Tag Archives: faith

Tolerating Faith: Lessons from Nauvoo

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Sunset across the Mississippi, seen from Nauvoo

Nauvoo, Illinois, is a small place on an out-of-the-way bend in the Mississippi River. It rates a footnote in American history because for about four years in the mid-1800s it seemed a safe haven for persecuted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Mormons.

But suddenly Nauvoo is relevant again because we in America still have not learned lessons that should have been learned there in the 1840s.

Mormons had been driven from Missouri under threat of extermination, in the dead of the winter of 1838-39 with only the clothes on their backs. The mob war against them had been tacitly approved in an extermination order issued by the state’s governor. There had been murders, robberies, rapes, and beatings, including the massacre at Haun’s Mill. No one was spared—not even children. Their leader had been imprisoned on trumped-up charges for which there was no evidence.

Fleeing eastward, they found haven, and sympathetic helpers, in Illinois. They built up the new city of Nauvoo, and members began to gather there. But by 1844 their relationship with neighbors had gone sour again. The reasons were social and political as well as religious. Politicians began to fear the power of Mormons voting as a bloc. Their Christian religious beliefs were unorthodox. Among other things, some of them practiced polygamy, believing they were following a command of God given through a prophet. Much of the information that was circulated about them was false—lies concocted by people who were

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A memorial to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, martyrs for their faith, in front of the Nauvoo LDS Temple.

ignorant of their doctrine but wanted to turn public opinion against them. Their leader, Joseph Smith, was assassinated by a mob.

I have been reading a lot about Nauvoo lately because my wife and I will be spending some time there as missionaries. In a country that proclaims religious freedom, there is plenty of room for differing views on doctrine. Many Christians find reason not to accept LDS doctrine, and I would defend their right to do so. But facts from history leave little room to doubt that what happened to the Mormons of Nauvoo was unjust and criminal.

The federal government failed to protect them and their rights. State governments failed to protect them. They were driven out of the then-United States to the Great Salt Lake Valley. When that territory was annexed by the United States a short time later, the persecution over their beliefs continued until—again by the command of a prophet who received a revelation from God—they abandoned the practice of polygamy. Before that happened, enemies tried to destroy the Church with laws targeting their beliefs (beliefs that seem relatively tame now, in an era when courts are dealing with issues of same-sex marriage and gender by choice).

But all that persecution is past now, right?

Or does some of this sound familiar in light of current events?

Today, we still have religious minorities under attack because their beliefs are different. Demagoguery and unsubstantiated, bigoted rhetoric has given the hate-mongers in our society license to go after people they fear or dislike.

Christians, including Mormons, who hold to the belief that marriage is a sacred relationship between a man and a woman are under attack by those who see themselves as more enlightened and more sensitive to acceptable social norms. Many people cite religious freedom as they reject traditional beliefs about morality, yet they are willing to violate the freedom of others by trying to force them to accept ideas repugnant to their consciences.

People who hate don’t seem to need a reason to attack Judaism, and haters attack Muslims based on half-truths or falsehoods. What little I know of Islam suggests it is a religion of peace whose name has been hijacked by remorseless and sadistic criminals. In any case, barring or booting people from the United States based on the fact that they come from a predominantly Muslim country does not live up to the ideal of religious freedom we hold up for the world. Never mind that Christians are not given tolerant treatment or religious freedom in Muslim countries; this country espouses a higher standard. Let’s live up to it.

An attack on the religious freedom of any minority is an attack on the religious freedom of all of us. We do not have to agree on doctrine to agree that we each deserve the right to worship according to our own faith. Whether we call him God or Heavenly Father, Yahweh or Allah, our obligation of faith and obedience is to Him, and no one should interfere with that so long as our worship does not hurt anyone else.

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The inscription below the tower on the Nauvoo Temple proclaims “Holiness to the Lord.”

One basic Mormon tenet is this: “We claim the privilege of worshipping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith). No one need be a Mormon to accept that this is a fair expectation of religious freedom. I can easily live and work alongside those who believe and worship differently than I. We will no doubt find that we have much more in common than we knew.

So, back to the lessons of Nauvoo. Mormons were victimized, persecuted, and driven out in Missouri, then Illinois ostensibly over religious differences. Has that kind of persecution stopped in this country? No, not for religious minorities whose views are seen as incorrect by self-appointed arbiters of social norms, and not for those who are the targets of hate.

