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The tool for evaluating souls is love, Kristin Matthews tells BYU devotional audience

“We are commanded to love all men and women if we are to be counted among Christ’s disciples,” Kristin Matthews, an English professor at Brigham Young University, told students and faculty at Tuesday’s devotional.

In order to do that, we need a better understanding of the worth of souls, she said.

Sharing her experience of visiting the famed “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, she said, “I contemplated the painting and why it is considered priceless,” leading her to question, “How is it that we measure value? What makes something, and more importantly, someone of worth?”

After defining “value,” Matthews said that “a thing’s value is contingent on ideas of estimation, desirability, likeability and worthiness.” But, she said, it is not asked, “Who determines the system of value by which we are considering, classifying, and ranking things or people?” and “Who sets the “standard of equivalence” that says some things have greater worth than others?”

Matthews explained that it is human nature to create systems of meaning in order to understand the world. She said, “We have created categories like nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, religious affiliation, political party, marital status, and so on to organize and make sense of humankind’s diversity. However, too often we use these seemingly descriptive systems to determine the worth of others. These human-made hierarchies of value can cause division, contention, and skewed understandings of self-worth.”

Matthews compared this value system to God’s, saying, “Conversely, God’s system of valuing us promotes connection, compassion, and love. We are his children. He loves us unconditionally, eternally, and unchangingly. Our worth is infinite as we are his daughters and sons. No one spirit is more valuable than the other.”

Then Matthews asked if we really believe what “we read in the Doctrine & Covenants 18:10 that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

“Whether we like to admit it or not, it is human to rank and ascribe value to others,” Matthews said. “In addition, fear of coming up short or fear of not being enough often propels these negative behaviors. Because we fear we are less somehow, we seek to elevate ourselves over others to convince ourselves that we are valuable.

“Where do these systems that evaluate worth come from? These systems are neither eternal nor transcendent, but are human creations that are based in place and time, more often than not, benefitting those in positions of power who have created those systems,” Matthews said, giving historical examples of social systems that have devalued certain groups of people.

Matthews explained that one system of valuation with negative consequences is beauty, saying, “Human beings go to great lengths to achieve some ideal beauty—extreme workouts, plastic surgery, eating disorders, elaborate make up rituals, extensive hair and nail treatment, compulsive shopping.

“This preoccupation with appearance and this socially constructed idea of beauty as that by which we find worth or value, is physically and spiritually destructive,” Matthews said.

Sharing an example from one of her favorite literary works, “A Raisin in the Sun,” Matthews told how one son lost the family’s small inheritance and his sister felt she could no longer love him.

Matthews shared part of the mother’s speech to her daughter: “There is always something left to love. . . . Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”

The scriptures teach similar principles. Matthews explained, “Leviticus 19:18 commands the Israelites to 'love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Lord.' There are no caveats here: love thy neighbor unless he is x, y, or z, but a command for total inclusion.

 “The scriptures repeatedly tell us that discipleship means loving one another. Again, there is no qualification here: it does not say, “love God and all men and women, except for those who are or do X.” No, we are commanded to love all men and women if we are to be counted among Christ’s disciples,” Matthews said.

Matthews explained that God sacrificed His own son because he loved the world. “And in return, he asks that we sacrifice our petty divisions, toxic sectarianism, and false hierarchies of value to recognize the worth of each human being and child of God… we have to shift how we look at others so that we no longer see people as demographics, but as children of God.”

She concluded by telling the audience, “I hope that you know that you are above and beyond those false measures of worth that we humans have created. You have an infinite value that has nothing to do with what your portfolio contains, what size you wear, what party you vote, what color your skin is, what your gender is, and so on. Why? First, because you are a human being and all human beings have value. Second, because you are a child of heavenly parents who love you and see you for the valuable person that you are.

“It is my hope that we will be able to recognize and reject those false systems of value that demean and divide, and instead, embrace the love that is true discipleship.”

To read the talk in its entirety, visit speeches.byu.edu. The devotional will also be rebroadcast on BYUtv. Check byutv.org for schedules, as well as on demand availability.

Writer: Stephanie Bahr

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