Saturday, 16 November 2013

When religous freedom is lost

Continued from: The Importance of Religious Freedom,

Mormon folklore has long held that in the last days the persecution faced by members of the Church will exceed what the early Saints faced in Joseph Smith's day.  True or not, we do know that the principle of freedom of religion which should shield people from religious persecution is at risk.  How then are faithful Latter-Day Saints to react when that liberty is not just at risk, but actually lost?

The examples we have in the scriptures and the history of the Church show there are a number of possibilities.  While we will need the guidance of a prophet as well as personal revelation to know what road to take, we should be aware of the possibilities

After his conversion, the prophet Alma and his followers were driven out into the wilderness by King Noah.  Eventually, they were conqued by the Lamanites who made Amulon, one of King Noah's priests, a ruler over them.  Amulon used them as slaves and put to death anybody seen praying.  The people of Alma submitted to these injustices, limiting their prayers to secret prayers in their hearts.  God in turn blessed them with strength to bear the burdens placed on them, and eventually delivered them from bondage (see Mosiah 24)

In Church history, there were many times where the early Saints submitted to unjust treatment.  Probably the biggest example of this was over the issue of polygamy.  Things had gotten to the point where it became a choice between submission, or revolution.  President Wilford Woodruff saw in vision exactly what would happen if the Church did not submit, and he was willing to go down that road as well, except God instead released the Church from the obligation of practicing it, allowing them to submit in the matter so that the work could go forward. (see Official Declaration 1)

Through the missionary efforts of Ammon, many Lamanites came to accept the gospel and repent of their sins.  This did not sit well with the other Lamanites and Nephite dissenters who repeatedly attacked them, killing many.  While initially their submission to these attacks resulted in the conversion of more Lamanites, eventually their existence became threatened.  At this point they fled their homeland and joined with the Nephites, who gave them the land of Jershon where they could live under Nephite protection. (see Alma 23-27)

Likewise, after much persecution the early Saints left for the Utah territory where they could live in peace for a time and grow in numbers.

Civil Disobedience
Consider the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den.  King Darius was convinced to make a binding decree that for the next 30 days, anybody who prayed or petitioned any God other than the king would be cast into a den of lions.  

In Dan 6:10 we read:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
This was an act of deliberate civil disobedience.  Daniel knew what the law was.  He could have just prayed secretly in his heart, he could have hidden himself away to pray in secret, he could have just waited 30 days.  Instead he carried on exactly as before, making no effort to comply and no effort to conceal his disobedience.  If it was wrong for Daniel to do this, would God have still saved him when he was cast into the Lion's den?  I think not.

Civil Disobendience was also used by several members of the Church, including General Authorities, when the government passed laws against polygamy.  The Church held these laws as an affront to their religious freedom (and the American constitution) and chose to obey God rather than man.  Several of them spent time in jail for refusing to disobey God.  Only when God withdrew the obligation to practice polygamy did they submit.

An important point to note in these and other examples of legitimate civil disobedience is that there is no effort to avoid the consequences by denying there was any disobedience or trying to find some kind of technicality to escape punishment.

Captain Moroni led the Nephite armies in a long war against the Lamanites.  If the Lamanites won the war, it would be the end of religious liberty for the Nephites and the end of the church among all the decedents of Lehi.  When Captain Moroni found he was not receiving the support he needed from his government, he wrote to Pahoran, the Chief Judge.  In the letter we read this:

25 And except ye grant mine epistle, and come out and show unto me a true spirit of freedom, and strive to strengthen and fortify our armies, and grant unto them food for their support, behold I will leave a part of my freemen to maintain this part of our land, and I will leave the strength and the blessings of God upon them, that none other power can operate against them—
26 And this because of their exceeding faith, and their patience in their tribulations—
27 And I will come unto you, and if there be any among you that has a desire for freedom, yea, if there be even a spark of freedom remaining, behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct. (Alma 60:25-27)
Think about that.  Captain Moroni, the guy who if we were all like him it would shake the foundations of hell was telling his government that he would violently overthrow them if that is what had to be done to preserve their liberty.

A similar situation existed with the American Revolution.  Captain Moroni didn't need to overthrow his government, but the American colonies did.  The founding Fathers of the USA were in fact traitors to the king of England.  From modern day revelation we know what the did was right in God's eyes.

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (D&C 101:78-80)

Divine Intervention
This is God's option, not ours, but we should be aware of it.

