In 1842, Joseph Smith sat down to draft the key beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in response to a request from John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat (a newspaper). From this great opportunity, the Prophet composed The Articles of Faith.
Many of the thirteen declarations are familiar to members of the Church; however, the eleventh is often overlooked. I believe it to be a fundamental freedom that should be more fully understood and embraced by people of religion everywhere.
“We claim the privilege of worshiping the Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may,” (Articles of Faith 1:11).
There are three main points I’ve taken from this inspiration:
Everybody sees and understands the gospel differently
I think that everybody operates at a different “spiritual wavelength” than their neighbor. I don’t like to use the term “level” here, because that implies that people may be trying to get to a level of spirituality higher than they currently are, or where Brother Brown down the street seems to be at. While we do want to progress in our testimony of the gospel and further develop our relationship with the Godhead, there are no designated levels of conversion or forms of discipleship that we must graduate to. And it is certainly not the case in the Kingdom of Heaven that we must compare where we’re at to where somebody else is at. It’s just about the fact that I’m here.
For example, my mind works in a way that I have to delve into some of the deeper principles of the gospel. That’s just how I am! I like being able to see connections beyond the basics. However, that is not required, nor does it make me any better or more highly favored. It’s simply the dictate of my own conscience. For some, it may just be the simple testimony that God lives. You may not know why or how most things happened, but you know that they did and that it was because of God. And that’s okay! That is the dictate of your own conscience, and it doesn’t matter to God which wavelength you worship Him on.
How, where, or what they may
Having an idea of your spiritual wavelength, you do not need to be the cookie-cutter churchgoer. I remember hearing a member of my congregation talk about how he feels the Spirit through music. That worried me when I realized that music is not how I feel the Spirit. But Joseph Smith wanted the Saints and the world to know that we are all free to worship how, where, and what we want.
Notice that he didn’t say, “You’re free to worship how, where, or what you want as long as it’s mostly in the Church building and you’re wearing a white shirt and haven’t sinned too much.” No! Knowing that the whole world would read this, he left it completely open and free to personal revelation!
President Russell M. Nelson marveled at Joseph’s words and called it a “noble expression of religious tolerance.” Does this mean that members of the Church meagerly tolerate various displays of religious freedom? The word “tolerate” seems to have a rather negative connotation, as if we grudgingly allow for people to worship how, where, or what they want. This is not the intention.
Primary children sing, “Teach us tolerance and love”, while the Topical Guide in the scriptures will suggest synonyms such as forbear, patience, and understanding. The Savior did not care how society viewed the eternal destiny of the souls He healed and forgave, and He did not care if they said He was worshiping wrong. Perhaps “God is no respecter of persons” means that He does not care about how multiple persons view your spirituality, but only how you worship individually through your character and heart.
I too claim the privilege of worshiping the Almighty God, and not only allow but encourage all men and women the same privilege- how, where, or what they may.