Persecution and a Small Voice
Easter Sunday, our Relief Society Lesson from the Joseph Smith manual on the Responding to Persecution. In graduate school, I studied religious persecution in England from the 16th to 18th centuries. It has always saddened me to read the recording of a woman on trial for her life, as she recounted her belief in whether or not the sacramental wafer was the actual body of Christ. If nothing else, this has given me a strong appreciation for the founders of the United States who realized that the government’s non-involvement in religion is what would allow religions to flourish. Because of my religious belief, I want to uphold the separation of church and state, and I guard that freedom most dearly. Sure, I can’t legally force others to believe as I do, but they can’t do the same to me. I glory in that.
During the lesson, I began to feel uncomfortable with the accuracy of some of the ideas suggested, such as the idea that Mormons never amassed weapons to defend themselves against the mobs, that Mormons were the only group severely persecuted for their religious beliefs in America, and that Mormons always went as lambs to the slaughter when mobs came, choosing peace over their own lives. While I don’t necessarily agree with these statements any longer, I understand them. These are the interpretations I’ve heard my whole life in the Church. These are the historical interpretations everyone expects to hear.
The instructor then asked for someone to recite the 11th Article of Faith:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
After the recitation, the instructor then said: “What about modern-day persecution of the Church? What about California’s Prop 8? How does that apply to the 11th Article of Faith?”
My heart was pounding inside. Knocking on my chest. I knew that the answer the instructor expected was not what I felt in my heart. I had sat still during the 19th-century persecution stories, but tying it into this contemporary issue, an issue over which I struggled and mulled over, was hitting me to the core.
No one responded for awhile, and the instructor repeated her question: “How does Prop 8 tie into the 11th Article of Faith?”
Hardly without my knowledge, and without any preparation of what I might say, my hand shot up. When called upon, I said, “Well, some people think that marriage is a religious thing, that it’s part of worship.”
“Yes…” was the instructor’s reply, and some women nodded.
“So…” I said, my heart still pounding, and my hands matching the shaking in my voice, “Maybe we should allow people to marry whom they want?”
My comment hung out there in the silence. I felt on the verge of tears. Nervously, I unwrapped a small bag of chocolate-covered cinnamon bears and started popping them into my mouth, one after another. Anything to distract myself from what I had just said.
The Relief Society president chimed in: “Proposition 8 was a very emotional and personal issue for many people, on both sides of the issue. It affects people’s families, on both sides of the issue. It was a divisive issue.”
A less-active single mother who sometimes attends with her mother then said, “Our purpose here is to love everyone. It doesn’t matter if they are gay or straight. Christ said to love everyone. Period.”
There were several other comments about how we should strive to be less judgmental and more tolerant. For once, I felt like I was not entirely alone in that room with my unorthodox opinions. For once, I felt like a member of my ward’s Relief Society. I felt, for a moment, I had found my voice.