Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hate Speech

This has been a week filled with hate speech directed primarily at Muslims, but also at other religious groups.

It began, of course, with a Florida preacher with a small congregation grabbing more than his share of headlines when he announced several weeks ago he intended to observe the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by burning copies of the Quran.  I can't even dignify that man by mentioning his name.

This past week even more evidence surfaced that hate speech is alive and well in America.  There is at least one Mormon, McKay Coppins, who writes for Newsweek Magazine.  He was on assignment in New York to cover the first meeting of something called the 9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero, a group seeking to offer itself as a "counter-balance" to the proposed Park 51 Mosque to be built near Ground Zero.

What Coppins was surprised to learn was this group seems to have little to do with Christianity.  Instead, he writes about the hate-filled rhetoric that assaulted his senses as a participant.  Writing as a Mormon, he was sensitive not only to the assault against Muslims, but he reports the preacher's wrath was specific and hateful for Mormons, gays, atheists, followers of Gandhi and Hindus alike.

Comparing himself to Elijah and his "contests" with the priests of Baal in the Old Testament, the fiery preacher, Florida evangelical Bill Keller screamed, “I want to talk about two of today’s prophets of Baal: Glenn Beck and Imam Feisal Rauf,” directing his fire and brimstone at two of the most talked-about media figures of the past month.  He has made a living out of shock rhetoric.

During the 2008 presidential primaries, for example, he was interviewed by both CNN and Bill O’Reilly when he launched an ad campaign declaring: “A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan.”

He doesn't stop there.  Islam, he contends is, "A wonderful religion for PEDOPHILES,” and Gandhi is apparently suffering eternal damnation even though Keller concedes "he might have been a nice guy.”  

If this "preacher" is seeking to illustrate how Christianity is superior to Islam, then God must surely want to re-invent Christianity.  Oh, I almost forgot, He did.  He gave the world Joseph Smith for that precise purpose to restore the lost doctrines, principles, priesthood and ordinances.

Much has been made of the on-again, off-again threats to burn the Quran today from another Floridian preacher, who I intentionally refuse to name by name.  Both these preachers make Christians cringe, but they have the right to speak their minds, guaranteed under the Constitution.

There is room for hope, however.  As the level of unsubstantiated hatred and vitriol rises, the more easily it can be discerned for what it is.  As the wheat and the tares grow together until the final harvest, the more recognizable each becomes and the risk of deception diminishes.  People of goodwill will someday come together in peace and unite under the banner of Zion as we prepare for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It seems there are those who believe they can hasten that day by doing exactly the opposite to bring it to pass.  But until that time we will see more and more goodness emerging too.

Like me, maybe you would be interested to know that in Jerusalem recently, representatives from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities gathered to discuss their respective religious traditions in an atmosphere of mutual respect, cordiality and brotherhood.  Mayor Teddy Kollek, the late and legendary mayor of Jerusalem who sought his entire life to bring peace to Jerusalem through cooperation with all the stake holders in the Holy City, would have been proud.  This is a pattern we could replicate wherever men and women of goodwill live together in harmony and mutual understanding.

Earlier this week, parent company of all the Church's media outlets, Deseret Media Companies, the owner of the Deseret News, KSL-TV and KSL Newsradio, issued a statement Thursday on civility in politics, aimed at elevating the tone and nature of engagement in the political arena.  It's a laudable effort, but as I have pointed out before, responsible political dialogue in this country founded upon the principles of free speech has been almost impossible to achieve even from the inception of the American experiment with freedom. 

As it turns out, freedom of speech is a messy proposition at best.  Grant the protected right and you open Pandora's Box.  Once the bell of freedom has been rung, you cannot "unring" the bell.  That's what makes freedom such a rare commodity and one to be prized.  It can be argued that dictatorships are much more reliable and predictable, but at what cost?  Most Americans prefer their freedom in messy, sticky, and unpredictable boxes where all that is seemingly left is hope, as opposed to dictatorial mandates imposed upon them not of their own choosing.

Upon this core belief hinges the outcome of the mid-term elections of 2010 on November 2nd.  It may perhaps be the last great hope for turning the direction of this country around before it slips over the edge into the abyss of Constitutional oblivion.

According to the DMC statement, political dialogue should:

•  Focus on issues and facts, not innuendo.
•  Discuss platforms and avoid personal attacks.
•  Inform rather than incite the electorate.
•  Avoid hyperbole in favor of balanced and reasoned discussion.
•  Afford respect and dignity to the political process, political opponents and other people regardless of race, nationality, religion and political viewpoint.

As Mormons we know something about hate, persecution and misrepresentation.  Our voices must always be for civility, understanding, cooperation and patience.  We must never find ourselves on the side of those who would belittle, demean or attack others for their religious beliefs.  When we see religious intolerance and hate speech, however, we must stand in bold opposition to it.

