What is Religious Persecution?

During the Reformation, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was chained together with the Bible in protestant churches. One of the tenets of Christianity has long been that believers are persecuted. Persecution somehow proves one is righteous.  Today some churches still use stories from the martyrs in sermons, and Christian media outlets run news updates about the persecution of Christians worldwide.

I think we can agree that we, as Mormons, sometimes display a persecution complex. Like sects that cling to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, we routinely use Our Heritage and stories from our history to illustrate times of persecution and the sacrifices made in behalf of our faith. I don’t think this is a bad thing, it is our history. One of the things it does for good and bad, is tie us together in the common cause of defending our faith against persecutors. But some members of the Church are always on the defense, with arrows aimed for any slight against Mormonism, firing often when no shot was fired at them.

The Book of Mormon Musical has been heralded by some as good publicity for us (which I believe in the end it will be); while in contrast, seen by others as a gross misrepresentation of our faith as a whole. Is making fun of us okay if it’s good for us in the end?  Does it set a bad precedent in a cultural landscape where religious tolerance is supposed to be the rule? Is mockery an expression of intolerance, and is intolerance synonymous with persecution? When should we ignore, or even laugh along at ourselves, and when should we take a stand?

Last month Rep. Peter King held hearings about Islam. For more see here, here, and here. It isn’t surprising that many people, including many Mormons, have labeled the King hearings persecution. People are more distrustful of politicians in general, and look at historical precedent for what can happen to religious groups (including our own) under the power of the state. However pop-culture is often seen as innocuous, mocking things that are endearing to us. But I am wondering if politics set the climatefor society as a whole. Would there be moral outrage among us if, in this political climate, there was a Broadway musical about Islam?  Does the political climate  (see Utah) ultimately determine what religious persecution is?  Or, as Michael Otterson claims, are we really just turning the other cheek?

Comments

  1. A couple of years ago I received a couple of “call to arms” e-mails from family/friends who were attempting to gather up an internet mob to boycott Time/Warner because they own HBO, which was airing the ‘temple’ episode of Big Love. The problem with gathering up a mob to express outrage is that it generates bad press that plays into the hands of our enemies.

    If our testimonies are strong, misrepresentations of Mormonism in media can only work in our favor. They generate misconceptions that people will eventually confront us on which we can dispel on an individual basis. These instances become opportunities for us to educate and teach by example.

    Becoming angry and upset doesn’t ennoble us, and gathering up mobs just results in mob mentality.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    Would there be moral outrage among us if, in this political climate, there was a Broadway musical about Islam?

    That would depend on the tone of the musical, I think. I do not view The Book of Mormon as religious persecution, and a similar musical dealing with Islam (or any other faith) would not strike me as such either. I cannot claim, with Michael Otterson, that I am turning the other cheek, since I don’t feel I’ve been injured in the least.

  3. 2 – LDG is really taking the high road. I’ve never seen someone turn their cheek to turning the other cheek? :)

    It’s like refusing to not be offended and not be offended at the same time.

  4. Until my safety is a concern, it’s merely opinion. Opinion my dear friends is nothing to get your garments in a knot over.

    I too received one of those boycott HBO affiliates emails and promptly deleted it. I’ve never seen the show, and found it humorous at most that others that have never seen the show were telling me to boycott it.

  5. Fwiw, Bro. Otterson’s article was one of the most thoughtful I’ve read – particularly for someone who obviously hasn’t seen the musical. Between his article and the Church’s official response, I’ve been very pleased with the “official” reactions.

    I don’t see the musical as persecution in any way, especially given what the creators have said about it and how they view Mormonism. However, I have read many responses that fit what you said in the following:

    “But some members of the Church are always on the defense, with arrows aimed for any slight against Mormonism, firing often when no shot was fired at them.”

    I wish we generally refused to fire even when shots are fired at us – but I certainly don’t follow that wish myself all the time.

