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A new age where Christians can be openly persecuted in Western society is now upon us.
(For example, see this treatment)

We know from the Book of Mormon that Christian reaction to persecution can span the spectrum between returning railing for railing or refusing to do so (3 Ne 6:13). And we are also given advice of the Lord in D&C 50:32-33 to the end that “you may chase darkness from among you” (D&C 50:25).

How should we interpret these and other scriptures concerning how CoJC members should conduct themselves under persecution? How can we fortify ourselves and our families against the day of ever more open and more intense persecution?



Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board, SquareTwo Journal (2019) "Readers' Puzzle Spring 2019, Preparing for Persecution," SquareTwo, Vol. 12 No. 1 (Spring 2019), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzleSpring2019.html, accessed <give access date>.

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 100 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 7 Comments

I. Kathy Bence

As I looked at this important question of how to react to persecution in the Book of Mormon, I found a spectrum (as the puzzle calls it) of examples that might fit. Not only do the responses to persecution vary, but also the level of persecution being endured. I'll use three examples.

First, in Mosiah 27, before Alma and the sons of Mosiah are converted, there is persecution described as great persecution, but they have freedom and the persecuted Church members are likely the majority. These Christians complain to their leaders; the leaders listen, and act and make laws on behalf of their constituency.

1 And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.

2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God.

3 And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;

4 That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.

Second, in 3 Nephi 6, the Nephites still have freedom, but they are the minority being persecuted by other church members who are acting less than Christian. The passage doesn’t tell us what they did (it never indicates they did nothing), but the example is that whatever is done or said, it’s best to be humble and not rail (or revile and hate).

10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;

11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.

12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.

Third, In Mosiah 24, Alma’s people are being persecuted by Amulon and are powerless, with guards overseeing them and the threat of death if they are caught praying. In this example, the persecuted Christians silently pray and the Lord makes their burdens seem light and eventually frees them from bondage.

9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been one of the king’s priests, and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.

10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.

11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

I suspect we are somewhere near the persecution level of the Nephites in the second example. The Christians in Western Society still have most freedoms, but may be the minority (or at best a silent majority) who are being persecuted. Regardless, all three examples give us direction:

1.“Murmur” or “complain” to the opinion leaders and elected officials who can do something. This may be the only time murmuring is encouraged, but it got results for the these Nephites. We must find ways for our voice to be heard such as voting, writing letters, making calls, using our purchasing power, making donations, and convincing others to do the same.

In the linked article, Ryszard Legutko (the polish politician who lived under communism, and was not allowed to speak at Middlebury College because of threats from violent students) said: “It all starts with overcoming fear. Of course, fear under hard totalitarianism is of a different kind than fear under soft despotism in liberal democracy, but it is fear all the same…the most eye-opening discovery is that with the absence of fear not only many problems that we had disappear, but that it is we who become a serious problem to the guardians of the totalitarian system, to all those politruks, to ideological hoodlums, to cowardly bureaucrats. The moment we cease to be afraid of them, we see that they begin to be afraid of us. And this is a reward that has no price.”

2. Do not rail, or revile and hate. Despite our need to speak up, we should show respect and love like the more righteous Nephites did. The importance of showing love was beautifully stated in BYU’s April commencement speech: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/arthur-c-brooks_more-love-less-contempt/

3. Pray (and thankfully not under threat of death like Alma’s people).

Sadly, Christians in some parts of the world today are facing genocide (see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6986565/Persecution-Christians-modern-day-genocide-says-report.html ). Edmund Burke's statement made in the 18th century applies: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If good people do nothing to stem the persecution of Christians in Western Society--we stand to lose almost everything and pass a miserable life onto our children.

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II. Ashley Alley

When it comes to persecution, I think there are a lot of nuances and it is important to first identify whether a particular situation is actually persecution or not (the question of how we define persecution could potentially be another reader's puzzle for another time!). I have found that I must be careful about not 'assuming negative intent' and getting prematurely defensive. There have been moments where I have reacted as if I was being persecuted when in reality the individual really had an honest question, was making a sincere statement/observation, or had chosen a course of action based on factors other than my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Having learned this lesson the hard way (several times), I now strive to first establish whether the individual really has malicious intent or not before moving forward.

