“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.
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.
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.”
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.