Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Silly Thing

In October of 1982, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went and did a silly thing.

Because the government of the then Communist German Democratic Republic wanted to continue restricting its citizens from traveling outside the Communist bloc, then President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball, with the government's blessing, announced plans to build a temple in the country, the first behind the Iron Curtain. This would preclude the government having to give grudging permission for members of the church in East Germany to visit the temple in Switzerland. Ground was broken for the temple on April 23, 1983. It opened in Freiberg, East Germany, in June 1985 after nearly 90,000 people toured what was then the smallest LDS temple ever built.

Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor to President Kimball, dedicated the temple and offered the following in his dedicatory prayer, as reported in the Ensign in September 1985:
He expressed gratitude “for all who have made possible its building—the officers in the government who have given encouragement and made available land and materials, the architects and builders, and all who have made possible this glorious day of dedication.”

He referred to the temple as “the offering of thy grateful sons and daughters,” and added: “Thou knowest how long we have prayed that we might have a temple in our midst.

“We are met here today as people of various nations bound by a common love for thee our Father and thy Son, the Redeemer of all mankind. We thank thee for the peace which makes this possible and for the hospitality of this nation in permitting us to join together in this house of sacred worship. Our hearts are touched by the bond of fellowship we feel one with another. Strengthen that bond, and may we reach out in a spirit of love and appreciation and respect for one another,” President Hinckley petitioned.
Note that Hinckley thanked the government -- then one of the most restrictive of the Soviet bloc -- for its assistance in securing land, materiel and permission to build the temple. Here is a true exercise of the 12th Article of Faith, which states:
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Now, were the citizens of the GDR, for the most part -- or the church, for that matter -- pleased with the oppressiveness of this restrictive government? No. But, in harmony with further scriptural teachings on honoring government and its representatives, the church and its members in the Communist bloc showed their love of God and his gospel through a lens of continued, if not always content, obedience. Here's what
Doctrine and Covenants Section 134 verses 5-6 has to say on the subject:
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
There's a good caveat here: "while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments." I love that caveat. That caveat is what allowed people like JirĂ­ and Olga Snederfler to peaceably resist overt government surveillance of their LDS activities in Communist Czechoslovakia for nearly 40 years. They resisted the law, held secret meetings, possessed outlawed literature and willfully hid it from the government, because their "inherit and inalienable rights" were not being protected by their government.

But in East Germany, the Saints' rights to worship, and to worship in a temple, were not only being upheld, but were aided and abetted by the Communist government that only grudgingly allowed members of the church to travel outside the country to worship. Once the temple was built, those rights of travel, extended as a courtesy to church members, was rescinded. The church flourished, and, a scant five years later, Communist Eastern Europe was no more.

Nevertheless, the church did not abandon the Saints in East Germany because of their oppressive government. Rather, they worked within the framework that government would allow in order to see the Saints' rights of worship protected and augmented. God's work continues unabated, and his people can be blessed, no matter what form of government might be the rule of law over them.

In 2002, the Freiberg Temple was enlarged. Upon returning from its rededication, then President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say:
The temple has been enlarged and made much more beautiful and serviceable. We held just one session of dedication. Saints gathered from a vast area. In the large room where we sat, we could look into the faces of many of those rugged and solid and wonderful Latter-day Saints who through all of these years, in sunshine and in shadow, under government-imposed restraint and now in perfect freedom, have kept the faith, served the Lord, and stood like giants. I am so sorry that I could not throw my arms around these heroic brethren and sisters and tell them how much I love them. If they are now hearing me, I hope that they will know of that love and will pardon my hurried departure from their midst.
He congratulated the Saints for keeping the faith, despite the oppression of government.

As I reflect on my missionary experiences in France, and as my wife recalls her missionary experiences in the United Kingdom, we recall working with and loving the people we met, both inside and outside the church. We saw them experience the same trials and struggles we have seen in our own lives: challenges in fulfilling church callings, challenges to testimony, challenges in remaining faithful, challenges in enduring to the end. We've also see them enjoy the same blessings: temple worship, the peace of paying a full tithe, the love of humanity, the love of sharing the gospel, and the love of life itself.

Those are the memories I cherish from my experiences as a missionary in France.

We have good, faithful members in these countries. We have temples in many of them.

The gospel flourishes wherever our Father in Heaven plants seeds. The examples are endless. Here, seeds planted in Mongolia, which did not officially recognize any religion from 1920 to nearly the present. Yet now the church flourishes there.

I guess what I'm getting at is that the gospel -- and good people, inside and outside the gospel -- can flourish wherever good people can be found, whether their government is oppressive or not. And I guess what I'm getting at as well is that certain recently-passed legislation isn't going to make me freak out and turn on the Oppression Meter.


Brenda said...

I believe in upholding the law. Yet, because this is a democratic country we have the right and responsibility to make our voices heard and to make sure our representatives are truly doing what we want them to do. I am a conservative living in a very liberal area, so I feel that my vote is completely useless, but I vote anyway!

I have a hard time believing that anyone, conservative or liberal, is completely happy with the state of the union right now anyway...

Mister Fweem said...

I think you're right on that -- there aren't a lot of politically happy people out there. Funny thing is, I'm a moderately liberal person living in a strongly conservative area, so I don't feel my vote counts much, either. But what's important is that we vote. We do take responsibility to be heard. If we don't, we're just adding to the problem.