We tend not to look at the story of the Exodus in terms of religious freedom, but more in terms of personal freedom from slavery.  If we do that however we are missing part of the picture.  Look at how the first meeting Moses had with Pharaoh's began:

 And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.
 And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.
 And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; (see Gen. 5:1-3)

Pharaoh of course refused to allow the children of Israel to worship God, and what followed was an outpouring of  plagues and curses unlike anything known in history.  A similar situation took place in the Book of Mormon with the people in the city of Ammonihah.  After those who converted to the gospel were either cast into the fire or driven out of the city, and Alma and Amulek were imprisoned and persecuted further, God brought down the prison killing their tormentors and leaving them unharmed.  Soon after every living soul in the city was killed in a Laminate attack.

Other examples exist, but for now this is sufficient to outline what kind of responses are justifiable when faced with losing one's freedom of religion.

Just because something may be justified doesn't mean that it is the wisest option, or the option God would approve.  If Alma's followers responded to Ammulon's infringement of their rights with civil disobedience, they would have all been killed.  If the founding Fathers of the American Constitution submitted to the king, there would not have been a land of freedom for the gospel to be restored in.

I have no doubt that both as a people and as individuals we well face situations where our religious liberty is taken from us in at least some degree.  We are told to be good citizens of our nations and to follow the counsel of the 12th Article of Faith.  It is always the wise course to follow the prophet, and we also need to have the spirit with us to help in our own individual situation. In the end the gospel will fill the earth, and Christ will come again, so be prepared, and also be of good cheer.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Importance of Religious Freedom

It isn't hard to notice that the church has put a lot of emphasis on supporting religious freedom over the past several months.  The most visible sign has been the Support Religious Freedom Facebook page, which strives to build bridges with all faith groups to rally support for religious liberty.

On top of that the ongoing efforts of Elder Dallin H. Oaks has earned recognition by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who awarded him the the Canterbury Medal which honors individuals who show 'courage in the defense of religious freedom'.  If you check the Newsroom on the subject, you'll see there are several links to talks by General Authorities and others on the importance of maintaining this freedom in society.

The principle is not new to Latter-Day Saints of course; we've held religious liberty as critical from the start of the Church.  In the early days of the church, many Federal, State, and local leaders failed again and again to protect the Saints from having their religious liberty violated over and over.

Many times government authorities were directly involved in the persecutions the Saints faced, even to the point of making it legal to kill a person just for being a Mormon.  Even though the Church was founded in a land that enshrined religious liberty in it's constitution, they were still forced to flee to the Utah Territory for their own safety.  There they were able to grow in numbers and establish themselves and gather their strength for a time, but even after that the government showed it had both the will and the power to persecute the Saints and violate their rights even further using polygamy as its justification to deny citizens their rights and freedom, and even dis-incorporate the church temporarily.

This history plays a big role in creating a deep commitment among Mormons to maintaining religious liberty, but for at least the last 65 years it hasn't been something many Mormons have had to fight to maintain.  It was a value we shared with society.  Times have changed though, and if we don't fight for it, we are very likely to lose it.

The primary threat against religious liberty (as I see it) is the world's view that upholding God's standards on marriage and the family is evil.  I talked about this at length before and won't go over it again.  Coupled with this however is a militant atheism that arrogantly presumes any person holding any kind of faith in any kind of God is mentally weak or unbalanced, comparable to an adult who still believes in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.  And also it seem more and more common that people confuse freedom from religion with freedom of religion.  This leads them to think that it is perfectly OK to force a person to act contrary to their conscience in the workplace or public arena, and only within the walls of their home can they really practice their faith.

Requiring a Catholic pharmacist to dispense medication they object to on moral grounds is no different than requiring an atheist to say a public prayer in Christ's name.  Both are wrong, both are violations of religious freedom.

In  D&C 134 verse 2 it states:
We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

Here is the real reason why freedom of religion is vital.  Any government that will not uphold it sows the seeds of their own destruction.

The reason for that lies in the very nature of faith. Upholding religious liberty avoids putting somebody in the position of having to choose between their loyalty to God and their loyalty to the state.  If  somebody`s devotion to God is second to their devotion to the state, then the state is in fact their god.  Those who put their devotion to God first (as it should be) will put the commands of God before the commands of the state, and the result is conflict that has the potential to become violence and turn into civil unrest.  Religion has often been blamed for most of the wars of history.  The truth is that a lack of respect for religious freedom was at the root of those wars.

Also, freedom of religion is directly linked to freedom of speech and freedom of association.  If religious beliefs are used to justify limits on other freedoms, why stop there?  It is a short hop to making certain political viewpoints justification for the same treatment.

But what should we, as Latter-Day Saints do if (when?) we find ourselves caught in such a dilemma between God and government?  There are a number of examples in scripture and church history that are very instructive on this and I will write about these in my next post.