Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Current Political Events

As I've asserted before, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And yes, I've been very aware of the recent hubbub surrounding Pastor Jeffress's public statements about Mormons (the popular nickname for members of my church). His theological assertions are inaccurate, but my biggest grief is with his narrow-minded, prejudiced approach to people of other faiths, and his intent to defame. People make uninformed mistakes all the time, but to deliberately malign others is to be anti-Christlike. I'm directing my words both to Jeffress and to those who have gotten offended at his words and resorted to anger and name-calling in return.

I have a couple major reasons why I don't engage in political debates. One is that I know I'm not totally informed on all the issues at stake; thus, my positions aren't very defensible, and a heated, polarized debate isn't the best place to inform myself and make clear-headed judgments. I like to be acquainted with "the whole truth" to make sound judgments and to understand the perspective of others. My second reason is because of the nature of the debate itself. I can get quite passionate about issues I feel strongly for, and I want to stay in control of my emotions, rather than let my emotions control me. Additionally, my experience has been that these debates are most commonly between polarized political elites, and with that being the case, neither side is likely to sway the other (no matter how informed either side is), and it turns rather into a mudslinging, degrading fray. Therefore, I prefer to gain political understanding from engaging with multiple sources and making decisions on my own, and thereby avoid the emotionalism and contention associated with debates.

I want to address the mudslinging element in particular. We read in 3 Nephi 11:29-30 (in the Book of Mormon) one of the first things that the Savior Jesus Christ taught the people in the Americas when He visited them shortly after his Resurrection:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
It is one thing to discuss our disagreements with others. Doing so provides the opportunity to learn about others, to examine our beliefs for flaws, and to test the strength of our convictions. You might call it a "refiner's fire" of sorts (see Malachi 3:2-3, in the Old Testament). However, engaging in disagreements where our hearts are stirred up with anger against each other is of the devil. Disagreements like this largely arise when we attack people by deriding or belittling them, intentionally causing them harm. It is fine to think differently from someone else, but if you attempt to malign or defame them, you are attempting to abuse and belittle another son or daughter of God, and He's not cool with that.

I know that it's hard to curb that little nasty voice that wants to interject sneering one-liners or out-and-out railing assaults into conversations with others, especially when you feel like your conversational partner has wronged you in some way. But I testify to you that to give in to those urges is to become Satan's mouthpiece and to allow him to influence you. I also testify that giving in to that bitterness will never make you feel better, and that peace and healing come only through accepting the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As we accept the Atonement and strive to become more Christlike, He will bless us with His love and patience for ourselves and for our fellowmen.

As I said earlier, I like to learn as much as I can before offering an opinion regarding an issue, whether it's "do I like pickles" or "which candidate is most fit to be the next President of the United States". To ignore or not fairly investigate both sides is to remain ignorant, and to refuse to learn more is to be narrow-minded. Dr. Jeffress apparently knows that Mormons (or, Latter-Day Saints) exist, and he knows a little about our theology. However, his research was clearly biased and shallowly done. One evidence of that which made me laugh is found in an article by Russ Wise that Jeffress endorsed on his facebook page, which article is titled, "Mormon Beliefs About the Bible and Salvation". It starts out innocently enough by presenting facts, but then those facts are twisted and glammed up with sensational, pointed remarks to ridicule and vilify the LDS faith. The part that made me laugh was when the author claims that Joseph Smith contradicted himself in describing the nature of God: he quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 and Alma 31:15 for support, and yet he completely ignored their context! It's funny because the D&C reference is completely accurate, but the Alma reference was quoting the recorded prayer of an apostate group, which, as you can read in the rest of the chapter, "astonished [Alma, the missionary] beyond all measure" (verse 19). That, my friends, is narrow-minded and incomplete investigation. Anyone reading the article can see that it is written not just to inform, but to deceive and bias its readers.

If, in the course of your discussions with others, you find that you want to persuade them to your point of view, I'd like to emphasize that from my own experience and as stated in the gospel, the way to do that is by love, not brute force. We may read in Alma 31:5 (in the Book of Mormon),
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just--yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them--therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
Also, from the Bible, in Proverbs 15:1,
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
Think of your own experience. Are you more likely to be open to change or correction if someone says, "Hey, you're wrong!" or "I hadn't thought of your perspective before; this is how I see the same issue"? My guess is that if someone were to declare the former to you, you might get defensive (as if you were personally attacked) and cling more tightly to what you were saying in the first place. Loving people - not bashing them - is what will make people more inclined to listen to you. If you really, genuinely care for someone, they have greater reason to trust your motives when you have something to tell them. Love people, seek to understand them, and value them; don't demean them and expect them to listen to you. Christ loves us, and that's one reason why we can trust His corrections of us, and humbly apply them to our lives.

My personal history - overcoming my own tendencies to judge quickly, my mother's counsel to never assume things that I don't know, my father's advice in befriending people, and navigating my relationships with my siblings - has taught me many of these lessons on love, understanding and persuasion. I've also learned by study, as I read the scriptures (both the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and others endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as sources of doctrine), apply the teachings I discover to my life, and see their results, that these practices do lead me to become more Christlike. I know, from the many evidences in my life, that as Paul beautifully wrote in 1 John 4, love leads us to God, and that contention pulls us away from God.

Let us conduct our political dialogues with greater civility, respect and understanding, and let us learn together and work together to reach solutions for our common problems.

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