Throughout this tense election cycle, we at Mormon Buzzz have tried our best to steer our publication clear of the political vitriol with which every American is now perfectly familiar. While politics have dominated our public discussion and driven wedges in our relationships, we have wanted our platform to bring people together, not tear them apart. But we can think of no more-appropriate topic to discuss on this platform, than the topic of religious discrimination.
As many of you are no doubt aware, recently-elected President Donald Trump has signed an executive order disallowing anyone from a number of predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. This order also includes Muslim Americans who are legal residents and hold green cards. To defend this order as a measure which targets specific countries and not a specific religious minority falls flat, as Trump himself called during his campaign for a “complete and total shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. This is, in no uncertain terms, government-mandated religious persecution.
And who should be more acquainted with religious discrimination than members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Our history is rife with stories of early saints whose houses were burned, whose family members were raped and killed, who were driven from community to community because people were afraid of their beliefs and practices, and who eventually fled the United States into the unsettled west, just to escape the horrible persecution of the day. In modern times, who has faced criticism over our Church’s firm stances on controversial social issues? Who faces a public that often considers our faith to be unacceptable, enough that one study, which measured positive feelings in America towards religious groups, ranked Mormons at only 47%, just above Buddhists and Muslims at 46% and 44%?
Through years of hard work our rights have been secured, but now we are at a tipping point in history where we can choose to extend those rights to other religious minorities, or withhold them out of fear. We have an obligation as followers of Jesus Christ to help those who are fleeing the destruction of their cities, who are seeking a better life in this country we call home, and who are our spiritual siblings with homes and families well-established in America.
These enacted policies by President Trump are temporary, but their ramifications, and the precedent they set, are not. We cannot ever again complain if, when faced with the opportunity to stand up against religious discrimination and its proponents, we fail to heed the call.
As the beneficiaries of years of labor by leaders who worked to ensure our acceptance in America, we have a solemn responsibility to do the same for others. We must commit to do what is within our power to enact political change, and even more, to create communities which welcome those of other faiths as we have been welcomed. If you’re not sure what you can do, the Church has created an excellent page which outlines what religious freedom is and the steps we can take to protect it for ourselves and others.
I can think of no other words more applicable than those uttered by our founder and prophet Joseph Smith, who said:
“If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
“It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race. Love of liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees…
“We ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors, and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God” (History of the Church).
If you are afraid of terrorism or terrorist attacks, become acquainted with the fact that you are far safer than you realize. If you are concerned about Islamic teachings and practices, talk to local members of the faith and let them tell you what they actually believe. If you feel that your culture is somehow tainted by the influence of outsiders, then repent.
We are not calling for an abandonment of reason. America has the right to protect its citizens, but there are already reasonable measures in place to ensure that people entering the country as visitors and refugees are safe and well-intentioned. What we implore is that each member and citizen learn from the mistakes of the past. Xenophobia and religious persecution, even in their infancy, have never led to positive results. We can be better than that. As Americans, as followers of Christ, and as Mormons, we should be better than that.