Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

(The same principles apply in the wake of any hate-induced violence, including against our Jewish friends at Tree of Life synagogue, our African Methodist Episcopal friends at Mother Emanuel Church, and our Sikh friends at the Oak Creek Gurdwara.)

Mourn

Don’t ignore or dismiss tragic news.  Mourning with those that mourn requires us to listen to vulnerability, to cultivate empathy, and to weep alongside our neighbors’ pain.

Publicly express your solidarity and support on social media.

Look up any candlelight vigils or prayer services being hosted in your community, and then attend.

Read the names and honor the stories of the innocent who were slaughtered.

NewZealand faces

Comfort

Reach out to your Muslim friends.  Express love.  Offer to listen.  Offer a shoulder to cry on.  Offer a warm meal, or to babysit their kids, or to fold their laundry, or to mow their lawn, or any one of dozens of practical things to alleviate the daily stresses of life that becomes overwhelming when you need time and space to mourn.  Think of the same things Mormons provide for each other in times of crisis — and then offer it here.

Every gesture of support helps.  I’m not sure my Mormon or white communities realize how much hate spews out as a byproduct of tragedy.  For every 100 hugs of solidarity Muslims receive today, they probably also hear one death threat. For every 100 likes and hearts on a mourning social media post, there’s probably three angry blustery screeds barraging our Muslim friends’ personal inboxes.  Due to my position at CAIR, I see them.  Yesterday alone, hate-sympathizers spray-painted crude graffiti on a mosque and attacked worshipers with a hammer.

Take steps to build bridges in your community.  Look up your local mosque or masjid and show up for services.  Set aside any semblance of awkwardness and pray with your brothers and sisters.

Look up your local interfaith group and sign up for or volunteer to support events.  Start making friends so the next time hate surfaces, your community is already united.

Donate to funds supporting burial costs for the victims, support for their families, and training and security for marginalized communications or at-risk buildings in your area.

If you have military, security, or police training, offer to provide security training and services for free.  (Please be aware, however, that the Muslim community is wary of law enforcement using tragedy to infiltrate the community, recruit informants, launch baseless terrorism investigations, or report immigrants to ICE.)

If you have any other specialized training — for example, if you’re an electrician who could improve exterior lighting to a mosque — offer those services as well.

My organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, publishes a “Best Practices for Mosque and Community Safety” guidebook.  In response to New Zealand’s tragedy, we’re distributing copies to every mosque in America.  You can proactively look through these recommendations and see what specific support and services you may be able to contribute in your communities.

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Stand as a Witness

Condemn white nationalism and hate-induced violence, and join in calls to action.  Share Mormon Women for Ethical Government’s statement.  Contact your state and federal representatives and ask them to support Muslim communities, condemn hate in all its forms, and pass specific legislation to combat bigotry.

Legislative examples that may resonate with you: repealing the Muslim Ban, improving legal immigration, supporting refugees, restricting ICE’s powers, establishing sanctuary cities, providing grant money for community security services, requiring background checks for gun purchases, and banning assault rifles.

Call out and shut down any rhetoric from anyone you know which glorifies violence, traffics in racist or anti-immigrant sentiments, or otherwise blames Muslims for their own deaths.  The Australian politician’s horrifying statement is prototypical of sentiments I’ve seen expressed, including by Mormons and Christians I know, all over Facebook and Twitter during the last 36 hours.  Shut it down.

Lead like Jacinda Ardern

I want to take a moment to praise New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her pitch-perfect response to this mass tragedy.  If you’re not aware, Jacinda Ardern was raised a devout Mormon, but left the Church when she felt that her commitment to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed no longer aligned with the Church’s doctrinal and political stances, particularly surrounding LGBT rights.  As she once told a reporter: “How could I subscribe to a religion that just didn’t account for [my gay friends]?”

I personally believe it’s possible to stand as a witness for Christ by supporting the marginalized and oppressed while remaining in the Church.  But I can’t help but respect Ardern’s decision to put love of her neighbors first when she felt it conflicted with the tenets of an organized faith.  That resonates with me in exactly the same way as Mosiah’s story of persecuted followers of Abinadi fleeing the corrupt church under King Noah, and then establishing new covenants at the Waters of Mormon to center a faith around Christ and loving fellowship.

Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017, and delivered her first child while in office.  Her baby is now almost 1.

Ardern has spent the past 36 hours fiercely calm and utterly compassionate while leading New Zealand through the greatest tragedy her peaceful nation has seen in decades.

Ardern donned a hijab to mourn and pray with victims’ families, and to thank first responders.

Ardern has already shepherded her government through concrete steps towards banning semi-automatic rifles.

Ardern personally told President Donald Trump yesterday that all she and New Zealand needs from him and the United States is a condemnation of white nationalism and a show of robust sympathy to Muslim communities around the world.

Mormons?  Let’s follow our Waters of Mormon baptismal covenants.  Let’s lead like Sister Jacinda Ardern.

*Photo by Ali Arif Soydaş on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Mike Harris says:

    A sincere bravo for the plea to mourn, comfort and stand!
    A saddened cringe at the justification to persist with “Mormon”.
    Both are a big deal.

  2. Thank you. Listening. Mosiah 18, PM Arden, MWEG, Carolyn Homer are all standards for me.

  3. Powerfully said, Carolyn; thank you.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    Thank you, Carolyn.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your informed, intelligent, and compassionate perspective.

  6. “Arden has already shepherded her government through concrete steps towards banning semi-automatic rifles.”

