Persecution and a Small Voice

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by Alisa

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.

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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32 Responses

  1. jddaughter says:

    I dream of this happening some day to me.

  2. jddaughter says:

    some day…should be someday.

  3. Beckysoup61 says:

    I hope this would happen to me. I haven’t been in some time due to the fact that I know politics has been discussed, but I can’t wait to go back.

  4. Caroline says:

    Wow. I’m impressed with the women in your R.S. And with you for raising your hand and giving that answer. Well done!

  5. Mossie says:

    This gave me chills. Thank you.

  6. Flygirl says:

    Wow, that is great Alisa, way to speak up. I was often afraid to speak up in lessons, afraid no one felt the same as me. But probably there were many that felt similarly and didn’t speak up either. I love how finding your voice helps others feel they can do the same.

  7. Jessawhy says:

    This is absolutely beautiful.
    I am so proud of you. I hope you can remember this moment for a long time and it will make it easier for you to speak up in the future.
    You are an example to all of us.
    Thank you for sharing!

  8. G says:

    I second everyone else- well done for chiming in. and for doing it in a way that opened it up for understanding among others.
    (whenever I get brave enough to open my mouth, I often find rather ungraceful stuff coming out.)

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I can count on one hand the times I’ve spoken up. Your post gives me hope that I can improve in this area. Well done, Alisa!

  10. Kristen says:

    So brave!! So beautiful that they didn’t jump all over you.

    I’m newly back in Relief Society, so sitting through the lesson that interprets Mormons to be perfectly innocent in history was really painful. That and the teacher kept asking, “What would Joseph Smith have us do?” It was creepy.

  11. Kelly Ann says:

    So part of me is pleased that you spoke up. But part of me is pretty pissed at the teacher for asking that question twice in the first place.

  12. Kelly Ann says:

    I think I would have answered something to the effect of …

    “That is a loaded question. Prop 8 was and still is a divisive issue for a lot of members of the church. People can think that the church is persecuted for it’s position or that it is persecuting others. To avoid a heated political discussion (which is better suited outside of relief society), perhaps we should focus on how can we respond to other more general types of modern persecution. Like …”

    Honestly, I’d try to stifle the subject – I’m not sure what that says about me, other than my Prop 8 scabs are still fresh and I hate the mix of politics and religion. I like discussing it but not in an organized church setting.

    However, it scares me that as much as I seek others opinions online that I am not comfortable seeking the same in church. As this has propelled my lessened activity, one-on-one I am trying to be more open about my opinions and “apostasy.”

  13. frankg says:

    Just for the record, my experience I’ve been taught over the years (though not at first) that some mormons added to the tensions and warfare in that area at the time. Still don’t think people deserved to die for it. But I suspect that was part of the frontier. Reading other histories of it, pistols, and knives, duels, and big egos were common, and it didn’t take much to start a melee. I’ve skimmed histories of the Missouri Kansas war (1850’s), civil war (1860’s) in that area, it may have been even worse AFTER mormons left. But I understand you are referring to your experience.

  14. mb says:

    Kelly Ann, how do we know that the teacher didn’t ask the question twice hoping that one of the class members would see and verbalize exactly what Alisa said? I prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt and see her asking the question as a positive thing.

    Certainly it is a tender topic and it takes courage to take a compassionate stand when people on both sides of the issue are so quick to feel attacked and vulnerable. I see Alisa’s story as a manifestation of people on both sides of the aisle getting past their fears of being attacked and instead being considerate.

    For me it is a hopeful story with heroines all through it.

    Good for the teacher for asking a question instead of just making a statement about what she thought the connection was. It sounds to me, from Alisa’s description, that her decision to pose the question did exactly what any good teacher hopes a good question will: allow the students to make insightful connections for themselves and share those with each other.

    So I’m glad she asked the question.

    And I’m glad Alisa responded as she did. It sounds like the two created some good sharing of insights.

  15. Kiri Close says:

    LOVE this! (lol!)

    I would like to add that there were several indigenous religions on the now called American continent long before the arrival of persecuted European-pilgrims & the later founders of its current occupying governing entity, ‘Uncle Sam’.

    ;o)

  16. Kelly Ann says:

    MB, I agree it was a positive experience. It does sound like it resulted well for all involved.

    However, maybe I’m inclined to steer away from potential conflicts, because besides being easier to ignore, it is hard to assess intentions. I encounter a lot of combative comments.

    Maybe that is why I am more comfortable in a forum like this, where generally people are here because they are interested in a second perspective, and the balance is shifted in terms of the number of combatitive comments.

    But to clarify, I am particularly sensitive to this subject because the churches involvement in the Prop8 campaign and various experiences (including comments from members) absolutely pulvarized my faith. I am still debating if I can recover.

