Tag Archives: Latter-day Saints

Faith to Conquer the Unknown

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Visitors test the ice at the edge of the Mississippi River as they commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, in February of 1846.

The weather app on my iPhone says the temperature outside this morning is around freezing, but with the chill factor from the wind off the Mississippi River, it will feel more like 20 degrees.

Better dress warmly. I’ll wear two of everything—extra thermal underwear, two fleece-lined jackets, winter hat with ear flaps under my hood—and my lined winter boots. Under my regular gloves, I wear a pair of fingerless gloves because it’s impossible to operate my digital camera or change the battery without exposing my fingers part of the time. The fingers will be numb before I’m through today. Better stick the hand warmer packets into my jacket pocket.

Today we are commemorating the exodus of Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois, in the brutal cold of early February in 1846. This morning we will walk about a mile in frigid conditions similar to those faced by the Pioneers. Our short trek will take us down

March photo

Marchers make their way down Parley Street to the river.

to the landing where they crossed the river into Iowa. But first we warm up, with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, inside a heated building where we hear inspiring words about the faith of the Pioneers and their endurance in the face of trials.

These are the inspiring words and thoughts. I have heard and absorbed them all of my life. I understand that the Pioneers’ situation was enormously difficult, their resolve was exemplary, and their achievements can offer strength and inspiration as we face the daunting struggles of our own lives.

But today I stand on the banks of the Mississippi facing the reality of a raw February wind across the river, and I wonder: How did they do that? How could anyone do that?

At this point they looked across at Iowa, as I do now, with no idea where they might find a place for the next meal, or shelter from the humid, all-pervading cold. I’ve driven through Iowa, I’ve studied the maps, I know what’s over there. But they had none of my certainty. Most of what I have seen of civilization on the other side of this river did not exist in the 1840s.

To point out that there were no highways or motels or fast-food restaurants out there is to trivialize their situation. There was almost nothing certain out there beyond this river. To find shelter, they would have to build it. To eat, they would often be forced to hunt food and cook it over open fires. To travel more than a thousand miles to an unknown, uninhabited place where they hoped to find safety and peace, they would have to make their own roads. The overland trek itself would take more than three months. For some, completing the journey would take years.

I knew all of this before I came to Nauvoo as a missionary. I knew their history. But here I have learned a lot that I didn’t know about the stalwart people they were.

As I stand on the bank of the river this morning, I realize how much I do not know of their resolve and their strength.

A few people in our group of marchers venture out onto the ice at the edge of the Mississippi for a photo. We will soon turn our backs to this cutting wind and trek back up the street to the shelter of that building where we gathered, or to our cars, grateful that we have warm homes and clothing and food waiting to be eaten. In the tenderest parts of our hearts, though, we feel this truth, newly understood: the Pioneers could look forward to none of those things, and yet they went, trusting.

Behind them, if they shrank back from this crossing, were mobs to rob and burn and destroy. But ahead of them, what? Starvation? Death from the cold or disease? They had no way of knowing.

So as I stand here on the bank of the river shrinking from the wind, gazing across and wondering what Iowa territory was like back then, I think once more: How did they do that?

Only the depth of their faith in God could have made it possible.


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.

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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.