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The "Satanic" Christians
Lying flat on his back, naked and exposed, the accused willingly, almost graciously, welcomes yet another stone to the collection mounting on his chest. No less than six men can lift each stone, each boulder, and each burden.
When Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman announced their candidacies for president last June, Mormonism and its theology and practices became astonishingly salient in political discourse. The ensuing uproar wrongfully questioned not the candidates’ merits, but their religion. Even more surprising, though, were the invectives claiming Mormons are members of a satanic cult. At the time, having lived in Mesa, Arizona half my life, I assumed most Americans knew something about Mormonism. There are, after all, fourteen million Mormons in the world. For comparison, only thirteen million Jews, me included, practice today. But I was wrong. I can halfway understand as I managed to live in Mesa among thousands of Mormons a full year before truly learning about their religion. Then again, I was eleven years old. What’s everyone else’s excuse?
Still, even with Mormonism in the national spotlight, the pervasive, unfounded, and ridiculous misconceptions surrounding it persist. When I enrolled at Arizona State University, I had high hopes the entire student body would be mature enough not to stereotype Mormons, but to respect them and their beliefs. It seems not all well-educated people can learn “understanding.”
“Wait, Thomas isn’t here because it’s Sunday? That shouldn’t matter! He should be ready to help his team any day at any time. I’m Christian, and I’m still here. You know, doesn’t Thomas remind you of that Brian kid? They were both brought up Mormon. I could tell there was something off about him. He’s weird. Mormon weird,” adamantly declared a friend of mine, a senior no less. I was so shocked it took me a minute to reply.
“Mormon weird? What does that even mean? What’s so weird about them? That they value family? That they hold onto and actually practice their religious beliefs? There’s nothing strange about that. Seriously, what do you know about Mormons? Do you even know what church they belong to?” I retorted, already in a poor mood made worse.
“They belong to the Mormon Church. And how am I supposed to know what they believe? I’m not one. But every Mormon I know is messed up and just weird. Mormon weird.”
“Exactly. If you know nothing about them, how can you judge them? Mormons are part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). And guess what? You both use the same Bible. So, why don’t you live by the Gospel of Matthew and “Love Thy Neighbor”? Honestly, you didn’t even know Thomas was Mormon until a couple of minutes ago. If it didn’t matter before, why does it now? How is Thomas, or anyone for that matter, Mormon weird?”
“No. They are different. So, let’s just agree to disagree on this issue.”
The nearly inaudible exclamation “More weight!” crawls out from parched, cracked, resilient lips. The defendant pays no mind to the pressing weight. He does not mind his crushed ribcage or deflated lungs. Only greetings he utters with his dying breath. Not even a moan.
The dignity with which the LDS Church has met criticism astounds me. Rather than retaliate, rather than hide, rather than crumble, Mormons have answered skepticism readily and rationally. A common complaint of Mormonism is its alleged secrecy. Yes, it is true only baptized LDS members over eighteen can enter their temple. However, only truly sacred and major events, such as weddings and baptism for the deceased, happen there, and Mormons are entitled to their spiritual beliefs and privacy. Furthermore, whenever the LDS church builds a new temple, they have open houses when local community members of all religions can come and see the facility and have all their questions answered. The Mormonism I know, though, is completely transparent. The summer before seventh grade I was talking to Heston, a friend from down the street, about the upcoming school year when seminary and Mormonism came up.
“Seminary is a religious class that most Mormon students take. We go to the brick building just off campus, and we learn about the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the scriptures, and our religion. I’ll take seminary the rest of junior high and high school. Then I’ll take institute in college. You should take seminary with me! There actually are a few people, like Nikki, that take it even if they aren’t Mormon. Anyone can take it,” Heston revealed.
I already had a full schedule, but I probably wouldn’t have taken seminary anyway. I had heard of the Book of Mormon but never knew what it was, so I asked about it.
“It’s a collection of sacred commentaries and histories of the Mormon people in America. If you want, I can give you a copy. We can even talk about it.”
