Images of people with rage-distorted faces chanting slogans and holding up signs with mottos like, “God hates fags,” and “Obama’s a baby killer” have damaged the evangelical movement in the eyes of many Americans. My sons and their families are evangelicals, so I know that hatred of those with different opinions and lifestyles is not typical of evangelicals—nor is it limited to them.
I was happy to see, on a recent Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program that Focus on Family, one of the more strident evangelical groups, is working to incorporate more Christian behavior into the defense of that they consider key moral issues.
Leaders of Focus on Family are now talking to gay rights and pro-choice groups in their Colorado Springs community. With their history of animosity, the process is difficult, but both sides feel it is worthwhile to meet together to seek common ground. Some mmbers of the FOF group, energized by previous leader James Dobson’s denouncement of liberals, feminists, and gay activists, accuse current leader, Jim Daly, of surrendering to the enemy.
It will be interesting to see how the change of leadership in FOF plays out. It’s much easier to lead a group by revving up fear and anger than by encouraging rational thought. And it’s human nature to prefer limiting our friends and associates to those who agree with us. Daly admits the harsh rhetoric and partisanship of the past have alienated young people. Will he be able to lead his group into a stance that keeps their moral values without hatefully opposing those who differ?
I think Mormon leaders have a similar situation to that of Daly. General Authorities have softened their stance on gay rights. They have come out for humane treatment of illegal immigrants. They espouse political neutrality. Still, with all the rules about what may and may not be used as source material for Church lessons and talks, far-out quotes from past leaders are often heard in talks, lessons, and discussions. It’s easier to rev people up against “so-called intellectuals,” gays, and feminists, than to put the genie back in the bottle and get members to exhibit more Christian behavior.
Americans have a tradition of being intolerant of religions other than our own. Persecuted minorities who came to America for freedom of worship soon kicked out dissenters like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. Puritans even justified the death penalty for Quakers. In the 19th century, Catholics and Mormons were victims of prejudice and persecution as were Jews in the first half of the 20th century. Being aware of our history makes the current hysteria against Muslims understandable if not justifiable.
Yesterday my devout Mormon daughter and her family came for dinner along with some non-Mormon family members. My five-year-old grandson, Plato, watched me prepare a pitcher of iced tea and asked if it was garlic herbal tea which his mother gives him when he’s sick. I said no and he asked what kind of tea it was. “Green tea.” “Is that against the Word of Wisdom?” “Yes it is.” “Are you going to have some?” And here I hesitated. I don’t care to undermine the teachings of his parents. And I do want them to continue coming to see us. Since I don’t feel comfortable lying to a child, I answered that I would probably choose to drink some iced tea. “I won’t,” he said. “That’s good. You should not choose to drink tea,” I agreed. Fortunately, Plato was distracted by an opened bag of potato chips at that point. He will have to sort out later the fact that some adults he loves don’t follow the same teachings his parents give him.
When my grandchildren who are being raised in an evangelical religion get a bit older, I’m sure they also will find that Granny and Granddad don’t adhere to every religious principle their parents consider important. I hope that having family members with differing religious beliefs will benefit our grandchildren. I hope they will learn that good people are found in many religions and in no religions. And I hope they will realize that respecting other people’s beliefs in no way diminishes the validity of their own. If they can, they’ll be light years ahead of most Americans.
A speaker at a FAIR (Forum for Apologetic Information and Research) conference last week created a stir by revealing a survey showing that Mormons are unfavorably viewed by non-Mormons. And I mean really unfavorably—5 to 1. Apparently this news shocks Mormons who seldom associate with non-members. But, if it’s any consolation, Jews and Catholics didn’t fare very well in this survey, either. The unfavorable ratio for Jews was 7 to 2 and for Catholics 2 to 1. Had Muslims been added to the survey, I suspect Mormons would not have been at the bottom.
What this survey does prove is the simple truth that human beings dislike other humans with differing beliefs. I’ve been engaged in a few discussions with persons who ignore my (of course) well-reasoned comments and try to put words in my mouth—“then you think . . .” Not respecting my opinions enrages me, so I find myself responding with snide rather than wise, analytical remarks. Unless I’m itching for a fight, I tend to limit conversations with many people to the weather and food.
Disliking or even fearing those who think differently leads Americans to segregating ourselves into red and blue neighborhoods and to restricting friendships within our own church or other group. If you live and work in Utah, you’ve probably experienced situations at work where the church group stops talking abruptly when a non-member appears. No doubt, this occurs in other majority/minority situations.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis creates an afterlife where everyone goes to heaven. The catch is that only those willing to give up their sins can stay. Most wannabe angels forego heaven for a hell where nobody hassles them to give up their favorite sins. But there’s another catch. These non-heavenly beings continually fight with each other. And each time they engage in conflict, they are moved farther away from others. Seriously aggressive beings end up isolated in outer space.
Of course, Lewis’s book is listed as fiction. But I don’t know. Based on my limited experience, outer space may be the best place for those of us who can’t appreciate differences of belief.
As a gawky junior high kid, I loved MIA firesides. Dressing up and checking out guys from beyond my ward boundary was a cool way to spend Sunday evenings. As I advanced into high school, I enjoyed firesides less since they tended to dwell on chastity and I wasn’t having much opportunity to practice dating let alone restraint of passion. So I gave up on firesides until I qualified for those aimed at Young Marrieds.
Firesides (did we copy the name from FDR or was he copying us?) are an optional LDS meeting. Everyone is invited, but, unlike Sunday block meetings, it’s not a duty to attend. I like having the agency to choose my meetings. If Chieko Okasaki is speaking, I’ll forego Desperate Housewives to hear what she has to say. If the speaker is Sheri Dew, I’ll stay home. I already know my divine role on earth is motherhood.
Voting with my feet has always been my way of registering disapproval. That is why the Harry Reid fireside incident disturbs me. Apparently, a LV stake presidency scheduled Brother Reid as a speaker on their “Why I Believe” series of stake firesides. A flood of angry protests ensued. Both the senator and the stake presidency who invited him were called evil minions of Satan and threatened. The fireside was cancelled due to safety concerns.
Why couldn’t church members who disagree with the senator’s politics have just stayed home? The fireside was not a political rally. It was an opportunity for Senator Reid to share his conversion story and bear his testimony. Why the fear that anyone who doesn’t share all our opinions is an enemy?
I wonder how people unable to see a church member of an opposing political party as a child of God treat family members who differ from their opinions. Is love for their spouse or child conditioned on adherence to correct political beliefs?
Drawing our circles to include only members of our own faith and members of our own political persuasion restricts our associates and our opportunities to learn and grow. And if we restrict our circle to members of our own party and church, what’s to keep us from tightening the circle to exclude people of different skin colors, different ethnic origins, different incomes, even different occupations? The circle could even constrict enough to exclude fans of different sports teams, drivers of different cars, owners of different styles of homes, non-home owners. The circle could shrink until it includes only the self. At that point, the circle becomes a noose. Shouldn’t church help us to expand our circles and keep us from choking ourselves off from the rest of humankind?