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“The Credit It Deserves”: Respecting Religious Organizations

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 26, 2009

I wrote a Christmas column this past December about the Salvation Army in Utah. The Salvation Army has been a charity I’ve respected since my long-ago Las Vegas ward partnered with the Salvation Army to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets — they furnished a minimum list of items to include, the Latter-day Saints assembled the boxes (usually with added food items), and the Salvation Army picked them up and delivered them to families. They were so well organized and so efficient that the Relief Society could have taken lessons from them — and you know there aren’t many organizations I would say that about.

Since writing that column, I have been on the lookout for evidence of how the Latter-day Saints have treated Salvationists in the past. I have some indications, but not conclusive ones (the 1870s branding by the Salt Lake Tribune of any Salvationist-harrassing crowd of hoodlums as “young polygamists” is not reliable testimony), that we may have jeered them, perhaps even thrown refuse at them.

This week I came across an 1893 Juvenile Instructor editorial, presumably written by George Q. Cannon, or at least approved by him, concerning some harrassment of Salvation Army preachers in Chicago. The editor condemned that behavior, noting that American civilization should have progressed beyond that in the 400 years since Columbus’s discovery of the continent, and especially in the city that was hosting the world that year at the Columbian Exposition (the world’s fair where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir competed for a prize). The Salvation Army, noted the writer, had many admirable qualities:

[T]here is much that is worthy of admiration in the methods and operations of the Salvation Army. They may be in the minority in assuming that in the military form and in the mimicry of war there is aught that lends strength or symmetry to the gospel of peace. By many their tastes may be considered vulgar, since they seek converts in the byways and the slums; yet the Savior of mankind did not withhold the message of salvation from the humblest and most despised sinner.

They may lay less stress upon the life eternal than upon improvement in the mortal plan, and thus by narrow constructionists be accused of casting the gospel’s priceless pearls before swine; yet the earthly life is but a preparation for the eternal — an indispensable and, in its consequences, all-important part of it.

And much of the good they do must be accepted without cavil at its true value. They are a consecrated band of workers for the betterment of the poorest of human circumstances. They are never happier than when relieving the wants of the needy; and the aid and comfort they unostentatiously furnish the wretched in localities where such an element exists would be a credit to the most liberal charity organizations of the land. No religionists, no friend of human kind, can feel to ignore such claims as these upon public consideration and esteem. Their exponents are certainly entitled to toleration and decent treatment at least.

We cannot believe that any reader of the Juvenile Instructor has ever been one of a party to ridicule or disturb the services of these people. The Latter-day Saints themselves know too well the value of religious liberty to deny it to others.

Our mission upon earth is not to tear down and ravage, but to improve and build up. Out duty is to point out men’s errors, not to treat them with scorn and contumely unless they are willing to be measured by our standard. As to the value of a human soul, whether high or low according to worldly notions, we think there can be no question.

We hope no one will deny to the Salvation Army the credit it deserves for the good it does and tries to do; and we are sure no believer in the true gospel will so far depart from the teachings of the Master as to offend and treat despitefully even the most unpopular of those who in sincerity are seeking the improvement of mankind.

This is obvious counsel, and I imagine that almost anyone reading this far is probably nodding in agreement.

But do we really follow this counsel, which has been repeated in different words and by different leaders through the years? I’m reminded of how many times I’ve snickered at witty remarks about the way some church prays, or sings, or dresses its clergy, or responds to the Spirit. Just last week in Sunday School, someone — who meant no harm, I’m sure — laughed at the “silliness” of a church that had erected a small “sprinkling”-type baptismal font on the bank of the River Jordan. I’m embarrassed that as the teacher I let the ridicule pass, because I didn’t know how to respond without embarrassing the ward member and derailing the lesson.

We have legitimate differences of doctrine (say, over the method of baptism), and we sometimes must defend our right to practice our beliefs in the face of disapproval (say, over baptism for the dead), and to preserve the kind of society we find best to raise our children in (say, concerning liquor laws). But none of that should ever descend to mockery of the forms of others’ sincere worship. Our obligation is  to recognize in every church “the credit it deserves for the good it does and tries to do.”



