One of the “Ideas for Personal Scripture Study” in the May 25-31 Book of Mormon Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families is found under the heading: “I can be a positive influence in my community. …There are likely many important issues facing your community. How can you, like the Nephites make sure that your voice is included in ‘the voice of the people’?”
Community Associations Share Talents and Ideas
When I ask myself if I can be a positive influence in my community, I turn the question around and say how can the community have a positive influence on me? As an artist and a writer, I seek out groups and clubs to participate in. It is easy for me to support and enjoy the company of people in my area with similar passions. These connections are of more benefit to me than I am to them.
We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need the chance to share our skills, show respect, and provide help to those outside of the Church. During the first year of the reign of the judges in the Book of Mormon, Church members were taught to be “liberal to all, both young and old, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need” (Alma 1:30). We can accomplish this charge by getting to know one another better and sharing our talents.
We Should Not Withhold Charity
At times members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ might rationalize when and how we decide to help others. We might disapprove of a person’s lifestyle, bad habits, or sexual preferences.
For example, the First Presidency recently announced that children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may now be blessed as infants and baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without First Presidency approval. Concerning these policy changes, President Dallin H. Oaks explained: “our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion, and love should increase respect and understanding among all people of good will. We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today. We are optimistic that a majority of people—whatever their beliefs and orientations—long for better understanding and less contentious communications. That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it” (Sarah Jane Weaver, “Policy Changes Announced for Members in Gay Marriages, Children of LGBT Parents”, ChurchofJesusChrist.org Church News, Apr. 4, 2019).
We should take King Benjamin’s question, “Are we not all beggars?” to heart. When people are in need we should be “administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:19,26). This was demonstrated recently when an Islamic mosque was destroyed by arson and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened their chapel doors for their Muslim neighbors. Greg Mackay, president of the Bellevue Washington Stake, explained: “It has always been a respectful and friendly relationship going both ways, and throughout that time, both communities have done what good neighbors do. We treat each other with kindness, help each other when the opportunity presents itself and communicate effectively so that there continues to be a mutual spirit of harmony and good will” (“Church Offers Chapel for Worship to Members of Islamic Community,” ChurchofJesuschrist.org Newsroom, Jan. 26, 2017).
We can be helpful by focusing on loving Heavenly Father’s children. We don’t need to point out differences, limits, or wrong doings. We don’t need to preach. Instead, we need to remember that all humankind is deserving of love. We can remove prejudices that would limit our charity towards them and see them as the heroes they really are.
Looking for Redeeming Qualities
Recently, our Relief Society class, as a “getting-to-know-you” exercise, was asked, “Who is your favorite fictional villain?” Initially, this was an uncomfortable oxymoron request. After going around the room, most of the group concluded they could only pick a favourite villain if they had redeeming qualities (such as Maleficent, Darth Vader, or Loki). This exercise helped us see the good in others even when they are difficult or burdensome. We were prepared to befriend and help even the hardest hooligan when we remembered their worth.
We could see the similarities between ourselves and the characters in these stories. Could we be a part of a plot to help a villain find redemption? In many literary stories, a common archetypal character, sometimes known as the mentor, enters the scene with a kind word, a show of trust or friendship. This often helps the villain understand their potential and turn their lives around, such as Ammon did with King Lamoni.
We could be a mentor to others in our own story. Instead of judging our neighbors and neglecting their welfare, we could show friendship and compassion, changing the villains in our lives into heroes.
Alma’s Example for Saving His People
Alma defined the inequality among his people as “lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry… athirst … sick and afflicted” (Alma 4:12). He did not classify who deserves help and who did not. He wanted to help everyone in his community.
Alma knew that both those who belonged to the Church and those who did not desperately needed positive influences. He “saw the wickedness of the church and he saw also that the example of the church [was leading] those who were unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people” (Alma 4: 11). The inequality, pride and persecution were major problems that pointed directly to a catastrophic end for everyone.
Alma, however, took action by assigning another person to fill the judgment seat so “that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, … and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy.” (Alma 4:19-20). As the May 25-31 Come, Follow Me manual points out: “Some might say that the office of chief judge would have put Alma in the best position to solve the problems he saw among his people. But Alma felt there was a better way. What impresses you about his approach to helping his people? Your study may inspire thoughts about how you can righteously influence those around you; if so, act on those thoughts.
Look for Ways to Make a Difference
These are important questions for each of us as members of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ to consider. There are so many ways we can make a difference in our community. We cannot turn our backs on our communities or our testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We each need to find ways to use our individual talents and help wherever and however we can.