|[Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on Bob Lonsberry’s Web site, on October 7, 2003. It is reprinted here with the gracious permission of the author.]
Some Muslims wear sacred clothing.
So do some Jews. The same for Native Americans and some Hindus and others.
Bits of cloth or string that are physical reminders of God and his bond with man. Sacred things, really. Prayer shawls or beads, head coverings or aprons, medicine bags. Things that are special to people, honorable and good things.
Things that should be respected.
One would not, for example, rip the yarmulke from a Jewish man’s head and mockingly fling it like a Frisbee. Nor would you wear a yarmulke as a spoof or joke. Certainly not as an attack on Judaism. Not as a mockery of Jews and their faith.
Yet something like that happened this weekend.
In front of thousands of people in one of America’s great cities. An act of religious desecration, bigotry and discrimination.
And the perpetrators boast of it to the press.
It was in Salt Lake City. And it was against Mormons.
And somehow that makes it acceptable.
Here’s what happened.
Over the weekend, Mormons gathered for what they call “general conference.” It is a twice-a-year meeting that draws tens of thousands to Salt Lake City and is broadcast around the world to an audience in the low millions. It is a worship service. It is sacred and special to them.
And each year it is protested.
So-called Christian evangelists stand on the sidewalk outside the Mormon meetings and shout rude condemnations of the religion to the thousands who pass in and out. It is an odd spectacle, unmatched in American society. To think that crude protesters would stand outside a mosque or synagogue, or a cathedral or church, and harass worshippers and denounce a religion is just beyond the pale.
It is an act of indefensible religious bigotry.
And yet it happens, and is often applauded and boasted of.
This column started with a mention of sacred clothing. Well, Mormons have sacred clothing, too. Like a variety of religious garments, it is worn against the skin. It is a type of underclothing. They don’t talk about it. They don’t show it to people. They keep it sacred. Like virtually all religious clothing, it is a specific reminder of promises made to God. Like virtually all religious clothing, it is precious and significant to the people who wear it.
Well, Sunday the evangelists had some.
Maybe six guys, Baptist ministers, mocking the Mormons as they came out of a meeting. Shouting rude things to people coming out of church.
And they had these sacred garments.
And one supposed minister of the gospel was wiping his backside with them, laughingly treating them like toilet paper as thousands who held them sacred walked by.
Can you see that being done to a prayer shawl in front of a synagogue, or a prayer rug in front of a mosque?
Wouldn’t that sacrilege be publicly denounced by all decent people?
He also draped them around his neck, and pretended over and over to sneeze into them. And loudly blow his nose into them. While families and children walked past.
Stop for a moment.
Lay aside what you do or don’t think about Mormons. But was that right? More to the point, was that Christian? Is that what Jesus would do? Is that what any decent person of any faith would do?
Absolutely not. It is wrong, bigoted and un-American. No matter who it’s against.
It was an affront. It smelled like the bigotry of the Klan and the Third Reich. And yet the ministers boasted of it to reporters and posed for pictures and no one in the Utah or American religious, media or civil rights communities has condemned it.
And, oddly, two worshippers were taken away in handcuffs.
One man, dressed in his church clothes, walked past in the crowd, saw the insults and desecrations, and grabbed the piece of clothing. To protect it. He was charged with robbery and taken to jail.
Half an hour later another worshipper similarly grabbed a molested garment and attempted to take it away. He was unsuccessful and waiting police stepped in to take him into custody.
And that’s the world we live in.
You are harangued for your beliefs and arrested for defending them.
And the bigotry of our society is illustrated by how selectively we practice tolerance.
|Bob Lonsberry, a newsman for more than 15 years, has won in excess of 80 journalism and broadcasting awards, including top Associated Press commentary awards in newspaper, radio and television–the only person ever to do so. He has been a newspaper reporter, columnist, photojournalist and editor, as well as a magazine writer and commentator on radio and television and a television reporter and manager. He is the author of The Early Years, a collection of newspaper columns. Lonsberry grew up in Canisteo, New York, is a college dropout and was once a missionary on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in the American Southwest. He is the father of four children who are being raised in the house where the author of the Pledge of Allegiance was born.