27 Comments »

  1. Wonderful thought, Ardis. I’m far from perfect on the point you address, though I do consider myself quite conscious of it, and I do make a concerted effort to refrain from such petty mockery.

    More importantly, I think, there is much beauty in the rituals and worship of various faiths, both Christian and other. Beyond simply respecting others’ approaches to worship out of an esteem for religious liberty, perhaps there is something to be learned and appreciated about the way that God’s different children communicate with and worship him.

    Comment by Christopher — March 26, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  2. On a slightly more academic note, the excerpt you quote from GQC’s 1893 article is perhaps relevant to the ongoing discussion concerning the groups’ Latter-day Saints have discursively aligned themselves with in discussing persecution.

    Comment by Christopher — March 26, 2009 @ 9:31 am

  3. Er … ignore the apostrophe in “groups.” My bad.

    Comment by Christopher — March 26, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  4. Being raised in an environment where we are taught to “know” the absolute truth of our teachings, it is a common pitfall to do that by ridculing the relative lack of truth in others. My children do it to each other (I am right and you are wrong) with surprising regularity. It is all I can do to teach my own children to allow others to be “wrong” without pointing it out. We as saints must practice humilty in how we teach others the truth. It does not require that we prove how wrong everyone else is.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 26, 2009 @ 9:42 am

  5. Ardis,
    Thanks for such a great story. My wife fled from her former husband, fearing her life at times, and the Salvation Army kept her and 3 kids for a few months in a battered wife’s shelter. They fed them, clothed them, and helped them get on their feet in ways the Church was either unable or unwilling to do.
    I gladly drop what I have into their Christmas buckets whenever I can, as I know I can never repay them for how they saved my wife and stepchildren all those years ago.

    Also, they were terrific in Mr Krueger’s Christmas!

    Comment by Rameumptom — March 26, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  6. Ardis,
    I recently watched a video of Ravi Zacharias in the LDS Tabernacle where the LDS community and evangelist community came together to share similarities instead of hash out differences. Although the conference was about two hours long, I watched it in its entirety, glued to the message Ravi Zacharias delivered. I believe that in general the Church is trying to bridge the gap between the two groups and rejoice in our similarities. AS individuals we need to follow that pattern.

    On a side note, all of the evangelicals commented on the “moving pulpit”. I guess we are truly a “peculiar people.” lol

    Comment by Inthedoghouse — March 26, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  7. Great post.
    We do indeed have an ugly human tendency to build ourselves up by tearing others down. I was raised in the south and around making fun of charismatic churches and those who didn’t fit the average protestant mold. I’ll always be ashamed of that.

    Now, after many years in the mainstream mormon church and now a fundamentalist mormon, I see the same thing between our groups. Those of us who share so much beautiful history, the same early prophets, the same scriptures, etc., and should be so close to one another seem to get some sort of holier-than-thou attitude toward each other.

    IMHO we would all do well emulating the Salvation Army’s example and spirit of unconditional love.

    Comment by Bruce in Montana — March 26, 2009 @ 10:23 am

  8. Rameumptom: Thanks for your heartfelt comment.

    This is an issue that really gets under my skin. Sometimes my wife and I feel that out Gospel Doctrine class turns into an on-going mockery of others’ beliefs. It seems that the whole class is “knowledgeable” what other religions supposedly teach. I don’t know how many times after church my wife has made the comment that as missionaries we tell people that if they want to know what LDS believe, they should ask a member. The same goes for other religions as well. If we want to know what Catholics or Baptists, or Methodists, etc., believe, ask one.

    My older brother taught me a great lesson once. I had an eighth grade English teacher who was Baptist and would literally preach to the class. I felt (and still do feel) that is was out of line in a public school. That said, my brother, who had also had him for class previously, told me that he didn’t agree with what Mr. ___ believed, but did respect Mr. ____’s beliefs. I have greatly appreciated that lesson.