    It would be easier to ignore it, but if I am to return, I have to combat it and put myself in situations where I am comfortable to discuss it to figure out where to go from here.

  17. John Willis says:

    I taught this lesson in Elders Quorum today. I took a similar approach to the one you did in your comments. I tried to emphasize that the backlash the church has experienced from proposition 8 isn’t anything like the Missouri Persections discussed in the lesson.
    But I also emphasized the need to be tolerant and respectful of our opponents if the Church chooses to be involved in politcal issues.
    I know one person was upset because I didn’t teach solely from the manual, but again I wanted people to think about the issues.

  18. mb says:

    Kelly Ann,

    I understand. I have family members all over the map on this issue and they have, every one of them, no matter their take on it, felt hurt and undermined if not outright attacked. Pain and anguish on both sides of the issue have caused many people on both sides to either respond in constantly defensive or retreat modes or, worse, offensive ones (pre-emptive strikes?) in order to deflect more injury to themselves, and they injure others in the process. It’s a very human response, (we all had it down well by the time we were three years old) but it obviously makes the situation worse, not better.

    My sense is that this has been a time when good-hearted people on both sides are learning whether or not they could really and truly “turn the other cheek” in the face of hard smitings, and not retreat into anguish of soul or hurt back.

    Responding with love, a sense of self and purpose, and a turned cheek takes more courage and more healing time than I had ever imagined when I first learned that principle as a Primary child.

    Easy to talk about. Much harder to do. And you are right, I think. Forums where one can feel listened to and accepted, are helpful in helping one heal and feel more at peace, both of which, for me, are essential to my ability to actually do that cheek turning and love in return. Being lovingly accepted by others is a profoundly powerful enabler, for me, to respond kindly to others who are less kindly disposed.

    I am hopeful that you will heal and rise wisely and compassionately from the painful experiences you’ve had in the interactions that you refer to. I sense from your writing that you will.

  19. d says:

    We had this lesson today at RS. One sister who’s daughter’s a lesbian shared about their family’s stand on Prop 8. They love their daughter but believed homosexual marriage is wrong. They decided as a family (with the daughter in that meeting) that they would not publicly announce their support to Prop 8 like posting signs on their front yard but will vote for it. This decision was made when Church leaders counseled them to make sure that their daughter knows that she is loved. She said you can still love the person without having to condone the act. The daughter used to live with them at that time and was fully aware of this. At RS class today, the mother made the announcement that their daughter just graduated in the airforce academy last week and got married to a man. She was very happy and said she has a very good feeling they are going to be married in the temple. She and her husband volunteers in the temple.

    This story is very important to me because I was assigned as the daughter’s visiting teacher. Because of her chosen lifestyle, the mother felt it not wise to visit her as the daughter was not very comfortable with it. She hasn’t come to church in years. So, I just wrote her letters. I wrote her letters even when she moved out of town and out of state. The parents just forward my letters to her. I mostly wrote about myself, my life, my testimony, fears, and triumphs but not mention anything about her choices. I never got any response from her but her mother told me that she did read my mails.

    There is no set pattern as to how to respond to persecution or how to stand for what you know is right. I do know that if you follow the Savior, the Holy Ghost will show you the way. I believe we can have different opinions but still love each other. Eventually, which may not be in our lifetime, the truth will prevail.

  20. Alicia says:

    This is a beautiful example of how to state your beliefs without being offensive! Your remark was rooted and expressed in love. Your Relief Society President even spoke up. This is not yet the type of conversation my ward will have but it gives me hope that the women in your ward are courageous enough to test the waters of more open, honest and heartfelt conversation over issues that really do affect us deeply.

  21. lolgrammy says:

    I will be teaching this lesson on Sunday. It’s the hardest lesson I’ve been asked to teach so far. I hope no one brings up the Prop. 8 thing because I don’t want anyone to leave with hurt feelings.

    I think the comments here are interesting. It’s good for me to see a diverse point of view and to try to understand where others are coming from. I just don’t understand why this is such a divisive issue. My son is an alcoholic. I love him. I hate his drinking. If someone stood in church and said that drinking was wrong and hurtful and the Savior would not approve, I would shake my head in agreement and be sad that my son was making poor choices. Homosexuality is similar in that is in opposition to the docterines of the gospel. We can love everyone, while not approving of everything they do.