We are in a unique position, knowing what we know.  Ours is knowledge based upon modern revelation.  We know, we say we know, by the power of the Holy Ghost who has revealed truth to us, a personal witness now alight in the hearts and souls of a diverse and worldwide population of millions of Church members.  We know what it is to be attacked for our beliefs, and I am a witness those attacks will not subside nor diminish in volume and intensity in the years that lie ahead just because we seek a more compassionate dialogue. 

Elder Bruce R. McConkie offered this chilling prophetic insight on the occasion of the Church's sesquicentennial celebration in 1980: 

But what we can see causes us to rejoice and to tremble. We tremble because of the sorrows and wars and plagues that shall cover the earth. We weep for those in the true Church who are weak and wayward and worldly and who fall by the wayside as the caravan of the kingdom rolls forward.
We rejoice because of the glory and honor that awaits those who come forth out of all this tribulation with clean hands and pure hearts (see Psalm 24:4).
Looking ahead, we see the gospel preached in all nations and to every people with success attending.
We see the Lord break down the barriers so that the world of Islam and the world of Communism can hear the message of the restoration; and we glory in the fact that Ishmael — as well as Isaac — and Esau — as well as Jacob — shall have an inheritance in the eternal kingdom.
We see congregations of the covenant people worshipping the Lord in Moscow and Peking and Saigon. We see Saints of the Most High raising their voices in Egypt and India and Africa.
We see stakes of Zion in all parts of the earth; and Israel, the chosen people, gathering into these cities of holiness, as it were, to await the coming of their King.
We see temples in great numbers dotting the earth, so that those of every nation and kindred and tongue and people can receive the fulness of the ordinances of the house of the Lord and can qualify to live and reign as kings and priests on earth a thousand years.
We see the seed of Cain — long denied that priestly power which makes men rulers over many kingdoms — rise up and bless Abraham as their father.
We see the Saints of God, who are scattered upon all the face of the earth, rise in power and glory and stand as lights and guides to the people of their own nations.
We see our children and our children’s children stand firm in defense of truth and virtue, crowned with the power of God, carrying off the kingdom triumphantly.
We see the faithful Saints perfecting their lives and preparing for the coming of him whose children they are, preparing for the glorious mansion he has promised them in the kingdom of his Father.
But the vision of the future is not all sweetness and light and peace. All that is yet to be shall go forward in the midst of greater evils and perils and desolations than have been known on earth at any time.
As the Saints prepare to meet their God, so those who are carnal and sensual and devilish prepare to face their doom.
As the meek among men make their calling and election sure, so those who worship the God of this world sink ever lower and lower into the depths of depravity and despair.
Amid tears of sorrow — our hearts heavy with forebodings — we see evil and crime and carnality covering the earth. Liars and thieves and adulterers and homosexuals and murderers scarcely seek to hide their abominations from our view. Iniquity abounds. There is no peace on earth.
We see evil forces everywhere uniting to destroy the family, to ridicule morality and decency, to glorify all that is lewd and base. We see wars and plagues and pestilence. Nations rise and fall. Blood and carnage and death are everywhere. Gadianton robbers fill the judgment seats in many nations. An evil power seeks to overthrow the freedom of all nations and countries. Satan reigns in the hearts of men; it is the great day of his power.
But amid it all, the work of the Lord rolls on. The gospel is preached and the witness is born. The elect of God forsake the traditions of their fathers and the ways of the world. The kingdom grows and prospers, for the Lord is with his people.
Amid it all, there are revelations and visions and prophecies. There are gifts and signs and miracles. There is a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.
Amid it all believing souls are born again, their souls are sanctified by the power of the Spirit, and they prepare themselves to dwell with God and Christ and holy beings in the eternal kingdom.
Is it any wonder that we both rejoice and tremble at what lies ahead?
Truly the world is and will be in commotion, but the Zion of God will be unmoved. The wicked and ungodly shall be swept from the Church, and the little stone will continue to grow until it fills the whole earth.
The way ahead is dark and dreary and dreadful. There will yet be martyrs; the doors in Carthage shall again enclose the innocent. We have not been promised that the trials and evils of the world will entirely pass us by.
If we, as a people, keep the commandments of God; if we take the side of the Church on all issues, both religious and political; if we take the Holy Spirit for our guide; if we give heed to the words of the apostles and prophets who minister among us — then, from an eternal standpoint, all things will work together for our good.
Our view of the future shall be undimmed, and, whether in life or in death, we shall see our blessed Lord return to reign on earth. We shall see the New Jerusalem coming down from God in heaven to join with the Holy City we have built. We shall mingle with those of Enoch’s city while together we worship and serve the Lord forever.  (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory,” Ensign, May 1980, 71, emphasis mine).

We tremble and we rejoice.  Well said.

But make no mistake about it, Zion will triumph in these last days, and many of our children and grandchildren will live to witness the unity of the faith seemingly so elusive in our present circumstances.  We know how this all ends. . .

. . . and our rejoicing will outpace our trembling.

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