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The finger of scorn

More than 130 years ago, Brigham Young spoke of the essentiality for the Church to stand apart from the world. He said that some people admired the Church but would not embrace its teachings. President Young cautioned that if they joined the Church "without the love of God in your soul it will do you no good."

Speaking of those who admired the Church but wanted to retain popular beliefs, he declared: "If they were to do this, they would bring in their sophistry, and introduce that which would poison the innocent and honest and lead them astray. I look at this, and I am satisfied that it will not do for the Lord to make this people popular. Why? Because all hell would want to be in the Church. The people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them. Although it is admitted that we are honest, industrious, truthful, virtuous, self-denying, and, as a community, possess every moral excellence, yet we must be looked upon as ignorant and unworthy, and as the offscouring of society, and be hated by the world. What is the reason of this? Christ and Baal cannot become friends. When I see this people grow and spread and prosper, I feel that there is more danger than when they are in poverty. Being driven from city to city or into the mountains is nothing compared to the danger of our becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first-class community. I am afraid of only one thing. What is that? That we will not live our religion, and that we will partially slide a little from the path of rectitude, and go part of the way to meet our friends." (Discourses of Brigham Young, Selected and Arranged by John A. Widtsoe, 1946, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 434. )

President Young's remarks were given in 1868. Earlier, in 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve issued a message to the world's heads of state. From James R. Clark's compilation of Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1:257 is part of that statement: "As this work progresses in its onward course, and becomes more and more an object of political and religious interest and excitement, no king, ruler, or subject, no community or individual, will stand neutral. All will at length be influenced by one spirit or the other; and will take sides either for or against the kingdom of God."

"That day is now here," President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve declared at the April 1980 general conference, having cited the 1845 statement. "Opposition has been and will be the lot of the saints of the kingdom in any age. The finger of scorn has been pointed at us in the past, and we may expect it in the future. We also expect to see men in high places defend the Church; there will also be 'pharaohs' who know neither Joseph nor his brethren. The seed planted and watered in 1830 has now matured to a fully grown tree for all to see. Some will seek the refuge of its shade in the heat of the day, but none will be neutral in their appraisal of its fruit. . . .

"The Church will continue its opposition to error, falsehood, and immorality. . . . Now is the time for all who claim membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to stand firm and demonstrate their allegiance to the kingdom of God. It cannot be done as a critic or as an idle spectator on the sidelines." (Conference Report, April 1980, p. 47; or Ensign, May 1980, p. 34.)

A noted journalist visiting Salt Lake City in the 1980s spoke of how well the Church is aging. He said that members should realize that leading journalists no longer look upon them as "a cult group with weird ideas running from the mobs in Missouri. . . . Your Church has moved beyond its infancy, and is now into its mature years. Therefore, do not flinch at every critical word spoken and see every criticism as some sort of indictment of your whole system." (Church News, April 22, 1984, p. 3.)

While the Church and its members are no longer fleeing mobs, there still is a need for caution. But instead of looking back to see who might be pursuing us, we ought to be mindful of those by our side who attempt to lure us toward popularity. Always, we must remember President Young's concern: "That we will not live our religion, and that we will partially slide a little from the path of rectitude, and go part of the way to meet our friends."

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