    “Is making fun of us okay if it’s good for us in the end?” Mocking never is good, imo – but “ok”? Sure, good or bad in the end. “OK” just is impossible to define in a way that satisfies collectively.

    “Is mockery an expression of intolerance [Yes.], and is intolerance synonymous with persecution? [No.]”

    “When should we ignore, or even laugh along at ourselves, and when should we take a stand?”

    At the point that others are hurt by our silence or laughter in ways that are more than just being offended, imo.

    Some of my favorite jokes are Mormon jokes – but so are some of the jokes I hate the most. Some of my favorite Mormon jokes are deeply offensive to some other Mormons, and other Mormons laugh at the jokes I hate.

  6. I don’t view things like this musical as persecution. Mockery, apparently, but not persecution.

    But I also don’t see Otterson’s response as an over-the-top reaction or a complaint of persecution. He (and I, and anybody else) ought to be able to state openly and rationally why he won’t see the show, or state after the fact why he didn’t like the show if that’s the case, without being accused of any of the nasty things I’ve seen him accused of since his column appeared. We shouldn’t be put in the position of having to embrace the thing to avoid being accused of whining.

  7. Thanks for the comments all.

    Do you think if there was a climate where the federal government held a hearing on the Radicalization of Mormons (think FLDS being viewed as a threat to the US way of life–considering them a radicalized group)–then would The Book of Mormon Musical be seen as persecution? or intolerance?

    I can look back at the political cartoons of the 19th century that make fun of polygamy, and I think they’re funny. But then, I don’t think the 19th century Mormons thought so.
    http://archive.liveauctioneers.com/archive3/early_american_auctions/9265/3269_1_lg.jpg

    Ardis,
    I agree anyone ought to be able to state their own private rationale. But as spokesman for the Church, it comes of as official policy to some Mormons that we as members shouldn’t see it–and stamps it with disapproval on grounds of religious intolerance. Of course the Church has every right to make such a statement.

    Ray,
    If some Mormons are offended becomes of it, are we obligated to take a stand against it on behalf of religious tolerance for their sake?

  8. I generally think that Mormons do have a persecution complex and are quick to be offended. So I was exceedingly pleased by the church’s pithy official statement about the BofM musical, and I also think Bro. Otterson’s response was appropriate. I have no interest in the BofM musical (not a South Park fan), and to echo what Ardis said, I don’t feel the need to bend over backwards to show what a good sport I can be about it.

    At the same time, mere criticism or satire or mockery doesn’t come close to persecution. There is real religious persecution in the world, and to call a mural or a musical persecution is just ridiculous. You might even say it’s offensive. ;)

  9. Do you think if there was a climate where the federal government held a hearing on the Radicalization of Mormons (think FLDS being viewed as a threat to the US way of life–considering them a radicalized group)–then would The Book of Mormon Musical be seen as persecution? or intolerance?

    If the FLDS or any other LDS group were prone to commit acts of terrorism, I doubt The Book of Mormon Musical would ever get made.

  10. I forgot to add that even in such a political environment, a musical would not count as persecution. It’s just a play.

  11. #11, I think though, many Muslims would take it as that if there was a musical about them.

  12. Whenever someone criticizes our Church (or any other church), we need to emphasize the importance of freedom of speech and religion. Our Church was persecuted by those who did not believe in freedom of religion, so we must be sure to defend that right. We will not be hurt by their criticism, but we will be hurt if we deny them the right to criticise us.
    If we “turn the other cheek”, the honest-in-heart may be impressed enough to open the door when our Missionaries knock.

  13. B Rogers,
    Sure. But does that mean we should keep silent?

  14. When Danish publications run cartoons depicting Muhammad, riots ensue and 100 people die.
    When Floridan rednecks burn the Quran, riots ensue and people die.

    Neither of these instances are persecution, neither of these reactions are what I would consider “Christian” (and yes, that is obviously not a target that Muslims are shooting for anyway), and both of these help create the ideas that Muslims are militant, quick to anger, and violent.

