Friday, September 18, 2015

Religious freedom or religious privilege among the Lamanites?

I was reading Alma 23 about the proclamation the king of the Lamanites gave to help Ammon and his fellow missionaries teach the gospel and to remove obstructions to the spreading of the word of God. 

1 Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land.
2 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.
3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
4 And now it came to pass that when the king had sent forth this proclamation, that Aaron and his brethren went forth from city to city, and from one house of worship to another, establishing churches, and consecrating priests and teachers throughout the land among the Lamanites, to preach and to teach the word of God among them; and thus they began to have great success. (Alma 23:1-4)

It is interesting to me that the chapter heading for Alma 23 calls this proclamation proclaiming religious freedom, but I can’t help but wonder if it really is.  I wonder if we would be comfortable if any other religion were given this permission, so I want to analyze it.

The missionaries were permitted to
--have free access to the people’s houses, temples, and sanctuaries
--to preach the word according to their desires

Those who heard them were not permitted to
--lay hands on them
--bind them
--cast them into prison
--spit upon them
--smite them
--cast them out of their synagogues
--stone them

So suppose another religion was given free access to our temples?  That would certainly be privilege for them, but it would infringe upon our freedom.

Suppose another religion was given access to our churches and we were not allowed to ask them to leave if they started preaching their doctrine to us. That would be privilege for them, but it would infringe upon our freedom.

Or suppose another religion was given free access to our homes to teach us, but we weren’t given the same access to their homes? That is not religious freedom; it is a religious privilege or sponsored religion.

So what we essentially have in this story is the church was given privilege over other religions. That sounds very nice to us because we believe those things, but if another religion gained that kind of “freedom,” we’d be very worried because those “freedoms” involve infringement upon assemblies and associations and desires to not listen. (It is possible the Amalekites and Amulonites may have reacted so violently because more peaceful methods of excluding and rejecting the message had been denied them by law.)

What this exercise shows me is that one of the best ways to test whether we enjoy a privilege or a freedom is to see if we’d be bothered if that freedom were given to others not of our faith or opinion.

I think this also shows that when our religion is in the majority it is very easy for religious privilege to masquerade as freedom. It is also very easy for people in power to think they are facilitating religious freedom when they are really just privileging a different religion than was privileged before.

This post was kind of hard to write. It is hard to go from seeing the king’s proclamation as a positive thing to realizing that it wasn’t as good as it looked.  The undeniable bright side was that so many conversions were facilitated because of it, but I think we can have the maturity to realize that there was a darker side to it.  I think awareness of between religious freedom and religious privilege can help us be smarter as we stand up for religious liberty.  It would be a shame if we lost freedoms because of not understanding the difference between freedom and privilege.


Joseph Thayne said...

This is a brilliant article, and very thought provoking.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks! And thanks for stopping by, Joseph!