Images of Hate - Ministers of Fear
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
Absolute truth belongs
to Thee alone.
GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to receive unwelcome hostile attention from its enemies. Little has changed in the methodology, because the machinery of persecution is remarkably conservative. It involves the provision of alternative images of the enemy. If such an image does not exist, one is constructed The more negative the image, the more opposed to conventionally accepted norms of morality and religious belief of its victim, the more powerful and lasting are its effects.
Direct falsehood is a fundamental tool of persecution. Direct falsehoods in include the 'lie direct,' by which a statement is made and published which is not true. If the statement is difficult to verify so much the better. Unless a statement refers to historical details which are adequately documented it is hard to refute. As useful as the lie direct is the half-truth; in its customary form it contains some truth combined with an untruth, which enables the lie to be accepted, because the truth element makes the statement appear credible. As has been written,
A truth that's told with bad intent, beats all the lies you can invent.
Another ruse is decontextualization in which a statement or some detail of an event is taken from its context and quoted in isolation as a proof-text, or presented in a manufactured context which changes its meaning, to reinforce the false idea which is being projected. Exaggeration is based on truth which is expanded until it has become a lie. Statements belonging to particular incidents, that are applied to generalities, or from which inaccurate conclusions are drawn are frequently employed. This is a form of exaggeration which relies on a false premise. The false premise is used to justify the false conclusion, and the false conclusion is presented as the truth.
Distortion can make something innocent appear as inherently evil. A common defence of distorters is "it is a matter of interpretation." But distortion is deliberate twisting of the truth into something which it is not: It is a direct lie. Misinterpretation is perhaps easiest to understand. When we hold a particular view of a people and their institutions we are inclined to interpret information concerning them in a way that reinforces our opinions of them. When reasonable people are apprised of the misrepresentation they re-evaluate their opinion and the problem is solved. Unreasonable people remain convinced that their interpretation is correct, because appreciation of the true position removes the justification to continue persecution. Human pride can render this adjustment impossible.
How can we account for the continued existence of persecuting ministries? It is apparent that those engaged in them cynically ignore the explanations offered by Mormons, or else their minds are firmly closed. In such cases the ministries are successful. Jesus' enemies claimed that he was a bad man. They impugned his character and charged him with criminal offences. Yet Christians refuse to accept the character assigned to him by his religious enemies. Why then should the character of Joseph Smith be determined according to the malign view of his enemies? The evidence finds him blameless of the grave charges raised against him. It has been demonstrated that the charges of criminality and immorality raised against him were the inventions of his enemies.
If Joseph Smith was a fraud he was uncharacteristic. Frauds leave the arenas of their crimes when things get too hot. Joseph had no case to answer each time he was arraigned at the bar of justice. Forty-six times he was summoned to appear on a variety of charges and each time he was found innocent and acquitted. Considering that the legal system and civil government were hostile towards him, his record of acquittals was significant. The question of the origin of the Book of Mormon has but one enduring answer: it was divinely inspired, brought forth, and translated as Joseph claimed. All other theories of its origin have fallen by the way.
The claim that Mormons are not Christians has been looked at in its context. Some of the arguments are understandable only in the very particular light of the Nicean and Chalcedonian definitions. However, since these decrees, ancient and widely accepted as they are, are not immune from criticism in the light of New Testament studies and modern Christology they should not be used as the measure of orthodoxy. It is advantageous to re-examine the New Testament documents without looking for Trinitarian proof-texts, to discover exactly what Jesus and Paul said about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
The images of Latter-day Saints as devil-inspired occultists is readily dismissed by those who know any members of the Church. Those whose only knowledge of Church members is drawn from anti-Mormon publications will hold different impressions. Efforts to prove connections between Mormonism and paganism and occultism are desperate and far-fetched, and can only be given credence by the grossly uninformed. In all ages of history the Saints of God have found themselves surrounded by enemies. The war in heaven has not been concluded. The history of Christianity is littered with the corpses of those who paid penalties for thinking and worshipping differently from those with the numerical strength, influence with the civil powers, and wealth enough to make them pay heavily for dissent. The persecution 'heretics' is not sanctioned in the New Testament and cannot be justified by churches claiming a New Testament foundation.
What are the chances for peace? There have been many peace overtures between some of the larger denominations across the years. The Main difficulties are, and will remain, the unwillingness of each group to cede what they consider are fundamental principles and practices. The bridge between Roman Catholicism and Reformation Protestantism will never be bridged. The principal reasons being the claim of supremacy by the episcopacy of Rome; the insistence by Rome that Protestant orders of ministry are not valid; and the growing practice in Protestantism of the ordination of women. There are other reasons which may be as difficult to overcome but these are likely to remain after other difficulties have been resolved.
The pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council provided hope for the resolution of the Reformation dilemma. But such hopes as dared be expressed were too long coming and eventually crushed by the introduction of ideas into Protestantism that Catholicism continues to eschew. The Anglo-Methodist movement has most chance of success where the Anglican faction operates within parameters of social awareness and is contained within a lively and charismatic ministry. The East-West schism shows little sign of resolution owing to the claims of each of the main factions to be legal descendants of the Apostolic Church. In strictly human terms difficulties as fundamental as these are incapable of solution. No one relinquishes power with any degree of grace, it has to be wrested from their hands.