    Why is there even any debate about his? Why are people so defensive about it? I realize I sound insensitive but please understand that I have made poor choices in my life also and had to come to the hard truth that I was not living the way the Savior wanted me to. I didn’t expect everyone to tip toe around the subject. In fact, I think it would have been detrimental to me for them to do so. Prophets have spoken about this issue forever. The Prophet asked members of the church in California to donate their time and means to Prop. 8. When the prophet has spoken, why is there still a debate? He didn’t do it out of hatred. He did it because he is responsible for the spiritual well being of all of us as our spiritual leader. He also stated that we are free to chose for ourselves. Our church membership would not be in jeopardy if we did not follow his counsel. My feeling is that we are spiritually in jeopardy when we come out in opposition to anything the prophet says.

    I’m sorry if this sounds curt. I don’t mean for it too. I know it’s a sensitive subject and I’m just trying to bottom line my thoughts.

  22. lolgrammy says:

    I wonder why my comment wasn’t posted?

  23. Alisa says:

    lolgrammy, I do see your point. However, the prophet chose to target his letter to only the saints in California. I know that if he wanted me to hear the same counsel, he would have sent a letter to the leaders in my area. In having an opinion based off of the two greatest commandments Jesus gave, plus the 11th article of faith, I believe that I am following what the prophet would want me to do.

    The Church has asked members to not take advice that was given over the pulpit in one location for a specific audience and spread those comments in an unsanctioned way to members in other locations. This applies to targeted First Presidency letters and to talks GAs might give in local congregations. If the prophet wants to give direction for the Church as a whole, I believe he will do that in a way that reaches the entire group and a way that can be reproduced by the official Church, not just a small segment, such as a letter to local leaders in California.

  24. Susan says:

    I loved this lesson. I live in So. Cal. and gave it just before the airing of the “Big Love” temple ceremony episode. What an amazing “coincidence” that after over 300 lessons in this series, we would be talking about “Living with others Peace and Harmony”. Who knew?

    The Prop 8 issue was a natural tie in. I’ve been concerned about the finger waving on both sides. I shared this personal story with the sisters…

    My non-member son-in-law who grew up and lives in Hollywood lost his brother to aids. While at his home for a week to help with their newborn baby, I was working on this lesson using a discreet printout. One day, he sat down next to me and asked what I was doing. I told him and he asked what the lesson was on. I told him.

    My son-in-law thought that the lesson was hypocritical considering how much we supported on Prop 8! Thank goodness I had just read the opening story about Joseph’s encounter with the hostile militiamen.

    I listened to his heartfelt feelings and said that I understood how he would feel that way. Then I read him Joseph’s quotes concerning “respecting the freedom of all people to believe according to their own conscience”, “free independence”, “having liberal sentiments, and feelings of charity toward all sect”, etc. See page 344 – absolutely amazing!

    He cheered on Joseph’s comments and was ready to join the church! (Well, not quite on the latter)

    After agreeing that under the Domestic Partnership Act in California, the major rights were already in place and it was more about the definition of “marriage”, I explained why I voted for Prop 8.

    Without Prop 8, educators (myself included), doctors, parents, etc. would be denied the opportunity to believe according to their conscience and would be forced by law to do things against their beliefs. Without Prop 8 we wouldn’t have the rights that Joseph had spoken of.

    He then shared with my how a local Hollywood restaurant that he’d been going to for over 20 years was being boycotted because the manager had contributed to Prop 8. The restaurant closed down and invited the protesters in to talk. He felt the protestors were wrong to hunt down people and condemn them for their beliefs by taking away their livelihood.

    He then talked of his concern for his sister-in-law who is a working actor in New York but how her activity in the church could blackball her. In fact, one of her cast mates did burst into her dressing room and condemn her for being from California and a Mormon when Prop 8 passed. He felt so badly and apologized because they’re friends. (She once showed compassionate service by making a RS quality goodie bag for a cast member that was dumped by his boyfriend.) Hmmmm Mormons peculiar people…gotta love it!

    Our RS lesson then focused on the “how to” of showing respect for one another and more personal moments were shared. Lots of tears.

    Lastly, I passed out wrapped gummy worms with 2 quotes from the lesson…”….cankerworms….” and put away from your midst evil speaking…”.

    This lesson is great for relationships at home, or in church and the community.

    I love to hear what the prophet says. His words are life’s shortcuts. I also like to ask questions because it increases my understanding. If I don’t “get it”, I dig deeper and study more and that’s when I discover personal gems that I didn’t even know I needed to find.

  25. Susan says:

    Whoops, big mistake. I thought you were discussing lesson 29 with all the Prop 8 reference but it looks like you’re on “Responding to Persecution with Faith and Courage”. My thoughts on Prop 8 might make sense but the lesson quotes could be confusing. Sorry for the mixup!

  26. lolgrammy says:

    Alisa;

    “The Family-A Proclamation To The World” was given to the whole world. It states that marriage is ordained of God and should be between a man and a woman.

