This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 372nd week, and we’re covering the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1999 General Conference.
There was one quote that really stayed with me from this session of General Conference, and it came from Elder L. Tom Perry’s talk A Year of Jubilee. The quote comes from Harry Emerson Fosdick, who I’d never heard of before. He was an American pastor who lived from 1878 to 1969 and was (via Wikipedia) “one of the most prominent liberal ministers of the early 20th century.” I know basically nothing about Liberal Christianity other than what I just read on Wikipedia:
It emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority. Liberal Christians view their theology as an alternative to both atheistic rationalism and theologies based on traditional interpretations of external authority, such as the Bible or sacred tradition.
I happen to have just started listening to a podcast by Peter Enns and Jared Byas called The Bible for Normal People, and one of their first guests, Richard Rohr, lays out a position that sounds a lot like Liberal Christianity at first glance.
Sorry… that’s all a bit of a detour. I was mostly just curious to see a “liberal” of any sort quoted in General Conference, and then on top of that it happens to intersect with a lot of what I’m trying to research these days. Anyway, to get to the actual quote from Fosdick, here it is:
Some Christians carry their religion on their backs. It is a packet of beliefs and practices which they must bear. At times it grows heavy and they would willingly lay it down, but that would mean a break with old traditions, so they shoulder it again. But real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not weight; it is wings. It lifts them up, it sees them over hard places, it makes the universe seem friendly, life purposeful, hope real, sacrifice worthwhile. It sets them free from fear, futility, discouragement, and sin—the great enslavers of men’s souls. You can know a real Christian, when you see him, by his buoyancy.
I love this depiction of Christianity, and not just because it is eloquent. I also love it because I’ve met many dour Christians who “would willingly lay it down” but don’t. Fosdick uses the term “old traditions,” but I think the term tribe has more resonance with our modern times. One of the biggest concerns I have for Christianity generally–and the Latter-day Saints are far from immune–is that some of the most ardent defenders of the faith are defending the faith not out of any love for Jesus, but because it’s their faith. That is to say: their side. Their tribe.
To defend Christianity from this motivation is to miss the point of Christianity. It is to be at war with your neighbor instead of loving your enemy. It can excite use with a kind of passionate anger that may even pass for joy in a moment of excitement, but in the end it is a heavy burden.
This, in turn, reminds me of Elder Richard G. Scott’s talk, He Lives. In it, Elder Scott shares some of the positive vision that comes from the Restored Gospel and the spirit of true Christianity. Speaking of the way some of us are beset by trials, and in the context of encouraging us not to let ourselves be dragged too deeply down by them, Elder Scott said: “Oh, how I would encourage you to weave deeply into the fabric of your soul the recognition that your life now is a part of a much bigger plan the Lord has for you.”
Later in his talk he urged:
Enrich your life with the beauty around you. There is such an abundance of it: the resplendent breaking dawn welcoming a fresh new day, the abundant arms of a blue spruce adorned with golden medallions from adjacent aspen, shimmering ripples in a mountain lake transformed by the brilliant sun, a hushed stillness of a forest glen bathed in moonlight, the exuberance of a child at play and the love in his mother’s eyes… Express gratitude for each blessing…
This is buoyancy.