Most people aware of Mel Gibson’s arrest last week for driving under the influence and his unfortunate behavior during that arrest (read the story). On August 3rd USA Today online posted an opinion (letter to the editor) titled Reaction to Gibson is hypocritical. The author, Jeff Byrd of Sacramento, California, wrote:
I am writing to point out that while actor/director Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks were wrong, America’s reaction to them is hypocritical.
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without exception, at every public event that the Mormon Church sponsors, protesters are sure to be there. What are they protesting? Our religion.
They might be exercising their right to free speech, but their goal is to deny us our freedom to practice our religion. Shouldn’t all Americans be as outraged over anti-Mormonism as over anti-Semitism?
Have the Jews been persecuted even to the point of attempted extermination? Yes, they have. Have the Mormons been persecuted to the point of death? Yes, we have. Even the governor of Missouri in 1838 signed our “extermination” order.
As I write this letter, I am preparing to attend a public open house of our new temple in Sacramento. There will be protesters against my actions. I would hope America feels the same way about their anti-Mormon hate as they do about anti-Semitism.
It’s really unfortunate that Mr. Byrd’s assertions have been so widely disseminated without challenge. His remarks are untenable and wholly ill-informed.
I have attended numerous public events sponsored by the Mormon Church at which no protestors or critics of any kind were “on the job.” While I have witnessed (and sometimes participated in) Christian outreach at LDS events, I have not observed people protesting (for an exception see the June 20th Mormon Coffee post); Christians are there merely providing information from another perspective for those who are interested.
Mr. Byrd asserts that the goal of the so-called protestors is to deny Mormons their freedom to practice their religion. I’d like to know what makes him think so. How is distributing information an act that restricts someone else’s freedom? When the LDS Church distributes the Joseph Smith Testimony, is the goal to deny people their freedom to practice the religion of their choice? Is that what LDS missionary work is all about? The very idea is ludicrous.
I can only think that Mr. Byrd has never bothered to read the information Christians hand out at Mormon proselytizing events. If he had, he would understand that his assumptions are way off base. Of course, I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of the alleged “protests” about which Mr. Byrd writes; but all the material I have seen at these events has been respectful in its presentation while still critical of the doctrinal claims of Mormonism.
Is this a description of persecution? Should America be outraged over non-Mormons publicly questioning the theological claims of the LDS Church? Are the peaceful, respectful actions of LDS critics equivalent or comparable to anti-Semitism? Shame on Mr. Byrd for minimizing the historic and continuing hostility against the Jewish people in this way.
As Mr. Byrd attends the Sacramento Temple open house I hope he recognizes that nobody there is protesting his right to do as he pleases. He enjoys complete freedom to go to the Temple open house; he may accept or reject the information offered him by non-Mormons; he may practice the religion of his choice. This is made possible for Mr. Byrd by the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which not only guarantees him freedom to choose his religion, but also gives him the right and freedom to publicly condemn LDS critics.
Even if he chooses to do so in ignorance.