The following post was written by Christopher Cunningham.
As a writer for LDS.net, I can tell you that as Latter-day Saints we are often on the receiving end of unfair accusations and criticism. Fortunately our friends and neighbors are often willing to stand up for us.
While internet comments speed this process up, the exact same pattern existed in 1900. A woman from Boston wrote a letter to criticize a Salt Lake City attorney who had said he respected the Mormon faith.
“You will forgive me for protesting against your intimation that you “respect the Mormon faith.” Did you not rather intend to say that you respect the men, despite their faith?”
The woman went on to complain that there was no “moral or spiritual faith” in the teachings of Latter-day Saint leaders. She even called the temple, “the center from which will spring gross materialism.”
The man sent the letter and his response to the local paper. They were also both published in “The Millennial Star,” the Church’s British magazine at the time.
While the man’s words are now well over one-hundred years old, his defense of the Church continues to be relevant to this day.
“Why is it,” the lawyer begins, “that people, when engaged in a religious crusade, never take the trouble to verify the truth of their information?”
“The Christian world seems not to comprehend that it is the practice of “Mormons” to keep faith with all men. I fear that there are a few Christian or Jewish or heathen communities anywhere in the world that would not show up a much larger average of immorality.”
The man then goes on to say that while mainstream Christians, like the woman who wrote the letter, claim to be mad at Latter-day Saints because of their sins (at this time they already ended polygamy), what they are truly mad about is how successful Latter-day Saints missionaries are.
While this is still often true today, just as often we see those who leave the church get mad at the church because they thought they could convince their friends and family to leave also, but the power of faith and conversion remain too strong.
The lawyer went on to explain why he believed Mormonism continued to grow. “I attribute this success to the fact that Mormonism is something more than a theology. It is a co-operative industrial society. It is an educational, social, mutual improvement, business and benefit society. It not only promises spiritual benefit to its follower, but it promotes his temporal welfare. It sees that he does not lack for food, shelter and clothing.”
What a compliment, especially in the days before Church welfare. Today the church’s ability to help the poor and needy among us is stronger than it has ever been.
In her initial letter, the woman complained about how Latter-day Saints had no true culture, and would only become cultured by interacting with Christians. But the man retorted, “Nowhere is the drama or music better patronized than in Utah, and every little town of the 1,000 people has its ‘opera house,’ and the local dramatic and musical entertainments are above mediocrity.”
Today Latter-day Saints make up some of the most popular writers, musicians, and actors in the world.
The attorney goes on with a beautiful statement about respecting religious diversity, a message that is especially poignant today when religious liberty is under attack.
“You protest against my statement that I ‘respect the Mormon faith,’ and ask me if I did not intend to say that I respect the men despite their faith. No, I meant just what I said. I respect all faiths that inculate temperance, truth, honesty, and self-sacrifice.
“I respect the virtues of Buddhism, though I do not believe that God is a spiral staircase of whirling atoms. I respect the temperance and devotion of the followers of Muhammad. I respect the Jewish faith, though I am not convinced that Jonah occupied the interior of the whale, or that the walls of Jericho were really blown down by one of Gideon’s cornet solos.
“So I respect ’Mormonism’ without believing in the golden tablets, as I respect Christians, though I do accept as literally true the allegories of the feedings of the multitudes with five loaves and fishes, of the changing of water to wine. And there is no commandment more useful if observed, and which I fear more frequently violated that the eleventh commandment, ‘Thou shalt mind thy own business.’”
As Latter-day Saints we should always strive to be such good neighbors and examples that those around us continued to be inspired to pen such valiant defenses of our faith.