Neither those who hate nor those who impose politically correct theology actually believe in religious freedom. Their view is that it should apply to those who see things their way, or those who share their ethnic heritage or skin color. The haters and the politically correct are often in the same camp. In the name of orthodoxy or racial and ethnic purity, they are willing to forego tolerance. They let themselves believe that people who do not share their philosophy or their heritage don’t deserve or can’t be trusted to handle freedom of choice.

It’s time for those who truly cherish religious freedom to say, “Enough.”

It is long past time for those who say—with fingers crossed—that America stands for religious freedom to act like they really mean it.

It is time for religious freedom without qualifications—without this mental reservation: “if they believe and worship as I do.”

 

 

The Rose Parade and Repentance

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This wasn’t what people came to see—a man with a banner and a bullhorn calling on them to repent or face the wrath of God.

They came to see the annual Rose Parade, an event whose organizers like to call it rose-prd-2ja17_dsc00293America’s New Year celebration. They came to see pageantry and pomp and beauty. What they saw instead, before the parade, was people telling them they are wicked and sinful and they’re on their way to being damned.

Spectators along our part of the parade route didn’t take this news well. The people with the banners and bullhorns were booed, there were snickers and jibes about their message, and there were cheers and clapping when the police motorcycle squad came along to clear them off the parade route.

It was hardly news that many of us are sinners—or at least it wasn’t to me. I know that I often do things Jesus Christ would not have approved. I am a man full of mortal weakness, and I certainly have need to repent. But most of us don’t enjoy being called out publicly for our hypocrisy or vanity or weakness.

I know that Jesus Christ will come again to the earth and we will all be responsible for the way we have lived our lives here. But the preaching we heard on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena that day didn’t seem like the best way to spread the good news of His gospel. There was a lot about wrath and very little about the hope He extends to us if we repent. I believe hope is more effective in changing lives than chastisement. We all know our own sins. What we need to understand is how things can change for us when we give them up.

Still, I have to admire the courage of the people who were out there preaching. They must have known they would be received with ridicule and antagonism. It was the same reception given to prophets in Old Testament times, in Christ’s day, in Book of Mormon societies, and even in the present day. Those street preachers in Pasadena knew that what they did before the Rose Parade would be uncomfortable, unwelcome to many, possibly even hazardous. It took faith and deep commitment to their beliefs.

Something tells me that all of us who believe are going to need this kind of courage and commitment in coming days. Many of believe that a child knowingly invited by two people to grow in the womb has a right to experience life on this earth. Many of us believe that our gender is an assignment given before we came to earth and that rejecting it is rejecting a path God wants us to follow. Many of us believe that marriage was instituted by God to create a partnership in which one of His daughters and one of His sons grow together through mortal life, and beyond. We who believe these things are accused of ignorance, of bigotry, of narrow-mindedness by those who wish to force us to accept their way of thinking.

It is as though we were heretically teaching that the earth is round, when everyone agrees it must be flat, or that the emperor, naked as the day he was born, is wearing a beautiful new suit of clothes. Our very right to believe anything other than the groupthink favored by the most vocal and strident among us is being challenged. There are indications that anyone in our society who cannot accept a new “reality” that ignores moral anchors can expect to be punished. We may be shunned or charged, illogically, with hate and prejudice. There will be no escaping the intellectual tyranny.

If we insist on maintaining our right to believe according to our faith, and not according to the dictates of an unmoored society, we may need the depth of commitment of those street preachers at the Rose Parade.

Charity: An Opportunity Missed

20-billMy wife and I were out for our morning walk on a cold December morning. We were busy talking about our plans for family holiday activities when we met part of a small family coming toward us—a woman and two children.

The woman was African—or at least the bright dress she wore, with no coat, seemed African. The children, a girl of about nine and a boy of about six or seven, wore thin jackets. The girl had outsize shoes that looked like they could have been her mother’s, or perhaps something from a thrift store rack. My mind registered the mother and children as perhaps recently arrived refugees. I hoped they had a secure place to settle in.

We were several seconds past them when a voice whispered in my mind, “She could have used that $20 bill you’re carrying in your pocket. You were looking for a way to donate to charity.”

I looked over my shoulder but could not see them. Which way had they gone? Around the corner to the store we just came from? Down a side street? Into one of the houses along here? No, probably not that.

Why am I so slow to see opportunity right in front of me?

What would she have said if I had offered her the money?

Most of us probably walk around every day overlooking opportunities to give and to serve. Often we’re too wrapped up in our own concerns; that is not only usual, but normal for mortals. We have to look outward to discern how others may be in need. The tip-off might not be a frayed old coat. It might be a frayed life, or a threadbare, gloomy outlook. It might be thin, struggling faith.

