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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Persecution vs. Chastening: When #MormonMafia Is No Joking Matter

by Rob T:

When Fox News personality and Donald Trump supporter Lou Dobbs went on a rant last week about LDS presidential candidate Evan McMullin, which included referring to him as a “Mormon Mafia Tool” in a tweet, Mormons on Twitter responded hilariously.

I got in on the #MormonMafia fun (see the HuffPo link above, he said unhumbly), because I enjoy a good-natured Twitter hashtag joke stream. And I appreciated that most Mormons were having fun with it instead of seeing it as an instance of “persecution.”

While joining in the social media levity, however, two things came to my mind that weren’t joking matters.

First, Trump supporters on Twitter haven’t suddenly surfaced to go after Mormons. There have been countless instances of anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism,* and now Latter-day Saints are in the crosshairs, due in part to Trump’s declining popularity in Utah.

No one who claims to be a follower of Christ, and really no decent person no matter what their personal beliefs, can stand idly by and watch this happen. These folks who say they want to “Make America Great Again” are marginalizing, threatening, and alienating everyone not like them, all in the name of politics.

If you think America is divided now, imagine a nation in which these attitudes are empowered and legitimized by the election of a candidate who tolerates this behavior among his supporters.

While many Mormons handled a high-profile jab with some disarming humor, other groups of people have been intimidated and reminded of the most unspeakable tragedies humanity has faced**.

Which brings me to the second thought: There are many people for whom #MormonMafia is no joking matter.

It crossed my mind while the great and humorous tweet-storm was fresh in progress, but this reply to one of my tweets offered a concrete example of it.

I could have easily responded, “But that’s not what we teach!” and it’s true that we don’t, but her experiences have clearly told her otherwise.

And that’s something we need to remember, that many people have felt marginalized by Mormons: such as the LGBT community, women, blacks, and other races and religions. We could debate all day whether the church or gospel approves of such behavior, but it does happen.

And likely many Mormons will disagree with the reasons why people are upset with the church, its leaders and its members, but it’s important to validate those feelings, to recognize they are real.

As I mentioned before, Mormons largely did well not to treat Dobbs’ rant as “persecution.” Still, this is an area in which we have much room for improvement. We fared less well when LGBT rights groups petitioned to keep Brigham Young University from being included in the Big12 conference. Many BYU fans (and some Utah fans, even) saw it as religious persecution.

I believe we have two main choices when such instances happen. We could see persecution or we could see chastening. Persecution is unfair treatment simply because you are different. There is little or no justification for it. Chastening is often more in the form of pushback from someone who feels mistreated by you. Chastening ideally causes one to look inward, to ask, as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf brought to mind, “Lord, is it I?

I think BYU offered a good example of response to chastening with its recent handling of the issue of rape of students and the honor code. While there was an initial response of one staffer of “We don’t apologize,” and comments on social media news posts about the issue showed members of the church vigorously defending BYU’s policies, ultimately the president of the university himself admitted that the school needs to change and be a better environment for its students.

And change the school did. Instead of circling the wagons and dying on the hill of the status quo, BYU announced changes, which came after internal reflection and learning from true experts on the subjects at hand. The result should lead to more mercy for victims of sexual assault and a safer environment for students.

In summary: Mormons have shown we’re capable of being good neighbors and worthy of the wholesome #MormonMafia jokes. We’ve also shown that, sadly, we can cause harm to others and earn ourselves many a backlash. And we’ve shown that we can take what some view as persecution, use it as an opportunity to examine our consciences, and become better people and a better church.

* Those articles weren't difficult to find.
** Holocaust taunts are common with this crowd.

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Rob T is a native of northeast Pennsylvania and a convert to the LDS Church. He works as a copy editor in Salt Lake City, where he lives with his wife and three sons. Twitter: @RobTmanJr.

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