As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we enjoy the benefits of the fullness of the restored gospel of Christ. We invite others to bring with them all the good they have and “let us add to it.”
Believing ourselves to be the stewards of the fullness of God’s gospel provides our church community with a sense of confidence, commitment, loyalty, and certainty in our convictions. We are committed to our covenants, to each other, and to the Savior. We find great comfort and pride knowing that we are an eternal family and will go to great lengths to protect and defend our beliefs and values. Many of us have deep-rooted, unshakable testimonies built on a strong spiritual confirmation that doesn’t leave room for any doubts to creep in.
These values—when tempered with the appropriate amount of humility, curiosity, and veracity—are what make being a part of the Church of Jesus Christ feel like you’re part of an eternal, unified family. They inspire us to take care of one another and take time for deep personal reflection to consider how we can be better representatives of Christ to those around us. They provide us with motivation to fulfill our callings with integrity, attend the temple, speak in church, and volunteer in our communities. These values are part of our core identity as God’s disciples.
But, just like any set of values and virtues, if we allow them to be taken to an extreme, they will become our greatest weaknesses and result in our downfall.
If the scriptural stories from prophets of old tell us anything, it’s that pride cometh before the fall. And the pride comes from believing that we are God’s chosen people and therefore privileged above all others.
As Steven Smith, author of the book Egonomics puts it, “Through ego’s overconfidence, overambition, insecurity, or me-centered agenda, our talents [and values] take on a slightly different appearance but have a significantly different impact.”
Confidence can lead to becoming self-absorbed like the Zoramites in Alma 31 who said things like this when they attended their weekly church meetings:
“Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen."
Commitment can lead to being overbearing and missing the mark. Elder Quentin L. Cook addressed this in his general conference talk in October 2018 when he said, “While there are many examples of looking beyond the mark, a significant one in our day is extremism. Gospel extremism is when one elevates any gospel principle above other equally important principles and takes a position that is beyond or contrary to the teachings of Church leaders."
Loyalty can lead to blindness or lack of empathy for others. In-group loyalty often creates an us-vs them mentality. Some of the in-groups we create in our culture are members of the church vs. ex-members, or members of the church vs. those of other faiths, or those who support LGBT rights, cannabis legalization, or any manner of policy challenges vs. “faithful” members of the church.
When we create invisible lines of loyalty, we lose the capacity to see each other as true brothers and sisters, and heed Christ’s commandment to display divine empathy for each other by bearing one another’s burdens, feeling their pain, and alleviating their suffering… even if they don’t agree with us on everything.
Certainty can lead to zealotry. Many of the greatest atrocities committed in mankind’s history have been lead by people who claimed to have a certainty and fervor that an idea, belief system, or way-of-being was the only right way in comparison to all others. This type certainty has been used to justify atrocities and horrors in the name of God.
God has never commanded us to “know without a shadow of a doubt” or “with every fiber of our being” that He exists, or that the church is true. He merely asks us to believe, to have faith, and to wrestle with our doubts. He knows that certainty, when corrupted by the ego of the natural man, will turn us brother against brother. It will transform His gospel of love in to a weapon capable of starting wars, tearing apart families, and creating epidemics of suicide, escapism, and loneliness like we’re facing today.
The list of noble values that can be corrupted when unchecked and taken to an extreme is long and important to note...
Passion can lead to becoming overzealous.
Discerning can lead to becoming judgmental.
Straightforwardness can become condescending and inconsiderate.
Strong-willed can become inflexible and uncompassionate.
Trusting can become naivete.
The list goes on and on.
As Lehi said to his son, Jacob, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” Even the very best things.
It is up to you to take the gifts that God has given you, and check them from time to time in order to ensure you’re not falling prey to your own ignorance, overconfident zeal or self-righteousness.
What are your greatest spiritual strengths? When taken to an extreme, how could they become weaknesses? What is at stake if you allow yourself to fall into this trap?