Easily Offended or Easily Entreated
What next from those of translucent epidermis?
By that I mean the thin-skinned critics of the Church – those who not only lie in wait to deceive, but lie in wait to “make a man an offender for a word.”1
Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ address at a BYU-Idaho devotional is the most recent example of critics distorting a Church leader’s intent to justify antagonism toward us. As Elder Oaks condemned aggressive intimidation against religions that supported Proposition 8, he referred to their effect with this example that sent critics baying:
“In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.” (My emphasis.)
Elder Oaks clearly said “in their effect” not “in their methods.” His analogy was that the goal of enemies of blacks then and Mormons today was the same: to intimidate and stifle participation in the democratic process. He never said nor implied that the methods were equivalent. His reference was perfectly appropriate.
But such precision didn’t deter the critics. Before students at BYU-I had even returned to their classes, professors at other universities pounced. As I read their comments in various news articles, I was saddened yet again to find obviously bright people who can’t read plain English. (“I know what I’m itching to say; effect, methods – close enough.”) Evidence again of those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”2
Note the pattern of those who are easily offended: ignore the main message, find a picky point to misinterpret, assume an equivalence that was never intended, exaggerate it, play victim, and posture the Church as villain.
In short: distort, take offense, and seek vengeance.
If someone wrote an article about Mormon crickets, the comments section would soon be filled with diatribes about the Church. Any opportunity they can find to silence us.
Perfecting Ourselves Through Battle
The natural man is easily offended. Our goal is to become easily entreated.
We know well the qualities we need: faith, hope, charity, gentleness, kindness, meekness, long-suffering, love unfeigned, not easily provoked (that’s the crucial one), not puffed up, virtuous thoughts, and on and on. (I’d be tempted to call our opponents short sufferers, but they would whine that I ridiculed their height.)
The world mistakes these gentle traits for lack of firmness. They are not, as LDS involvement in the public arena is proving. Of necessity we will be involved in the moral issues of our time, and the debate will be messy as we defend truth and point out flaws in our opponents’ reasoning. But it is precisely through participating in such battles that we can develop sublime traits, as counter-intuitive as that at first may sound.
The pattern is the warrior-prophet. Paul fought the good fight and did not wimp out in the slightest. Battles perfected him. Mormon, Moroni, Helaman, Captain Moroni, Pahoran and many others were deeply involved in the political and military affairs of their nation, but kinder, gentler souls cannot be found – they were refined through the heat of battle.
The secret is to engage in the battle without animosity toward the souls on the other side, only to their false principles. We differ from our opponents in today’s public policy warfare because vengeance is not our goal, silencing democratic processes is not our goal, restricting agency is not our goal.
The negative aspects of political debate will not scar us spiritually if we remember President Monson’s instruction to curb our anger. So doing, we will come through such battles as untouched as Tony Curtis in The Great Race’s famous pie fight.
The Whoppler Effect
So what do we learn from such episodes?
A 19th century Austrian scientist discovered a way to determine whether an astronomical body is moving toward or away from a point. Known as the Doppler effect, it says that an approaching object presents a blue shift on the wavelength spectrum and a receding object a red shift. Or, a simpler example, the sound of a train becomes higher as it approaches and lower as it moves away.
How we handle minor offenses, whether real or imagined, is the religious equivalent of the Doppler effect – let’s call it the Whoppler effect:
The example is Elder Oaks. What has been his response to the dust-up from his speech?
Nothing. And that says it all.
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Gary Lawrence welcomes comments at [email protected].
1 Isaiah 29:21