Monday, April 2, 2012
Billboards and the Words of the Prophets
Very few people set out to control another person. Few of us sit down and think, “Now, how can I make them do _____?” And yet, we do it all the time.
Recently, I posted something about an Orem billboard, which attracted a great deal of negative attention. I can understand why. I was criticizing the action, and doubting the pure intentions of the people who created it, and it is all centered around the question of how to use the words of Prophets, Apostles, scripture, and Church leaders in our lives.
I am not a quote person. I actually kind of abhor them. Quotes are like statistics, they can say whatever you want them to say, based on what prejudices, hypothesis, and agendas you have when you approach them. Language is fluid. Entire careers are built around the art of semantics.
The main quote used on this site, ironically, is from a message given by Spencer W. Kimball in the First Presidency about idolatry. Among other things, it helped persuade me that posting this site and its billboard was not something I could agree with.
I have never before put it in these terms, but even before I could vote, I have had a very hard time being interested in or liking politics in the sense that we generally mean the word. People get so caught up in political ideology that they easily forget the humanity of the people who disagree with them. From what I have found, this is generally because they believe so strongly that if only the government were different, everyone could be free to better exercise their agency. They believe anyone opposing them is therefore against freedom. This applies equally to debates about abortion or homosexuality as it does to debates about war or minimalizing government. We feel that people are trying to control us, so we try to control them in turn. I say “control” over “persuade” because when emotions are high, verbal and sometimes physical violence often follows.
I find that I agree with Spencer W. Kimball, “Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.”
But I don’t condemn people who are laboring in idolatry. As I have realized while listening to the most recent General Conference, I have also been laboring in idolatry and have much need to repent. My idol has been myself. I have been laboring under the dubious hidden belief that if only I can teach myself enough, I can protect myself and my children from ever having our safety threatened by a man I love again. It is a just fear, but trying to protect myself this way (beyond a certain point, of course,) falls well within the definition of idolatry.
The quote about being a warlike people on the site is only one of many examples in a talk intended to show us how we trust in the arm of flesh to protect us. Using it in conjunction with other quotes similarly divorced from their overall context spins it in support of the intention to make individuals rethink their political support. This is a tactic commonly used in political arenas. But I think it sells short the doctrine of the Gospel as outlined in the original message, and as such sells the authors of the movement short as well.
I read the words of Spencer W. Kimball and am motivated to purify my life of reliance on the arm of flesh. I am not motivated to try to make other people do the same. Is that not the purpose of comparing our actions and thoughts to the words of the Prophets?
They do not speak so that we can hold up a measuring stick to others, but that so we can hold up a measuring stick to ourselves. When we are in a classroom setting, where everyone can interact and ponder AFTER the teacher has invited the Spirit, I can concede that quotes are appropriate and can be useful. But without first inviting the Spirit, they should not be used to teach. Without the Spirit, they become arrows sent to the hearts of those who we feel are sinning or mistaken.
This is why I find the billboard inappropriate. If you should not teach even the resurrection of Jesus Christ without first inviting the Spirit as the real teacher, how much less should you teach political ideologies within the framework of the doctrines of the Church without the presence of the Spirit?
Even in an online forum, there are ways that the Spirit could have been first invited when inviting others to ponder these things. It could have been done without visually mimicking Church websites, without merely assembling quotes in an attempt to appeal to higher authority to support opinions, but while covering the principles and how they have changed the authors' personal lives. Such a site would have been a testimony, rather than a judgment followed by an attempt to control. I hope that those who read the site will ignore the agenda in which the quotes were assembled, and turn to the Spirit to communicate the true messages of the sources from which the quotes were mined.
I intend to apply the principles of refusing idolatry in my life. I hope that it will help me change from a Spirit of fear to a Spirit of power and love.