The church is currently taking a cue from One Direction by touring the world and sending two of its fifteen most popular
band members priesthood holders to visit various countries for their 2015 world tour “Religious Freedom: We Still Hate LGBT Folks”. This fan (Team Uchtdorf!) wondered- what are other ways we can champion religious freedom that might actually improve religious freedom? In an act of true fandom, here are 5 suggestions that might take freedom of religion from the narrow, lets-hate-other-grown-ups-who-decide-differently and more towards making sure other people are free to worship as they see fit.
Suggestion #1: Protect Muslims. And Sikhs. And Hindus.
If we could build solidarity with any religious group in history, it could very easily be Muslims. You know that Missouri episode that hurt us Mormons so bad? They are experiencing that today! Crimes against Muslims have increased dramatically in the years following 9/11 thanks to Fox News and Republicans who can’t differentiate between brown folks. Sikh’s and Hindus have been at the receiving end of this violence as well, because some people only allow for religious cloth that looks like theirs (i.e. not a turban). Remember how we didn’t like it when people vandalized the temples after that really horrible and embarrassing Prop 8 episode? Muslims (and Sihks) get their places of worship vandalized all the time!
They also get beat, and shoved onto the subway rails, shot over parking spaces, and well, you get the picture. They are arrested and put in high security jails to be tortured with protocols devised by other Mormons. They are degraded, and they are forbidden from praying as their level of belief dictatess, or to speak of their religion openly for fear of violence. Unlike Christians, they don’t get federal holidays that give them time off from their duties (business or scholastic) to focus on personal and communal worship with their religious groups.
The multiple murders in the last few years with extreme Islamophobic undertones point towards increased violence, and we could make a huge difference by speaking up against violence inflicted in these circles. Pushing for stronger reform that protects people who just want to worship deity in the way their heart dictates makes it safer for everyone to worship deity.
Suggestion #2: Protect Muslim Women, and Sikh women, and Hindu women
Honestly, if I have to hear one more Mormon woman, liberal or conservative, active or semi active, orthodox or progressive talking disparagingly about burqas, niqabs, hijabs, bindis, nose piercings, saris or any other religious wear, I will take your right to claim religious freedom card (at least in terms of using it as a shield for your ignorance) and possibly yell at you. Muslim women suffer verbal assaults in public and have been fired, kicked out of school, assaulted for simply wearing their visible religious clothing of choice. They are ridiculed and harassed in frightening ways. On top of this, women get to have their motives questioned continuously by those of Western religions. Other devout women don’t exist for you to compare how ‘free’ you are or how your religion is the ‘right’ one, which brings me to my next suggestion…
Suggestion #3: Learn that other religions do not exist to make you feel good about yours
If you are claiming that ecumenical flag hardcore, then by all means, go for it. Normalize other religions by speaking of them in a respectful manner, i.e. the way you would like your religion to be observed outside of the chapel. Although I personally still consider myself Mormon (however tenuously), I have learned and felt the spirit with the words of St. Francis, Buddha, Mother Teresa and even Oscar Wilde (De Profundis by Mr. Wilde is among one of the more tender religious texts I have ever read, and if you haven’t read it then go read it right now). I have wept reading the Talmud and learning about Mohammed.
Imagine the immense disappointment then when the only time you hear of these people (if ever) is in a way that belittles their beliefs, calling them lost or confused or saying how someday they might have the Gospel. Having others take you at your word in regards to your faith means you must take others at theirs. Belittling or discrediting the path that has lead others to sacred lives in order to make your feel valid is lazy. Learn of other religions from those who practice said religions. Ask questions- approach them in the same way you would like a person curious about Mormonism to approach you. Closing ourselves and getting information on others only from ourselves makes us liars. Presupposing what others purport to believe and ignoring lived experiences make us hypocrites. We still believe in Article 13 of the Articles of Faith, right? Or have we received new revelation on it and I just don’t know?
Suggestion #4 Stop Excommunicating People
I know it is mega hard when you are a big, billionaire organization with tons of people who work for you to find out that not everyone believes exactly as you do. I know, Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are not your cup of tea. Remember Article of Faith 11, where we allow others to worship as they see fit? Pretty sure that includes other Mormons. Even Mormons that might not be our cup of tea.
Excommunicating members for having different interpretations, expectations or questions of God/ Heavenly Parents and their religious community puts us less on the religious free side and more on the religious dictator side. So, if we don’t agree with members 100% we could, I don’t know, try to work it out in a loving manner instead of twisting their arm and scaring them into our terms and then kicking them out when they decline to do so.
Suggestion #5 Stop Shaming Your People
Remember the whole kerfluffle over women not being able to do baptisms for the dead when they were menstruating? Awkward! Honestly, the fact that so many men called to oversee temple work would think a woman unworthy to do said work in this modern day and age speaks more of our culture. We confuse and use culture and doctrine interchangeably.
There are countless instances of culture and doctrine being intertwined (race essay anyone?), which would be clearly avoided if we defined doctrine and allowed all else to be negotiable- to peacefully, and lovingly agree to disagree while co-existing.
Making room for mixed marriages (religious and race alike!), for widows, for single parents and disabled folks in true and genuine ways by taking steps to educate and eradicate parts of our culture that are used to silence and shame is simply part of loving our neighbors.
We can build happy ecumenical communities by focusing on truly allowing people to worship the Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience; that includes defending those who have to worry about how and who they worship on our own turf. Oaks and Christofferson are making the rounds in other countries, speaking about religious freedom like a one note deal, making this the most boring world tour ever.
Let us be melodic in our approach and focus on the nuances of true religious freedom, and not just leave it as a flat, one dimensional piece that no amount of auto-tuning (or white washing) will ever save.