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Taken from the book Listen, Learn, and Love by Richard Ostler.
In the summer of 2018, Sheila and I watched several young men carry others across the Sweetwater River to dry ground. We were on our stake-sponsored pioneer trek at Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, and the young men were reenacting the moment in 1856 when Latter-day Saints answered Brigham Young’s call to rescue the Willie and Martin handcart companies, who were starving and stranded in icy cold weather. I was reminded of those men from the past who honored their baptismal covenants to help those in severe physical distress.
I have often thought that our baptismal covenants have both a vertical and a horizontal aspect. The vertical aspect is our covenant that reaches up to God, in which we strive to obey the commandments, follow our leaders, and maintain a relationship with our Heavenly Parents. The horizontal aspect is the covenant that stretches outward to our families and fellow humans, and it includes bearing their burdens, mourning with them, and comforting them.
In introducing the two great commandments, Christ teaches both the vertical and horizontal aspects of our covenants: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31).
Upon first reading these verses, it may seem that these two commandments are not coequal. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is listed as the second great commandment and may thus appear to be subordinate to the first commandment. Latter-day Saint scripture, however, seems to place loving our neighbor as an equal and central focus of our covenants.
For instance, in Moses 7:33, these two great commandments are listed in the reverse order: “Unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father” (emphasis added).
In the Book of Mormon when extending a baptism invitation, Alma begins with the horizontal aspect of our covenants—that is, to bear, mourn, and comfort—in order to join the fold of God: “Behold, here are the waters of Mormon . . . and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
These scriptures do not suggest that one commandment is more important than the other. They indicate that the vertical and horizontal aspects of our baptismal covenants are actually the same great commandment: to love and serve our fellow human beings is to honor and obey God. There is no need to set up a false dichotomy in our minds that to fully love and follow God, we need to stop loving some of His children. After all, the Lord has said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
Behaving kindly toward other people is a consistent value across all world religions. Latter-day Saints refer to this value as charity, the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:47). In other religions, it is often referred to as benevolence or compassion. Even outside of religion, people refer to the “golden rule,” which is to treat others the way you would like to be treated. I believe that our Heavenly Parents knew most of Their children would spend their entire lives outside our restored Church, and they wanted this value to be a foundational principle across all religions and traditions, regardless of what other doctrines or creeds were taught.
Love and kindness are exemplified in the life and teachings of our Savior. I believe Christ knew that we’d need the foundational and timeless parables contained within the New Testament to navigate complex issues of our day, including ministering to LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, as well as to women, undocumented workers, minority races, and any other group that often faces a hard road. His teachings reinforce that it is important not only to love God and keep His commandments but also to have charity and love our neighbors as ourselves. Latter-day Saint leaders have called us a “peculiar people” because of our ability to stand out. We can continue to be known as a peculiar people because of the Christlike way we treat others.