Tag Archives: freedom of religion

This Is Christianity?

A few weeks ago, I stood looking bigotry in the eye and wondering how someone comes to think and behave that way. What makes it possible for someone who has feelings and some kind of sense of self-worth to treat others as though they are scum who should be eliminated from the earth?

The place was the Nauvoo Pageant, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in Nauvoo, Illinois, a town from which the Latter-day Saints were once driven by mobs. The scene was the entrance to the pageant. Protesters and hecklers stood on the public street, just off of Church property, taunting, insulting, and confronting people arriving to see the historical pageant.

Protesters 3Ag17_01717B

I’m grateful I can rely on Jesus Christ to judge my Christianity, and not on someone who is willing to consign me to hell without knowing my heart.

One man used a megaphone to shout taunts such as: “All Mormons are going to HELL!” as well as slurs like “Mormon ___________!” or “Mormon _____________!” (insert a name here for a man or woman who is gay). It was evident from his demeanor that he was using those slurs in the belief they would offend people.

Not far away were a couple of other people handing out literature designed to look like it was connected with the pageant. In truth, it was a collection of criticisms, half-truths, and distortions of LDS doctrine. I have read their literature before and investigated the claims. All of those claims have either been disproved long ago, or cannot be either proved or disproved because they are misrepresentations. The people handing out this material want it understood that they are separate from the people with the megaphone; they will tell you they are simply there in the service of Jesus. I would like to ask how they feel they are serving Jesus by handing out material that they know, or should know, is misleading.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. There is certainly room for good people to disagree on questions such as how grace is applied in our lives, what awaits us after this life, and how we should receive and respond to inspiration from the Holy Ghost. I respect anyone’s right to have a different view. It is a basic tenet of our faith that all men and women have the God-given right to exercise their own agency in religious beliefs and practices. Among the 13 Articles of Faith that define basic LDS beliefs is this one, number 11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men [and women] the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” This idea is embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. And yet some seem to feel that this freedom should be applied only to certain selected religions.

I am always grateful to be among believers in God, and I have no difficulty working amicably with anyone, whether or not they believe as I do. I respect their right to worship, or not, as they see fit. I believe we are in truth all brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God, and we owe each other respect on that basis. And if that is not enough, we ought to try to live in peace together as residents of this planet.

But I have difficulty understanding those antagonistic protesters. Do they go home at night telling themselves, “I served Jesus today by screaming insults at people and trying to destroy their faith”?

The only way I can explain their behavior in my own mind is to realize that those people are haters, and members of my church happen to be their focus. If there were no Mormons, they would focus their hate on Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, foreign immigrants, Democrats or Republicans, or some other handy group. They simply need someone to hate—someone on whom they can focus their anger—because deep inside they are not right with God, and not even right with themselves.

Their actions cannot be, either rationally or spiritually, the actions of people who follow a loving God. This cannot be Christianity—not as taught by Him who said, “Love one another” (John 15:17).

I feel sorry for those protesters, and I’m sure this statement would anger them. As we watched them out in the street one evening, the sheer theatricality of the man with the megaphone made me laugh. He saw me, and focused his wrath on me: “You laugh now, but you’ll burn in HELL!”

What a sad, pitiful way to spend one’s limited time in this life—trying to destroy someone else’s faith instead of trying to demonstrate what it means to be a follower of God.


Dilemma of a Conservative Voter

My official vote-by-mail ballot came today, and now I will be forced to commit to a choice for president. Tonight I am still not sure who will get my vote.

But I am absolutely certain who will not.

Hillary Clinton provokes, first and foremost in my mind, skepticism. For decades she and her husband have behaved as though the rules that apply to ordinary mortals do not apply to them. She has been politically opportunistic, willing to say all the right things that will win votes. Like many liberal politicians, she seems to believe that the solution to every social problem is more government. Her proposed solutions to some problems may sound good in principle, but they’re too fuzzy on specifics. Yes, for example, every citizen should enjoy the same civil rights. But for some citizens, deeply held moral beliefs come into conflict with governmental solutions, as in the case of same-sex marriage. Who will protect the civil rights of those of us whose deeply held beliefs and faith make it impossible to accept what is currently “correct” social thinking? Does Mrs. Clinton simply say, “Tough luck, abandon your faith and fall into line”? And yes, it’s obvious that we have a problem in this country with guns getting into the wrong hands. But just who is going to decide which of us gets to exercise the constitutional right to own weapons for hunting or self-defense, and what type of weapons?

For me, Mrs. Clinton represents those who believe that individual liberty must give way to the common good—the common good, that is, as they in their more enlightened thinking happen to see it. This is suppression of freedom of thought by legal pressure. Voting for her would be troubling.

