Tag Archives: family of God

The Cure for Bigotry

Bigotry, unchecked, leads ultimately to atrocities like Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

Growing up in the South, I was introduced to bigotry early. I heard what we now politely call “the N word” frequently. In South Texas, I often heard the word Mexican used not as a description of someone’s heritage, but as an epithet. When I was a little boy, World War II was less than 10 years in the past, and I rarely heard Japanese people referred to as anything but “Japs,” particularly by those who had fought them in the Pacific.

I don’t believe bigotry is born into little children. It was not so for me. I cannot remember shrinking from playing with another child whose skin was darker than mine. When I was learning to read, my mother would sit me on her lap and help me with the words. One of my favorite children’s books had been given to her when she was learning to read—probably around 1928. It was about little black children, and it would no doubt be considered highly offensive today. But the lesson I took from the book was not that those children were lesser people because their skin was darker, but that they were little children like me—enjoying the same things, getting in trouble for the same things, growing in the same ways, loved by parents and grandparents the same way mine loved me.

There’s a song in an old movie musical, South Pacific, that holds an important lesson: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” We are taught bigotry and prejudice, beginning very young, by the attitudes of those around us. As I grew older, I learned that some families didn’t live in our part of town because there were people who didn’t want to live by them. I learned that some people assigned negative characteristics to everyone of a particular ethnic heritage—whether they knew any individuals from that group or not.

The Texas border town where I lived during my high school years was divided by the railroad tracks next to U.S. Highway 83. Generally, neighborhoods south of the tracks were full of white Anglo-Saxons and neighborhoods north of the tracks were occupied by Mexican-American families. Some of my Anglo classmates seemed to feel they were more deserving of respect or deference because of their family’s ethnic background, position in the community, or prosperity. Some of those Anglos looked suspiciously at me because I enjoyed friendships with Latino classmates. Sixty years on, ethnic background, prosperity, and social status do not seem to have made much difference in the achievements of my classmates. Many, both Latino and Anglo, became great contributors in their communities, noted for their service, but it was not the ethnic or social backgrounds they came from that dictated whether they were successful. Individual effort and commitment seem to have been more influential. What they became was not determined by what someone called them or thought of them when they were younger.

I have lived long enough to learn that bigotry and prejudice are universal; they are present in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I have heard African-Americans use the N word against other African-Americans just as viciously as any white person.  I have heard plenty of bigotry toward other races or ethnic groups from my white Anglo-Saxon peers. But I have also heard bigotry toward Latinos and Asians from African-Americans, bigotry toward blacks or Latinos from Asians, bigotry toward Native Americans from those of European ancestry, bigotry against Jews from people of almost all races. 

I have toured Auschwitz-Birkenau, walked through an old slave exporting castle on the coast in Ghana, followed the outlines of a now carefully erased World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert. I know where unchecked bigotry based on race or ethnicity can lead.

Site of the World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert.

There is no excuse or justification for prejudicial practices toward others. From small, daily microaggressions to large-scale genocide, actions of prejudice are usually committed by people who don’t understand the relationship of their fellow men and women to God, or even their own relationship to God. Every great religious faith that I know, in its original, pure form, teaches that we are all children of a loving God. For example, Malachi 2:10: “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (See also Ephesians 4:6.) Anyone who persecutes another person is turning against family.

The Old Testament teaches that He is “the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament teaches that “God is no respecter of persons:

God loves each of us, His children, no matter the color of our skin or where on earth we are planted.

“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).

The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, reaffirms those Biblical teachings: “[H]e manifesteth himself unto all those that believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders among the children of men according to their faith. 

“. . . and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:13, 33).

When we speak with disdain, with prejudice, with hatred toward other people on this earth, we are speaking against people God loved so much that He allowed His only Begotten Son to sacrifice His life in order to redeem them—to redeem you, and me. (See John 3:16.)

The cure for bigotry is for us to treat each other like the children of God that we are. We must learn to live by the Golden Rule taught by Jesus Christ: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). This teaching is found in some form in every major religion and has been taught throughout human history by inspired teachers God sent to bless His children. This cure is simple, yet profound. We stumble over it not because it is hard to do but because we are hard of heart.

People concerned about the effects of bigotry and prejudice in our society have often sought to end it through new laws, amendments, decrees, or government programs. Those may help to some limited extent. But bigotry and prejudice will not end in human societies until we learn to appreciate others as brothers and sisters, as members of our family whose hopes and dreams and eternal development are just as important as our own.

The road to this blessed state of human relationships starts in just one heart at a time—yours, and mine.

