Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The End of the Mormon War

What is often called the Mormon War of 1838 began on August 6 of that year. (You can read about that in my August 5 posting.) That war ended soon after the “Haun’s Mill Massacre” that occurred 174 years ago today, on October 30, 1838.
In thinking about the Mormon War, the role of Alexander Doniphan (who is fondly remembered in this part of Missouri) is noteworthy. Doniphan, born in Kentucky in 1808, moved to Liberty and opened a law office in 1833.
Along with David Atchison, Doniphan served as a lawyer for the Mormons from the beginning of his practice in Clay County. He and Atchison, though, asked the Mormons to leave the county in order to avoid civil strife.
Subsequently, Doniphan was instrumental in organizing Caldwell County in 1836 as a place for the Mormons to live in peace. But he was also a brigadier-general in the Missouri state militia and was involved militarily in the Mormon War two years later.
On October 27, 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs issued a statement to one of the generals in the state militia, declaring that the “Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary, for the public peace.”
Three days later, on that fateful October 30 afternoon, 240-250 Missouri militiamen descended upon Haun’s Mill, a settlement around a mill established in eastern Caldwell County in 1835–36 by Jacob Haun, an early Latter-day Saint settler.
By October 1838 there were around 50 Mormon families living around Haun’s Mill, and in the massacre there were 17 Mormons killed and several others injured. It is not clear whether the massacre was a direct result of the “execution order” issued by Governor Boggs three days earlier.
Soon after the Hauns’ Mill massacre, the Mormon headquarters in Far West surrendered, Joseph Smith and other leaders were arrested, and the Mormon War of 1838 came to an end.
Smith and several other Mormon leaders were court-martialed on November 1. Later that day Major-General Samuel Lucas, the commander of the Missouri militia, sent the following order to Brigadier-General Doniphan: “You will take Joseph Smith and the other prisoners into the public square of Far West and shoot them at 9 o’clock to-morrow morning.”
Doniphan refused to carry out that order. Subsequently, Smith and a few others were brought to a jail in Liberty, where they spent several weeks before escaping and fleeing to Illinois.
Now, 174 years later, a Mormon who has been a missionary and a “pastor” for ten years, is running for President of the United States. He may, or may not, win that election. But it is most likely that he will garner Missouri’s ten electoral votes.
One hundred seventy-four years is a long time, but it is still remarkable that a presidential candidate who is a faithful member of a religion that was once literally run out of the state will probably receive a sizeable majority of the votes in that state.
As most of you know, or can guess, I will be voting to re-elect the current President. For many reasons I will not and could not vote for Mr. Romney. But his being a Mormon is not one of those reasons.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Billy Graham and Biblical Values

Billy Graham, who according to the Gallup Organization was the seventh most admired person in twentieth century (by Americans), suddenly has become quite political. Earlier this month, Mitt Romney went to visit him and they prayed together—which certainly was not something unusual: Graham has known and prayed with every President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
After his prayer with Romney, though, Billy is quoted as saying to Mitt, “I will do anything I can to help you.”
A few days later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) changed a website article, removing the reference to Mormonism as a cult. The website previously read, A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.” It went on to state, “Some of these groups are Jehovah’s Witnesess, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spritualists, Scientologists, and others.
It may well be a good thing that the BGEA no longer considers Mormonism a cult. But the timing is certainly interesting: they made that change just a very few weeks before the election in which one of the candidates is a Mormon.

Then last week in the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers, the BGEA placed a full-page ad that was an implicit endorsement of the Romney-Ryan ticket. The ad states:
The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.
But what are biblical values? The same Bible (Old Testament) that is used (by some) to condemn gays (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) also seems to accept or even to approve of polygamy (such as in the case of Jacob, for example). It is questionable to use the first to tout “biblical values” but disregard the many examples of the latter.
Or why are the two cited verses from Leviticus used to support a biblical value but the following verses are not? “Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that your poor neighbors may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit” (Leviticus 25:36-37).
Sanctity of life, I would agree, is certainly a biblical value. But as I explained in my October 15 posting, abortion done under the right conditions in the first trimester is not the “taking of life.”
Loving one’s neighbor as oneself, however, is unquestionably a biblical value if we take the teaching of Jesus seriously at all. Thus, by implication, such love would surely include such things as providing universal health care coverage and helping to provide for the needs of the poor as well as opposing the exploitation of the poor by the rich.
Sojourners has produced a very good voters’ guide (available at this link), one that includes many more vital biblical values than the narrow, and questionable, version offered by Billy Graham.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt the Missionary

