Tag Archives: divisiveness

“My Kind of People”

This expression of gratitude for blessings of freedom–no matter how flawed and in need of change our country may be–is impressive.

If you want to know what it’s like to feel conspicuous, try being the only white person in a small room in an old slave prison in Ghana watching a movie about the history and evils of slavery. When the movie ended and the lights came up, I could feel eyes staring at me, wondering what I was doing there.

I wanted to say out loud, “It was ugly, it was evil, it should never have happened.” It was horrifying and saddening to see in that place what people were willing to do to other human beings. Even some Africans had contributed to the slave trade, helping trap and transport people of other tribes.

My visit in Ghana, more than a quarter of a century ago now, was delightful, really. I was visiting among people who shared my faith, people who hoped and dreamed of the same kind of peace and unity among men and women on this earth that I hope for. I truly forgot there was any difference between us until I reached out to shake someone’s hand and noticed the contrast in our skin tones. I believe there was no such contrast in our hearts.

A large part of the discord in our society today seems to come because we have forgotten how to deal with people as they are in their hearts. We insist on categorizing everyone, usually based on some particular interest or ethnic group: Mexican American, African-American, Asian-American, and other hyphenates; liberal or conservative; LGBTQ or straight (as though everyone who is not LGBTQ can be classified in just one category); young or senior citizen; “able” or “differently abled.” In some people’s minds, my very obvious birth defect would put me in that last category.

I hate being categorized.

I was born different in body, but I am not “handicapped” and I do not have a disability. I am religiously and socially conservative, but I can gladly work with and respect people whose experiences and background have led them to see social problems differently. I am not LGBTQ, but I do not hate or fear those who are, as the pejorative, convenient labels homophobic and transphobic suggest. I wish LBGTQ people peace, happiness, and all the achievement they seek in this life. I am not their enemy.

And this suggests the damage that categorizing people according to groups does in our society; it casts people who are not part of our own category as opponents, or enemies.

Site of the Topaz camp.

On a road trip a few years ago, my wife and I visited the site of the World War II Topaz internment camp for Japanese Americans, in the desert of Utah. Almost all traces of the old camp have been removed, but it is still a shameful blot on the history of this country. Japanese Americans were herded into camps because they looked different; German Americans and Italian-Americans were not bothered. Call it racism, call it hysteria, call it what you will, but at base it was a bigoted failure to see or consider what others are in their hearts. Loyal Americans were harmed by people who could not see beyond categories.

The group of people shown in the above photo, taken at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington a few years ago, are my kind of people. I have never seen them before, I don’t know who they are or where they live, but it seems we have this much in common: we love our country and the freedom it affords. People who are grateful for the freedom we enjoy are my kind of people.

Maintaining our freedom, however, will require us to be more concerned about the welfare of others than about whether those people are in our category. Any other attitude breeds divisiveness. We must aspire to be as our Savior, and other inspired teachers sent by God through the centuries, have taught: “. . . be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:2-3).

We will not have peace in our society until we are able to broaden our definition of “my kind of people.” We will not end contention over social and political issues until we recognize that we all fit into the same overarching category: children of God.

Which Flower Is the Most Beautiful?

My wife loves flowers. It’s a struggle to maintain a garden in the area where we live, with its short growing season, the hardy, fast-growing weeds, along with deer and other critters who like to dine on plants at her expense. But outside our door every morning, her flowers offer a day-starting burst of beauty.

It’s hard to decide which are more beautiful: Lilies? Irises? Columbine? It’s impossible to judge between them. I joke that I have a nodding acquaintance with flowers; I can’t tell you all about them, their names, their characteristics, but I can appreciate the beauty of every one of them.

My appreciation for flowers started early because both of my grandmothers loved flowers. Like others of their generation, they grew things they could eat, but they had to have flowers as well—definitely roses, but also irises, daisies, hollyhocks, and others.

Living in semitropical areas of the world introduced me to a whole different range of flowering plants. It convinced me that there is far more beauty in this world than I will ever have the opportunity to experience personally.

Some hardy flowers can be found almost everywhere. Sunflowers, growing in the harshest of environments, constantly turn their faces to the sun anyway.

Some flowers are unwelcome, and I don’t always understand why. Who was it that declared dandelions are weeds and must be eradicated? I understand that they’re pushy and want to take over too much space. That can’t be allowed. But have you ever studied the beautiful, divinely designed structure of their yellow faces?

Jesus used flowers to make a point about how much Heavenly Father cares for all His children, in one of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 6:28-33. “. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; . . . Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“. . . If God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you, o ye of little faith? . . .

