(This was written in response to my friend Cody, here. I post it here as I think it provides some background to my last blog post and ensuing comments.)
Perhaps I'm just disenchanted by the many professed Mormons and Christians who spend their days affirming over and over again how strongly they believe in the BofM, how much they know so-and-so is a prophet, how they know 'the Church is true," how much they know that Jesus is the Christ, etc, etc, etc... and they continue to live in self-righteousness, ignore those in need, and live a life concerned only for their own supposed spiritual salvation.
I'm disenchanted by Mormons who think the best way to help the hungry and homeless is to give them a BofM and share their testimony.
Furthermore, I was not intending to condemn Holland's talk. I was only intending to say that it wasn't anything to get excited over. I've heard dozens of pastors share their testimonies of Jesus, the Bible, homophobia, anti-Mormonism with the same gusto and triumph as Holland.
If I thought that Holland's talk would make a better world and make Mormons act like actual Christians (and not like our self-righteous evangelical counter-parts), I'd be all over it. But my own experience says that won't be the case.
All the BofM testimony sharing on the first Sunday each month just doesn't do near the amount of what Christ asked of us as does one person reaching out to another in need.
Furthermore Cody, you really ought to avoid accusing me of things I have not said. You claim I said that "the only useful talk would be one urging us to "feed starving children." That simply isn't true. You asked, "Ummmm, what better way than to bear testimony of Christs very words and teachings?" I said a testimony shared by feeding starving children would be better, not only. Big difference there.
Here are some more responses to your claims:
"I really think it's sad when members of the church try to secularize the gospel of Jesus Christ, water it down..."
I agree with the watering down part. And I believe that the watering down occurs when we ignore Jesus' commands to build communities and take care of those in need, and replace it with a conservative individualistic soteriology.
Not quite sure what you mean by the secularizing of it though. If you want to call Joseph' communitarianism 'secularization', then have fun. If you want to call Brigham's cooperative economic system 'secularization,' then have go at it. If you want to call Jesus' radical criticisms of Jewish legalism, Roman oppression, and economic disparity 'secularization,' then I guess we just have a different Gospel.
"If all we did as a church was teach service and kindness to neighbors (yes its the second great law of the gospel and we need to apply it more) we would fail to return to our Father in Heaven and would be no different than any of the hundreds of other religions in the world today."
Jesus taught that we love God by loving our neighbor. He taught we serve God, by serving those in need. Jesus himself said that those who return to the Father are those who care for the sick, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, and take in the immigrants. Those were his criteria. If you want to water down his teachings and impose the very Pharisaical legality on him, then have a great day. Throughout the scriptures, baptism is not used as a simple ritual which magically removes metaphysical sin-stains, but is an initiation into a community of believers (aka, the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, etc) who covenant to take care of those in need. I choose to believe in a loving God who places the needs of others above his own pride and desire to be praised. If I die and discover that God was more concerned with his own praise than the alleviation of his children's suffering, I'd gladly go to hell.
"We need the saving ordinances of baptism and the temple by way of the proper priesthood in order to obtain salvation."
Well we obviously have a different conception of what sin is, and thus a very different conception of what salvation is. While you seem to see sin as a metaphysical stain on your soul that requires the metaphysical powers of a prescribed ritual, I see sin as the breaking of relationship--with others and with God. With this view, baptism (and the temple ordinances) isn't about literally washing away sin-stains, but is about creating community symbolically washing away the individualism and self-interest that caused divisions in our relationships. While I am admittedly more of a pluraist and universalist, I nonetheless see baptism (if done in the manner seen in the scriptures) as the best means for this. As my experience as a missionary, it was obvious that for the converts I taught the most valuable part of their baptism was their inclusion into a new community and family. Unfortunately most of the members didn't realize this and didn't embrace them as they should have and allowed them to slip back into their past of severed relationships with others.
"As hard as we try and as much as we might want, even the perfect lifestyle full of service is not going to unite humanity."
The perfect lifestyle full of service is the uniting of humanity. By serving others we create the Kingdom of God. We build the relationships that continue into the next life. Joseph Smith was quite clear that heaven wasn't a place we go, but a place we create. Heaven isn't the gathering of strangers, but the continuation of the relationships and community we develop here.
"Christ himself didn't even come to unite the entire earth during his mortal ministry. He created some extremely large divisions in society by declaring with boldness of the truthfulness of his gospel."
Jesus came down as a person to try to affect change in the same we that we are to try... as humans. He wasn't just going about preaching about a book and a bunch of individual rituals. The Jews already had their devotion to books and rituals. That was their game, they would have loved Jesus if he were playing their game. The Romans would have been just as fine with that as well. Some guy preaching about a book and rituals was no threat. Jesus created divisions because he spoke out against the oppressive systems of his day. He didn't create divisions, but rather pointed out the divisions that already existed from these oppressive powers. He pointed out the divisions created by the Jewish focus on individual piety and ritual observance. He pointed out the division caused by Roman oppression--which got him killed. He pointed out the division caused by the ever-expanding disparity between the rich and the poor. Jesus recognized that peace and true community could not be achieved when oppressive powers existed severed God's children.
"By testifying with power and boldness of the Book of Mormon, Elder Holland is essentially inviting people to Christ. There is no other book in existence that can teach you more about Christ and being a good neighbor than the Book of Mormon."
I agree with the latter sentence, but unfortunately that is not how most Mormons I know read the text. Holland's talk focused on the truthfulness of the BofM's ancient origins. From my experience, most Mormons find the testimony of the Book's historicity more important than the Book's content. As I mentioned earlier, most Mormon would think that the better way to help the starving poor is to give them a testimony of a book than to give them some food. A testimony of the book is worthless unless it turns into change in the world. Similarly, a testimony of Christ is empty if it isn't shared with Christian living. I think Jesus said it best:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.