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is, as everyone knows, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormon Church. There has, certainly, been discussion in some circles about Romney’s religion, but recently it has been a little-discussed matter.
I had not planned to make a blog posting about Romney’s Mormon faith. But in this week in the second presidential debate Romney himself brought the subject up. He said,
My -- my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I -- I served as a missionary for my church.
I know something about being a missionary, for June and I served as missionaries to Japan for 38 years. And I know a little about Mormons in Japan, for their main headquarters, and since 2000 their temple, in Fukuoka was within easy walking distance from where we lived for more than 20 years.
In spite of Romney’s statement that he believes “we’re all children of the same God,” there is little evidence that Mormons think that all of us are equally God’s children. Their missionary work is almost exclusively directed toward house-to-house visitation seeking to make converts.
From time to time they would come to our house, and telling them we were ourselves Christian missionaries did not always deter them from trying to give their proselytizing spiel.
In Japan, Mormons, along with members of the Unification Church (“Moonies”) and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are widely considered somewhat of a nuisance because of their aggressive proselytization. In fact, many traditional Christian churches in their PR materials usually include the disclaimer that they are not in any way connected with Mormons, Moonies, or JWs.
Because of the small percentage of Christians in the nation, there is generally a great deal of cooperation among Japanese Christians. Through the years I spent a considerable amount of time in various cooperative, ecumenical meetings.
But the Mormons were never there. Not only did they not seem to believe that the non-Christians in Japan did not believe in the same God, it seems that they did (do) not believe that even other Christians believe in the same God, at least not adequately in their view. 

During the 2½ years he was in France, which was (is) overwhelmingly Catholic, Romney’s work was primarily going from house to house seeking converts. And taking inspiration from the pop-psychology book Think and Grow Rich, he is credited with leading the Mormon missionaries in France to exceed their goal of gaining 200 converts in 1968.
Last week Romney also said that “we have a responsibility to care for one another.” And no doubt there is considerable care given by Mormons to Mormons. But there is little indication that Mormons do much in society at large in the field of health care, education, or social service. Certainly that has not usually been evident in Japan.
Through the years, traditional Christian missionaries and the churches and organizations started by them have been widely involved in medical, educational, and a multitude of social service activities. But by and large Mormons have not been a part of that history.
And it is even questionable how much of Romney’s considerable offerings given to the Mormon Church can legitimately be called “charitable giving,” as a large portion of those gifts are used for building temples that only Mormons can enter and for efforts to make more converts for the Mormon Church.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Can a Christian Be Pro-Choice?

In spite of what he said in August about "legitimate rape" and other controversial statements, Republican leaders are still (or again) supporting U. S. Representative Todd Akin in his Senate bid because he has voted the “right” way on selected House votes. That was the gist of a Facebook posting I made earlier this month.
Soon this response appeared under that FB posting: “My question is, what kind of Christian can possibly support abortion? That’s way beyond my comprehension.” That pointed question and statement caused me to think again about the issues surrounding the knotty question of abortion.
(The person who raised the question is the granddaughter of two of the finest people I have ever known; back in the 1950s they were core members of the first church I pastored, and I remember when she was born during that time.)
Here is my response to her pointed question, What kind of Christian can possibly support abortion?
(1) First, probably no Christian supports abortion in the sense of thinking that it is a good thing. All references to people, Christians or otherwise, as being pro-abortion are usually mistaken. It is much more accurate to say that they are pro-choice.
(2) Many Christians realize that we live in an imperfect world filled with sinful people. Thus, they can in good conscience condone abortions when women, in consultation with their doctors, think that there are compelling physical, emotional, or economic reasons why they should not continue a pregnancy. In such cases the abortive procedure should be done at an early stage in the pregnancy (preferably in the first trimester) and in a safe, supportive environment. Ideally, every pregnancy should be a wanted pregnancy, and every mother should be able to love, care for, and nourish her child(ren) adequately. But, sadly, we do not live in a perfect world.
(3) Most Christians, as well as most non-Christians, who are pro-choice confidently believe that personhood does not begin at conception but much later, probably not until the time of viability. Thus, abortions done early in the pregnancy are certainly not the same as murder, as the so-called pro-life people often charge. 
(4) Because abortion is not the “taking of human life” in any sense, many Christians (and others), believing in the inviolable personal freedom of all people, affirm the right of women to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy. That choice, of course, should not be made rashly or in a cavalier manner. Certainly a woman contemplating an abortion should talk with her doctor, her family, and, ideally, her pastor. But, still, the final choice should be hers. She should not be forced (by the government or anyone else) to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
(5) And then many Christians who would countenance abortion under the circumstances mentioned above believe that there are more important “pro-life” issues that need to be addressed, ones that are often overlooked, or even opposed, by many anti-abortion people—issues such as capital punishment and especially war, both of which are clearly the killing of human beings. They also believe that hunger and poverty are rampant causes of death, especially of young children, so impoverished women especially should not be forced to carry an unwanted child—or to resort to “coat hanger” abortions out of desperation.
So this is the kind of Christian who can “support” abortion, one who is certainly pro-life, but not “pro-birth” in every case.