3 Nephi 12:10-12 — LeGrand Baker — persecution and persecuted
10 And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;
12 For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you (3 Nephi 12:10-12).
The previous Beatitude read: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The very antithesis of that are people who persecute others. The only reason for persecuting other people is to assert one’s own assumed moral or other superiority by taking pleasure in seeing someone else uncomfortable or worse.
The form of persecution is usually dictated by culture. For example, in the dark ages a woman was burned to the stake for hiding a few pages of the Bible under her floorboards. We don’t do stake burnings any more, so we have to use other more socially accepted ways of persecution. Bullying is common at schools. Adults do the same sorts of thing. We just don’t call it bullying if its done by an adult. Children, teenagers and adults dehumanize before they attack. Dehumanize is too strong a word, but I don’t know the right one. They define someone as an “other” which means he is “not like us.” Because they see themselves as the standard of goodness, wisdom, and virtue, then by defining someone else as different, as an “other,” they classify him as unworthy, inferior, or even evil. They do this because they cannot tolerate his differences. After they have defined him as an “other,” they can emotionally justify the conclusion that he does not deserve to be treated as an “us” (i.e. he is unnatural, something less than a real human) then their conscience is clear as they ostracize him from their society or deny him job opportunities, or do him social, mental, or physical harm. Persecution is inflicted on most everyone who is different—because being an “other” is a punishable cultural sin.
Intolerance for cultural sins is the most usual rational for persecution of “others.” Real sins rarely are. Real sins disqualify one from being in the presence of God; cultural sins usually only disqualify one from being comfortable in the presence of those whose sins are real.
Real sins are those that canker the human spirit. They begin in one’s mind. Some always stay there: sins like hate, covetousness, jealousy, contempt, bigotry. The Savior added adultery to that list. These sins infect our soul and will condemn us on judgement day if we do not repent. Sometimes these sins of the mind mature into actions that are contemptuous, dishonest, hurtful, or even brutal. There are laws that protect people from other’s illegal actions, but governments cannot legislate against the sins of the mind. Consequently, except for physical violence and theft, most of the real sins are tolerated by our culture.
The “sins” that evoke persecution are usually not the real sins. The “sins” that culture does not tolerate are the visible differences that define someone else as an “other.” Having the wrong colored skin is a simple example. Whether a black man in a white culture or a white man in a black culture, the “other” is not culturally correct, therefore not trustworthy, therefore, by definition the personification of sin. Another example from our not so distant past is the woman who’s dress exposed her ankles. She was a bad woman. However, at the same time a proper lady could have a neck line just as low as nature would permit and she was only “fashionable.” Examples among children and teenagers are the small or studious boys who do not play sports and are mercilessly bullied for just being who they are. Cultural sins are not sins for which one has to repent. Most are not sins for which it is possible to repent. But the punishment for such sins may cause immense emotional and sometimes physical pain. In the past, and in some places still in the present, by just being a Mormon we define oneself as an “other,” and therefore, manifestly as a cultural “sin.”
In religious cultures, it is usually their god who is given the credit for canonizing cultural sins. Self-defined righteous people know instinctively that their god would never make any good person different from themselves. Therefore, their god justifies the persecution of anyone who is “not like us” and can easily be identified as an “other.”
We Mormons also do that sometimes — but never to our credit. I suppose the correct response to cultural sins is summed up by the bumper sticker President Uchtdorf quoted in April Conference, 2012, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”
In our Beatitude, the Savior is talking about a specific group of “others.” It is those who are persecuted “for my name’s sake” As there is always a new name associated with a new covenant, “name” is often a code word for “covenant.” As, for example, when Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying, “for I will not suffer my name to be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another (1 Nephi 20:11).” That can be understood as “ I will not suffer my covenant to be polluted.” Similarly the Beatitude might be understood as saying “blessed are all they who are persecuted for the sake of my covenant.”
The Savior has already described such people as “peacemakers,” so we can be assured that they are not boastful or obnoxious in presenting the gospel to others. They do not “deserve” to be treated with contempt except that their very being calls attention to the crudeness of their persecutors and makes the persecutors uncomfortable. That is the problem: The wicked are made uncomfortable by the very existence of the righteous, so the wicked persecute them to prove they are inferior and do not have the power to defend themselves. Thus the wicked find a perverse kind of self-importance and self-validation in the very act of persecuting the righteous.
The righteous, the peacemakers, are wise enough to leave it to God to execute judgement in his own time and his own way. Because the righteous have the hope that gives peace, they know everything will ultimately turn out just fine. But for the others, the people who do the persecuting, their actions are real sins, but the attitudes that produce the actions may be even more damning. For Latter-day Saints (as long as they feel no need to repent), such attitudes and actions virtually preclude even the possibility of the celestial resurrection which they anticipate for themselves, but which they would so vigorously deny to those who are burdened with the cultural sins that identify them as “others.”