Sunday, April 03, 2005

Gathering the faithful

The LDS Church is holding its 175th Annual General Conference this weekend. Basically, it's a thing where, instead of attending church this Sunday, members are asked to "attend" a meeting where selected members of church leadership give talks on issues of importance, and report on the state of the church. I put "attend" in quotes because there are obviously more members of the church than can fit into any one meeting place (12,275,822), and so most of us watch or listen to it on TV, radio, or the Internet. Fortunately for me, Liz's family had tickets to attend one of the actual sessions at the general conference center and some of them were unable to attend, so Liz invited me to come. We took the Trax downtown, and walked a block or two to the General Conference Center.

As we were walking, I noticed some interesting people had gathered to take advantage of the throngs of Latter-Day Saints. First, there were street performers and beggars asking passersby for money; I guess the logic is that they're faithful, and therefore generous, and so it's a great way to get the most money possible. They're probably right.

The other people I noticed, though, were more troublesome. These are the anti-mormons, most of whom--having armed themselves with all sorts of misinformation and misunderstanding--believe that it is their civic duty to cry repentance unto us wicked Mormons. In a sense, it's amusing to see what they're saying. For instance, there's the camp that thinks we don't believe in the Bible or in Jesus. So they're out there shouting, "Jesus is the risen Lord. Ye are sinners, and except that ye repent ye shall find everlasting torment," and I'm nodding my head and saying, "Amen; well said." We believe that, too.

Then there are the ones who think that we don't really care about humbly serving God, and that we selfishly do what we think is right because we think that if we are good enough, or if we convert enough people, that we'll get our own little corner of the universe to rule over when we die. They're out there shouting, "You cannot become a God. I am here because I love you. You do not love me." and some other stuff that I can't remember now.

There are also the ones who realize that we are genuinely good people with good intentions, but think that we've been led astray by a deviant church. I'm not sure exactly what they think our leaders' motives must be for lying to us. It doesn't make sense. But they insist that the Bible warned against false prophets, and so therefore our prophets are false. And the Bible warned against adding to the word of God, and so therefore any scripture not included in the Bible is therefore false. This is folly, and shows a sad lack of understanding when it comes to the origin of the scriptures. The Bible is a compilation of writings of various people who were often unaware of each other. The author of the Proverbs warning against adding to God's word had no concept of the fact that his writings would be later packed in with a bunch of other scriptural writings. If we receive and record additional revelations from God, that's not men adding to God's word. It's no more blasphemous than putting the Revelations of St. John into the same book that Proverbs is in.

And then there are the ones who think that we are borderline demonic. They're holding up signs that read, "The LDS church of Lucifer's Brother" (whatever that's supposed to mean), and lists of all the sins they think we're guilty of, which are so vile I'd rather not write them here.

So even though I can see some bit of humor in it, it really does sadden me. Most of these people have no idea what they're fighting. They won't listen in on the message of the General Conference, even though it's being broadcast on an AM station. One would think that they'd want to more fully "understand the enemy," as it were, but I guess they're afraid that they might be somehow corrupted if they listen to the admonitions of our prophets and apostles. If anybody listened to even one session, they would realize that there is absolutely no basis to most of their arguments. But they won't. I don't know, it's just sad. It's even worse when you're leaving, because you just spent two hours hearing inspiring stories from inspired teachers, and you can just feel the Holy Spirit burning inside you. The light and peace of Christ has filled you to bursting. And then you walk out and have people angrily shouting down your religion.

I really doubt that these folks have considered how they would feel if they just finished a worship session at their church, and were totally feeling at peace, and when they walked outside a bunch of people start telling them how wicked they are. In past years, groups have come to Utah to stand outside the general conference center and hand out anti-abortion fliers; apparently they don't realize that Utah has both the lowest abortion rate and the highest birth rate of all the states. So plenty of LDS members were pretty shocked to have people thrusting fliers pictures of aborted fetuses in their faces. The demonstrators have also flaunted temple garments around. They have no idea how disgusting that is. Those church members who choose to take on the covenants necessary for temple endowment keep those garments hidden as much as possible. The idea is to keep the garments close to them as a sacred reminder of the covenants they made with God. To wave them around in public like that is beyond disrespectful. It's like standing in the way of a crowd of Muslims during their Hajj, throwing copies of the Koran on the ground and stepping on them. Not to mention the lack of maturity necessary to tease people about their "funny underwear."

But despite their best efforts, the conference was spirit-filled and inspiring. It always feels so good to hear the words of inspired men and women. In closing, let me leave you with the first words I heard out of President Hinckley's mouth that day. I had known the Pope was expected to die soon, but this was the first time I heard about his actual death:
We join those throughout the world who mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II, an extraordinary man of faith, vision, and intellect, whose courageous actions have touched the world in ways that will be felt for generations to come. The pope's voice remained firm in defense of freedom, family and Christianity. On matters of principle and morality he was uncompromising. On his compassion for the world's poor, he has been unwavering.
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