lays aside the riches of his divinity to assume the poverty of our humanity;

-He offers us joint heirship in all he has claim to;

-He transforms a provincial religion of one God of war and one chosen tribe into a cosmic religion of one God of love and many suffering souls;

-He does not require certainty or purity as conditions of his deliverance, merely that we recognize our lack and long to be filled;

-From his cross, he spoke for all those assailed by doubts when he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Jesus may be a fiction; but, if so, he is a fiction against which the banalities of history and sociology pale in comparison, a fiction that transforms reality.

Not bad for someone deemed by the brethren to be a wicked apostate. The embattled Toscano, a man openly questioning his faith, is able to outline the magnitude of Jesus Christ's mission more eloquently, shrewdly, humbly, and genuinely than most speakers at general conference ever have.

Do I believe Christ to be my Lord and Savior? You bet. But I also recognize there are many ways to interpret his message, and, as my perspective has widened, I've come to realize that maybe that's the way he intended it. His message is for the whole world, but it can only be implemented on a personal level, heart by heart. Every person on this planet is invited to come unto him, and develop a relationship with him that is unique. It's a relationship that is meant to cultivate our innate goodness to a point in which we not only love God with all our souls, but our fellow man. On these ideas "hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:40); for if we are found possessed of charity at the last day, "it shall be well" with us (Moroni 7:47).

Christ didn't come so he could establish and then restore a Church™ that would one day spiral into an earthly power struggle for authority culminating in the doctrine of "when our leaders speak, the thinking has been done." No, just the opposite. He came to establish a gospel that rejected such hubris and helotry. His Church is nothing more than the system intended to deliver that message--a message that, the more it is understood and applied, makes the Church less necessary in our lives. A message that, no matter how corrupted the Church may become, is eternal. A message that anyone can start living by right now.

We are treading into dangerous territory when we begin to believe that Christ has put his stamp of approval on every action and position we've taken as a Church. We ignore the Lord's word by giving tacit approval to recent invasive wars, ignoring the poor and the downtrodden, and relying on the arm of the flesh to guide us, yet somehow we're incapable of falling? To quote another non-conformist (but Mormon-friendly), Hugh Nibley, who observed:

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict reality, their pious patriotism.

It is my hope that we don't fall into the same trap the Pharisees did. We have the power to establish Zion again, but it is up to us to accept Christ's real message on a personal level, heart by heart. Because remember, an organization's leaders are a reflection of its membership. A pious, uncompromising, hierarchical-minded people will produce a pious, uncompromising, hierarchical leadership. And when that happens, good-hearted folks like Paul Toscano, no matter how spiritually attune or dedicated to truth, become pariahs forgotten to history as "apostates." Of this Christ would not approve.

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