    The two great commandments, love God and love our neighbor. Our Father said “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Are we loving our neighbor if we allow them to be deceived by the “the enemy of truth?” This lesson talks alot about “The enemy of truth.” The TRUTH is that sexual sin is not ok with our Heavenly Father no matter how in vogue it might be. It’s not about being “less judgemental and more tolerant”. I have friends who are gay. I love them. I care about them. I want them to be happy. If they ask me, I tell them I believe their lifestyle is contrary to the plan of happiness. I have lived contrary to the plan of happiness, so I have seen for myself. The “enemy of truth” wants to spin the truth so that it looks like if you don’t embrace sin you are a bigot. It’s just not true.

    Eph. 6: 12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” This is what we are up against. On page 372 of this lesson it says “He that will war the true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days will have wicked men and angels of devils, and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against him.” We are in serious trouble if we do not follow the prophet and “put on the whole armor of God.”

    Alisa, you sound like maybe your a little bit of a rebel….I like that…just be careful.

  27. Alisa says:

    lolgranny, please refer to our comment policy (in the top-right corner) on name-calling and making judgments about someone else’s righteousness.

    I am a believer in what you write, but you’re leaving out the scriptures that talk about allowing everyone else to choose for themselves what they think is right as well – you shouldn’t force that on them. The 11th Article of Faith is all about choosing for yourself, and then allowing all other people the freedom to choose – this was the Savior’s plan in the pre-mortal realm. This is what the Savior said when he said, “Render to Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s, and God the things that are God’s.” My freedom to be a Mormon comes from the great blessing that other religions can’t legally force me to live how God has told them to live. I wouldn’t turn around and cause harm to others by trying to legally force them to follow my LDS version of God. It’s a matter of stewardship that means my personal choices and morality is for me and those whom I have a stewardship, and that I must grant more diversity in society so that people have the freedom to choose what is right for them, which is what we all fought for before we came here.

    I do believe that marriage is about morality, while the civil union issue is more about civil rights. I believe marriage is of God and a subject for the churches to decide as part of one’s personal choice of worship. That’s why I believe the government shouldn’t be involved in who gets married or not – it’s an issue of God, of religion. Based on what you write, it sounds like we agree on that, but look further to what the scriptures say you are to do when you have decided what’s right for you and if that includes legally forcing all others to agree with your personal testimony rather than deciding for themselves.

  28. lolgrammy says:

    Alisa – I’m sorry you were offended. I wish you well.

  29. I’m presenting this lesson tomorrow. I am going to take a different tact. I think the real content of the lesson lies in JS theological response to persecution. The ways he framed persecution and strived to present a robust theodicy, that believed in an interventionist God who often didn’t intervene. Smith’s theological focus on how to deal with suffering and persecution is a direct response to the God that does not always get involved in human affairs. Further, I am going to look at how he gave voice to all this. In D&C 121 for example he is drawing directly from the Psalms of lament in structure and in content. This is no accident, JS relied heavily on the OT to understand his role as a leader of the saints as to understand how to give voice to the hopes and fears of his people. Which he did through poetry and dialogue.

    I think for an instructor to bring up something like prop 8 in the context of the lesson is nothing short of absurd unless he or she wants to use it as an example of cultural Mormonism’s tendency to wallow in its own persecution complex. 🙂

  30. Claire says:

    I read this lesson today and came online to check out any lesson helps, I’m grateful for D. Hunters comment because I couldn’t help thinking on similar lines as I was reading this forum, the point of the lesson has been lost, its about how we respond and deal with persecution, not our stance on prop 8, I guess prop 8 does come to mind as it caused some persecution but mostly this quote stuck out for me “Marvel not, then, if you are persecuted; but remember the words of the Savior: ‘The servant is not above his Lord; if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ it made be think that the pioneers went through these trials so that we could look back just as we do the atonement and think, they endured worse, I can make it through, the Saviour suffered more, I can make it through and look at how they made it through these trials and the strength of faith and unity that occured as a direct result. I think I’ve learnt if anything that if the lesson gets onto prop 8 to steer it away, because the lesson is not about the definition of marriage but Responding to Persecution with Faith and Courage.

  31. Susan says:

    One of the things that I admire about a teacher is when they speak in a language that is familiar to the present culture. It helps me to apply the message to my life. Joseph was a genius at this. Hopefully, you’ll know your audience and what they’re needs. Beyond the lesson, The Spirit may tell you to talk of pioneers, scriptures, Prop 8 or a work experience. You’ll know. You hold the keys to your calling…for your audience. While we can all give suggestions, I believe that the best lesson is one that is given by the Spirit and that our audiences aren’t “one size fits all”.

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