    I don’t think disarming those who saved dozens in this attack is helping at all. Also feel a bit of politically opportunistic cultural appropriation with the hijab.
    “One Friday prayer goer returned fire with a rifle” https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12213039&fbclid=IwAR0EMowqU1AqwcoDSDXnd4opvvVI488cB-vdeR005poIAz_lAm7jIwfjklk

    There’s much as LDS Christians we can do to reach out Invite Muslim children in your schools feel welcome. Volunteer with refugee programmes in our communities.

    Stand against the wars of aggression and dronings , primarily against Islamic peoples, led by the past 3 US administrations.

  7. Yes to all of this, Carolyn. I have some concrete idea to move forward. Thank you.

  8. GEOFF -AUS says:

    We had Stake Conference today in Australia, Our Stake President said we should only put positive things on social media. Not sure that those members who are anti muslim will realise he was referring to them.
    The only social media sites that oppose gay marriage, also oppose muslims, and immigration. The extreme right wing of our governing concervative party has been recruiting mormons, and knowing Utah is Republican, they think they are being good members by joining this group, which is also anti muslim. Frazer Anning the extreme politician mentioned in the post was part of another even more extreme party that gets mormon votes.
    So our opposition to gay marriage, puts members into the company of the extreme right, who are also anti muslim, anti immigration, anti climate change etc.
    I checked and ourSP was acting on his own he was not delivering a message from the area presidency, so we can expect anti muslim content from Australian mormons.

  9. Rahui Katene says:

    Caroline, great sentiments, and while they are focused on the US situation, helpful for all Mormons everywhere. It was wonderful to see the stories of love towards our Muslim brothers and sisters from members around NZ and the prayers in our wards yesterday, and particularly the opening of chapels across NZ and Australia to Muslim communities as mosques were closed. The numbers attending vigils and the amount of money raised for the families of the victims is typical of NZers. I just pray that this attitude carries on and people stand up against microaggressions into the future as much as they stand against this hateful act now.

    jpv, while I support the suggestions in your last two paragraphs, I am puzzled by a couple of your statements.
    1 please advise where you got the idea that someone returned fire with a rifle. That is not mentioned anywhere in the linked Herald article. Also, the only people permitted to carry rifles in NZ are people with gun licences, and they are only permitted to use those at gun clubs or hunting, they are not permitted to take them to worship. So I’d be very surprised if that happened. There has been a rumour that one of the people arrested showed up at a police cordon with a rifle, wanting to help the police, and of course was treated as a suspect in the shootings. As they should be – and should also be charged with wasting police resources if the rumour is true, imo.
    2 please explain your statement about “disarming those who saved dozens in this attack is [not] helping at all”. I have not seen Jacinda mention disarming the Police at any stage. Our Police are not regularly armed anyway (although the Police Association would really love that to happen against the wishes of most of us), and need special authorisation to access firearms.
    3 As for donning the hijab, that is a matter of respect for the people involved, rather than religious appropriation. There is a difference.

  10. Eric Ringger says:

    Thank you. Perhaps already noted, but commenting just in case. Please note the correct spelling of the PM of NZ: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacinda_Ardern

  11. “please advise where you got the idea that someone returned fire with a rifle. That is not mentioned anywhere in the linked Herald article.”

    Rahui, you’re right. The link no longer contains the quote I posted, with no apparent explanation for it’s deletion.

    Here is the original quote in context where I got that idea:
    “Second shooting at mosque in Linwood
    A second shooting happened at a mosque in the Linwood area of the city.

    One Friday prayer goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

    Witnesses said they heard multiple gunshots around 1.45pm.

    A well known Muslim local chased the shooters and fired two shots at them as they sped off.”

    From the same link archived the day it was published:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20190315195234/https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12213039&fbclid=IwAR0EMowqU1AqwcoDSDXnd4opvvVI488cB-vdeR005poIAz_lAm7jIwfjklk

  12. Josiah Ensing says:

    New Zealand has a rather small population and the terrorism in Christchurch has had a weighty impact on us. I’ve usually thought of terrorism as something awful and tragic, but committed overseas by foreigners. I can’t remember anything quite like this happening here before. We are all hurting and mourning over the lost lives, the suffering, and the hatred that led to it.

    Last night (Monday night), I went to an interfaith devotional in Hamilton (ages away from Christchurch) held in the big new stake center in Temple View. At short notice, quite a few Muslims even came, and many members of the church of Jesus Christ of latterday saints came. Several of the Muslims knew and had been invited by members of the church. Several female members of the church wore headscarves as a symbol of unity and solidarity.

    The day before, our stake youth choir director taught willing youth and YSA from across four stakes a few songs to sing in the devotion. At the devotional, members of the stake presidency and high council accompanied them with their guitars. Most of those attending stood up and sung along to Te Honore, Te Aroha, and Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words.

    Speakers included a Muslim girl from a local school spoke, a girl from a local high school who was a member of the church, local church leaders and local Muslim leaders, and Elder Ardern. Speakers talked about unity, dignity, love, tolerance, and challenging the malicious undercurrents in society that lead to disasters like that in Christchurch by creating friendships among people of different beliefs and cultures, by building up unified communities.

    Partway through the devotional, we paused and people who wanted could go to separate rooms and pray. For a devotional organised so quickly, it was very well planned and thought out. Whoever organised it is to be commended. It was a beautiful evening where members of the church grew closer to the Muslims in Hamilton. I hope that our Muslim brothers and sisters felt similarly.

  13. Beautiful, Josiah.

    Thanks for sharing.