This is a glimpse of my real discovery of Mormonism. I politely rejected Heston’s offer for a Book of Mormon because I already had a copy at home. An Arizona state judge and family friend who happened to be Mormon gave my mother a copy some years back when my mom was going through a difficult time. He went through and highlighted all the passages he thought would be helpful. And they were. Immensely. Ten years later, my mom still reads those passages whenever she needs strength. Additionally, anyone and everyone are also invited to typical Sunday services. Most of their religious practices are done outside the temple in local churches where the public can see them. Mormons are completely open to sharing their religion and teaching others about it. Why else would they have fifty thousand missionaries around the world right now doing just that? Mormon missionaries often meet criticism for allegedly “forcing” locals everywhere to convert. I admit they are persistent. I have heard the stories about missionaries showing up to people’s houses each week. They have come to mine no less than a dozen times. Their tenacity, though, is partially your fault. Yelling, cursing, complaining, and refusing to answer the door are not solutions and are purely disrespectful. Second, missionaries just want you to believe in something. Sure, they would love if you converted because that is why they go on missions in the first place. If you just tell missionaries you are happy with your beliefs, they generally accept that and move on to the next house. It has worked every time for me and my family. This witch hunt needs to stop. Mormons are not practicing voodoo behind closed doors like the accused witches supposedly did.
Giles Corey stands accused and condemned of appearing before a Miss Mercy Lewis, urging her to sign the Devil’s book, and torturing her mercilessly. He is a wizard. He is part of a cult. He worships the Devil. At least, his community believes so.
The Book of Mormon is not the Devil’s Book; the LDS members have not secretly signed a contract in blood with the Devil to worship him and give up their souls. They are not playing with dark magic. When these accusations made national headlines last year, my Mormon friends were perturbed, though none quite as much as Landon, the most rational person I have ever met. He felt hurt because the invectives stereotyped and attacked the religion as a whole without considering the individuals.
Level-headed, Landon explained, “I don’t think our criticizers truly believe Mormons are Satanists. I think they just don’t agree with our religious and political views and fear them, and that’s why they attack us. Mormons tend to be too ultra-conservative; they are too far right. I am moderate because I don’t think there are black and white answers. I don’t think anyone should be far right or far left on the political spectrum. Even my parents are too conservative for my liking, and I got into an argument with them last night about ObamaCare after the Republican debate.”
It is true the LDS Church is adamantly pro-life. However, how many religions support abortions? The only one I know of is Judaism. And even then, only certain groups of Jews support it. The Jewish holy books and religious doctrines are not pro-choice. The Catholic Church faced disapproval recently when it decided not to cover employees’ contraceptives, but no one accused Catholics of satanic witchcraft. Mormons are more widely known for their pro-traditional family stance exemplified by their financial support of Proposition 8 in California. Once again, how many religions support gay marriage? Few do, and Catholicism and Islam, which account for about half the world’s population religious practices, do not. Mormons are entitled to their beliefs. The First Amendment grants them this right, remember? They are entitled to spend their money however they please. This is a form of expression also protected by the First Amendment. Some may argue the LDS Church should not be spending money on political issues, but marriage is obviously related to religion and they had every right to. If the Catholic Church can choose how to spend its money, so can the LDS one.
Previously in court, Corey refused to perjure himself or to plead guilty for he has practiced no witchcraft, but now the town tries to literally force a confession out of him.
Three hundred years later, the Salem Witch Trials have ended, but the hysteria and fear of the different, of the unknown, still run rampant and have initiated new witch trials. And currently, Mormons face similar unjustified persecution that Giles Corey fought to the end and died for, perhaps in vain. I can say with absolute assuredness Mormons are Christians, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is not a satanic cult. In fact, I find Mormonism to be as sane as Judaism, Catholicism, or any other religion. My dialogues from over the years with my Mormon friends and my misinformed friends reinforce my belief that the needless and senseless discrimination of nearly all religions, Christian or not, continues the Salem Witch Trials today.