As the major denominations wrestle with the problems of being a Christian in the modern world and try to make theology and Christology, there are a growing number of marginalized sectarians who have taken upon themselves the task of interfering with the free exercise of the religion of other Christians in the mistaken belief that they are conducting a Christian ministry.
Beckford comments upon the fact that the generators of controversies pay little attention to the major sects, focusing their attention uniquely on those they have determined are heretical . A heretic is one who does not agree with me! By insisting upon our own orthodoxy we make heretics of all others. According to persecuting ministries heresy is a condition requiring urgent treatment. In this way it is made to resemble alcoholism or smallpox. The first because of the familial and social implications which arise from variant behaviour. The variant behaviour of the heretic is thought religiously deviant and, therefore, dangerous. It resembles smallpox because of the possibility of infecting others with its fatal spiritual viruses. However, the alcoholic becomes acceptable when he or she admits being alcoholic, seeks treatment, and conforms social behaviour to the norm. The smallpox victim is socially acceptable only when all danger of infection has passed. That is, when the spores have been exterminated. In the same way heretics become acceptable only when they denounce their former beliefs and stand in the ranks of the self-proclaimed orthodox. This is suitably and effectively demonstrated by the statement of the Christian Fellowship minister in the case of Brian Rendell.
...on the following Sunday, 2nd November, we met outside Holy Trinity Church, even though I had been at a Mormon meeting from 8 am until 12 noon that day. It was like nothing I had experienced before-people walking about greeting one another with genuine feelings, people enjoying the praise, and so on. During the evening someone spoke in tongues, which seemed very odd to me, then a translation was given, the basis being 2 Corinthians 6:18. Immediately I began to shake uncontrollably and Tricia, my friend, observed that the message was for me and that the Holy Spirit was trying to attract my attention. I was terrified and all I could think about was, 'I'm a Mormon.' Tricia said that I should go forward because the message was meant for me. In the end she lead me by the hand to the front and told Adrian, the vicar, who I was and how the Holy Spirit was affecting me. Adrian prayed over me and more than one person said they witnessed a black cat leave me and go out of the church.
At the end of the service I was invited into the vestry with a number of church members and my friend. They all prayed in tongues and to my utter amazement I found myself on the floor. Adrian then told me that to become a Christian I would have to publicly denounce Mormonism, and I would have to do so before Christmas, just eight weeks ago. [Letter to Ronnie Bray from Brian Rendell]
In this and similar ways Latter-day Saints are presented in terms corresponding to religious alcoholism, and spiritual smallpox: irresponsible, dangerous, potentially fatal. The significance of the black cat is left for wiser minds to pore over. It should not be difficult for sensible people to see the value of another's religious system. It does not matter whether an individual subscribes to a religion by way of their birth culture, or by becoming a member of a particular faith by personal conviction.
When Jesus told his disciples they were the "salt of the earth" he had something more in mind than the unique contribution they would make by taking spiritual enlightenment to those who dwelt "in the darkness." He made it plain in his teaching that each Christian has a responsibility to make the world a better place, by showing a living concern for one's neighbour. He illustrated this responsibility by the story of a Samaritan who cared for a Jew. The modern analogue would be an anti-Mormon who was careful of the sensitivity of a Latter-day Saint.
The Beatitudes convey in unmistakable power the nature of Christian belief, and the behaviour expected of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are ye, when men shall revile, you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
- Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Christians are meant to be humble, meek, seekers after righteousness, merciful, pure-hearted, peacemakers, and when persecuted should not abandon from Christian behaviour, but refrain from responding in kind, maintaining the principles set out above. Then what justification for persecuting ministry is left? None
But, some will protest, didn't Jesus speak out against hypocrites? Didn't he cleanse the Temple with some vigour? He did, but these activities are not on par with anti-Mormon ministries.
Jesus objected to what was taking place within the Temple, because greedy men were taking profit from the faithful. They were in it for the money. The Temple's purpose of worshipping the God of Israel, was being subverted by the noise of commercial undertakings such as money-changing, and the sale of sacrificial animals.
His objection to the hypocrites was directed at those who belonged to his own religion. Of the pagan religions which rubbed shoulders with Palestinian Judaism, Jesus was silent. His tirades against those of his own religion. This understanding should convince Christians that their primary concern is to set their own houses in order, not the abuse by any means of other religious groups.
A non-Latter-day Saint lawyer once advised that much of the abusive material put out by the anti-Mormon ministries was actionable in the law of libel. While that may be the case, recourse to legal remedies is not the answer. The most effective answer to hostile publications is the continual demonstration of the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of Church members. Such living testimony cannot be controverted. What the persecuted do in such circumstances will speak so loudly that the absurdity of these publications will be evident to all. Then the days of hostile ministries will be numbered.
Latter-day Saints should not allow anti-Mormon publications to disturb their tranquillity nor undermine their faith. They can rest secure in the knowledge that there are full and complete answers to the many false charges levelled against the Church and its people. Most of these charges have been previously answered, but the intransigence of the persecutors guarantees that they will be raised time and time again.
What is the appropriate response for a Latter-day Saint to make in the face of persecution? The Apostle Peter provided this valuable advice.
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither by troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.