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In the past week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been the subject of several new websites, initiatives, protests, news reports, and blog posts, nearly all negative. As a result of the Church’s efforts to protect marriage, thousands have signed petitions, demonstrated in front of temples and chapels, and stormed the internet with disparaging comments of hostility and hatred.
But like most clouds, this one has a silver lining. While persecutions may rage and mobs may combine, no unhallowed hand has yet to stop the work from progressing—nor will it. In fact, such displays of opposition and vitriol naturally and tangentially spur a sense of curiosity in many individuals who were previously ignorant or apathetic on the subject.
In this most recent General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales helped explain this occurrence:
Experience shows that seasons of negative publicity about the Church can help accomplish the Lord’s purposes. In 1983, the First Presidency wrote to Church leaders, “Opposition may be in itself an opportunity. Among the continuing challenges faced by our missionaries is a lack of interest in religious matters and in our message. These criticisms create . . . interest in the Church. . . . This provides an opportunity [for members] to present the truth to those whose attention is thus directed toward us.”
We can take advantage of such opportunities in many ways: a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice—who are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). I assure you that to answer our accusers in this way is never weakness. It is Christian courage in action. (Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage“)
Polarization is part and parcel of the gospel message itself—those who already do or would otherwise object to the doctrines and commandments of God will ultimately find themselves consciously choosing that side when the time comes. Conversely, those sympathetic to this message and desirous to learn more will—with the help of any media attention—find new opportunities to pursue an investigation of the gospel.
Elder Maxwell noted the polarization effect of the gospel herein described, and the inherent divisiveness created as a result of the opposition it always encounters. On another occasion he spoke of the same subject, referencing the “wheat and tares”-like division that will ultimately result:
There will also be “a great division among the people” (2 Ne. 30:10; see also D&C 63:54). This stressful polarization will, ironically, help in the final shaking of that strange confederacy, the “kingdom of the devil,” in order that the honest in heart, even therein, may receive the truth (2 Ne. 28:19).
This “great division” is what President Brigham Young also saw, saying: “It was revealed to me in the commencement of this Church, that the Church would spread, prosper, grow and extend, and that in proportion to the spread of the Gospel among the nations of the earth, so would the power of Satan rise” (in Journal of Discourses, 13:280). (Neal A. Maxwell, “For I Will Lead You Along“)
In effect, further media attention and social discussion about the Church simply serves to eliminate the neutral ground that currently exists between the two sides. God seems to prefer that we choose sides, one way or another. So, the increased polarization that takes place as a result of the spotlight on the Church is really nothing more than the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil signing up new recruits on either side. The Prophet Joseph once spoke about this effect:
Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigations of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant. (Joseph Smith, via Quoty)
The call to determine whose side we are on is an urgent and important one. For those who have not yet had the opportunity to decide and affiliate, any publicity of the Church (negative or otherwise) further polarizes the matter by sifting through the wheat in preparation for the ultimate harvest.
Perhaps we should start a campaign to send postcards to those protesting at our temples, thanking them for their missionary efforts? Who’s with me?