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RS/MP Lesson 32: “Responding to Persecution with Faith and Courage” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on April 6, 2009

This is a remarkably short lesson (the “Teachings” section is only five pages long and includes a picture!), so I have relatively little to say about it. More than anything, I want to pick out what seems to me to be the most persistent theme running through it.

On page 371: “The conduct of the Saints, under their accumulated wrongs and sufferings, has been praiseworthy . . . [as in] their attachment to the cause of truth, under circumstances the most trying and distressing which humanity can possibly endure.”

On page 373: “I have learned by experience that the enemy of truth does not slumber, nor cease his exertions to bias the minds of communities against the servants of the Lord.”

Also on page 373: “Great opposition and much persecution followed the believers of [the Book of Mormon’s] authenticity. But it had now come to pass that truth had sprung out of the earth, and righteousness had looked down from heaven.”

On page 374: “We had both truth and righteousness on our side.”

Also on page 374: “The truth, like the sturdy oak, has stood unhurt amid the contending elements, which have beat upon it with tremendous force. . . . Like Moses’ bush, it has stood unconsumed, and now at this moment presents an important spectacle both to men and angels.”

On page 375: “We ask no favors at the hands of mobs, nor of the world, nor of the devil, nor of his emissaries the dissenters, and those who love, and make, and swear falsehoods, to take away our lives. We have never dissembled, nor will we for the sake of our lives.”

The theme: truth—genuinely universal truth—is what gives one to respond to persecution with faith and courage.

I think the last quotation in the list above is most telling on this point: “We have never dissembled, nor will we for the sake of our lives.” It is commitment to truth—one’s unwillingness to dissemble—that outstrips the usually triumphant reign of death (“nor will we [dissemble] for the sake of our lives”).

But if fidelity to revealed truth is what spurs courage in the face of persecution, it is also, the lesson points out, what spurs persecution itself.

On page 372: “Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, . . . like peals of thunder, because of our religion.”

Also on page 372: “When I do the best I can—when I am accomplishing the greatest good, then the most evils and wicked surmisings are got up against me. . . . If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him.”

On page 373: “[The devil] stir[s] up the indignation of men upon all matters of importance or interest.”

On page 376: “The Savior said, ‘It must needs be that offenses come, but woe unto them by whom they come.'”

Also on page 376: “We know that the world not only hate us, but they speak all manner of evil of us falsely, for no other reason that that we have been endeavoring to teach the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Truth, in a word, is both what gets us into and what gets us out of trouble and afflictions. Truth always pokes holes in what is taken as established; and so truth always arouses fury. And yet truth is universal and will cut its own way; and so truth is what we must hold to if we would get through the necessary persecution.

And I think Joseph holds out for us the promise that things get better, eventually: truth eventually wins the day. From page 372: “Our religious principles are before the world ready for the investigation of all men, yet we are aware that all the persecutions against our friends has arisen in consequence of calumnies and misconstructions without foundation in truth and righteousness. This we have endured in common with all other religious societies at their first commencement.”

If it is an implicit and subtle promise, I hope it is nonetheless a real one. If truth indeed cuts its own way, I think we can trust that it is.

14 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 32: “Responding to Persecution with Faith and Courage” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. […] RS/MP Lesson 32: “Responding to Persecution with Faith and Courage” (Joseph Smith Manual) Comments (0) […]

  2. Robert C. said

    So is truth what one is committed to, or is what one is committed to truth? In other words, I like how you’ve culled the latter formulation from this lesson, that the very essence of truth is that which proves faithful, with the Hebrew connotations of the word which tie truth and faith together (as in “being true”).

    I think this is also suggestive applied to thinking about deception: if Satan is the father of lies, and “light” is that which causes darkness to flee, and if this life is a test to see if we will prove faithful (a la Abraham 3), then the similarities between light, truth, and faith can be understood better. Thus, being faithful entails a lack of deception by making good on one’s word (though not so much in a fixed, propositional sense of one’s specific promise to do a specific thing, but one’s word that binds one to an ever evolving “cause,” like a marital relationship or building the kingdom…).

  3. JerryYoung said

    In presenting this chapter this Sunday, the Nehemiah (“…We Will Not Come Down”)story used by President Uchtdorf in General Conference seems appropriate. The post-burned-out-lamp part will be in a hand-out supplement.
    Also in the supplement will be the “Six Destructive D’s” fron Elder Pearson of the Seventy.

  4. john jackman said

    jerry, what do you mean by the post-burned -out lamp part being in a supplement? Do you mean summarizing the story of the burnt out light bulb in the plane? The six destructive D’s are excellent

  5. JerryYoung said

    John, what I said was a bit convoluted, making it hard to understand, sorry.
    What I was trying to say was that I was not printing the first section of President Uchtdorf’s talk which involved the bulb, but am printing the latter section concerning Nehemiah.
    I chose starting at “… But as the walls of the city began to rise …”, underlining “opposition”, “threatened,conspired,and ridiculed” as pertinent persecution evidence.
    When I prepare my lessons, I try to supplement them with some recent words & instruction from General Authorities or at least some past conference talks.