    As to appreciating the beauty of other denominations’ rituals, I recall serving on my mission. Our district went to a late-night Lutheran Easter service (with the Mission President’s permission). The Pastor had us sit up front. We were given candles. The light was dimmed and the Pastor began the services, lighting a large candle in the front to represent the light Jesus brought to the world. At the end of the service, he invited all to light the candle they had been given from the light of Jesus candle (accepting Jesus’ light) and then parade through the sanctuary. The rest of the missionaries were unsure what they should do. I immediately got up and lit my candle and joined the procession. I was a very beautiful experience which I thought was very appropriate, spiritual and expressed our common belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 26, 2009 @ 10:38 am

  9. Ardis –

    Don’t beat yourself up over not confronting the member. Most of the time, letting their words hang in the air and then changing the subject offers enough of an editorial statement. Odds are most of your ward also cringed.

    Comment by queuno — March 26, 2009 @ 10:39 am

  10. (Although, there are moments when idiocy must be challenged.)

    Comment by queuno — March 26, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  11. Ardis, great thoughts — thanks.

    Comment by Steve Evans — March 26, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  12. Bruce in Montana — I have to warn you that, like Brigham Young (who would not allow Gladdenite or RLDS missionaries to preach in the Tabernacle while providing pulpit time to every other religionist and philosopher who came through Salt Lake), I make a distinction between those, like the Salvation Army, who have a portion of light and have never denied greater light, and those who once had the truth but have apostatized.

    You will not have the same freedom to express your fundamentalist, anti-mainstream-LDS views on Keepa as you are permitted on other blogs. Brand my attitude as “holier than thou” if you will, but be informed that such is the policy here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 26, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  13. I am sorry for having to introduce such a sour note on Keepa, especially in this thread, but an attempted follow-up comment has proven the wisdom of following Brigham Young’s pattern in such cases. If any who have already commented favorably are disturbed by my distinction between the Salvation Army and other such faiths, and those who were once of us but have turned away, and wish to have your own supportive comment removed, let me know. I will understand.

    Aside from all that, thank you for what you have written here, all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 26, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  14. It is your blog, Ardis. Administer it as you see fit. No need to apologize. Though I will say that I believe Brigham Young’s policy was more of a practical nature. He would not have wanted to the pulpit to those who had already proven a tendency to be meanspirited. Do you know of any speakers Brigham Young allowed in the Tabernacle that took advantage of his hospitality and were meanspirited when they spoke?

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 26, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  15. Well, there was Judge Brocchus at the Bowery in 1851 who compared Mormon women to harlots and urged their “return to virtue” and practically started a riot. And Brigham wasn’t very happy after having provided the Social Hall, including heat and lights, to the Hebrew Benevolent Society when they held a costume ball with several costumes mocking Mormon beliefs. And several Protestant ministers who were perfectly polite in the Tabernacle but spoke negatively about us when they got back home, and refused to allow LDS missionaries to share their pulpits, drew some caustic remarks.

    But for the most part, guests were courteous during their sermons, even while teaching their own doctrines which were at variance with LDS belief. Behavior and tone count a lot, don’t they?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 26, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

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  17. I’m definitely too quick to judge some of our evangelical brethren and sisters, and so this is advice well taken. Thanks for sharing GQC’s eloquent remarks.

    This line in particular is a good reminder of how we ought to act, especially when we find ourselves in the majority:

    The Latter-day Saints themselves know too well the value of religious liberty to deny it to others.

    Comment by kevinf — March 26, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  18. Excellent post, Ardis.

    I have been pleased with the obvious attempts recently by the Church to reach out and find areas of cooperation with others – even if that includes cooperating with some groups that actively preach we are headed to Hell. I think it epitomizes the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Comment by Ray — March 26, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  19. Re the issue of how Latter-day Saints have treated Salvationists in the past, I was interested to read the Deseret News’ coverage of General William Booth’s speaking appearance at the Tabernacle in December 1894. He seems to have enjoyed a nice reception.

    Comment by Justin — March 26, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  20. Yes, I read about that too, Justin. If we did treat the early “Salvation lads and lassies” poorly, by the time Gen. Booth came we had definitely learned better.

    Thanks for another set of great comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 26, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  21. Our Bishops today are acutely aware of watching who speaks at the pulpit in the wards. My son is in a bishopric. He told me that his bishop has assigned a certain (unpublicized) person as a follow-up to anyone on fast day who starts preaching or saying things that are out of line. We have a new person in our ward who has started saying things in Sunday School which should not be said. My Bishop has instructed the two teachers to be watchful and try not to let that happen. He asked me to follow her up on fast day if need be.

