A couple of weeks ago, when reading the first chapters of Alma, I was surprised at the frequent use of the word persecution (in various forms). Initially, these were leveled at persecutors of the church (presumably by those not in the church). Later in (Alma 4:8–9) we read (highlights added):
the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.
9 And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
One of Joy’s favorite questions is, “what does this look like today?”
According to the American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1844, we might anticipate that Joseph Smith meant the following in translating the Book of Mormon:
1. The act or practice of persecuting; the infliction of pain, punishment or death upon others unjustly, particularly for adhering to a religious creed or mode of worship, either by way of penalty or for compelling them to renounce their principles. Historians enumerate ten persecutions suffered by the Christians, beginning with that of Nero, A. D. 31, and ending with that of Diocletian, A. D. 303 to 313.
It would be difficult to make a case that we LDS generally bully others who are not of the our faith. I have most certainly never done this. So, what might this look like in my life? In the Wikipedia article for persecution we read, “The suffering experienced by the victim must be sufficiently severe. The threshold level of severity has been a source of much debate.”
So, I’m off the hook, Right?
Not so fast. What might this look like if we apply the principle behind this quote,
…whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
If long-learned tendencies towards passive-aggressive behavior are allowed within the scope of severity, then does disparagement, condescension, ridicule, or other uncharitable comments and/or thoughts about another person’s beliefs indicate a precursor in attitude sufficient to convict me of a more celestial level of persecution severity? In chapter 19 of Job we read (highlights added):
21 Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.
22 Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?
23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
28 But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?
Beautifully stated Job. Remind you of Romans 2:1? Clearly, they were not physically abusing Job. This persecution was a persecution of thoughts and attitudes, and Job (rightfully) places the sin right at the feet of those doing the self-righteous persecution.
What do I do with these types of thoughts:
- The Jews live a lower law (with all the examples).
- That’s just anti-Mormon bull….
- Why can’t those who leave the church, leave the church alone (see: “Becometh As a Child, ”Neal A. Maxwell, General Conference, April 1996).
- Curiously, this is used by those in the church to denigrate those who have left the church (not intended).
- Nevertheless, his comments are also true for many who have left the church (as intended).
- There are two churches only…. (note: everyone I’ve met thinks they are the right one, and everyone else is therefore worshiping who?).
We’ve talked before about polarization, group, and/or my-side bias. With that as a basis, can we hold a bias without having some kind of “persecution” in our heart? Can we have a bias for the truth, without having a bias against those who hold to false beliefs, false traditions, ignorance, and any and all forms of ungodliness? It must be possible, or we are lost (meaning, God would necessarily be biased against us all). I know, you are probably thinking, “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
I fear I spend too much time acting like Job’s friends, demonstrating against the sin(s) to prove my love for the sinner. Is this because they (I?) needed to rationalize and justify their (my) own biases, or as Alma said, “…pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
Funny how when I pray to understand better my unbeliefs and false traditions, the Lord keeps coming up with new ways for me to repent.