When I was called into the Bishopric, I replaced a man whom I admire greatly. Peter Lassen is a humble follower of Jesus Christ who loves his family, his country and his church. He is a very successful businessman who manages a string of health food stores here in Ventura County. He has also become the target of an attack of hatred by those who are opposed to what he believes.
Because in the State of California all political contributions over $1,000 are recorded with the Secretary of State, anybody can view, download and do whatever they want with this public information. What they did was to write a scathing attack on this good man accusing him of hatred and bigotry because he did what a prophet asked him to do to support a good cause.
He was singled out because the contribution was large and because he is well known in the local area. I and 61,000 other people have also contributed of our means to this cause but we have not been singled out in such a public manner. The way the Lassen family has responded to this is remarkable. They have quietly gone about their business of providing good healthy products.
Christian courage: The price of discipleship
What would cause a man who has been so publicly attacked and threatened to respond in such a meek and quiet manner? Elder Hales taught about this very subject a week ago in the Sunday morning session of General Conference. He answered the question of why someone would want to attack us as we try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the counsel of a living prophet.
One of life’s greatest tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. The natural desire is to defend ourselves and to respond aggressively. The Savior Himself was despised and rejected of the world. In Lehi’s dream, those coming unto the Savior endured mocking and pointing fingers. They world hates the disciples of Christ because they are not of the world.
When followers of Christ turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger, they stand with the Savior. When we show forth this kind of love, it answers our accusers without accusing them in return. We know that the great accuser is the adversary of the Savior and all his followers. It takes real Christian courage to answer our accusers in this manner. This is not weakness.
Opportunity in the midst of opposition
In 1983, President Kimball taught, “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.”
Elder Hales noted ways that we can take advantage of these opportunities brought about by criticism: a kind letter to an editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging remark. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice. That certainly has been the case here.
I have been remarkably impressed by the efforts of so many who rallied around the Lassen family and added comments on each of the news stories wherever they were published. The positive comments were helpful and the response of the original author to those comments shows how small and close-minded they really are. Their real intent to disparage is very obvious.
Meekness is not weakness
When we respond to others, we must never become contentious when we are discussing our faith. In this case, the dialog is about a tenet of our faith, that of following the prophet. The Savior has taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” To be meek is to manifest patience and longsuffering: enduring injury without resentment. Meekness is not weakness.
My admiration for the Lassen family has increased tremendously. They are going about their business, trusting in the promise of the Lord that they will be blessed for following a prophet. They are wearing the badge of Christian courage well. By exhibiting such behavior we do not compromise our principles or dilute our beliefs. Quiet confidence speaks volumes of faith.
As true disciples of Christ, our primary concern is welfare for others, not personal vindication. I am confident that many opportunities to share their beliefs have arisen as customers continue to patronize their stores and seek Peter and other family members out to ask them how they are dealing with this criticism. Admiration and respect from the community will only increase.
Promote understanding and withhold judgment
We have been accused of lying about this issue at hand. All we can do is present our beliefs in what we feel about the sanctity of marriage and what we have been taught by the men whom we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. We can do nothing more than provide adequate sources of information. It is up to others to decide if they will read seriously, study and investigate.
At the same time, we do our utmost to avoid being unduly judgmental of the views of others. I think I understand why some feel so strongly opposed to our efforts to add this amendment to the constitution of the State of California. I have read their arguments. I do not agree with them but strive to be civil and respectful to those who hold them. We ask that they do the same for us.
The way that we have been attacked on this issue has caused many members of the church to reach out of their comfort zones and stand a little taller in defense of good people like the Lassen family. I am impressed with the humble comments on the newspaper and blog articles by so many members of our stake, especially by the youth with whom I serve in the singles ward.
Summary and conclusion
Sometimes true disciples of Christ must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all. Most of the Lassen family has decided on this course of action. I am amazed at their restraint. Elder Hales is right that contention can cause damage to the church that is already criticized by many as being not Christian. I am convinced that good will come out of this because of their example.
The conference address from Elder Hales on Christian Courage is extremely timely as we deal with this ongoing dialog about religious freedoms and civil rights. To those who have expressed that they are tired of these ongoing essays of mine on the subject, may I point out that this is a prime example that demonstrates the gospel in action – how to deal with unfair persecution.
I am convinced that people will want to know more about the Mormon Church as a result of the publicity we are receiving on this issue. Isn’t it amazing that with just a single letter back in June, tens of thousands of Mormons have contributed millions and millions of dollars to this? A people who are so willing give of their time and means like this must have some amazing faith.