Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't Be Offended

I Nephi 8:33 – “They did point the finger of scorn at me … but we heeded them not.”

Have you ever been scorned?  Scorn is described as showing distain or disrespect.  Being scorned is not a very pleasant experience for anyone to have to endure.  In fact, it can be downright miserable.  But Nephi teaches us a great lesson about listening to those who would scorn us … he said, “But we heeded them not.”  Now I believe it takes great courage to walk away from someone who may scorn you, but Nephi was clear in his actions … he heeded them not.”  I think there is a great lesson in these few words.  I believe that lesson is; “Don’t be offended by someone.”

In the many years I have served as a Bishop or member of the Stake Presidency I have seen far too many people stop coming to church, or worse yet, become angry with the Church because they “were offended” by someone there.  Sometimes it’s been a neighbor who offended them, sometimes it’s a teacher who may have said something in a lesson,  there have even been several times when I have heard people say that it was “the Bishop” who offended them and made them mad.  But in my experience it doesn’t seem to matter who it was, the outcome is usually the same … they “get even” by staying home and becoming less-active members of the Church. 

Can you imagine how Nephi’s life would have been if he quit following the Lord every time his brothers offended him?  I don’t believe they would ever have made it to the Promised Land.  I think they may have been out in the desert for years looking for the nearest directions back to Jerusalem.  But Nephi had the courage to “heed them not” and I encourage each of you to do the same thing when you may feel offended at Church or by someone in the Church.  And trust me, there will come, probably several times in your life, experiences when you can take offense at something someone will say or do to you at Church.

You’ve probably heard the saying; “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”  I believe this saying means it is foolish to think that causing serious and irreversible damage to something that offends is going to improve or resolve the issue in the big picture.  That is certainly the case when it comes to people who stay away from the Church because they’ve been offended. 

The folly of staying away from the church because of offense has been around since the beginning of this dispensation.  One of the most interesting stories involved Elder Thomas S. Marsh, who was at the time the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

While in Far West, Missouri, Elder Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and her friend, a Sister Harris wanted to make a large amount of cheese.  In order to do this they needed to exchange milk from their cows in order to make more cheese then they could make individually.  To be honest and fair they agreed that they would not keep what were called the “strippings,” but that the milk and strippings should all go together.  Now the strippings were the creamier part of the milk that usually came at the end of each milking.  Sister Harris was honest in her agreement, but Sister Marsh selfishly saved a pint of strippings from each cow for her own use.  This disagreement turned into an argument that they refused to settle on their own.  Their home teachers were asked to settle the argument (now that’s an interesting role for the home teachers to play, isn’t it?).  The Home Teachers sided with Sister Harris and found Elizabeth Marsh guilty of failure to keep her agreement.  She and her husband were upset with the decision of the Home Teachers and appealed the matter to their Bishop for a Church trial.  (Remember, all this was over milk strippings!)  The bishop’s court decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved and that Sister Marsh had violated her agreement with Sister Harris.

Thomas Marsh then appealed to the high council and these 12 men upheld the bishop’s decision.  But the Marsh’s were still not satisfied with the outcome so they pled their case to Joseph Smith and his counselors.  The First Presidency agreed with the Bishop and High Council and upheld the decision.

Elder Thomas B. Marsh, who sided with his wife through all this, became more offended with each successive decision – so offended, in fact, that he went before a state magistrate and swore that the Mormons were hostile toward the state of Missouri.  His testimony against the church led to Governor Lilburn Boggs’ extermination order which resulted in over 15,000 Church members to be driven from their homes in Missouri.  All of this because Elder Marsh and his wife Elizabeth were offended by Sister Harris’ charges.  (See George A. Smith, “Discourse,” Deseret News, Apr. 16, 1856, 44)

What an incredibly high price to pay for offense.  Can you imagine how much better things would have been if Elder and Sister Marsh would have taken Nephi’s advice and “heeded not” the offense?  Their pride inflicted great pain into the very lives of our pioneers.  So, who do you think loses when they stop coming to Church because they’ve been offended?  Of course, it’s the person staying away.

When Elder David A. Bednar served as a Stake President he often visited the homes of “less-active” members who had quit attending church because they had been offended.  After speaking with them and discussing the situation Elder Bednar would then say something like this.  “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you.  Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament.  You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.  Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple.  You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow.  And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.”  Elder Bednar then says  that many people would think for several moments and then respond:  “I have never thought about it that way.”

Then Elder Bednar would extend an invitation:  “Dear friend, we are here today to counsel you that the time to stop being offended is now.  Not only do we need you, but you need the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please come back – now.”  (David A. Bednar, “And Nothing Shall Offend Them,” October 2006 General Conference).  I’m confident that there were many who heard Elder Bednar’s invitation, put their hurt aside, and returned to enjoy the blessings of the gospel. 

The story of Thomas Marsh also had a happier conclusion.  In 1857 Brigham Young conducted a meeting and introduced to the congregation a man who appeared to be old and frail.

Said President Brigham Young to the congregation:   “Brother Thomas B. Marsh, formerly the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has now come to us, after an absence of nearly nineteen years. He is on the stand to-day, and wishes to make a few remarks to the congregation.
Brother Marsh rose to the pulpit. “I do not know that I can make all this vast congregation hear and understand me. My voice never was very strong, but it has been very much weakened of late years by the afflicting rod of Jehovah. He loved me too much to let me go without whipping. I have seen the hand of the Lord in the chastisement which I have received. I have seen and known that it has proved he loved me; for if he had not cared anything about me, he would not have taken me by the arm and given me such a shaking.

“If there are any among this people who should ever apostatize and do as I have done, prepare your backs for a good whipping, if you are such as the Lord loves. But if you will take my advice, you will stand by the authorities; but if you go away and the Lord loves you as much as he did me, he will whip you back again.”
In a letter to Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor in the First Presidency at the time, Elder Marsh admitted he had learned a very hard lesson.  He wrote: “The Lord could get along very well without me and He … lost nothing by my falling out of the ranks; But, O what have I lost?!  Riches, greater riches than all this world or many planets like this could afford.”  (Thomas B. Marsh to Heber C. Kimball, May 5, 1857, Brigham Young Collection, Church History Library.)  Thomas Marsh could have saved him and his family a lot of grief, agony and blessings if he had “heeded not” the offense many years earlier.

Thomas Marsh

I hope … I plead … I pray … that you will never let offense keep you away from the beautiful blessings of the gospel.  It doesn’t matter what the offense … it is NOT worth it!  If you are tempted to let offense keep you away, think about the example of Thomas B. Marsh and then think about the teachings of Nephi.  His counsel is as important today as it has ever been when he recorded … “They did point the finger of scorn at me … but we heeded them not.”

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