Thomas Monson column

FILE - In this April 2, 2016, file photo, President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raises his hand during a sustaining vote at the two-day Mormon church conference, in Salt Lake City. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, has died after nine years in office. He was 90. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“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.”

— Sermon on the Mount

Frankly, I don’t see a whole lot of rejoicing and exceeding gladness among my fellow Mormons at the moment.

Granted, it’s a difficult time for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Tuesday, they lost church president Thomas S. Monson, a man who spent his life in service to others. Then on Wednesday, adding insult to injury, The New York Times ran an obituary that left many Mormons feeling their beloved prophet had just been dragged through the mud.

The obituary was seen as heavy on criticism of the church’s treatment of women and homosexuals, and light on the accomplishments of a man who’d been a high-ranking church official since 1963. Some argued that Monson’s polar opposite, Hugh Hefner — who died in September at the age of 91 after building an entire empire based on objectifying women — received a more glowing send-off from the Times. One national columnist even made the case that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro got a “better” obit.

RELATED: Locals remember Mormon prophet as a kind man who stressed service to others

Admittedly, the Monson obituary did stray into the weeds at times; trotting out the polygamy chestnut seemed particularly forced. But unless you believe a news obituary shouldn’t speak ill of the dead — which would be a very silly argument indeed — the Times piece wasn’t all that out-of-bounds.

RELATED: Thomas S. Monson, president of Mormon church, dies at 90

To those Latter-day Saints who were deeply offended by the piece, I ask you to consider one key question: Was anything in the Times obituary inaccurate? Because if there were inaccuracies, you’ve got a case for unfair coverage regarding Monson’s death. Otherwise? We’re just arguing balls and strikes here.

Has the church changed its stance on women and the priesthood? Does it still condemn same-sex marriage? The take-home lesson I inferred from the obit was that — surprise! — Monson didn’t make any radical changes to the church or its doctrines in his nearly 10 years at the helm. In fact, the obit writer points out that under a Monson presidency: “Teachings holding homosexuality to be immoral, bans on sexual intercourse outside male-female marriages, and an all-male priesthood would remain unaltered.”

And? So?

This dustup smacks of just another instance of people looking for reasons to be offended by something someone said. (A condition, by the way, that is not exclusive to Mormons.)

What to do about this perceived less-than-favorable coverage of one’s religion? The best way to silence critics is not by engaging them in debate, but — to again quote from the Sermon on the Mount — “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.”

God doesn’t need sons (and daughters) of thunder, mighty defenders of the faith who are quick to smite off the ears of those who would dare question the Lord’s anointed. He needs disciples who are anxiously engaged in bringing about much good in the world. Not defending the church’s image with words, but improving the church itself with deeds.

So when others say all manner of evil against you falsely? You’re supposed to rejoice, and be exceeding glad.

When someone tells you Mormons aren’t Christians? Rejoice with a generous donation to charity. When “The Book of Mormon” musical offends you with its sacrilegious humor? Show your gladness by volunteering your time at a hospital or animal shelter.

And when The New York Times publishes an obituary that you believe didn’t capture the essence of Monson and Mormonism? Leave the online arguing to those who don’t quite “get” what the church is all about. Instead, use the time you’d have spent at your keyboard crafting that crushing retort and do exactly what Thomas S. Monson would do — visit an elderly widow in your neighborhood, or take a meal to the sick, or lend a listening heart to someone in the depths of despair.

There’s a reason you never saw President Monson arguing on Facebook or Twitter. He simply didn’t have the time.

In reacting to Monson’s death, Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell may have put it best. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson — “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying” — and then added: “Thomas Monson ‘did’ for others his entire life. He was a doer.”

Seems we could all stand a little less lip service and little more actual service.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

(23) comments

flatlander

So now I'm an anti Mormon? Hoot and a half (grin).

