Reading: “The Mormon Ethic of Civility,” from the LDS Newsroom

Tonight my mind is buzzing after reading this post by Monica Bielanko about the recent controversy over a quote from Elder Oak’s recent talk on religious freedoms.  The quote at the center of the controversy is this:

These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of violence and intimidation are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South.

Monica Bielanko was the first of many journalists and bloggers who interpreted this quote to say that Elder Oaks was equating the backlash many members felt after the Proposition 8 fight in California with the horrendous atrocities perpetrated against blacks during the civil right movement in the 60s.  If this were the case that would certainly be an inflammatory and incorrect statement.

However, I feel it is pretty clear that Elder Oaks chose to say this because he was trying to illustrate the principle that in a free country people shouldn’t face retaliation for voting a certain way or supporting a cause.  Luckily, there aren’t very many examples of where this has happened because Americans, in general, up to now, have been pretty tolerant of people who disagree with them.  The civil rights movement is one of the few well-known examples where people faced violence and personal retaliation for supporting a political position, and Elder Oaks invoked it as an example for this reason.  I think it is clear that he is not comparing the level of retaliation in the two events. Perhaps, in hindsight, he could have made this more clear, but a careful reading shows that the interpretation some have chosen to give it is not correct.

After this story blew up, however, it is clear from her blog post that some church members chose to attack Monica Bielanko personally for writing this story.  This violates the number one item Elder Oaks asked us to do in order to preserve our religious freedoms: “We must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries.”

It is important to remember that in this day and age (and arguably, to some degree, throughout time) part of the job of journalists is to find the controversial quotes and make news stories about them.  This happens ALL THE TIME.  Most political controversies these days focus on single quotes taken out of context.  It is sad every time this happens, as it is sad now, but is pretty much what journalists do.  When we descend to the level of name calling and personal attacks, we are doing nothing to help our own cause, and we are violating our own standards of behavior.

This latest general conference focused a great deal on civility and showing respect to each other.  This latest controversy is an example, on both sides, of how a lack of civility degrades people and defeats peace.  Respect for each other, despite disagreement, is a fundamental building block of society.  I am grateful that we have prophets today who are helping to preserve civility in our society, and I hope we can all strive to live our lives more closely to the ideals that God has given us.


3 comments so far

  1. Javelin on

    In response to the first part of your post. There was ugly fighting on both sides of Prop. 8 before the election. Yards signs were stolen and/or torn up. Both sides made public who donated money to the cause, and threatened to boycott. Both sides made public how the other side sent packeges of an unknown substance. In other words, it was very ugly.

    After the election when Prop. 8 won, it became clear the gay community could no longer get married, and those who were legally married had to wait and see what would be decided by the Supreme Court.

    Elder Oaks was out of line for making it look like the No on 8 were uncivil. They had every right to raise hell since there now is legal discrimination written in the State Constitution against gay marriage. AFTER IT WAS LEGAL!

    • searchingthescriptures on

      It is clear that there was bad behavior on both sides on Prop 8. Yet, two wrongs do not make a right. Uncivil behavior is wrong no matter who does it or why. The leaders of the church encourage all of its members to treat everyone with respect and love, as the Savior taught, but unfortunately we are imperfect and some do not always follow that counsel. The fact that one side acted first does not justify the other side’s retaliation.

      However, the fact that a person disagrees with the legal outcome of a vote does not give them a right to retaliate against those that voted for that outcome. To justify a personal attack against a person for their vote is to destroy democracy, for you cannot have a democracy where people cannot vote according to their beliefs. If a group disagrees with a vote there are plenty of legal and respectful ways to react without resorting to violence or personal attacks, which only result in a breakdown of the founding principles of our country.

  2. catania on

    Thanks for the post. Yesterday, in Relief Society we had a lesson on Anger – based on Pres. Monson’s talk given in the most recent Priesthood session of General Conference.

    I think that when it comes to being civil (or not!), we forget Christ’s message to the pharisees: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye.” (Luke 6:41). We’re so obsessed with correcting other people, we tend to overlook our own …

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