The 15-year-old son of our daughter’s high school friend committed suicide recently. Jaycee phoned Cel Frighteous, another high school friend, to inform her of the tragedy. Cel responded as if she were instructing a church class. “I’m so glad Denise and her husband were sealed in the temple before this happened. I’m teaching my Young Women’s class that the blessings of a temple marriage will protect them from heartache.” No expression of sympathy or shock, no intimation that losing one of her own children would be a devastating blow.
What happened to the Cel who embraced her friends’ sorrows and joys as though they were her own? Somewhere in her religious practice, she’s picked up the notion that a lesson must be drawn from every experience—that proclaiming the efficacy of gospel principles trumps compassion and empathy. Cel’s current interpretation of religion makes her less caring, less human, less like God.
I am sad for Cel because she has narrowed her vision of life to the point where she apparently believes that being a rule-abiding Mormon is an end in itself. Just as she showed no feeling for this friend’s tragedy, Cel showed no empathy for Jaycee’s painful divorce, greeting the news with, “Well, have you been going to church?” I am sad for Cel because at some point in her life, she will find that keeping the rules won’t protect her from all suffering.
Jesus ministered to pain and suffering without judging the recipients or making them examples for his teaching. Putting the message ahead of the person creates a god who loves the rules more than the children for whom the rules are given.