I’m not sure what started this train of thought in my mind, but I have been thinking about how things get misrepresented in public understanding. I’m sure that makes no sense to lots of people, but perhaps some examples may illustrate what I mean.
I have often heard someone excuse something they wanted to do by exclaiming that we live in a free country. What does it mean to live in a free country? Examine the foundation – in this case that would be the Constitution.
Currently we are hearing more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS church) in the news largely because we have a church member running for President. Once that discussion gets started there are many people inside and outside the LDS church who are eager to elaborate on the beliefs and practices of the church. It is easy to bring up the practice of polygamy in early church history. Unfortunately, we always talk about this past practice in the light of current social values and circumstances rather than in the context of the times when it was practiced.
Another topic for discussion is the history of blacks holding the priesthood. Once again there is no mention that at the time that practice began, in the 1830’s, the belief that blacks were not equal to whites in the eyes of God was quite widespread. Those who argue that other churches gave their priesthood to blacks never consider that they also had segregated congregations which would almost require that they give pastoral authority to blacks for the black congregations. The LDS church has never had segregated congregations. The only segregation of congregations is segregation of geography. In other words we have all white congregations in all white areas and all black congregations in all black areas. So long as there is a mixture of races within the geographic boundaries of the congregation there is a mixture of races in the congregation – possible exceptions would be if there was a language rather than a geographic segregation.
The other thing that is never considered is that other churches give their priesthood based on education. Those colleges who receive federal money and provide theological degrees would have been required to give degrees to black students even if they didn’t like the idea. Maybe we need to be careful to look at those different foundations to realize that we are comparing apples to oranges.
If you desire to know about the beliefs of the LDS church you have to look to the foundation which is the Articles of Faith. Whatever other information you might receive, whether from members of the LDS church or not, should be tested against that foundation.
UPDATE 5/30/2007: I just found this column on candidate religions as a political consideration (yes, it was focused on Mitt Romney and the LDS church). I think that my recommendation to look to the foundation is more valuable when investigating the religion from a theological perspective, but the guidelines in that column seem just right for evaluating a religion from a social or political perspective.