  6. Wesley Church said

    will you be posting anything for Lesson 33?

  7. BrianJ said

    I wonder how this lesson played out in people’s wards. In my ward we mostly talked about how persecution doesn’t exist for (most of) us today. We recognize that there are Mormons who experience real persecution, but none of us in the class ever had. One member made the important point that “Just because someone disagrees with us and says so publicly does not mean we are being persecuted.”

    Our stake center had been picketed a few months ago following the Prop 8 vote in CA (I’m in WA), but I don’t think that is persecution. In fact, I would say that most of the protestors were there because they felt that they (or their friends) were being persecuted by Mormons!

    Anyway, a couple of us talked afterward about the problem with calling “disagreements” persecution:
    1) It disrespects the real persecution early Saints endured.
    2) It sets the bar very low; If we respond to any and all opposition as though it is persecution, what will we do when we actually experience persecution?
    3) It amplifies barriers that separate us from others: When someone disagrees with me I can try to discuss our disagreement with them and enter into a relationship with them, or I can consider them a dangerous enemy.

  8. shed said

    “I wonder how this lesson played out in people’s wards. In my ward we mostly talked about how persecution doesn’t exist for (most of) us today. We recognize that there are Mormons who experience real persecution, but none of us in the class ever had.”

    I had the opposite lesson: Our RS mostly focused on “modern-day persecution”–a lot of comparing one’s experience in the work place or what have you to the persecution endured by the early saints. My reaction to most of the comments early in the lesson were like your 1) above. I mean, can you honestly tell me that having people think you’re weird, or even being passed over for a promotion, because you’re a Mormon is as difficult to deal with as being driven from your home time and again, having your husband/son/fill-in-the-blank murdered, and everything else that came with being a Mormon in the early days? We seem to have a tendency to categorize the early Saints’ challenges as “physical” and ours as “spiritual” and then conclude that ours are somehow harder to deal with. But there has to have been a very real spiritual element to their challenges as well. I just don’t see how you can face what they did without making a serious examination of your faith to make sure it’s really worth it.

    Fortunately, about half way through when a sister who grew up in Germany shared what she experienced when she joined the church: shunned by her friends and family, lost her scholarship, kicked out of college, is still not invited to weddings or funerals, etc. She had no idea what she would be giving up when she decided to be baptized. After that, people began to recognize that most of us have never, and likely will never, experience real persecution, and walking around with a persecution complex is kind of a slap in the face to those who do.

    Non sequiter: I would also add 4) it’s uncharitable, in that it assumes that others’ hearts are full of malice and hatred. Maybe I’ve been lucky (or naive), but I’ve only had one person who I felt real hatred from, and that had nothing to do with my religion. (He was an older man I encountered in Japan who hated Americans. He had a Hiroshima accent, though, so I assume that his animosity wasn’t entirely without cause.) (There I go stereotyping.)

    • BrianJ said

      Shed, I don’t know that your #4 has to be uncharitable: we can take it as a warning for ourselves rather than a condemnation of others.

  9. shed said

    And yes I do unfortunately realize the irony of uncharitably criticizing others for being uncharitable.

  10. joespencer said

    Shed, well put, uncharitable though your criticism might be. :)

  11. Shed said

    BrianJ, Thanks for looking out for me, but I really can’t hide behind the it’s-a-warning-to-myself shield when it followed my rather lengthy critique of sisters in my ward ;)

  12. winniemae said

    I really appreciate all that has been said. My ward is behind many others and I have not yet given this lesson. Part of my focus is going to be on persecution in a different light..that persecution we feel in any relationship, not just as church members. Perhaps we can feel persecuted by a boss, co-worker, spouse, other family member, even a church member who we just don’t quite get along with. The important message I got from the lesson is 1) Joseph Smith felt the assurance that he had not been abandoned (Lesson 31) even in the darkest hours, and 2) in Lesson 32, he came back into the fold of safety not spouting retributions but remaining true to his good naturedness. He acknowledged the good work of the members of helping one another and moving ahead even while suffering their own adversities. It seems to me, that is the take-home lesson. Whatever the persecution, we strive to 1) always remember God is with us and 2)react in a way that honors the truth we have been taught. I heard a quote today I especially liked that said something like “the pursuit of righteousness is a form of arrival”. We can’t always be perfect, but we can always be trying to respond in a Christ-like manner no matter what the challenge.

  13. Robert C. said

    My wife is also preparing to teach this lesson next month. In discussing this, we felt that one of the dangers of a lesson like this is that it will devolve (or not rise above—meaning that it never actually starts at a higher plane!) into a kind of pity-party where everyone starts sharing trials (or even trying to one-up each other) without ever really getting to this key issue of the less as Joe has emphasized: how these trials take on meaning, and become more manageable, as they are gathered into the larger project of establishing/proclaiming truth….

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