One of the more profound and thought provoking messages from this past General Conference came from Elder Lynn G. Roberts of the Presidency of the 70 who challenged us to answer the question “Which Way Do You Face.”
“Which way do you face?” President Boyd K. Packer surprised me with this puzzling question while we were traveling together on my very first assignment as a new Seventy. Without an explanation to put the question in context, I was baffled. “A Seventy,” he continued, “does not represent the people to the prophet but the prophet to the people. Never forget which way you face!” It was a powerful lesson.
I think that a lot of the confusion in the Church comes when members forget which way we are supposed to face. Instead of representing God to world, through missionary service, preaching the gospel, and inviting others to come to Christ, they begin to instead try to represent the ways of the world to God. They import some of the theories of the world such as conflict theory, or radical queer or feminist theory and attempt to right the perceived wrongs in the Church of God. Such individuals truly have their orientation or perspective backwards.
As Elder Lyons emphasizes, such an attitude is a gross inversion of the first two great commandments. We are called after all, first to love God with all our heart and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we focus on loving our neighbors to the exclusion of obeying God and hearkening to his commandments, we are harming not only our spiritual growth, but the people we are claiming to love. We are representing a false idol of tolerance and love as a stumbling block in their path. We are denying the essence of the Gospel which is faith in Christ, repentance of our sins, baptism for the remission of sins, and reception of the sanctifying power of the atonement of Christ through the Holy Ghost (and continuing to press forward unyielding until we reach perfection).
“Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments It is forgetting which way we face. And yet, we have all made that mistake because of the fear of men. In Isaiah the Lord warns us, “Fear ye not the reproach of men” In Lehi’s dream, this fear was triggered by the finger of scorn pointed from the great and spacious building, causing many to forget which way they faced and to leave the tree “ashamed”
Indeed, ultimately when we forget which way we face, we are deceiving not only others, but ourselves. We tell others and ourselves that we are facing God, while in reality we are seeking more fully to please the God of this world.
“When people try to save face with men, they can unwittingly lose face with God. Thinking one can please God and at the same time condone the disobedience of men isn’t neutrality but duplicity, or being two-faced or trying to “serve two masters”
Elder Roberts example of those who failed to remember which way they faced is sobering: King Herod, King Noah, King Saul, and many of the Pharisees, Tragically, all of these men had potential to do great things in the name of God. Because they ultimately forgot who they were supposed to face, they instead turned towards wickedness and stood strongly in the way of God. They feared the opinions of men, and lusted after praise and glory more than they feared god and desired for his kingdom.
Yet, unfortunately, today this great and tragic sin continues. In the timeless words of the Lord’s warning to the world in first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.”
Even in the Church, we are not exempt from those who forget which way they face. One would think, that in a church built on the rock of revelation, and with biannual General Conference where we can receive edifying instruction from those called of God, it would be easier in our day to remember which way we are to face. But unfortunately, Satan seeks to counterbalance the greater availability of the word of God, with more noise and tumult. He seeks to seduce members of the Church and lead them into the ways of the world. As Elder Packer has explained, in our day we live inside of the great and spacious building. We are surrounded by teachings of the world which contradict the Gospel, and it is unfortunately seductive and easy to begin to turn around and begin to apply those teachings to Christ’s Church:
“The scornful often accuse prophets of not living in the 21st century or of being bigoted. They attempt to persuade or even pressure the Church into lowering God’s standards to the level of their own inappropriate behavior, which in the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, will “develop self-contentment instead of seeking self-improvement” and repentance. Lowering the Lord’s standards to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior is—apostasy. Many of the churches among the Nephites two centuries after the Savior’s visit to them began to “dumb down” the doctrine, borrowing a phrase from Elder Holland.”
Elder Roberts message is a timely warning for each one of us. We can all begin to forget which way we face at times. We do it when we grumble over a calling, or when we second guess ourselves and fail to speak out in favor of God’s Church and his standards. We do it when we put our priorities over God’s priorities. We all do it at times. Yet, it is never too late to repent and return to face God. It is never too late to remember which way we are supposed to face. No matter if we have been spun around by the sophistry of the world, God will lovingly accept us. His church is always there to help us. God will take us and transform us into his likeness and image. The Savior died to make it possible for us to experience that great change of heart and to learn to serve God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength.