Does the gospel really change lives?

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SilentDawning
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Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by SilentDawning »

I was reflecting on this recently -- people say the gospel changes lives.

I agree that it changes where you put your spare time. Being active in the church requires a big investment in time and money, so in that respect it changes lives.

But do people have a transformative experience where their life takes a dramatic change for the better? That hasn't been my case. I was already a good person and was doing good without the church. I did see it help some people on my mission. There was someone who had been in prison, used drugs, and had a life of sin. He straightened up, stopped using drugs (he even plopped down a baggie of weed at our Word of Wisdom discussion, which we flushed down the toilet). The Ward helped him and he got a stable job. In that respect, the gospel -- or at least, the church experience -- changed his life.

But that has been the exception and not the norm in my view. Most people are good people in the church and their experience in the gospel doesn't seem to create dramatic improvements in their lives, I have seen. Part of this is that much of their time is invested in furthering the goals of the institutional church.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

A man asked Jesus "do all roads lead to you?" Jesus responds,”most roads don’t lead anywhere, but I will travel any road to find you.” Adapted from The Shack, William Young

"The wise man has the power" -- adapted from What A Fool Believes -- The Doobie Brothers
AmyJ
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by AmyJ »

It's an interesting question.

For some individuals, I think that the "gospel of the good news" works well for them honestly and truly. For others, I think that those individuals think it works for them - but it really functions more like a sugar pill. There are those who haven't introspected and/or analyzed the situation well enough to see the places where the "good news" isn't actually work for them. There are others still who reach a point where "it doesn't work for them" and they shift to "celebrating what can be celebrated from a Mormon heritage". And there is a lot of overlap between the groups:)

In terms of investing time & attention in supporting the local church culture and doing the work to understand and implement the doctrine(s) of the church - it is a highly personal ongoing decision.

For myself, I have come to the conclusion that "people who experience things in a big way" - experience drastic highs/lows, and massive "about faces" because that is how they interact with the world. I am glad that worked for that individual on your mission. I would also hedge my bets that some other circumstances would have also done so/could have had that potential.

From where I sit, my parents met and married because of the church. Church doctrine was interpreted in a way that I ended up with 8 full-blooded siblings. Ironically, church teachings likely kept my mother from substance abuse issues even though substances would have been useful for dealing with that much post-partum depression and poverty.

My parents and siblings couldn't deal with a ton of familial closeted skeletons - Family Trauma because of church teachings.
The church teachings did not create language that could be used to describe what was happening in my family - and that was disastrous.

I had a fair amount of stability and personal safety because the church teachings and related cultural hedge laws kept me physically, mentally, and emotionally safer (but do little about my survivor's guilt related to family fallout).

I met and married my husband because of the church teachings. Church culture also turned my oldest off of religion and well into the agnostic camp (on more generous days they are agnostic as opposed to atheist - However, having an 11 year old who is wondering whether they are atheist or agnostic while you are "supposed to be a good example" and "not contaminate your child's testimony" pondering the same question about how you define God is is not a picnic). "Church teachings" pushed my husband away from me as well as bringing him back to me - so that's a wash:)

I have tried for many, many years to weigh all the factors I could think of and "assign values" to different factors as a way to identify all the variables and complete the calculation of "how much the church benefit me?" to my satisfaction. I never even got close and it made my head hurt:)

Eventually I gave up on the exact calculation and focused on getting a "break even" or "net positive" or "net negative" number. I found that the margins of each of those calculations was too narrow to check consistently (and also gave me a headache). I also felt that it as too capricious and dishonored my younger self (as much as potentially other people) - and that didn't work for me.

The "Story I am Telling Myself"
Now, the story that I tell that answers the original question to the best of my ability is that, "it's complicated" ("At Last She Said It" podcast is great for coining that) AND that what matters most is the meaning I pull from the past, the information that I learned that informs my present, and that I personally am a poorer fit for church community/tribe membership because I have learned more about who I am and what I value that is not in line with the church doctrinally or contributes to the church community in a sustainable way (for both them and me actually).
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DarkJedi
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by DarkJedi »

My answer partly depends on how much you're conflating the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not conflating them at all, yes I would say that the Gospel can change lives, partly along the lines of examples you gave (leaving behind a life of "sin") and becoming better people because of their belief in Jesus and/or God. Ours is not the only church to profess that the Gospel changes lives, and I have seen this change in other churches as well.