    Comment by Maurine — March 26, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

  22. Do you think that the JI article is perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that Church members had not been as respectful as they should have been, and a mild admonishment? (Or is that obvious to everyone, and I am just a little slow?)

    The JI article of reminds me of Elder Ballard’s talk(s) about how to treat our neighbors who are not of our faith. He spoke of things no good member of the Church would do (i.e., not allowing children to play with “non-members,” using the term “non-members,” saying, even jokingly, “If you don’t like it here you should leave”). But I am pretty sure these observations arose from things he had heard good members of the Church had done. I guess it is a lesson we keep trying to learn. Hence, a very worthwhile post. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Martin Willey — March 26, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  23. Mormons say the darnedest things about non-members. I certainly am happy to see General Authorities speak out on this. Several years ago, we took my in-laws to Independence, MO to see the Church sites. An LDS tour group pulled in and visited the Community of Christ (former RLDS) temple. In the orientation before the temple tour the guide explained the purpose of the CofC temple, then he opened it up to questions. A number of those in the LDS tour group began badgering him with questions and comments about women and the priesthood and why the CofC temple didn’t do ordinances and so forth. The guide was very courteous and patient. My wife, brother and in-laws, however, were very embarrassed about the way other LDS were acting. We got up and left. I’d bet my eye-teeth that many of those LDS who misbehaved went back to their home wards with their stories of how they told the CofC temple tour guide how wrong they were.

    The CofC built its temple to promote world peace. I don’t think that is a bad thing.

    Please forgive me if I come across a little critical of Church members. I think (hope) most understand how important it is to respect others beliefs. I just hope the rest will.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 26, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

  24. I live in the South and I am married to a non-member. When I hear critical comments of other faiths in Church, I raise my hand and make a positive one about how much they do with the light they have or I find that person (usually from the intermountain West recently moved in) later and explain my point of view and how “true” Southern hospitality works and how we have to be a better example down here in the “minority”. :)

    The bishopric mentioned above should take the lady that is speaking out of bounds aside privately. That had to be done in my ward with a recent convert that didn’t have the right spirit and lacked some knowledge of gospel principles as we teach them. It was done very lovingly and was so well-handled in my opinion that it taught me how to handle my “trashy” neighbors I currently suffer with.

    Comment by Allison — March 27, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  25. I sometimes wonder if we will be surprised who from what faiths will be among those in the celestial kingdom.

    This may be wrong, and I don’t want to suggest something that is out of line, but I have sometimes wondered if there are those who have missions guided by God to be part of other faiths to help bring people to more light than they would have had otherwise. I don’t suppose we can know that any more than we can know whether someone within our faith will really be exalted, but I have often felt much goodness from those in other faiths and have felt a kinship and gratitude for their service and faith in their circle of influence.

    And Elder Oaks once reminded us that the parable of the ten virgins addresses those in the Church. It’s a sobering reminder to me that we cannot sit back and think we have it made simply because we are in the Church.

    Comment by m&m — March 28, 2009 @ 12:18 am

  26. m&m: I don’t know of any doctrine that suggests that some were called on special missions to other faiths for the purpose of bringing more light. I do know that the Church has recognized past leaders of other faiths as inspired and integral to preparing the world for the restoration. These leaders included Martin Luther and other Reformers, various Popes, Muhammad, and others.

    My own personal feelings are that there are some contemporary spiritual leaders who are inspired for the purposes of bringing the restored gospel to others. We can look at the work of Pope John Paul II and the opening up of Eastern Europe. Again, that is my own opinion.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 28, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  27. Ardis-

    Having respect for religious differences is a principle always worth remembering. Thanks for the post.

    I just posted a piece on the Beehive Archive blog about William Booth’s visit to SLC and his appearance in the tabernacle. I think it’s interesting to note that he was a bit peeved by what he considered to be the restlessness of the tabernacle crowd, though it appears his opinion of the Mormon congregation softened later in life.

    Comment by Brandon — April 6, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

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