“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” – 1 Corinthians 15:29
Religious issues have been in the limelight lately, what with the death of Pope John Paul II and the ascension of Cardinal Ratzinger to the office as Pope Benedict XVI. Much has been said concerning both recently; to this I add my two-cents worth. Though not of my faith, I thought of Pope John Paul II as a virtuous man, a spirit-filled toiler in the vineyards of the Lord. From what little I know of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems to me that he will be the same, which bodes well for the Catholic Church.
Here in San Antonio, there has been another development of great significance to members of my faith; the completion of the 120th operating temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While this may not seem to be of the same scope as the election of a Pope, it has been nevertheless a religious experience for me.
When a new temple is built, there is a period of time between when the structure is completed and it is dedicated that is set aside for members of the community to visit and see what a temple looks like. There is a short video, explaining why we build temples and what they are used for, after which the guests are taken to the entrance where booties are placed over their shoes to help keep the temple clean from dirt and mud. Once this is done, the guests receive a guided tour of the temple. For me it was a very moving experience, both working there with the guests, and touring the temple myself with my family. Even though the Temple has not yet been dedicated, the Spirit of the Lord is strong there, and has been felt by many; even those who are not members of the Church.
Once the temple is dedicated, which will happen in late May, only worthy Church members holding a Temple Recommend may enter. There, they will perform sacred ordinances for themselves, and their ancestors who have passed on.
Prior to the building of this temple in San Antonio, members of our faith who wished to perform Temple ordinances had to travel to Houston, TX to do so, and before the Houston Temple was built, to Dallas. I remember making trips to the Dallas Temple, and there are those who have been here longer that remember traveling all the way to Mesa, Arizona before the Dallas Temple was built.
To have a temple that is only 30 minutes away from my house is a great blessing.
Others see it as an opportunity to get out and do a little church-bashing.
Strange as it may seem, we have people standing on street corners near the temple, and across from the nearby Stake Center (a meetinghouse where we gather on Sundays for church services) handing out literature to all who will partake, warning them of the “evil and lies” put forth by our Church.
Now I know that we have our detractors. Some are quite vocal. And despite the appearance of the name Jesus Christ in the name of our church, there are those who do not consider us Christian. It seems that the definition of the word “Christian” has meanings other than the one I was brought up with, which was “a believer in Christ”. Incidentally, I am a convert to the LDS church. And in case any of you are thinking that I, in the manner of an Amway salesman (which I also was once during my youth), am trying to hide something here, yes, the LDS church, or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is, in fact, that same church more commonly known as the “Mormon Church”.
When I first saw these people handing out their tracts, I thought it sort of odd. I can’t imagine myself going to someone else’s church and handing out fliers telling them they were going to burn in hell. But I figured that they believed in the righteousness of their cause, and, in a country where so many just drift from day to day, I can admire someone who has enough fire in the belly to volunteer their time to stand on a street corner and stand up for what they believe in. Even if I don’t happen to agree with them.
As it turns out however, they aren’t volunteers. They are being paid. What’s more, they are parking their cars at our Stake Center, taking the shuttle bus to the Temple, touring the temple, then walking across the street and handing out their anti-Mormon literature. When they finish, they walk back to the Temple, take the shuttle back to their cars, and go off to wherever they go when they have finished their paid “community service”.
Who knows if they even believe in what they are doing, or if they are just hired hands?
Even that I can deal with. After all, people have to make a living.
But vandalism I draw the line at. Such as the person who entered the Celestial room, deliberately broke a ball-point pen, and dropped it on the pristine white carpet of what is arguably the most sacred room in the entire Temple. How people such as this can believe that they are furthering the cause of Christ is beyond me.
But even with the vandalism, and those individuals who feel it necessary to “warn” others about our church, the open house is a success, on many levels. It raises the community awareness of who we are and our contributions to the community at large. It allows people not of our faith to see what the inside of that mysterious building looks like and to learn what we do there and why. It encourages those who are of our faith, but who, for various reasons, do not hold a Temple Recommend, to make themselves worthy to obtain one. It gives us as members the opportunity to be of service to others; providing information, conducting tours, even putting booties on people’s feet.
There are those who think of this as symbolic of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In reality, it is simply to protect the carpet. While we Mormons are into symbology, and there is much of it both inside and outside the Temple, we are also a rather practical lot.
I have been to the Temple several times now during the Open House, and will probably be there many more before the dedication. I have done quite a bit of thinking concerning my Church and its detractors, and the society in which we live, which seems to becoming more hostile to Christianity with each passing day. And it seems to me that this is a time when we should be thinking about solidarity rather than dissidence.
The differences between my Church and other Christian churches are doctrinal. They pertain to issues which are spiritual in nature, not temporal. When we die and pass on, we will then find out who was correct. Until then, all we have to go on is faith.
However on issues dealing with the here and now, we are in substantial agreement with the majority of those who make up what the media calls “the Christian Right”. This is loosely defined as anyone who is stout enough in their religion to actually attend church every so often. Recent studies have shown that those who attend church on a regular basis tend to be more “conservative” than those who do not, who tend to be more “liberal”. This does not always tie directly to party affiliation, as there are some Democrats who would rather die than switch parties (and vice versa). It is however reflected in voting patterns, regardless of official party membership.
In other words, in issues that matter in the here and now, such as abortion, family values, gay marriage and other hot-button issues, we are more alike than not. We cannot afford not to work with each other, simply because of doctrinal differences which won’t be settled here on this Earth. If we continue to fight each other we will be defeated in detail by the forces arrayed against us. For they don’t care whether we are Catholic or Baptist, Jewish or Mormon; they are against religion in general. And, if they succeed, we will know what it was like for the early Christians who were persecuted by the Romans.
As my wife is so fond of saying, contention is of the devil.
And where will we go, if there is no America to flee to, when America herself has turned her back on God?