I like to follow the news, but I try to not to get too caught up in it and become a prisoner of the moment. But this week, I can’t help but comment on the recent crisis in the Middle East over the film made here in America with depictions of Mohammed, the man Muslims claim to be their founder and their prophet.
First of all, it’s never a good idea to mock or profane what others hold sacred even if you are free to do so. Growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) my whole life, or as Mormon, I know that the Mormon Church has been subject to anti-Mormon literature and media since its inception. These attacks have not just come from secularist but oftentimes and sometimes more virulently from people of other faiths.
I understand what it feels like to have people denigrate what you value most as an individual and not only denigrate your belief system but outright lie about it. In fact, the Mormon Church is now the subject of maybe one of the most successful Broadway plays ever, an obscene-laden parody produced by no less than the creators of South Park. The movie, the Innocence of Muslims, as far as scale goes and success pales in comparison to the Broadway play, Book of Mormon. Heck, the play won nine Tony awards. However, the Mormon Churches response was the following:
“The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”
The Mormon Church did not issue any decree for boycotts or protest or call for any violence towards others or destruction of the property. I’ve heard that they even took advantage of the play’s popularity and bought advertising space in the programs with the above press release.
In a commentary , called Publicity Dilemma, released on March 9, 2009, the Mormon Church commented on the recent heightened publicity and portrayals on TV, film and on Broadway stating that some were accurate, some blatantly false, and other were done in “appalling bad taste”. The commentary went on to state that:
“…there is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term negative effect on the Church”, and further stated, “that with a global membership of thirteen and a half million there is no need to feel defensive when the Church is moving forward so rapidly.”
These statements demonstrate the Mormon Church’s confidence in what it is but also demonstrates its confidence in its mission and purpose, and an understanding of what its collective energy and resources should be focused on. But what is not so apparent in these statements is the Mormon Church understanding of freedom and how much the Church values freedom, not only as a political concept, but as a key concept to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Freedom is essentially the power and the ability to choose for oneself the course one will follow in all fields of activity. In the book, Mormon Doctrine, it states that “freedom of conscience…is the greatest freedom of all.” Only the greatest good for the individual and society can happen in a society that has the utmost respect for freedom of conscience. The Mormon Church has prospered under this freedom and understands that freedom is one of the most important parts of the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ. Christ understood that without freedom the individual, hence society, cannot prosper and grow and that the individual cannot truly come unto Him wholeheartedly. It also should be understood conversely that one of the greatest evils is to force people to do good or force them to make correct decisions.
Unfortunately, freedom without an equal portion of virtue, compassion, mercy and responsibility can produce some incredibly heinous evils. However, it should be noted that many of the governments without or who have limited political and religious freedom have been able to produce some of the greatest evils mankind has ever witnessed.
I believe, however, based on my experience that any religion or belief system can survive negative media portrayals, especially obscure ones, without resorting to violence and intimidation. A religion does not demonstrate its power through war, violence, murder, and the destruction of property, but by the change in heart and the good it produces in people’s lives.
Even though I know no Muslims, I can’t believe that every Muslim acts like those portrayed on the news. Like any group, I am sure there are many individuals who defy the group stereotypes we have in the West of Muslims or defy the violent images we see on the news. I am sure there are many Muslims who are trying to build up strong families, seek truth and hold to universal values of freedom, honestly, peace, and unselfishness.