I recently watched Porgy and Bess at the 5th Avenue Theater. My knowledge of opera is fairly limited, but this one is my favorite. I am aware of its problematic elements, but I’m a sucker for Gershwin.
The opera follows the complicated relationships, lives and deaths in an African American neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1920s. I watched and listened to the characters seek divine healing from a local Christian woman, instead of the white-run hospital. They systematically evaded cooperation with law enforcement investigating the murder of one of their own. I immediately thought of the resonant aspects Mormon History.
Like anyone who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, I was familiar with the Public Enemy and NWA songs that pilloried law enforcement and emergency responders, but it was wholly incomprehensible to me. My sympathies have always been with the rule of law and its officers. They still are.
In the last decade I have read thousands of documents generated by our nineteenth century co-religionists. I’ve come to enjoy the contrasts with my own lived experience, though in the beginning I didn’t have the tools make sense of it all. I’ve seen the stake president jump from a moving train to evade the marshals. I’ve seen ward members excommunicated for taking their grievances to civil courts. And I’ve seen a few cases where our people have wanted to take care of our own business, regardless of gentile law or its enforcers.
It is strange where empathy is sometimes born, and it takes a long pull to get there.