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

The magnificence of His flowers shows the love and care He put into their creation, but He cares even more diligently and tenderly for us, His children.

Do we appreciate His other children as much as we do His flowers?

There are powerful forces in the world today that work to divide us. Most of us see ourselves first as members of ethnic, gender, social, political or economic groups, before we think of ourselves as children of God.

That is the devil’s work. Jesus did not think of people in terms of divisions that separated them. In fact, He often condemned those who sought to put people in different classes. When we ask that the needs of our class or group be served first, we may be asking that something be taken away from the rest of humanity.

In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: . . . the meek: . . . they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: . . . the merciful: . . . the pure in heart: . . . the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:3-9). He made no distinction as to class, color, wealth, or popularity. He pronounced blessings on those who sought the things they saw in His divine example.

Modern revealed scripture offers this insight on our Redeemer’s loving generosity toward mortals on this earth: “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

The world would be better if we all stopped looking at people as members of ethnic, gender, social, or political groups and began looking at them as children of God with equal opportunity to come unto Him.

In the eyes of the world, every flower is not clothed the same. But in His eyes, there is beauty and value in every one.

Do You Feel Qualified to Cast a Stone?

They came at Jesus, that devious group of scribes and Pharisees, with a challenge: Moses taught that we should stone this woman for adultery. What do you say? (John 8:3-11.)

Jealous of his influence among the people, and fearing the loss of their power to govern, they tried to use the law of Moses in their scriptures to entrap Him. They hoped Jesus would say something that would let them accuse Him of sin against their law.

Hand holding large stone

Are we constantly carrying stones with us, ready to attack those who do not think as we do?

But they reckoned without His wisdom and inspiration. Instead of giving them a “yea” or “nay” decision, Jesus offered them a challenge: Were they completely free of sin? He forced them to examine themselves. “He that is without sin . . . let him first cast a stone.”

There is real spiritual and ethical danger in mixing scripture with politics. Holy scripture is a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways. Those who use it to try to condemn their political opponents usually end up wounding themselves.

Are you as weary and dismayed as I am at the mixing of scripture and theology into our current political contention?

How do people who claim to believe in principles of righteousness justify citing the holy scriptures to condemn opponents to hell?

Lately I have seen the scriptures used liberally to condemn those who oppose President Trump. I have seen people who claim to be religious post vulgar and obscene things about his opponents. Some of them attacked Nancy Pelosi for mentioning her faith and prayers for the president, calling it hypocrisy.

Didn’t the Master warn us about judging? (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:35-37.) He cautioned us about the hypocrisy in judging the faults of others when we are ignoring our own. (Matthew 7:5.) Didn’t the God of the Old Testament teach us that only He is capable of judging by looking on the heart of people? (1 Samuel 16:7.) How dare anyone else judge the sincerity of Mrs. Pelosi’s prayers?

I have prayed for every president in my lifetime, but I have prayed for this one more because we live in ever more perilous times, and God is the only One I trust to warn us unerringly about what is ahead. Moreover, some of the president’s public behaviors which everyone acknowledges—his divisiveness, his nasty and very personal attacks on people he sees as foes—make it harder for him to govern and unite the country. I have prayed that he will try to find ways to unite us instead of playing to the voters who are his power base and pitting them against other Americans.

I am not suggesting that there is flawed judgment only on one side. Surveys and studies I have seen suggest that those who are politically liberal are less likely to identify themselves with a particular religious organization. (Note carefully that this does not say they are less moral or less charitable than other people.) It is my observation that when people who are politically liberal judge others, it is most often justified in terms of social order or obligation. Thus some of them may conclude that people of faith are simply uneducated or backward, and we must give up our faith-based beliefs on issues of abortion or marriage or gender. If we insist that we are trying to live by the word of God as we understand it, we are just being intransigent, and they will gladly use the courts and law to impose their will on us.

There is error on both sides here. People at both ends or the political spectrum seem unwilling to let others exercise freedom of thought if this leads to decisions that do not agree with theirs. Some seem to walk daily with stones in hand ready to attack those who dare to act in ways they do not approve. This seems to depend more on the individual’s personality than on choice of religious allegiance. We see this anger and divisiveness in politicians of every faith, and in their most rabid followers.

As I write this, it is Christmas Eve. I cannot reconcile in my mind sending out cards that say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 3:14), and afterward using the words of the Son of God as moral and intellectual cudgels to beat His children who do not think and behave as we wish.

My prayer is for people who are healers, who will put down their stones and find ways to work with others even when we do not accept all their beliefs.