Once intent has been determined, my next step is to consider the intensity and long-term consequences of the persecutor's actions. If it is mild enough, I tend to rely on turning the other cheek and not responding in kind. If it is a dangerous, aggressive, or violent situation, then I believe self-defense is justified. Because of how much will vary between situation and situation, I think it is especially important for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to strive to have the Spirit with them, relying on personal revelation and the Spirit's promptings to help determine the most appropriate course of action. In those moments, if we are prepared and are seeking that guidance, I fully believe the Spirit will reveal to us what we should do; He may even bring to our mind some of the different scriptures referenced above according to our needs and what the situation calls for at that time.

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III. Neal Kramer

Religious persecution, like the hydra, has many different faces. For example, it can include destroying symbols of faith, like crosses, or stars of David, or statues of the Buddha. It can take the form of burning down buildings, like stake centers, cathedrals, or synagogues. Countries can pass laws denying the right of Jehovah's Witnesses not to salute the flag. It can take the form of laws limiting immigration from one country to another based on adherence to a faith. It can incite extermination orders forcing members of a church to leave a state under threat of death and then allowing other citizens to steal their property. It includes incarceration for one's beliefs. It can be character assassination or murder. It can rise to the level of organized murders that have genocide as their final solution. It can involve massacres of members of one sect or inter-sectarian warfare. Such multifaceted persecution has been extremely effective, past and present. Persecution is easy to start but hard to stop.

Recent persecution I have witnessed can take the form of condescension or outright dismissal. It comes as a snicker, a tone of superiority, or name calling rather than engaging in explanation or argument. The Book of Mormon calls it making someone an “offender for a word” (2 Nephi 27:32). It can easily happen amidst a conflict of interpretations. It can take the form of trying to shout someone down in the comments section of a blog or other website. It is often brutal, intimidating, and just short of physically violent, though it is surely meant to inflict pain. Such persecution can come from within the culture of one's own faith. This dismissal of work and ideas can be a symbolic form of scapegoating. It is designed to efface or silence a person.

Another version of this form of persecution is denying a person of faith the right to take a political position based on religious beliefs. Most recently, it has appeared in debates about abortion and gay marriage. The critique suggests that the offender desires to use the power of law impose religious rules on everyone else. It is an attempt to deny believers any voice in the public square.

There are ways to break free from such persecution, but not all are as effective as one might hope. In seventeenth-century England, Richard Hooker (Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book VIII) tried to bring peace to the dangerous conflict between Puritans and Anglicans by introducing the concept of adiaphora, or indifferent things. He believed that too many people found soul-saving significance in insignificant details and then tried to enforce them on everyone else. They hoped it would lead to a holier society. Instead, it led to civil war and horrifying violence.

Hooker hoped reason would calm people down. His beliefs became part of the foundation of the “Anglican middle way,” an idea that eventually encouraged and protected religious pluralism. This led to a profusion of protected sects (all Protestant, no Catholics) but also produced a level of peace in England. It is an effective way to limit persecution by passing laws whose justice is grounded in human dignity and allowing God to judge whose doctrine and practices are incorrect. Religious liberty and a culture of respect can counteract violent persecution of Christians by other Christians.

Hooker was right that Christians can be the worst enemies of other Christians or Jews. We need to have allow the expression of beliefs we find distasteful, even appalling, and expect other Christians to treat us the way we have treated them.

Today, we have good examples of people who turn respect for human dignity into love and friendship. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem remarkably capable of establishing good relationships with unlikely friends who were once antagonistic. I can think of none less likely than the "godless communist" bureaucrat in East Germany who solved the problem of East German saints wanting to leave the country to attend the temple in Switzerland. He encouraged and allowed the church to build a temple in East Germany!

Today, we Latter-day Saints have many friends among Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims. We are good diplomats and good friends. We can work together with people who do not necessarily share all our distinctive beliefs but desire to love as the Savior taught. We seem today to be reaching out to more and more people of faith in the spirit of love and support. We share excellent programs that can teach people in the bondage of poverty about the freedom that can come from self-reliance. We team up with Christian charities around the world to offer relief to the victims of natural disasters. Genuine friendship and respect can unexpectedly bring people together. If we can protect ourselves and others with good laws and good friends, we can counteract the contentious spirit of persecution.

