Friday, March 30, 2007

They just don't get it

General Conference starts tomorrow, and I have been looking forward to this one even more than usual because this time around, I feel a special need for the spiritual nourishment it always affords. To borrow a phrase from Pope John Paul II, the past three years have truly been my "dark night of the soul," but I also wonder if I am a bit like the early apostles who figured in a vision related by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He had the vision while some of the apostles were in Great Britain, taking part in the first overseas missionary effort by the restored Church. According to the story, the Prophet saw the apostles standing about and looking at the ground, obviously downcast and discouraged amid their adversities. Just above the apostles, but unseen by them, hovered the Savior, with open arms, waiting and wanting to help them, and weeping at their plight -- but even more because of their failure to look upward, at Him, rather than downward and into the mud. It has been said that Joseph was never able to relate this story without weeping himself. In recent years, I myself have spent a lot of time looking into the mud, but it doesn't seem to have done me a whole lot of good.

But all of that is only marginally related to my reasons for writing today's post. A few days ago I learned of a new anti-Mormon DVD being distributed by a group of evangelical Christians in areas with large LDS populations. Some 350,000 of them are earmarked for distribution in Utah, and something like 150,000 others targeted elsewhere, including here in Arizona. The DVDs are placed in white plastic bags, which are then hung outside individual homes on doorknobs. An accompanying letter, sent to the distributors but obviously not intended for the general public, stresses that the DVDs are to be seen only by "Christians" until after March 25, because the Church would presumably issue an edict banning its members from seeing the production -- and, being the kind of people we are, we would of course "blindly follow" such a directive. The idea apparently is to put the videos in our hands before our cult leaders can issue the order. (Parenthetically, I wonder what these people think of all the successful LDS doctors, businessmen, educators, and other professional people who sacrifice their careers or put them on hold in order to accept a calling to serve as a mission president -- or of the two apostles called in 1984, one of whom at that time was a justice on the Utah Supreme Court, and the other a world-renowned heart surgeon. Come to think of it, Elders Oaks and Nelson do sort of strike me as "blind followers" totally unable to think for themselves, or perhaps willing participants in an evil conspiracy. But I digress.)

I have not yet seen that white bag hanging from my doorknob. Perhaps the distributors are unaware that I am LDS, or perhaps they figure I am grasped so firmly in the clutches of the Church that entrusting me with the fruit of their labors would serve no useful purpose. There is at least a shade of truth to the latter conjecture, as I have absolutely no intention of watching the video, which I understand to be a sort of updated, professionally-produced version of "The Godmakers." I have never seen "The Godmakers" all the way through, but 10 years or so ago I watched about half of it, and found it to be so deeply and utterly offensive that I simply could not stand to see any more of it. I thought it revealed far more about the people who produced it than it did about the Mormons. That film, and similar tactics commonly employed by supposedly well-meaning people who say they are merely trying to reclaim us in a "loving" way, have long since convinced me that their wearying, trite, and endlessly-repeated accusation that Latter-day Saints are not Christian is actually a badge of honor. I don't even want to be a Christian if it requires me to be anything like Ed Decker and others of his ilk.

My decision to ignore the video was not difficult -- I had a far tougher time deciding what to have for lunch today -- and it was in no way based on directives from the leadership of our evil and satanic cult, either the local leaders or the bigwigs in Salt Lake City. It stems instead from the simple fact that I have been a Latter-day Saint for 37 years, am devoted to the Church and what it believes and stands for, and cannot really imagine myself as being anything else. This is a very difficult faith to live, which I freely admit; and what doubts I do have center not around the doctrines, claims, or practices of the Church, but on whether I really have what it takes to be a Latter-day Saint. The Church demands a lot from its members, and some of its expectations and requirements involve things that do not come to me easily or naturally. But like Peter, I ask where else I would go, as the words of eternal life are right here where I am now. Besides, when I decided at age 16 to join the Church, part of what attracted me to it was the very fact that I knew it would expect so much from me. Even then, I understood instinctively what Joseph Smith had once said, to the effect that any religion that failed to demand sacrifice from its members could not generate the kind of faith necessary for salvation. And so it is that the Church has been the one constant in my otherwise unsettled and checkered life, and I keep plugging away at trying to be a faithful member, my weaknesses and all notwithstanding.

One final thought on the video before I close. I visited the Newsroom on the Church's official website a short while ago. There was a link to the Church's response to the video, which was brief and to the point and made plenty of sense. But I could not help noting the juxtaposition of the news about the latest anti-Mormon tool being posted next to other articles describing some of the ongoing activities of our dark and sinister cult, to-wit: "Quilters Sew to Help Homeless Families;" "Church Works to Save Infants Through Neonatal Resuscitation Training;" "Spontaneous Generosity is Mark of [LDS] Community;" "Mormon Helping Hands Clean Up Areas Affected by Tornadoes;" "Church Program Helps Victims of Domestic Violence;" and "Latter-day Saint Women Clothe Preemies in Canada."

I have read the New Testament more than 50 times, and distinctly recall the Savior mentioning, in the Sermon on the Mount, that His true followers would be known by their fruits. Somehow I think this short list of some of our activities accords more with the Savior's expectations of professed Christians than distribution of a DVD full of unfair and offensive attacks on religious beliefs held by other people to be deeply sacred.


Blogger Sylvia said...

very interesting!!

2:45 AM  
Blogger Bruce Young said...

Beautifully stated, Garry. I don't mind people disagreeing with me theologically--I enjoy discussing those differences if we do it in a spirit of good will. But I get irritated when people misrepresent--grossly--the intentions, spirit, and character of people I love and know well and that they don't know at all.

There's something dark and destructive in demonizing people in that way, even with the best of intents. Hence the inspiration in Gamaliel's words about the early Christians, quoted in Acts 5:38-39 (see also verses 34-37): "And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

I don't get as irritated as I used to, though. Maybe my faith has increased that God will of course turn all of this to good. And I keep thinking of the words of Jesus: "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: . . . for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matth. 5:12; also verse 11: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake").

One more note: As I told someone last night, let's make sure we never treat others in same negative way we feel they're treating us.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Thank you for that comment, Bruce. Like you, I find this kind of stuff less annoying as I grow older, although I don't think I will ever get to the point where it ceases to bother me at all. At the very least, it will always trouble me to know that there are people in the world who actually take seriously the libels, misrepresentations, and innuendo that have been leveled against the Church ever since it was founded more than 175 years ago.

But as I tell my daughter, one does not join this Church in order to become popular. I have been a Latter-day Saint for 37 years, which comprises my entire adult life and the last three years or so of my adolescence. My decision to join the Church generated more criticism from more people than anything else I have ever done, before or since. But it is also by far the best thing I have ever done, and as I once said to a good friend who is an evangelical Christian, and who has known me for about 40 years, nobody can deny that being a member of this church has been good for me. To my friend's credit, she agreed.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Bruce Young said...

One more thing while I'm thinking of it: I believe Pope John Paul II got that phrase "the dark night of the soul" from St. John of the Cross. In any case, the phrase has been around for a long time and describes something of a universal experience.

And as long as we've brought up the former pope--he was something of a philosopher, and among his favorite thinkers (I've been told) were C. S. Lewis and Emmanuel Levinas (see for more!).

3:03 PM  

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