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Righteous Gentiles

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 29, 2008

Yad Vashem, the Jewish memorial to those who died in the Holocaust of the 1940s, includes a program to recognize the contributions of the Righteous Gentiles, or the “righteous among the nations,” those who “mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values.”

The Righteous honored by Yad Vashem come from 44 countries; they are Christians from all denominations as well as Muslims, religious and agnostic, men and women, people from all walks of life, of all ages, educated professionals and illiterate peasants, rich and poor. The only common denominator is the humanity and the courage they displayed by standing up for their moral principles.

Nothing in the Mormon experience approaches the scale of the genocidal rage, the state-sponsored killing efficiency coupled with the moral depravity of the Nazis toward the Jews. Yet to a lesser degree, we have suffered death and despoliation at the hands both of government and private individuals far beyond the just deserts of anything we may have done to incite the fury.[1]

A recent Bloggernacle comment

In studying our history, I have always been impressed with the few individuals who did not share our beliefs — indeed who very likely found them to be extremely repugnant — but who nevertheless did the right thing by speaking on our behalf when we were being persecuted by governments and quasi-governmental militias.

reminded me that although we have no formal “Righteous Gentile” program to identify and memorialize those who have spoken on our behalf, we ought to remember and honor them when we find them – the Alexander Doniphans, the Thomas L. Kanes, the people of Quincy, Illinois, the occasional congressman, editor, lecturer or private citizen who “stemmed the tide of lying tongues and honored us ‘mid shame and scorn”[2] to speak or act for us.

Indeed. I read just last night about one such man, name unfortunately unknown. Early in 1858, Ezra T. Benson (the original), Orson Pratt, and others were hurrying back from Europe to Salt Lake because of the Utah War. They went through Panama, up to California, and overland to Utah. On their ship were 200-300 U.S. soldiers being shipped to California for a possible attack on Utah from the west. Nobody knew who the apostles were, but the talk was grim.

Also aboard was a young man, non-Mormon, who had spent some time working his way across the continent.

There was a man traveling on the packet with us who used to attend the thrashing machine for Wm. Macpherson in this [Salt Lake] city; he vindicated the character of this people. He did not recognize us, but I knew him as soon as I saw him. He said, in conversation with men on the boat, ‘I am a rambling sort of a chap, but if I were going to live and settle down, it would be in Utah.’ I asked him if he thought the ‘Mormons’ were going to fight. He said, ‘No, they are not, for they are not a fighting people, but it is those lying editors; the ‘Mormons’ are a peaceable, quiet people.’[3]

Not so much to say, really, but he earned an apostolic blessing for it, and for encouraging the Mormons that there were people who could and would tell the truth about them.

It wouldn’t hurt any of us to speak well of other people, to the extent we know good about them, or to notice and pay quiet respect to those who have spoken the good they know of us.

[1] Please do not catalog the real or imagined sins of the Mormons as excusing oppression. Just as we acknowledge that “nothing that any of the emigrants purportedly did or said, even if all of it were true, came close to justifying their deaths” in the case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre victims, nothing ever laid at the feet of the Mormons, even if all of it were true, comes close to justifying certain of the actions against us.

[2] “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”

[3] Ezra T. Benson, “Discourse,” Journal History, 24 January 1858.



1 Comment »

  1. Outstanding work, Ardis. Where would we be without people like that?

    Before we moved, I really enjoyed hearing the occasional mention of Thomas Kane elementary school on TV, and seeing the statue to Alexander Doniphan on the public square in Richmond, MO.

    Our family has learned this lesson first-hand, in a small way. There wre only ten LDS kids at the school our son attended, and he sometimes got bullied, and his Mormon beliefs became the subject of ridicule. One day one of the toughest kids in school came to his rescue, demanding that others back off and leave the Mormon kid alone. I always thought very highly of him after that.

    Comment by Mark IV — May 29, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

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