Tag Archives: worship

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.”



Among Believers

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02977B

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.