MarkSaal Staff
MarkSaal

NOW we're finally getting at the heart of the matter, Geoff. And it's not that there were factual inaccuracies in the piece, but that many Mormons felt their prophet and religion were disrespected by a news obit that wasn't the sort of glowing eulogy people pay for on the obituary pages. And disrespect is definitely covered by the turn-the-other-cheek admonition. 

anonymous

That anti Mormons applaud the article is not a good sign in and of itself. You are making my point.

anonymous

Ok, scripture aside, how about respect for the dead? They really screwed up here.

nomorelies

Seriously Mark?  That's all Jesus taught?  I can find other teachings in the first 5 verses of the Gospels.

flatlander

The Times asked its obit editor to respond to criticisms of the Monson Obit.  Did a good job, I thought:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/reader-center/thomas-monson-obituary.html

MarkSaal Staff
MarkSaal

Hi Amy. You know what I reeeeally wish? I wish biblical scholars hadn't included the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. Because now everyone thinks they get to use that grossly misunderstood story as the excuse to play the "tough-love Jesus" card whenever they feel offended. Sorry, but the Times obit was NOT an example of moneychangers in a temple. The Times obit was an example of someone speaking all manner of evil against you. And Jesus clearly tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to not only turn the other cheek, but to "rejoice, and be exceeding glad" when it happens. But even if the Times obit were an example of throwing out moneychangers, note that it was Jesus -- and Jesus alone -- who was the bouncer here. He's the Son of God; he gets to do whatever he wants. As for his followers? Of us it is required to forgive everyone. I daresay Jesus NEVER told his followers to do anything but love God and fellow human. And as for your charge of a "lack of understanding of the LDS community" ... I've been an active, faithful, happy Mormon for 46 years now, and I think I have a fairly good working understanding of my own community. 

anonymous

I have lived to see the day that liberals show the same respect for the dead as the Westborough Baptist Church and use the same logic to justify their evil. 

anonymous

Agreed.

anonymous

Seeing as your knowledge of Mormonism amounts to what you learned from the creators of South Park, please see Mr. Garrisons speech regarding the difference between tolerance and acceptance.

anonymous

I can't believe I need to explain this. If I show up to a homosexuals funeral, get up to speak, and call the deceased a homo who died of AIDS, does the fact that I am not being inaccurate make me a better person? No. I'd still be an ass. We get that the New York Times is not a fan of Monson. Their timing is still awful.

nomorelies

V Gardener is upvoting her own comments and downvoting everyone else's.  Kind of pathetic don't ya think?

flatlander

"I have never read an obituary that didn't praise the good in the deceased." If you mean general circulation newspaper obits, then you need to read more of them if you've truly never seen one that "didn't praise the good on the deceased."  General circulation newspaper obits are not, and are not intended to be, eulogies. 

nomorelies

Seems to me you've redefined insanity.  It's not doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, as people often misquote Einstein as saying.  It's listening to the leader of a religion you don't like and coming out with the complaint of not liking his cadence.  I don't Kermit the Frog's cadence, so I don't listen to the Muppets.  You could learn from my example.

anonymous

While I'm not sure the proper response to this obituary is to get angry and sign a petition against free speech, I believe it was inappropriate to highlight the negativity of his life and of the Church. I have never read an obituary that didn't praise the good in the deceased.I found several inaccuracies in the obituary:The scriptures are full of priesthood practices. Not once does it mention a woman bearing the priesthood.I was always taught that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. This was not new information when more records came to light.The First Presidency is not based on seniority. The prophet is, and so is the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but the counselors are chosen by the prophet.Although not an inaccuracy, I do wish they had used his proper title of "President" rather than "Mister."There could be others, but saying the obituary was accurate (albeit biased) is not the correct adjective. I am not angry at the New York Times, although it makes me sad that they don't understand why the Church is the way it is. President Monson did what he did because he followed the teachings of Jesus Christ. The obituary criticized Christ's church. Perhaps that is why so many are offended, because they feel it was an attack on the Church they love so dearly. In the end, the best way to react to something like this is to ask ourselves, "What would Jesus do?"

anonymous

Interesting insight Bob.  Just because others state that he is a mean-spirited, intolerant bigot does not make it so.  Anyone who knew him personally would not be able to make those statements.  I appreciate the comments from Mayor Caldwell: In reacting to Monson’s death, Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell may have put it best. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson — “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying” — and then added: “Thomas Monson ‘did’ for others his entire life. He was a doer.”  Thomas S. Monson was a doer.  He loved and served people, regardless of their beliefs.

