Tuesday, June 22, 2010

America and the LDS Church

The LDS church started out as an American church, but, as missionaries were sent out to Europe, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere, it quickly became an international church. Originally, European saints immigrated to Utah. But most of the members in Tonga and Samoa did not. Now, the majority of members of the church are not Americans. The church seems to make an effort to call itself an international church. A member of the First Presidency is not American and does not speak English as a first language. Many other General Authorities come from a variety of foreign countries.

Why then, do pictures like this exist? This is unfortunately displayed at the BYU Bookstore. This picture, in my view, falsely raises the US Constitution (an inspired yet deeply flawed document--it allowed for slavery, after all) into holy scripture. We are not an American church. Yet some members don't seem to get it.

A few years ago I showed up to church for the first time in my Idaho Falls ward. An enormous American flag plastered the front of the chapel. I can't imagine any other ward in any other country desecrating their chapel with a flag of their country during the sacrament, but somehow, in the US, it wasn't a big deal.

Anytime politics is brought up in a gospel context, I think to myself--do these people realize that members in other countries think entirely different about politics? I think President Uchtdorf, for example, doesn't think universal healthcare is of the devil. I'm pretty sure fast offerings in Germany go a lot further because they're not used to pay for the healthcare of church members.

I like America. I like the Constitution. It is an important document--and, most importantly for the LDS church, it allows for the freedom of religion. The First Amendment allowed the church to grow in the US (although eventually even the Constitution wasn't enough to keep bigots from driving us out). Many countries adopted aspects of the Constitution, and now our religion can be practiced in many countries.

However, if we start putting our good but flawed Constitution on a pedestal, or if we do the same with our founding fathers (good men, but not the angels some make them out to be), our flag, or our American customs, we run the danger of turning patriotism into a false idol. And that's not behavior that God's church, an international church, should engage in.


JorgenMan said...

I agree that the picture is a bit ridiculous. I the artist is trying to portray the influence that Christ has and will have on the country, but:
- The Constitution? Wouldn't the scriptures make more sense?
- Putting people on the right hand and left hand? Farmers are "the backbone of America", and therefore righteous? Judges and professors on the left hand? And putting all the leaders of the past who agree with your political viewpoints behind Christ? Nervy, to say the least. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

I do have to argue on one point, though. I think that faulting the Constitution for allowing slavery is like faulting the law of Moses for prescribing an eye for an eye. In both cases, the people were not ready for a higher law.

I believe that the framers of the Constitution decided that allowing slavery was necessary to get the support they needed to create the nation in the first place. If they had not succeeded in that, they would have had no effect on slavery whatsoever.

Tim said...

Thanks for the comment. Glad to see I'm not the only one...

I think the slavery issue shows the very human nature of the Constitution. The entire Constitution was a compromise. No one got exactly what they wanted, but the end result was better than what they currently had. If only current politics was like that...
Undoubtedly some of it was inspired, and necessary for the formation of the church. The First Amendment is especially vital.

I'm actually giving a lesson to the youth this Sunday on obedience to laws/the Constitution, so I read D&C 134 to help prepare. I was actually a bit surprised what was in there--some good stuff. It advocates for religious freedom and the separation of church and state. I wonder if the artist has ever really read it...

Jay said...

This is one of those quirky images that seems mildly amusing in the BYU Bookstore, but is probably really offensive in other contexts.

Katrina said...

Does our tithing money actually give some people health care?

Tim said...

Fast offerings. Not tithing. (Although I imagine tithing goes to pay for the health insurance of church employees).
And yes--seeing that healthcare costs are one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy, I'm sure fast offerings are well spent on healthcare needs.