But voting for Donald Trump would be frightening—absolutely unthinkable. I have been observing or voting in U.S. elections since Eisenhower versus Stevenson in 1956. In all of those years, Donald Trump is the least effective, most unstable, most dangerous presidential candidate I have seen.

Much is being made of the behind-the-scenes revelations in the leaked emails from the Democratic campaign. These offer maddening evidence of political machinations. And yet—few people seem concerned that this information was stolen to be used by outsiders who would like to influence our national election. There seems to be solid evidence that it was stolen and is being leaked by Russian hackers. Vladimir Putin denies any knowledge (wink, wink), but insists that Americans just need to look at all that evidence against Mrs. Clinton. Just look! And now, one of Putin’s key supporters in Russia is making threatening noises about the possibility of nuclear war if Americans don’t elect Donald Trump. I just can’t bring myself to vote for the candidate favored by Moscow.

Bill Clinton’s shameless infidelity in the White House is raised as a criticism of Hillary. I have heard no good explanation as to how she somehow “enabled” him. In my mind, his betrayals of trust 20 years ago—not only betrayals of his wife, but also of the American people—make him the second most dishonest president I have ever seen, after Richard Nixon. And it’s likely that Mrs. Clinton took out some of her anger on the other women involved. But how does Bill Clinton’s guilt give Donald Trump a pass on his disgusting moral behavior? We have Trump’s own words and actions to show us how he feels about and treats women. His wrongs to his spouses are on the public record. He says his situation is different because he wasn’t in the White House at the time. Seriously? He says it was just “locker room” talk. Well, I remember hearing some of that in the locker room among a few of the guys back when I was in junior high—but not among mature men. And why do the words of Bill Clinton’s accusers seem to carry weight with some people but not the words of Donald Trump’s current accusers? Any man who treats women as Trump has and does should face the penalties of law, not be elected to enforce the law from the Oval Office. Obviously, he feels his wealth gives him power to do to others whatever he wants.

Hillary Clinton blamed her husband’s troubles years ago on some vast right-wing conspiracy. Today, Donald Trump blames his troubles on some press conspiracy with the Clintons. The master manipulator who knows how to grab headlines every day with some fresh controversy whines when the press does not write what he wants. He has tried to bar news organizations or reporters he does not like from events that need to be reported. However flawed and erratic our communications media might be, they’re the best we have as citizens to keep us informed about what our government is doing. But Trump would like to control what the media are allowed to tell us. That is a common tactic in dictatorships. Moreover, Mr. Trump has said that he would stop or limit acceptance of some immigrants into the U.S. because of their religion. If he can use the power of government to target one religion, he can target any other. Donald Trump is the very reason that the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment into the Constitution, with its protection of the freedoms of religion and of the press.

His facile characterization of Mexican immigrants is simplistic and ignorant, and his stubborn insistence on a border wall is ridiculous. I grew up largely in South Texas and went to high school about 10 miles from Mexico. The wall is an idea that would never work. Its most likely result would be to create new jobs—for the skilled tunnel builders on the south side of the Rio Grande. Immigration is a vexing, complex problem that needs a cooperative solution, but Mr. Trump does not seem capable of complex philosophical thought.

He mocks people for their looks and physical disabilities. (As someone born with a very visible defect, I take that a bit personally.) He continues to deny saying certain embarrassing things even in the face of printed reports and audio or video clips that prove otherwise. His wealth depends largely on marketing his name—his brand. How is that supposed to produce jobs? He offers little concrete information to back up his promises. He still dodges questions by pointing fingers at his opponent and his opponent’s husband. Just once I’d like to hear a detailed answer. He has refused to renounce violence by his supporters, and now some have floated dangerous talk of revolution if he is not elected.

No. No! This is not a man who can represent the country I love as it deserves to be represented.

If not Hillary or Donald, then who?

The Libertarian candidate does not seem to have a grasp of world affairs. The Green party seems focused only on certain issues, and not the full range of challenges that face our nation. In my own state, latecomer Evan McMullin seems to offer an alternative congenial to my beliefs. But at this point can he have any impact in the national election?

Sometimes I ask myself, “Where are the statesmen and stateswomen we deserve in public office?” And the answer that comes is frightening: Maybe these are the candidates we deserve. Maybe we are asking government to serve our individual or group self-interests to such an extent that the only people who will step up are those willing to promise anything and do whatever is necessary to assure their own aggrandizement.

I am not a follower of conservative television personality and writer Glenn Beck, but in opposing Donald Trump, he said recently that if Hillary is elected, she can at least be closely watched and fought in the political arena. I agree. Donald Trump, on the other hand—and this is my own opinion—is the petulant teenager whose tantrum in the White House could do significant damage to the republic and to national security before anyone could stop him.

This is a painful choice, but for the first time in more than 50 years of marking a ballot, I cannot bring myself to vote for the Republican candidate for president. I have to look elsewhere.