Maybe it’s too awkward to think of helping; we don’t know how to begin. Maybe “You have a problem and I want to help” could be phrased a bit more diplomatically. “Is there a way I could help you? May I?”

Maybe there’s a risk that helping could get out of control. “If I offer to help, they may take me up on it, and I have so much giong on right now. . . .” If we’re going to say “May I help?” we’d better mean it.

Offering to help might lead to more of a commitment than I expect. “What if $20 isn’t enough? That’s all I have to give right now.” Not so. We can give time, we can share faith in the heavenly proclamation of peace to mankind, and we can share resources. If we don’t have more money to give, perhaps we know someone who does. Or perhaps the time we give could help someone in need find spiritual or temporal aid to take away hopelessness or pain.

A little thought can open our minds to a lot of possibilities.

And what would that woman have said if I had stopped to offer her the $20?

I don’t know. But next time I’m going to find out.

 

Among Believers

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Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Our worship service was a bit different last Sunday. It involved seven people balanced on the edges of beds or on hard chairs in a small hotel room in St. John’s, New Brunswick. We came from three different countries and four different faiths.

What the seven of us had in common was belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him on the Sabbath. We met in that hotel room at the invitation of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois traveling with our tour group. He followed the order of worship he would have followed at his pulpit back home that day.

Those of us in that room could have found doctrinal differences, I am sure, if we had chosen to discuss them. Instead, what we found together was comfort in the knowledge that through the Lord Jesus Christ we all may be forgiven of our sins and become better followers of His.

In several cities during this trip, my wife and I have seen many people who appear to be wandering aimlessly in life. They seem to know how to fill their days with activity, but not how to fill their lives with growth and useful experiences.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02991BAnd yet we have met others who find fulfillment in giving of themselves. In our tour group, these included the outdoorsman who has spent many years in lifesaving on Australian beaches, and the teacher who uses music to help young people through their educational and emotional struggles. The minister and his wife are also among those people who purposefully give to others. While he and I might have differences on theological themes, I have to admire his willingness to share the knowledge of God with others. In that he is an example to me.

In high school, an agnostic friend of mine once said that Hell is every church’s gift to every other church. He was too cynical, I think, and too inexperienced to see how good can draw people together no matter what their backgrounds. I believe in a loving, caring Heavenly Father who will reward every one of His Children for the good we do, no matter what church we attend.

On a personal level, some doctrinal differences matter very much to me. I dare not minimize the principles of faith to which I am committed. Belief in those principles has shaped every crucial decision in my life. Trying to live those principles is making me a better disciple of Christ. I will hold them dear even as many in the world abandon them, and even if my beliefs are challenged and mocked.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02982BBut I do not believe that God reserves His blessings only for those who share my doctrinal views and my church affiliation. Experience teaches that there are many upstanding people of other churches—or of no church—who are intent on doing good to those around them. Surely God will answer the prayers of any of His children who desire righteousness. Often we mortals simply need to work on understanding the wisdom of His answer, be it “Yes,” “No,” or “Follow the counsel I have already given in my holy scriptures.” Sometimes the answer may be, “Are you ready to follow the direction I will give you through my Holy Spirit?” Jesus Christ wasn’t just leading us on when He taught that if we ask in faith, we will receive (Matthew 21:22).

So on a Sunday far from home, we were grateful to be among a group of believers—people who believe in asking for His blessings, and who have the faith to receive.

How Good Are You?

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We live in a world that beats us down. We are surrounded by forces that tend to make us feel small and worthless sometimes. In this kind of world, it’s important that we learn to recognize good—especially the good within ourselves.

Granted, we all fall short of perfection. It is part of our mortal condition. We have weaknesses that we surrender to all too easily, and we have help in our failures, because none of us is strong enough by ourselves to stand up to the devil one on one.

I believe in a real devil—the personage we call Satan. He exists, and he hates every one of us on earth because we enjoy the privilege of living here in mortality—a privilege he lost by rebellion before we came here. The devil will do anything to make us miserable as he is.

It is in his best interest for people not to believe in him. That way he can work without our being aware of his influence. If he confronted us directly, many would resist being manipulated. It is better for him if he can simply whisper to us, inviting us to indulge in the weaknesses that he knows we have.

Usually we fall into sin without thinking about the end result. That is why we need Jesus Christ and the grace He offers.

