Monday, July 13, 2015

The Cycle of Prosperity and Persecution: Where are We Now?

If you had to summarize the Book of Mormon, you'd probably say something about Christ appearing on the American Continent and the many cycles of war and peace upon the land. The people of God are blessed, they prosper, they become prideful, wealth disparities occur, then war ravages them until they reach humility, after which they return to God's favor. Play on repeat.

Right now many members of the Church claim that we are in the war segment of such a cycle. They're saying we're being attacked, persecuted at every turn, not unlike the Mormon pioneers of old. They are using the recent ruling by the SCOTUS supporting marriage-equality as proof of this. Now, me personally, I take that word 'persecution' pretty seriously. Its mention conjures up images of the Saints being forced out of Nauvoo during winter, the slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica, and a whole host of other terrible tragedies targeting those whose religious beliefs were found unpalatable by the masses. So when this judicial ruling didn't invalidate my marriage, nor prevent me from attending church as I normally do on Sundays, I felt that perhaps our take on this moment in history was perhaps a little off.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about ensuring religious freedom, I sustain the union of man and woman as divine, and so on. I'm just not so sure that the broadening of civil liberties in America constitutes an assault on all we hold sacred and dear. Admittedly, I'm also a little uncomfortable by all the us vs. them rhetoric I've been hearing from the pulpit lately. I've always liked my testimonies solid and on point, not relying on comparisons to a perceived "other."

What exactly got us into combat-mode?

I think part of it has to do with our (cultural) Mormon identity. We've been the underdog, the peculiar people, the outcast for so long that it's just kinda our thing. And yet, lately we've had several prominent LDS politicians in the spotlight, the name of our unique scripture is plastered across Broadway, our celebrity members shine, and both temple ad meetinghouse growth is booming. Our Church has basically undergone a She's All That moment and perhaps we're afraid to walk across that stage and accept our prom queen crown for fear of losing ourselves.

So instead we're going on the defense, battening down the hatches on everything that makes us unique in this lone and dreary world. Gonna defend that Proclamation so hard your great-grandkids are going to feel nurtured.

Because the other factor I think is at play here is an unwillingness to acknowledge privilege. -- Oh, there's that word again. -- To accept that, all things considered, Latter-day Saints are actually living in the times of plenty is to bring upon ourselves an obligation to do something with our riches. And to be sure, the Church's humanitarian arm has done and continues to do many great things in this regard. But now, if the Book of Mormon is any indication (and I believe that it is), that change is going to have to occur on an individual scale in order to quell the wave of pride that is surely threatening us.

How is this to be done?

Last week, after the SCOTUS ruling, I received a notification about a conference on religious freedom to be held at BYU. I asked on the open forum if there would be discussion of what is currently happening among historically African-American churches, namely that they are under threat of arson. The organization behind the post would not reply to me, but another member of the Church took it upon himself to "inform" me that such churches already have legal protections. (A lot good those laws are doing as 5-6 churches have since gone down in flames.) The discussion then returned to describing a sense of persecution among Church members, especially as they feared loss of tax-exempt status. The take-home message, for me at least, was that we are at war! This is a time to focus inward! But in contrast to that inwardness, a beautiful act was demonstrated by our Islamic brothers and sisters. Despite their own struggles, a group of American Muslims reached out to raise tens of thousands of dollars during Ramadan to rebuild the destroyed churches. Why? First, because charity is pleasing to God, especially as it unites His faithful. Second, these Muslims saw that they were in a position to help those who are literally under attack, specifically African-Americans. In other words, they acknowledged their own wealth (figurative or otherwise) and felt compelled to address a disparity, just as we're admonished to do in the Book of Mormon. I am so grateful for that example, and I hope others look to it, as well.

Closing thoughts...

Am I being ignorant to the threats made to my religious freedom today? That's possible. But what I do know is that playing the victim doesn't empower me. Gratitude does. Seeing where I've been richly blessed gives me a duty to share with others and I find that to be more helpful than being focused on, even paralyzed by fear of persecution. That choice is our to make, no man-made law could ever change that.

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