The CoJCoLDS can also change lives, for the same reasons. It can also give some people a sense of community or family they might not otherwise have. The question here could be whether it is the church or the Gospel that changes these lives, and the answer may be both. FWIW, I think the church can change lives of lifelong members as well through this sense of community and family (and considering not every member of the church actually has a testimony of the Gospel but may have a testimony of the church). If you ever visit ex-Mormon sites it's apparent that some ex types only discovered the Gospel after leaving the church (or while leaving the church) and they would assert that the Gospel changed their lives (while also asserting the church does not teach the Gospel which can be a valid argument).

Like you SD, when I converted to the church I was already a fairly good person. I had "goodly parents" (mostly, although not religious) and I see myself as an example of how the core values of individuals are really set before the age of 5. Nevertheless, I was not really on a good path when I did convert to the church, and while I won't go into detail, I was in the army at the time and I did most of the same stuff most soldiers do. Joining the church did change my trajectory, and in retrospect over the past 40+ years did without a doubt change my life (even though I consider myself as having returned to my core values which I believe everybody does). Things could have been significantly different had I even for a short time longer stayed on the path I was on. The difference in the kids I used to work with in secure detention and the ones who weren't was that the ones I knew got caught, while their associates didn't. I was fortunate (blessed?) I wasn't caught and indeed believe Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold.

For the record, I do believe the CoJCoLDS teaches and believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it's not always abundantly clear (and this can vary depending on location and leadership). I also believe every other Christian church I have ever attended teaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ (sometimes much more clearly and abundantly). I also believe that the Gospel itself is very simple, often made to seem more complicated by the church (and other churches). I believe churches are simply intended to be the media of the Gospel.

So yes, the Gospel can change lives but it may not change every life. The church can also change lives but does not change every life. And the Gospel and the church together can change lives but don't change every life.

(Note that I was responding simultaneously with Amy.)
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Old-Timer
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by Old-Timer »

Yes.

No.

Depends on the people.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken
Carburettor
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by Carburettor »

Everything has the potential to change everything; it's like the movie The Butterfly Effect.

As to whether the gospel improves lives, well, that definitely depends on the individual — as already suggested. Perhaps everything is a matter of perspective.

Sadly, it seems to me that the gospel and church give with one hand and take away with the other. In equal measure, they together offer (1) hope for a brighter future — while also instilling (2) unrelenting guilt and regret for always being an unprofitable servant. I guess how that leaves us feeling depends on how we individually balance and interpret things (or accept the interpretation of others who say they know better).

This morning, my Stake President posed the following question in a chat group: "What themes could we address to help the mid-singles" (mid-singles being those aged 31 thru 45).

I thought about it for a moment from a practical perspective and offered:
- Validation
- Visibility
- Isolation
- Social norms and pressures
- Self-reliance
- Community (being part of and integral to)
- Healthy dependency

Seconds later, someone else (who had been typing simultaneously) offered:
"Focus on the covenant path, serving, ministering, and developing strong personal testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ."

From where I sit, addressing my suggestions would have the potential to improve lives from within a gospel framework. The suggestions from the other guy feel to me to be everything yet nothing — gospel principles as solutions that contribute little because their essence is already repeated from every pulpit on every Sunday of every year in every land.

As Old-Timer already said, it depends on the person.
AmyJ
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by AmyJ »

Carburettor wrote: 07 Jun 2024, 05:37 From where I sit, addressing my suggestions would have the potential to improve lives from within a gospel framework. The suggestions from the other guy feel to me to be everything yet nothing — gospel principles as solutions that contribute little because their essence is already repeated from every pulpit on every Sunday of every year in every land.

As Old-Timer already said, it depends on the person.
I agree that your suggestions would have been more useful and meaningful for that specific target population.

I suspect for the other individual, "taking care of the important LDS talking points" would bring the expected blessings that those mid-singles need while reinforcing having the LDS brand in an individual's life.

Has/could your leadership poll the mid-singles group to get information on what themes they want to engage in conversation(s) about? Of if they already have, can your group get access to that information and plan accordingly?
Carburettor
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by Carburettor »

AmyJ wrote: 07 Jun 2024, 06:06 Has/could your leadership poll the mid-singles group to get information on what themes they want to engage in conversation(s) about? Of if they already have, can your group get access to that information and plan accordingly?
Thanks — and sorry, I omitted the wider context because I thought it irrelevant to my point.

Your suggestion is practical. However, in this particular instance, the request related to a forthcoming discussion about mid-singles themes between the Stake President and a member of the Area Presidency. I have no idea whether he has asked those responsible for that group for their ideas, but he posed the question in a small, unrelated chat group.