    Conversely we are supposed to be Christian, and we want good vibes (and not to be seen as militant, quick to anger, and violent) so that we can go out and convert the world.

    We aren’t persecuted anymore. Really. We are mocked, but so is everyone else. I am a lover of South Park, everyone is mocked freely. If South Park didn’t mock us, it wouldn’t mean they respected us, it would mean that we are irrelevant. We desperately want to be relevant, but relevancy comes with media exposure which includes lampooning. Most of us would tell celebraties that complain about papparazzi that if they don’t want their picture taken, they can choose to not be famous, it is similarly something that comes with the territory. So we should also accept our mocking in good humor.

    But I agree with Ardis, that doesn’t mean we have to bend over backwards to show we’re good sports.

    Sure. But does that mean we should keep silent?

    No, but soft-spoken.

  15. I also remember a recent EQ lesson that touched on the subject of persecution. You could notice how some people almost got excited as they talked about how in the last days we will be more persecuted and many will leave, but the strong will stay.

    I don’t think that’s what the adversary has in store for us. I think true persecution can hinder a fledgling religion or movement, but with more mature institutions persecution tends to bind together and strengthen. If anything, I think the adversary has a lot of ambivalence planned for us, so we can relax and slowly be led away. Persecution is exciting, but I think largely a thing of the past for us.

    Along the same lines, I think that if we treat mocking as if it were true persecution, we only alienate ourselves more and create a perception that we are even more out of touch with reality.

    We should also count ourselves blessed that we aren’t usually (at least it’s my understanding) perceived as being as weird as Scientologists, Amish, or J-dubs. (also, if mocking – persecution – is a sign of validity, then these groups must be more “true” than even our church)

  16. B. Russ,
    Excellent comments. Thanks.

  17. #12 – Well, sure they would. But they’d be wrong.

  18. madhousewife,
    But why should you or I get to decide when someone else’s sacred is being profaned? Shouldn’t those who hold something sacred get to make that call? and in general, shouldn’t it be respected? (I’m not saying firey riots and bloodshed are justified.)

  19. “If some Mormons are offended becomes of it, are we obligated to take a stand against it on behalf of religious tolerance for their sake?”

    No. If that was the standard, almost nothing would get made – certainly nothing worth watching. Everything is offensive to someone.

  20. Ray,
    ” Everything is offensive to someone.”
    I agree. But what if something falls in the camp of what a religious group deems sacred, frex Big Love with temple elements?

  21. But why should you or I get to decide when someone else’s sacred is being profaned?

    We don’t decide that. I guess we define persecution differently. Mockery can be insulting and rude and tacky and unfair, but it can also be ignored–which is not the same as saying it should always be ignored, but it can be. Persecution is ill-treatment that directly affects individuals and therefore can’t be ignored. A cross burning in your front yard can’t be ignored. Being thrown in prison can’t be ignored. Having housing or employment denied to you can’t be ignored. I suppose if someone were to kidnap me and force me to watch The Book of Mormon Musical at gunpoint, that would qualify as persecution. (It would also be weird.) I suppose if people were blasting the original Broadway cast recording outside my window every night, that might also be persecution. (It would probably also be illegal on other grounds.) Targeting a group of people (or individuals because of their affiliation with that group) for violence or other forms of mistreatment is persecution. Insensitivity and/or criticism is not persecution.

  22. #22-
    Actually RJ I’m not defining religious persecution. I’m wondering how others do. I wouldn’t say BOM Musical is persecution, mocking yes. Do I care? Probably not. But if others do care, should I defend them and condemn BOM musical for the sake of a fair and plural society? Is that my moral obligation? I think it might be.

    Also, I really do think political climate has everything to do with it. If Mormons were being condemned in a political arena, then I think regardless of how harmless BOM Musical is seen as now, it would be viewed as much more troubling.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,700 other followers