Tag Archives: Islam

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.




Tolerating Faith: Lessons from Nauvoo


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


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.


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.”



On the Side of the Angels? Seek Peace

Israeli youth, Auschwitz.

Visiting Israeli youth wave the flag of their country over the streets of Auschwitz.

There’s no way to come down on the side of the angels in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Both sides seem to perpetrate their share of bloodshed, horror, cruelty, and devastation.

Sorting out claims to the land itself would be impossible. Each side can point out claims that go back to ancient times. Is there any way today to determine exactly where Jacob and Esau walked, where they may have erected a pillar, where they kept their herds and staked their tents? The issues of ownership seem to be beyond resolution.

And each side, in the name of right, seems able to justify harsh and cruel treatment of the other.

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It was depressing to see detailed evidence of the horrors inflicted by Nazis on the Jews—stunning, almost inconceivable.

As our tour of Israel continued, our Israeli guide stood next to the Arab bus driver and described Israel’s victories and domination over its enemies. We saw Arabs restricted to life in certain areas, required to produce ID on demand.

Wait—didn’t the Nazis begin this way with the Jews in the 1930s?

Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not comparing Israel’s treatment of people within its national borders with the actions of Nazi Germany in my parents’ generation. There is no equivalency. Nazi atrocities leave me unable to imagine how the human spirit could sink so

Auschwitz prisoners

The hopeless faces of prisoners executed at Auschwitz.

low. I have visited Auschwitz. I have seen the bins of human hair and artificial limbs taken from Jewish prisoners, the execution wall for the disobedient, the empty canisters of chemicals from which poison gas was made, the hopeless faces in photos of prisoners who were among the exterminated.

I suppose my sympathies will always be on the side of the Israelis so long as neighboring nations are dedicated to wiping them out simply because they exist. Surely the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. Who can blame Jewish citizens for being cautious and wary, considering that it’s necessary for parents armed with automatic weapons to accompany their children on school outings? Why should they have to live with deadly rockets constantly raining down on their homes? And yet I flinch at news accounts of wholesale retribution in Gaza that includes women and children among its victims.

The recent downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner over Ukraine points out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only part of a much larger worldwide horror: the inflicting of death and suffering on innocent people in attempts to grab power or establish political domination. Pro-Russian forces who apparently shot down that plane have no right to think of themselves as patriots or freedom fighters; they are murderers, war criminals—monsters.

Throughout the world there are groups that claim the right to dominate or eliminate others based on historical wrongs or moral or ethnic superiority. Think tribal warfare in Africa, or “Islamic” terrorists who have hijacked the faith to justify their own tyrannical aspirations. No such group is an agent of God, or Allah. Every such group is an enemy to humankind.

Visiting Israeli youth at Auschwitz draped in the flag of their country.

Visiting Israeli youth at Auschwitz draped in the flag of their country.

I have had hope for some time because of the image here of visiting Israeli youth waving their country’s flag over the streets of Auschwitz. The Nazis are gone. Their evil was defeated, and they were not able to wipe out a people they hated. The right prevailed—that time.

But evil is relentless, and persistent. It blooms anew in every generation.

I see the answer to the problem of violence in the world in a Christian source, the Beatitudes in the New Testament: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Whatever one’s religious tradition—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.—this principle is true: the answer to finding happiness is to seek the peace and harmony that a loving Father would want for His children.

The problem is that in this generation too few people seem to be seeking the answer. Too many seem to be seeking instead to win. The result: everyone loses.