We should never forget that we have real enemies. We should never be shy about calling out evil when we think we see it. However, I think we can be vigilant and reasonable at the same time. There are people to rescue around the world. We cannot find them by looking inward and becoming fearfully insular.

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IV. Stephen Cranney

My approach to this has always been guided by the “wise as serpents but harmless as doves” saw. Unfortunately, being both a sheep and a wolf-attacker is a tricky needle to thread and how exactly we do so has to be prayerfully figured out anew for each distinct case. On one hand, we risk being too vituperative or paranoid in our response, which may cause more harm than good. On the other hand, we risk being complacent while we are outmaneuvered in the public and legal sphere.

In figuring this out, it is important here to remember that "they that be with us are more than they that be with them," and not just in a spiritual sense, since most of America is still fairly pro-Christian and pro-religion. It's really just a well-placed, elite minority that are on the offensive. If we keep that in mind, it gives us the confidence to be able to stand by our convictions and rely on the advantages we do have without feeling the need to desperately lash out.

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V. Kent Harrison

In the example referred to in the Puzzle, that is, the remarks made by Ryszard Legutko, Legutko quotes Pope John Paul II, who seems to address religious persecution directly. The Pope says: “Do not be afraid.” That characterizes the people in the three examples that Kathy Bence gives in her response to the puzzle, which come from the Book of Mormon.

A corollary to that is that one should speak up and protest the persecution where possible. We are often told that for evil to triumph it is simply required that good men and women do nothing.

For those in societies where it is a large problem, protest against it takes courage, since there is often danger involved, as in the account in Mosiah 23-24 that Kathy Bence quotes, and many historical examples such as William Tyndale. For those Church members who live in societies where religious persecution is not prominent, less immediate courage is required. What is required of them, however, is that they be aware of where persecution does occur in the world and to make their voices heard in protest against it where possible—through writing, speeches, contributions to organizations, and such. And they should pray for religious freedom.

In all cases, we should teach our children and grandchildren that there will be persecution and that it will increase. They are will see more of it, more widespread than in our day. More courage will be needed. Our descendants can study the scriptures, our Church leaders’ pronouncements (which are numerous), and other writings (Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, and Frankl come to mind), in preparation for a defense against enmity. Preparation is key.

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VI. Savannah Johnston

An important component of fortifying ourselves as a faith community (and individuals) against more intense persecution is the creation of deep bonds of friendship with members of other faith communities. The more we assert their right to religious freedom, the more our own right to religious freedom is cemented and defended. Our feelings of care and concern for our friends gives us the courage to stand up when they are being unjustly targeted. The same will happen in reverse. Friendship undermines distrust, quells false information, and sucks the oxygen out of the wildfires of hatred. These bonds are already being forged at the highest levels by church leaders, but we should be expending more effort to create them at the individual level. The individual level will have an even greater impact. Attending local open-mosque nights or inviting a neighbor of a different faith over for dinner are small and easy steps towards building lasting friendships.

How else can we fortify ourselves and our families against the day of ever more open and intense persecution? I think we begin by practicing the principles taught in D&C 50:32-33 in this calmer present. Our children need to see us living Christian doctrine now. How do we react when someone offends us or makes false accusation? Do we rage against them? Or do we calmly correct false information and seek to forgive? How we respond to little things now will dictate our response to big things later.

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VII. Michelle Brignone

I think we turn the other cheek, as the Savior taught and as He exemplified in his own actions and responses to persecution. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He did not allow the rulers to curtail his mission or his right to continue teaching, even after He had been told to stop, a form of nonviolent, peaceful protest if you will. He did not make a big deal about it, He just quietly continued doing the work He was sent here to do. When He was brought before the former high priest Annas, a wholly illegal meeting, and then before the chief priest Caiaphas and the other rulers in the middle of the night, again against precedent, and then before Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again, the Savior asserted his rights, answered their questions when so moved, and maintained a dignified silence the rest of the time. He did not throw a fit and demand his rights. He did not threaten to sue, go to the press, or seek revenge. He quietly pointed out they were violating His rights, answered their questions, and submitted to the will of the Father, which at that time, was that He endure the persecution. Are we any better?

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