I was scrolling through my news feed last night when I came across a picture of an LDS General Authority that I recognized right away. I had watched him give plenty of talks over the pulpit and have learned a lot from him in the past as I’d read his sermons in church magazines.
But under his picture the headline surprised me. “LDS General authority Elder James J. Hamula excommunicated”.
I’ve seen plenty of excommunications, even though it is rare that a leader in the church with his rank and his background gets excommunicated. Since that headline I have seen blogs and social media postings and articles all standing by the church’s stance, saying that although he is loved and encouraged to repent from whatever he did and return to the fold, the church did what it had to do and there are laws in place.
Needless to say, I taste bitterness at that rhetoric and spit it out.
Needless to say, I stand in the wings and watch the procession and notice the utter ignorance and blatant hypocrisy of it all.
So many of us know how it feels to be judged and condemned. And now Elder Hamula feels it as well.
I don’t know what sin he committed or how many times it was done. I don’t care to know the private details of his personal trials. I don’t know how many friends he lost when his membership was revoked or how many tears have been shed by his wife and children. I don’t know what exactly is going on through his head right now–but I think I may have an idea. Although I haven’t been excommunicated (it was threatened, yes) and I did leave by my own accord, I know how it feels to be given up on.
I know that this morning he most likely woke up and felt purposeless, maybe even forgotten or lost. I can assume he feels abandoned by the people who sat beside him for decades, and I can assume he feels the weight of guilt for the missionaries and countless others who looked to him for counsel and wisdom. I can assume that he feels a sense of grief for all he has lost. A church that became more like a lifestyle and a culture has suddenly dissolved–and his identity feels stolen. In a way you feel left in the dark, curled up against yourself–left for dead.
And now, without hesitation, I will be the first to say this loud and clear. And I hope you repeat this again and again until you believe it too.
Christ does not leave you for dead.
He does not excommunicate his children.
He does not give up on you.
He gives countless chances that we wouldn’t even offer to ourselves. He sees our blood stains and our heartaches and our mistakes that are deemed unforgivable to all of those around us and he loves us anyway. He keeps us close anyway. He advocates for us anyway.
As a step-parent I find myself often thinking about how I feel toward my little one is just a glimpse of what Heavenly Father feels for us. And that in itself is overwhelming. So many times she has pushed me to my limit, has struck every last nerve as a feisty toddler who knows all the right buttons to push–yet I couldn’t imagine ever giving her one last chance to be good. She’s mine. And she has more than a million chances to mess up and start again and never lose an ounce of love from my end.
So how much more willing is our Heavenly Father to do the same for us?
I’m not here to preach that there is no law or order to things. I believe in commandments and in doing our best every day to live right. But I am here to remind you that as human beings we are absolutely chaotic messes with a whole lot of wandering and falling apart to do–and yet we are entirely and perfectly loved by a God who’s feet have never wandered.
We are understood when all of those around us shake their heads. We are treasured when we are publicly ridiculed. We are given hope and a chance at a new life when those who strive for perfection are more willing to kill our spirits to prove a point.
Where better to heal than within the fold? Why be cast out at all?
My heart hurts for Elder Hamula and for the countless others who have being shut away and then told in the same breath to come back when they have made things right. My heart hurts that imperfect people have the power to rank other imperfect people.
My opinion on this is not the popular one and I know that so many who still follow me and who still affiliate or are members of the church will not agree with my sentiments. And that’s OK. They have that right.
But I’m here–back from the dead place I was left in–to remind you that we rise.
After we are shut out, after we are ridiculed, and after we are abandoned and sneered at and written about by those who carry Christ’s name proudly–we still rise. We find our footing, we remember our worth, and we begin to care about His opinion of us other than an institution’s.
Elder Hamula will rise. Just as I have. And so will all the others who have been buried.
The ashes are temporary.
His love is not.