Well, two days ago, all over the world, there were roughly 29,000 individual wards and branches that held LDS church services. I know that not all 15,000,000 members attended, but a lot did. There was a lot of handshaking, hugging, backslapping, singing, joking, scripture studying, etc. And along with that, there was one other thing that happened, for sure.
Someone was offended. Someone had their feelings hurt. Hurt bad enough that they’re probably not coming back next Sunday. Or, maybe, ever. And I’d bet there was more than one person.
There’s almost no way to help that. This church is full of people and many, if not most, units have a lot of people attending each week. Some branches have 15 or 20 people and some wards have over 400 who attend each week. There are a lot of opportunities to be offended.
In a church where people are encouraged to interact and discuss things that are very personal (faith, family, trials, spiritual experiences, feelings, etc.) there are endless chances for people to be offended. It’s just math. Or maybe social studies. Or psychology. Elder David A. Bednar taught:
“Understanding that the Church is a learning laboratory helps us to prepare for an inevitable reality. In some way and at some time, someone in this Church will do or say something that could be considered offensive. Such an event will surely happen to each and every one of us—and it certainly will occur more than once. Though people may not intend to injure or offend us, they nonetheless can be inconsiderate and tactless.” (“And Nothing Shall Offend Them”, October, 2006)
In fact, the quote above came from a wonderful talk that Elder Bednar gave where he teaches some principles that should help us not to be offended. Here’s the talk: “And Nothing Shall Offend Them”…this is a good read.
I’d like to share a little idea that, rather than contradicting Elder Bednar (because I believe everything he taught in his talk), compliments what was taught by him in 2006. It comes from a teaching of the Savior from the book of Matthew:
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Matt. 18:7 KJV)
That was the King James translation of that verse. Here is the New International Version which is a bit more clear:
Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matt. 18:7 NIV)
Elder Bednar’s point (at least one of them) is that no one can really offend us. We choose to be offended. So, here’s a complimentary truth: We can choose not to offend. We can be very careful in how we say things, teach things, talk to people, greet people, and treat people. It seems as though the Savior is warning that even though offenses are almost inevitable, I should strive to never be the cause. I know that with the best of intentions, we’re probably all going to say things the wrong way or hurt people’s feelings without trying to or knowing that we did. But I know that I can be much more careful in the way I answer questions in Sunday School or joke with people in my stake or express my ideas in talks I give. I can be more aware of who I’m speaking to or with. I know that people choose to be offended, but I can choose to try, so very hard, not to be offensive.
The attitude that “Hey, I’m going to say things my way and if people want to choose to feel offended, that’s their problem” doesn’t seem to line up with our goal of being Zion-like and unified. So, along with following Elder Bednar’s teaching to not choose to take offense, I’m going to try harder not to be offensive in my communications with others.