The Sidewalk to Nowhere

DSC00110Mrs. S. and I love to explore the places where we are, so we do a lot of walking. In our new neighborhood, we recently discovered the sidewalk to nowhere. It begins across the street from our granddaughters’ school and curves off along a canal into a large, vacant tract of land.

The whole area is still under development, but what, we wondered, is the purpose of this sidewalk? What is its destination? So one day we decided to follow it.

The sidewalk runs along that stagnant canal and through an area that has become a DSC00114dumping ground for excavated dirt, and trash and debris. There is a hint at least of clandestine activity out here—discarded beer and liquor bottles, and broken, abandoned things. Stolen, perhaps? Is that why there’s an abandoned grocery cart in the canal?

The sidewalk ends in the dirt (or mud, in season) about 50 yards from a back street in an industrial area.

Is this walkway part of some developmental master plan? Who knows. Right now, it’s just a useless side trip.

This path makes me wonder how many sidewalks to nowhere there are in my life.

When I choose to do something that I know God does not want me to do—when I sin willfully—I know I am taking the sidewalk to nowhere. The path is going to end in disappointment and worthless trash, and I run the risk of getting lost, unable to find my way back.

DSC00113But what about the times when I simply have not thought out my course? Would I choose this path if I knew from the beginning that I would find only trash along the way and a nasty mud hole at the end?

What about the times when I set out on the path to acquiring more money or things? Has that ever ended in any lasting happiness?

What about the times when I set out to justify myself? “I was right and she was wrong.” “That other driver was a careless jerk.” “What I should have said to him was . . . .” There’s nothing worthwhile at the end of that path.

What about the times when my attitude was, “Father, I can handle this by myself”? When did that ever turn out well?

Standing here at the beginning, I can choose to follow this path, or I can turn to the right or left on one of the routes that lead to places of fulfillment—places where I can learn, and love, and be with family. They will be places where I can serve, instead of simply passing time.

If I choose the right path, ultimately it will take me Home.

The best way to choose is probably to ask myself, “Which path would the Master follow after saying, ‘Come, follow me’?”

 

 

 

Faith and Sawdust Carpets in the Streets

Much of the commercial and governmental activity of Guatemala has been shut down during Easter Week—Semana Santa, or Holy Week, as it’s called here. I could wish that we were so diligent in the United States about celebrating the importance of sacred things.

Guat28Mr13_284FFour of us LDS missionaries—two couples—went on Thursday to watch as hundreds of volunteers laid out carpets of colored sawdust on one of the principal downtown streets. They carefully painted pictures in sawdust honoring the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and depicting themes of their Roman Catholic faith.  I suppose there are atheists and humanist here who may say this sort of activity is foolish. I know there are people who call themselves Christian who speak in critical and mocking terms of activities like this. I am not one of them.

As we walked among the hundreds of volunteers on Sixth Avenue in the heart of the city, I struck up conversations with some of them. They were family oriented people, there to help their children participate, and to express their own faith.

I express my faith differently, and if we had talked about doctrine, there would undoubtedly have been points of disagreement. But I had to admire the devotion and dedication that went into their way of paying homage to the Savior. Whether or not I agreed with the themes expressed in those sawdust pictures, it was heartening to see so many people readily identifying themselves with Christian faith, and doing something to show it. I would much prefer to live in a community where faith is openly expressed than one where it cannot be freely acknowledged—even where the faith tradition is not mine.

Government and, to a large extent, commerce close down Wednesday though Friday of Semana Santa. City governments cooperate by blocking streets where the sawdust carpets are to be made. Volunteer municipal workers haul bags of sawdust in city trucks.

Guatemalan Scouts—boys and girls—mix together in these activities. Many young people are enthusiastically involved. Is it more social than religious? Undoubtedly there is a social element in much religious participation; maybe we get involved in religious activities because our friends do. But I’d like to think that a majority of those people got involved as a way of expressing their faith in God.

Guat28Mr13_283fOne man I met, a well-known television journalist, is an evangelical Christian married to a faithful Roman Catholic. He was there supporting his wife and children in the activity. Has their marriage been difficult, I asked, because of their religious differences? They thought it would be at first, he answered, but things haven’t turned out that way. They don’t have conflict because their family is built on love.

Perhaps we who are members of the family of God should try harder to make our relationships work the same way.

After all, when my evangelical friend, his wife, and I go to our churches this Easter Sunday, we are all going to be worshiping the Jesus who brought about the Atonement for us because he died for our sins and was resurrected so that we all may live again.