Mormons fast for Baltimore

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shutterstock_185722670My post last week about the lack of an institutional LDS response to the racial violence in Baltimore met with some polarized responses.

On the one hand, some readers agreed with me that the Church’s official silence is hurtful. They discerned a lopsidedness in its passion for fighting against same-sex marriage compared to its apparent “no comment” policy on racial justice.

On the other hand, many more commenters argued that the Church’s silence is appropriate, either because we don’t have all the facts about those instances of alleged racial injustice . . . or because the oppression of African Americans has been greatly exaggerated by the media. The latter comments broke my heart. That a Mormon could argue that black violence against whites is far more pervasive than white violence against blacks – as one of my respondents did last week — demonstrates a willful denial of the racial inequities that linger in this country.

Just about everything about the discussion was depressing, except for the welcome news that the Baltimore stake had scheduled a special fast for May 3. Apparently this fast was already planned before the arrest of Freddie Gray in response to “the dire conditions of the youth” of Baltimore, according to Aimee Evans Hickman, who is a counselor in the Young Women’s presidency there. The invitation read:

We invite all members of the Baltimore Stake, as well as friends and neighbors who are not of our faith, to join with us in a special fast on Sunday, May 3rd, for peace in our city, and, in particular, for the safety and hope of the youth of Baltimore who are beset by poverty and violence.

Particularly encouraging: The Facebook post about the stake fast was shared over 3,000 times. People from all over the world, both Mormon and those of other faiths, pledged to fast for Baltimore. Reading those comments about people’s prayers and eagerness to help restored some of my faith in the goodness of the Mormon people – a faith that had taken a ding from reading some of the comments on this blog.

Hickman says that about 2/3 of the LDS testimonies borne yesterday had to do with the Baltimore uprising, with a fair number specifically referencing the role of race.

“Our bishop opened the fast meeting with wise and compassionate remarks that directly addressed the week’s events, emphasizing that the concept of ‘peace’ is not the absence of problems and that ‘restoring’ peace to our city does not mean simply going back to the way things have been,” says Hickman. “There was a real openness about how this week’s events were a result of systemic problems and that as a religious community we have an obligation to address these issues spiritually as well as practically.”

I fasted too. This weekend I was leading a Mormon women’s retreat outside Seattle, so it wasn’t practical to do a full 24-hour fast. But surely I could do something. I announced when I spoke on Saturday that I was going to do a half-day fast the next morning, and I invited any of the women who wanted to join me to come and pray together during the time we would normally eat breakfast.

I wasn’t sure how many would take me up on the offer. But at the appointed hour, six of us prayed together for peace in Baltimore and the world, and for the softening of hearts—starting with our own.

The Baltimore fast reminded me of two important truths, the first being that most Mormon people are eager to be mobilized for good. We want to be involved as Mormons and sometimes don’t know quite how to do it. Fasting is something we can do, something that can build bridges and help bless the world.

The second is that I need to reconfigure my own faulty understanding of the Church. Last week I complained about the lack of an institutional LDS response. But the Church is us, its members, first and foremost. We, along with Christians the world over, are the feet and hands of Christ’s body. That “we” includes, but is not restricted to, fifteen men who work in a tall office building in Salt Lake City.

In other words, if I criticize “the Church” for not doing something, I need to also take a hard look at what I am doing or not doing.

And actually, one angry reader saved me the trouble. He wrote on Facebook that he’d taken the time to comb through all my previous blog posts to see if I had ever publicly referenced the same racial injustices that the Church had been silent on:

Facebook comment with names removed.

Facebook comment with names removed.

And he’s right. I had not discussed those issues on the blog, and I was wrong not to.

Staying silent was wrong because I am the Church, too.

And so are you. What are we going to create together?

  • Cat

    “Lord is it I?”

    Thank you for public humility. I hadn’t read the previous blog, but we all have so far to go in truly being what we aspire others to be. I hope to move a step or two farther along the doing better path this day.

    May assistance walk with you, too.

    Thanks

  • Fitly Framed

    Nice post, Jana. Elder Renland’s GC talk “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying” prompts a challenge to your moniker. Only the Lord knows (even better than we do about ourselves), but my bet is that your “sainthood” score ranks high on the curve (thank goodness heaven doesn’t grade on the curve!). Fasting and prayer (Mt 7:21) was indeed what Jesus instructed his disciples was required (in synergy with their faith and callings) for the toughest healings. D&C 58:26-33 gives amazingly relevant counsel for “anxiously engaged’ sainthood. Thank you for your unslothful calls to actions not needing to be “commanded in all things.”

