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In the business world, most contracts have what is called a ‘severability’ clause. The language in this clause is designed, as explained to a non-lawyer like me, to protect the remainder of the contract should any section be declared illegal or unconstitutional. Without this specific contract language, the entire document can be voided because of one flaw.

This has bearing in the political world as the version of the health care bill which was passed by the U. S. Senate did not have the appropriate severability language. Because of the politics, this version of the bill was also passed by the U. S. House of Representatives and became law. The same condition now applies to the legislation. If any part of the bill is determined to be unconstitutional, the entire bill is declared null and void. This weakness is being exploited by a number of states where challenges have been launched. It is expected that these challenges will ultimately reach the Supreme Court for a final decision.

Why would a blog that is focused on the spiritual be concerned with such matters? I would suggest that severability should be applied to our religious worldview. Let me explain. I have heard many stories regarding individuals who are active in the church only to discover some flaw, such as Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and abandon their support. Many go so far as to cease to believe in God because they feel they had been deceived. You may have someone, as I do, who went down this path of leaving the church, and all things spiritual, because they found an historical anomaly that was not addressed in the pristine history presented by our correlated instruction. In this case, their entire spiritual ‘contract’ was thrown out because one flaw was found.

This same problem is widely promoted in the missionary effort. Prospective converts are taught that if they pray and receive an answer that the Book of Mormon is true, then they must also accept that the church is true, that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, etc. In this case, they are being led to believe that if one aspect of the message is true, then all things related to the message are also true.

I would suggest that, just as our dealings in the commercial world, our path in the religious world should be protected by a severability clause. We should never blindly assume that because any part of the implied religious contract is found to be invalid, the rest should be thrown out. Nor should one assume that all the principles espoused by the church are true because they receive confirmation on one aspect.

If we are to learn ‘line upon line and precept upon precept,’ then we should rightly seek a spiritual confirmation for each of these steps in our spiritual journey. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 21, Paul told us that we should

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

I suggest that this principle should be followed in all of our spiritual dealings. Each precept of the message should be prayerfully considered and not simply draw the assumption that one must accept all because we have received spiritual confirmation in part. This should apply both on the way in and, if necessary, on the way out.

When I was first confronted with my religious crisis, I teetered on the cliff for a while. I felt betrayed and isolated. The best way I can explain my feelings was from an experience in my youth. As a child, I was once playing with a loose tooth. I wiggled and played with it for days until it finally came out. I immediately decided that I wanted to keep the tooth in place for a little longer but as I tried to replace the tooth in my mouth, it was no longer ‘part of me.’ Only seconds after leaving my mouth, this object, which had been in my mouth for years and had grown with me, was now a foreign object.

In the same way, as my crisis unfolded, my many years in the church and my entire religious worldview, now seemed to be alien. Just as my tooth, in a matter of seconds, changed from being part of me to an object that no longer belonged in my head, my spiritual ‘tooth’ was now outside of me and could not be put back. (For a treatment of this topic, I would suggest reading ‘Stages of Faith’ by James W. Fowler)

Thinking back ten years, it would have been very easy to simply reject it all and walk away.  Initially, I faulted God for my religious collapse. How could He have led me along this path for so many years and then dump this on me? I went through a period of strong feelings of anger and betrayal. But, as I pondered my painful situation, I began to consider that it was not God that did this to me, but it was man.

I began to take an assessment of my situation. I decided I needed to completely rebuild my, not religious, but spiritual worldview. I began by re-asking the question: Do I believe in God? Fortunately, as I sincerely pondered that question, I was able to start separating the man-induced beliefs with those that were God-induced. I considered all my recollections of my spiritual experiences and began to note what I could deduce from them. An essence, I began a process to examine every clause in my spiritual contract and determine which of them did not meet with my spiritual constitution. Because I was able to apply the severability clause, I was able to keep the parts of my contract that were still intact.

As my journey progressed, I slowly began to rebuild my spiritual worldview. I began reading my scriptures with a new perspective and found many items that I had not perceived in all my previous readings. I thirsted for knowledge and information and began buying books on church history and doctrine. I explored other aspects of man’s relationship with God which took me along some interesting paths.

At this time, I continue to rebuild my relationship with all things spiritual.  My anchors continue to be my testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s role in the restoration. I found that my extensive search through the volumes of words published by man brought marginal value although I did get clues on where to find answers.

In summary, my message is to not throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to the difficulties around the dissonance that occurs between the stated agenda of the corporate church and the principles found in the scriptures and in our heavenly confirmations. I believe we each must seek to understand the precepts of the message of the gospel and the restoration and build a spiritual worldview, not based on the ideas of man, but on the confirmation of the Spirit.

What think ye?

3 Responses to “Severability and Spiritual Contracts”

  • You took a similar approach to my own in rebuilding your testimony? I fell a little further away, becoming an agnostic for several years, but once I started to believe in God again, I had to retrace my steps. Making sure that each step I took was solid. I guess I’m still in that process now

  • I think we each must find such a path. How else would we have true empathy for someone who is in a similar situation? Life is a laboratory where we are to seek the lessons God desires us to learn. Sometimes it takes many tries before we get it right.

  • Mike Jensen:

    Went thru the same thing. So we are no “so alone” afterall. God speed the right.

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