My point was that two different perspectives about improving lives came tumbling out. Mine was about taking a practical approach to individual needs. The other's perspective was simply a regurgitation of the Church's brand as you so astutely put it. And it seems to me that simply repeating the same old mantra doesn't improve anyone's life unless they really want it to.
AmyJ
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by AmyJ »

Carburettor wrote: 07 Jun 2024, 06:24 My point was that two different perspectives about improving lives came tumbling out. Mine was about taking a practical approach to individual needs. The other's perspective was simply a regurgitation of the Church's brand as you so astutely put it.
The ongoing theme on this thread is "does the church do more good or ill in the areas of community creation, doctrinal truth(s), and supporting individuals into being their best selves?"

The best answer is "It's complicated".

But going beyond that simplistic answer, it "works better" for providing different positive supports and framework for some populations. For specific groups of individuals it does not work nearly as well because those individuals are impacted by cognitive dissonance between their lived experience/personal expectations and the tacit teachings and/or expectations from church leaders and/or church history and/or church community (local levels) and/or church traditions.

In addition, cultural forces outside the church are competing for the "it works best for me" model. The church and the church community is competing for the time, talents, and energy of it's members against the work force, community activities (including kid activities), inter-generational needs, media interest (whether video games, social media, social influencing, or accessible communities for diverse special interests to just name a few). It has become socially tolerated for individuals to say, "Doing this thing for the church community doesn't work for me" and act on it to the point where that mattered.
Carburettor wrote: 07 Jun 2024, 06:24 And it seems to me that simply repeating the same old mantra doesn't improve anyone's life unless they really want it to.
There is truth there.

People's lives get improved mostly by individuals learning how to empower and accommodate themselves into being the best version of themselves in the time that they can subject to cultural and community expectations, the amount of power/privilege they start with, what DNA and hormones they have (and when they have it), and specific decisions that that individual makes with the personal power and authority they have (including that they attribute to themselves).
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DarkJedi
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by DarkJedi »

Carburettor wrote: 07 Jun 2024, 05:37 Sadly, it seems to me that the gospel and church give with one hand and take away with the other. In equal measure, they together offer (1) hope for a brighter future — while also instilling (2) unrelenting guilt and regret for always being an unprofitable servant. I guess how that leaves us feeling depends on how we individually balance and interpret things (or accept the interpretation of others who say they know better).
I wholeheartedly agree that the church gives with one hand and takes with the other (and the other seems to be much larger). I disagree wholeheartedly that the Gospel does. The Gospel only gives, it is a free gift from the Savior of the World and our Heavenly Parents. The church overly complicates the Gospel message, especially of late with the emphasis on the covenant path. Jesus spoke of no such thing. He and God asked only that we believe. I think this is clearly laid out in the fourth Article of Faith (We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are:
first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
the Doctrine of Christ in 3 Nephi 11 (
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
and in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).

The Gospel is the Good News, and it is a message of hope. The church, very much like the Pharisees of Jesus's time, tends to diminish that hope.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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SilentDawning
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Re: Does the gospel really change lives?

Post by SilentDawning »

As I read through the answers above, it occured to me that the gospel/church did change my life in some ways.

1. It kept me sexually pure until marriage. I had a strong libido as a teenager and young adult, and without the threat of excommunication hanging over my heard, I suspect I may have fathered a child out of wedlock or made my relationships conplicated and based on the physical aspect of relationships.

2. My association with someone at church got me into a prestigious MBA program which then led to a satisfying and economically viable career for most of my life. That is a big influence on my life, changing it for the better.

3. The poverty I experienced upon graduating from university, and the obstacles to getting out of debt and getting enough money together to serve a mission (mostly imposed by my stake president) actually got me out of debt. The budgeting help and financial management help I received from a member of the church (whose name I passed onto my son, I respected him so much) has helped me to be as debt free as possible throughout the rest of my life.

Those are some pretty big influences when I think of it.

I guess it's too bad that in some ways, being a member of the church creates a lot of obstacles toward living a happy life. I notice there is a tendency to supplant the pure benefits of the gospel with organizational imperatives that make one's life less happy.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

A man asked Jesus "do all roads lead to you?" Jesus responds,”most roads don’t lead anywhere, but I will travel any road to find you.” Adapted from The Shack, William Young

"The wise man has the power" -- adapted from What A Fool Believes -- The Doobie Brothers
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