Nearly 15 years ago, Pres. Dallin Oaks gave a talk in the October, 2003 General Conference titled “Repentance and Change” which shared some of his thoughts about the gospel culture versus worldly culture, and how we all need to change. It is a classic, and one about which I have thought a lot as we have been exposed to different cultures.
This week we heard an interesting story that reveals another of the challenges of the church in growing areas such as West Africa, where we often have first generation members called to serve as leaders. A group came to the temple from Ivory Coast—an eight to twelve hour trip. One of the men showed his recommend to come in but it was scanned as being “not valid”. On further examination it turned out that his bishop had deactivated the recommend after the brother had left Cote d’Ivoire because of a personal conflict with this brother. He failed to tell him about it before he arrived at the temple. The bishop had hoped that the embarrassment and expense that this caused would teach the man a lesson.
A meeting was shortly held between temple leadership, the bishop, and his stake president, who was also at the temple. The bishop was called to repentance and was helped to understand that this was an abuse of his position, that any personal conflicts should be resolved face to face in private, and that he owed the brother an apology. The situation was soon resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the brother entered the temple to participate in the ordinances, and the bishop returned home a wiser leader.
This morning in a class discussion another cultural situation was retold. One of the beloved senior local leaders, when he was a young branch president in Ghana, was invited to Accra to an event with the mission president. In those early days of the church in Ghana, the mission president, who happened to be an American, would have been the presiding authority in the country. As was common here at that time, and still is today in some parts of the world, a married man expected to be heard and obeyed. This was the understanding of ‘head of the home’. This meant in part that the wife was supposed to do all the work in the home. At the event held at the mission headquarters, the young branch president happened to wander into the kitchen after the activity and found the mission president there doing the dishes. He was so amazed that he called his wife to come and see what was happening. Ever since then, he recounted, he has helped his wife and treated her with greater respect. And he has taught other Ghanaian members of the church to do the same. He was asked if he still did dishes. “I did this morning”, was his answer. Out of small and simple acts can come great things.
Pres.Oaks: “The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change…and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change…. The Savior invites all to come unto Him and His servants seek to persuade all—including Americans—to become Latter-day Saints. We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God…. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and we show that love by the way we serve one another. We are also commanded to love God, and we show that love by continually repenting and by keeping His commandments. And repentance …in its broadest meaning …requires change, giving up all of our traditions that are contrary to the commandments of God. As we become full participants in the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we become "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.