Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Missionary moment: Answering the critics

Several weeks ago, I took a picture of Philippians 4:8, which I regard as one of the loveliest passages in all of scripture, and posted it to the "Christianity" group on Flickr. A day or two later, I discovered that another member of Flickr had commented on my photo with a link to an anti-Mormon website. What followed next is explained below, but meanwhile, the same person has included the same link in a post of his own, again to the "Christianity" group.

Earlier today, I submitted the following response, which I have decided is worth reproducing here. As I noted, I can understand why some people find certain practices and teachings of my church to be a little difficult to accept, and nobody needs to apologize for that; but I do get a little tired of the wearisome, and unfair, accusations that Latter-day Saints are not even Christian. Thus, I hope this is informative and enlightening to one and all. (The person's username on Flickr is "thedib," although I don't know the origin of that. Flickr is full of interesting and creative usernames, of which one of my own favorites is "Lex in the City.")

Anyway, here's what I said:

"I suppose it is confession time now. I am the person who aroused thedib’s indignation a few weeks ago by daring to post, to this group, a photo of Philippians 4:8 as it appears in the King James Version of the Bible. The passage, which I regard as one of the loveliest in the entire canon of scripture, is doctrinally neutral, and enunciates a principle which could be endorsed by any decent person of any religious persuasion – evangelical Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist, for that matter. I dedicated the picture to a member of Flickr who I thought best typified Paul’s sentiment as expressed in this verse, and it may be worth noting here that the person in question is a devout Catholic. The annoyance expressed by thedib is based on the fact that I happen to be – O horror of horrors, dare I even mention the word? – a Mormon.

"A day or two after I posted the photo, I discovered that he had added a comment to it, which consisted almost entirely of the link he has since added to this thread. I immediately blocked him, and sent him a message to the effect that I resented what he had done, and thought his use of my photo as a platform to propagate his anti-Mormon views was a cheap shot, which did not reflect well on him personally, nor did it serve the broader interests of the Christian faith he purported to represent. I mentioned part, but not all, of the following to him: namely, that I am a convert to this church, having joined it in 1970; that I used to be an evangelical Christian; that I did not renounce my belief in Christ as Savior when I was baptized a Mormon, nor have I since; and that even if my affiliation with this so-called “evil and satanic cult” was a mistaken decision – which I do not for a moment believe – I am still satisfied that I have not placed myself outside the purview of His grace, merely because I now espouse the idea that He can, and does, speak to modern prophets, and that the canon of scripture is not limited to the Bible. As one who was once outside my church looking in, I can understand why someone might find some of our doctrines and practices to be a bit peculiar, and perhaps difficult to swallow; but I simply DON’T understand how that puts us outside the pale of even being worthy to be considered Christian. I don’t believe in transubstantiation, the assumption of the Virgin, or papal infallibility, nor do I pray the rosary; but none of that prevents me from believing that a faithful Catholic who tries to live by the tenets of his or her faith deserves credit for being a Christian, and probably a pretty good one at that. In my view, any church that can produce the likes of Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and Francis of Assisi has an awful lot to be said in its favor.

"I have also reflected frequently on the New Testament story of Peter’s complaint that an individual who was not “one of us” had been going about doing miracles in His name, whereupon the Savior admonished Peter to accept that, adding that “he who is not against us is for us.” My religious convictions are what they are, and I make no apologies for them; but I am fully aware that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population disagrees with me on spiritual matters, and I also believe part of my religious obligation is to be a good neighbor, and to respect what is sacred to other people. For this reason, I will not be caught dead posting, for example, a link to an anti-Islamic website. Such an act would, in my view, displease God, to say nothing of some highly-regarded Muslim friends of mine. Moreover, if I want to learn what Catholics or Muslims believe, I’ll ask a practicing Catholic or Muslim, or consult some official source, rather than resort to websites sponsored or run by their critics. In my view, this is simply a matter of following the Golden Rule, as I know a lot of falsehoods about Mormons are in circulation, and I would want to treat another person’s faith as fairly as I would want mine to be treated in return. There are appropriate ways to be a missionary, and to share one’s beliefs; but contemptuous treatment of things held sacred by others is not one of them.

"I am not going to say any more about this, because I don’t want to become involved in religious polemics, nor do I believe the spirit of contention is pleasing to God. Besides, what good would further discussion do? After all is said and done, thedib will still not give me credit for being a Christian, but I will still be an active and committed Latter-day Saint anyway. At the end of the day, after all, it really does not matter whether he believes I am a Christian or not, because I feel entirely comfortable in affirming that I am indeed one, notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary. I did not join my church 36 years ago in order to please him. And how important is the matter in the first place? I hesitated even to write this comment, because, after all, this whole issue started over such a trivial matter, when I posted a picture of a Bible passage on a photo-sharing site, for crying out loud! This was hardly of the same earth-shaking magnitude as, say, Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. We all should select our battles carefully, particularly where matters as sensitive and personal as religion are concerned, and I just don’t think this is a hill any of us should want to die for. "


Blogger Sylvia said...

wow! very well said.

5:36 AM  

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