  • Eric Facer

    Well said, Jana. But I would like to suggest a slightly different mindset.

    I think our focus is too narrow if we approach issues, such as the recent problems in Baltimore, from the perspective of the institutional church or as members that denomination. Let us act as Christians, guided by the Savior’s gospel, with no thought given to our particular religious affiliation. I, for one, don’t give tinker’s damn if the church or other Mormons endorse my work for a cause that I deem meritorious. Being involved “as Mormons” just doesn’t mean much to me.

    From my perspective, the church, while valuable, has little to offer in a variety of spheres, such as science, the arts, history, politics and numerous other aspects of life from which I derive both joy and growth. When we limit our thinking by gauging our response to particular issue within the context of our religious belief system, we limit our ability to do good in the world—and to have fun.

    The church is swell, but it…

  • Eric Facer

    I meant to finish my last sentence by saying: “but it isn’t everything.”

  • Wayne Dequer

    It was productive this last weekend to fast and pray for those in Baltimore and throughout the world who live with tragedies, inequalities, fear and despair. It was much more Not eating a couple of meals and saying a few words of prayer. I personally received specific inspiration on how I can more effectively reach out to some of those struggling in my own sphere of influence. I believe those members, and others, in Baltimore, and elsewhere, were likewise blessed, because fasting and humble prayer availeth much. There is much good to be Done in the world (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP0M8odWdCY ).

  • Listening Closely

    Wa-laaa, Jana, has had her eyes opened to a reality about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Out of all the things I know of the church it does not care about the color of people or where they have been. But it does care about getting people too see themselves in a more favorable light in order for them to improve. Why were you, Jana, surprised when hearing about the Baltimore Stake fasting for the people involved in this conflict? The church stands as a light to those who wish to learn how to solve their problems individually, as a group, or even as a city, or even as a country, but you have to want it. Jesus Christ is the answer to all things and this is what the church teaches above and beyond anything else.

  • Sharee

    I don’t understand the term Wa-laaa. Can you explain? I have seen it used from time to time and, looking at the context, can’t help but wonder if the intended term is Voila.

  • Listening Closely

    Thank you Sharee for your question about Wa-laa. It is used as a phrase in this case, as awakening something in someone’s mind that they didn’t see before. Wa-laa, I see the light. It can be used in different situations of exposing minds to something the person was not aware of. Wa-laa, maybe i made a mistake about the church, as Jana, said. it is also used in a circus for exposing something that was hidden, like someone jumping out of a crate surprising people. they yell, wa-laa.

    I hope this helped.
    Listening Closely

  • Wayne Dequer

    I believe you are correct, Sharee. She’s using a form of the French term Voilà! (see http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Wa-lah )

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  • David Young

    Waa Laa is actually the French “Voila”, literally, “see there”.

  • Listening Closely

    David, thank you for your comment. I forgot to say to Sharee that voila and wa-laa do have pretty much the same meaning.

  • Dcsouthgw

    Jana, I understand the principle for being a force for good, but as the gospel teaches that we shouldn’t run faster than we are able. Where does it end? Your point here is that there is an undeniable epidemic of disenfranshisement for racial minorities that the church and its members are silent on and what will we create together. Why this issue over gay rights, global warming, environmental issues, political corruption, genocide in depressed countries, poverty, child abuse, spousal abuse, rape, reproductive rights, etc? If we are being called to task on this issue, are we still not guilty of being silent on the others? Isn’t there an opportunity cost that will eventually cut out most of the worthy causes to be concerned about?
    How about the idea that I do my good for the world by using the miniscule time that I have with my family not isolatedly writing blog posts about awareness, but to teach my kids to honor equality, lbgt issues, the environment, abuse, etc.

  • Dcsouthgw

    Continued – If I spend my life promoting awareness but ignoring my duties as a father and husband, and employee, and in my calling, have I practiced balance? Is there any harm in allowing Baltimore to pray and fast over their issues and me and my ward family to fast over our communities issues? My issue with your stance on this point is that racial inequality is only one of 100’s of issues that I can spend my time worrying about and advocating change for. They are all honorable, but none of them are more important than my ability to provide for my family, and be a loving and supportive husband and father. Plus the way I teach my children to believe better on these issues is much more a force for good than any article I could write or rally I could attend. Just because you don’t see our efforts in the news, doesn’t mean families, wards, and stakes aren’t taking action.