When my husband and I first started talking to the missionaries so many long years ago, I was taking classes at our local community college. Larry hadn’t expected to be putting his young wife through school when he married, but then life is full of all kinds of surprises isn’t it? It was a real financial struggle at the time but he bore it bravely and it turned out well in the end. Anyway, one of the classes I was taking that semester was Philosophy. The class was interesting, satisfied my humanities requirement, and the professor was intelligent and available to his students. It became one of my favorite subjects and the professor and I became acquainted well enough to have regular conversations after class. When we began to delve into the part of the course that dealt with the philosophy of religion I shared with him that my husband and I were investigating the Mormon church. When the professor heard this he was absolutely incredulous. “How could I possibly be serious? Those people are unbelievably backward and prejudiced! They’re racist and chauvinist pigs to boot !” (Women’s lib was a hot issue at the time.)
Well, this was news to me. I was just learning about the church and had little knowledge of its beliefs concerning the issues of the day. One thing I knew for sure, though, was that racism and/or chauvinism would be a deal breaker for both me and my husband. Neither one of us would want to be a member of a church that denied rights to people based on race or gender. I didn’t know much but I knew instinctively that God wasn’t like that. So I figured I’d better check it out carefully before continuing the lessons with the missionaries.
So I began to research the issue. Along the way I ran across some information about the origins of the kind of thinking expressed in the Declaration of Independence….you know ….the all men are created equal idea. I was a real fan of Thomas Jefferson and friends and appreciated and admired their work greatly. I found out that this concept of equality which to us seems so obvious, and that we automatically accept as right and fair, was radical, even revolutionary to many back in the day. That even in these modern times many societies still believed that some people are created a lot more equal than others.
Yes, all men are created equal was an idea I believed in deeply even though I admitted that it presented a few problems. For one thing it left out women entirely. After much pondering I decided that the woman thing was just a matter of semantics and should be disregarded. Too, as I looked around the world I saw that some people seemed to be born with distinct disadvantages… physical and mental handicaps, deformity, extreme poverty, abuse and political enslavement for example. Did these people really start life with equality? Questions. I had many questions. Still, all men are created equal was a concept I embraced with all my heart. I wanted to find out what the Mormons thought about all this and I wasn’t about to join the church until I did.
I wanted to find out specifically what the teachings of the Mormon church were….not hearsay from a member or a missionary who might be trying to put the church in a good light. I decided to search the Book of Mormon. I learned a little about the topical guide and cross referencing and that’s when I came across King Benjamin. He was addressing his people in a kind of conference talk and he taught them this eternal principle. He taught them a phrase that seemed to just jump off the page and light up from within. He taught them…THOU SHALL NOT ESTEEM ONE FLESH ABOVE ANOTHER. Wow. Just think about that for a minute. Male, female, bond, free, retarded, genius, athlete, cripple, blind, deaf, old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, black, white, red, yellow, brown, Chinese, American, Hindu, Christian, Jew…..WHATEVER. Not “All men are created equal”…..instead…..THOU SHALL NOT ESTEEM ONE FLESH ABOVE ANOTHER. All have equal value…no matter what their circumstances. All are equal in importance, in regard, in love and respect. What a great thought. It went way past all men are created equal and just soared on by.
So this is what the Mormons believe…….I called the missionaries to schedule our next appointment.