anonymous

But, was it incorrect? I don't think it portrayed him in a negative light, it simply stated what he and the church stood for. Are mormons ashamed of what they stand for?Are you making judgments about other religions and the amount of service they do for others?

anonymous

Of course members of our church take what was said to be offensive.  You took a kind, giving, wise, incredible world leader of a quickly growing church and essentially said, "Be quiet and continue your un-ending service and kindness like a good Christian"  Though Christ said to turn the other cheek, he also threw the money changers out of the temple.  He would not let them degrade the house of the Lord and we should do what we can to rebut pieces like your article and the Times's article because they degrade a man of the Lord. Because I am faithful to Christ I will sign a petition, I will respond to this article.  ThenI will spend the majority of my day serving my community and my family.  I will help in the local schools, I will serve on the community boards and committees I'm a member of, I will sit and eat dinner with my family and teach my children that even though we believe such-and-such, we love all and are kind to all.  Your insensitive article shows your lack of understanding of the LDS community.  I would venture to say that in no other religion in the world spends as many hours per person in service.  The essence of the LDS faith is a focus on eternal families through Christ, serving others, and being kind and Christ-like to all. I have a beloved friend that is lesbian and lives a lifestyle outside of what our church teaches.  She lived as a teenager in my childhood home for nearly a year.  I apologized for the article and told  her it didn't accurately represent our prophet and our faith.  She responded by telling me that she knows my church and my faith much better than the newspaper and she stated and that she loves me, my family, and my faith.  She loves my faith!  The one that doesn't believe in her lifestyle.  Why? Because she knows that even if we disagree we love, we care, we serve.  I hope you spend a little bit of time researching the incredible reach of this church's humanitarian aid, or the incredible, loving, humbling and empowering doctrines they teach.  We are all children of God.  We are all brothers and sisters.  Let us treat each other as such and give respect to all those that do a great deal of good in this world.

MarkSaal Staff
MarkSaal

I think my Bible must be broken, Doug. Because I find Jesus saying absolutely nothing in the first five verses of the Gospels. Just a bunch of "begats." (That's in Matthew. And if you mean the first five verses of each of the Gospels, I still don't see Jesus coming onto the scene until much later in each book.) But in the interest of clarity, permit me to refine that statement you question: Sure, Jesus did indeed give us all sorts of teachings, but he tells us the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. And I find no example of Jesus saying "Be ye therefore vocal when thou art wronged," or "If thou art offended by what someone else says, thou shalt publicly whine and complain about it." It's amazing that a bad Mormon like me needs to point that out to the good members of my faith. 

flatlander

I note GE has ignored Mr. Saal's key question: "To those Latter-day Saints who were deeply offended by the piece, I ask you to consider one key question: Was anything in the Times obituary inaccurate?"

anonymous

What a steaming pile of apostasy. No. We are not exceedingly glad to have the Fake News media mocking Monson before his body is even cold. Yes. We do need defenders of the faith like Brigham Young, Orin Porter Rockwell and John D. Lee. The Fake News media is why. Smith had that printing press destroyed for a reason.

nomorelies

One thing the LDS Church did under a Monson presidency was to try to be like everyone else.  Those We are Mormon videos were just strange to me.  I prefer it when hardcore religions stay a bit strange - out of the mainstream.  Orthodox Jews, the Amish, old school Catholics and even devout Muslims are far more endearing to me, whether I believe what they believe or not.  Same with Mormons.  Be peculiar - don't try to make me think you're like everyone else. 

flatlander

#Interesting column.  There are, unfortunately, many people who think obits of religious leaders ought to  be eulogies.I've been reading comments on some atheist sites complaining about both obits and eulogies that spoke of Monson's service to others, charity, humor compassion.  Impossible and false, the comments proclaim, because Monson opposed  the legalization of gay marriage, and so he  was instead a mean-spirited, intolerant bigot.  Thus those comments illustrate some of the very charactistics they claim to find, and criticize,  in Monson.Again, interesting column.

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