Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are frequently accused of trying to earn our way in to heaven through our good works and righteous behavior, as opposed to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
I can see how many believe that; even some within our own church preach we have to earn our way into heaven. After all, we teach a person can’t be saved by grace alone, right? It has been hammered into the devout Mormon’s head throughout years of Primary, Young Women’s, and Relief Society. Grace has become a four letter word in the Mormon culture* because it is our good works that save us! Good works, good works, and more good works are what get us in to heaven!!!!
Blech. I can totally see how other Christians look at very busy Mormons, busily working our way to salvation and say, “What about grace?”
So what about grace? Yesterday, I watched a devotional given by Brad Wilcox on July 12, 2011 titled “His Grace is Sufficient” that pretty much sums up what I have learned about grace. It can be seen at http://byutv.org/watch/49475abb-10d4-4f45-a757-7000b9945468 .
I loved when Wilcox says,
“Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. Its about filling us. Jesus…paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
It is finished. What a beautiful phrase, full of mercy. Of grace.
Wilcox’s talk has set me to thinking about the issues of justice, mercy, and grace as it applies to single expectant parents in the LDS church. For too long, single expectant parents have only been treated with the hand of justice. This heavy hand demands perfection – perfection in families, perfection in people – and punishment when we fall short.
Frequently when a young LDS woman falls short of perfection and finds herself single and pregnant, our culture* demands she pay the price for her sins: marriage or relinquish her baby. Any other option is considered selfish and of putting her “wants” about a child’s “needs.” The implied principle is through the “good works” of relinquishing her child, she shows she is willing to pay the price for her sins.
But the miracle of the Atonement – the miracle of grace – teaches us that Jesus Christ has already paid that price. His grace is sufficient to cover us – all of us. However, many single expectant mothers in the LDS culture are treated as if grace stops short of their front door. They are treated as if grace doesn’t pay the price for them in full, just like it does every one else. We require the single expectant mother to prove her repentance by either marrying the man that got her pregnant or paying the ultimate price, by placing her broken heart, her mother’s love, and ultimately her child on the altar of adoption. Only then do we declare the demands of justice have been satisfied.
So what is missing in this equation? Grace.
The kind of grace that steps in and says, “It is finished. Jesus paid the debt, in full.” The kind of grace with bounty enough to enfold a mother and her growing child in the arms of merciful love, sheltering her from a culture that clamors for justice in the form of a hasty marriage or adoption. Grace, which whispers in a young mother’s ear, “You are enough.” The kind of grace that sits with a young mother while she labors her baby into the world and places the babe, still slippery with her mother’s blood and amniotic fluid, into the arms of her mother, not the arms of a more “qualified” woman waiting to take custody of this newest member of the human race.
What is lacking in the LDS church grace that takes a young mother by the shoulders and looks her squarely in the eyes and says, “Yes, this is scary and this will be hard, but you are ready to be a mother. With me, you are ready.”
This same grace then turns to the rest of us and looks us squarely in the eyes and says, “Love her. Support her. Help her become the best mother she possibly can. Help her learn and grow in the gospel of love” (see Elder Quinten L. Cook’s conference address from April 2011). This is the same grace that then leans close, takes us by the shoulders and whispers in our ear, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Yes, grace is what is missing. Justice we have plenty of. Self-righteous foot-stomping by people who have done it “the right way” and “deserve” a baby we have plenty of. What we need is grace. And lots of it.
*Please note I said culture, not doctrine. There’s a BIG difference between the two in many instances. Unfortunately.