“Be ye perfect,” He said in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48). Would He give us a commandment that is impossible? No. But it is important that we understand all the things “perfect” may mean. The Greek word in the biblical text means complete, or fully developed. We might say this means being of full integrity—endeavoring always to practice what we say we believe. We may not reach this level all the time, but we are expected to try. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery—a sin worthy of death under the Mosaic law—and then He said to her, “Go, and sin no more.” That is what is expected of each of us.John 811

We have sinned in the past, and we will continue to struggle and fall. Because of this, we would be eternally lost without the grace of Christ. But He expects us to get up and try again.

Why would He willingly suffer and die for our sins? Because it was a commitment He made before coming to earth? Yes. But there was something more. He saw enough good in each of us to feel we are worth saving. Despite all of the times that we fail, He loves us.

It is important to see the good in ourselves without becoming proud of it. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis explained that the way for the devil to distract us from doing good is to get us to stop and pat ourselves on the back for it. We need to find the balance that lets us recognize good within ourselves while we still plead to God for the forgiveness He offers through the grace of His Beloved Son. No matter how much good we might do, that grace is still essential to our salvation.

When we find the good within ourselves, this will help us understand how to heed His repeated admonitions to “go, and do” (Luke 10:37) and to “follow me” (Matthew 9:9, 10:38). In what shall we follow Him? In doing the kind of works that He did. The good and strength within us can be used to lift others. (See Hebrews 12:12.)

You have many weaknesses. When the devil tells you that you are no good because of them, or when you cringe at the unworthiness within yourself, you must remember that you also have strengths.

So here is today’s thought to ponder as you try to take up your cross and follow Him: How good are you?

 

Consider the Lilies

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“Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? . . .

“. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;

“And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is and to morrow is cast Lily_2574into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

“(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

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

(Matthew 6:25-33)

Where Will You Sink Your Roots?

Yllwstn 16Se14_0084Sometimes the difference between thriving and dying is in where we sink our roots.

True, the trees in Yellowstone could not control where their seeds fell. But we, unlike the trees, can control where we sink our roots. We do not have to extend them down into the poisonous lake.

I know people who have chosen to sink their roots into bitter, poisonous waters. They are bitter or angry at other people or at God, whom they feel let them down. Perhaps something that they wanted—fervently desired—did not come to them. Or perhaps some evil—something we call tragedy—befell them. They blame someone else, or they blame God. The way their lives have turned out is all His fault because He did not give them what they hoped for or wanted, or He did not keep them from some trial. They sink the roots of their thoughts deeper into the bitter waters.

Often I have wondered how their lives might turn out if they chose to draw nourishment from other sources.

Many years ago, there was a job I wanted in the organization where I worked. When the opening came, I thought my experience and background suited me perfectly for it. I could imagine myself making great contributions in that position. I even prayed for God to help me get the job if it was His will.

The position went to someone else. At the time it was a bitter pill to swallow. I wondered if I was simply not good enough to be considered.

I lived to see how the position and that department changed, and how it would not have been the right place for me. Had I been hired for that job, I would have missed out on other opportunities that came later—special blessings the Lord had prepared. I would never have achieved some of the things it was my privilege to accomplish.

There are numerous references in the Bible to the Lord’s faithful followers as His vineyard, its people carefully nurtured (see, for example, Isaiah 5:7, Luke 13:6-9). There is a fuller treatment of the theme in the Book of Mormon—Jacob chapter five. It tells of a husbandman who plants some of his olive trees in unfavorable, rocky ground. Still, with His careful nurturing, they thrive.

I was born with a very visible birth defect that was a source of some taunting and bullying when I was a boy. I grew up without a dad because my father was killed in a car accident when I was 21 months old. My widowed, working mother’s income was for many years below the government’s poverty line, and as boy I sometimes wore hand-me-down clothes.  (To be honest, we were never “poor”; my mother faithfully tithed her income, and the Lord blessed us, literally opening the windows of heaven [Malachi 3:8-10] at times.)

But my challenges are small compared to those of many other people. My challenges are important only to me, and only because of growth they have brought. Through them, my Father taught me. I mention them only to make this point: Each of us could identify things in our lives that we might consider unfair–instances where we believe God or others slighted us. We can choose to drink deeply of the poisoned waters by brooding about those things.

Why not choose to look instead at the ways our God has nurtured us with richness of opportunity and experience? Sometimes that opportunity came disguised as a challenge.

Instead of lamenting the forbidding soil from which we sprang, why not choose to bear abundant fruit anyway, responding to the tender, nurturing hand of the Master of the vineyard?