At the last General Conference--which is a semiannual gathering for members to listen to sermons from church leaders--many topics were covered. But the topic that stood out to me the most was of being a disciple of Christ and standing up for what you know is right. In conjunction with this topic was the discussion of religious persecution. I've actually thought a lot about that on my own because publicly right now, my church is a little bit frowned upon by the world due to some of our core beliefs. And to be quite honest, in my "worldly" mind I might agree that we appear that we aren't keeping up with the times. But I also see the bigger picture. I know that God is in charge of the affairs of the church, and that he accomplishes His work through a living prophet. Ever thought about that before? He directs the church. NOT the prophet. If He sees need for a change, He will reveal it to our current prophet, who would then reveal it to the world.
What is persecution anyway? This is a word I am very familiar with as I grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and heard several stories about how the first leaders of the church AND my ancestors were persecuted for what they believed. According to the dictionary provided on my Apple computer, persecution is "hostility and ill-treatment especially because of...religious beliefs" and "persistent annoyance or harassment."
Since the beginning of time, people, prophets, and even Jesus Christ himself have been persecuted for following God's commands and urging others to do the same. Take the Biblical prophet Daniel, for example, who was cast in to a lion's den for praying. Take the prophet Lehi, from the Book of Mormon, who prophesied that the people would be destroyed if they didn't repent and change their ways, was mocked and scorned and threatened. His two oldest sons even persecuted him by speaking wickedly about him and plotting to kill him. I could go on and on, I think every Biblical and Book of Mormon prophet was persecuted in one form or another. And we all know that our Savior was persecuted in the worst ways possible, nailed to and hung on a cross to die.
More recently, in our dispensation of time, the prophet Joseph Smith who restored Christ's church to the earth was persecuted from the minute he spoke about his experience of conversing with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ about which church to join. He was violently chased out of every city he and the followers tried to settle. He was tarred and feathered, beat, made fun of, mocked, falsely accused and sent to prison. He eventually was killed by a mob at the age of 38. The Mormons were persecuted alongside of him and continued to be, even after his death.
In April 2014 General Conference, one of our current apostles, Jeffrey R. Holland, (see our church is set up how Christ's was, we have 12 apostles just like the Savior did) said,
“With admiration and encouragement for everyone who will need to remain steadfast in these latter days, I say to all and especially the youth of the Church that if you haven’t already, you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require both courage and courtesy on your part.”
I think that persecution goes on still, but not so much as in violence and killing. I see persecution now, (at least here in the United States) being more hostile in attitudes and ill-treatment through words.
Take, for example, a comment left by a complete stranger on my blog a couple years ago. I had written this post about what Mormon's believe and why we say we are Christian, and a random female responded,
"Wow. Please stop reproducing. Wake up. Mormons are not Christian. By definition you aren't Christian. I have to believe you are sincerely retarded if you can honestly believe you are. Being Christian means accepting Christ as your ONLY god, the father, son, and holy spirit. AS ONE. Now, is that what you believe? No it isn't is it? So I will ask again, no beg...do not spawn anymore offspring because this world is full of enough idiots already and doesn't need your help in spreading the disease that is stupidity.”
Elder Holland shared a story in his talk about a female missionary pair and their experience with a hostile man.
“My companion and I saw a man sitting on a bench in the town square eating his lunch. As we drew near, he looked up and saw our missionary name tags. With a terrible look in his eye, he jumped up and raised his hand to hit me. I ducked just in time, only to have him spit his food all over me and start swearing the most horrible things at us. We walked away saying nothing. I tried to wipe the food off of my face, only to feel a clump of mashed potato hit me in the back of the head."
Again these are just two examples. I'm certain the stories could go on forever. I see it all over the internet. I see it on TV too. People persecuting Mormons (and other religions for that matter) all across the web. It doesn't make me change my mind about what I believe, rather rethink, ponder and pray about my beliefs and then gain a greater understanding and faith about why I believe what I do. So in a way I suppose it's good. In another way, it's actually very sad. Sad the people treat others they way they do.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means I "...defend, embrace and assist in spreading the teachings of the Savior." It means I follow Jesus AND his teachings whether I understand the why's behind everything or not. It means I honor the covenants (promises made between me and the Lord) I make at baptism and in the temple.
Elder Holland brought up the word defend in the above mentioned quote, "...you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith..." I know that defending my Savior is being a disciple. Even when it's hard. Even when all my friends disagree with me. Even when others make me feel ashamed for believing what I do. Even when I feel alone. I don't think it's always easy, especially when the "world" mocks me for what I believe. Even Peter, one of the Savior's apostles felt shamed by the people of the world. In Matthew 26:
34 Jesus said unto him, (Peter) Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
35 Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
Peter loved Jesus. He followed him. He knew in his heart that he would not deny Him. But look, even he, an apostle of the Lord isn't perfect. Matthew 26:
69 Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
71 And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
73 And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
I love this story because it teaches me that we are all weak in the flesh, no matter who we are. It teaches me that we should not judge. I have no doubt that Peter regretted his decision to admit that he knew Jesus. I also have regrets as Peter did.
I have a lifelong friend who unfriended me on Facebook because she didn't want to see my religious posts. I have probably lost photography business due to my religion. Mitt Romney lost the presidential election because of his religion and beliefs. But we continue to follow the Savior, even when it is hard or even when people judge and persecute us. It hurts but it also increases my faith.
I'm grateful I am a member of the Savior's true church. It has brought continuous joy throughout my life, and continues to bring me that joy and bless me.