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Coping With Religious Intolerance

Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner

Between video drop-and-runs, confusion over polygamy, and a Mormon running for president, attacking members of the LDS church seems to have become a hobby for some people. It’s important to help our children learn to cope with this type of harassment before it happens.

The arguments used by those who attack the church seldom change, except perhaps to add in a wrinkle in technology. Most attack items are either based on misunderstanding or misrepresentations of our beliefs, and so are easily disproved or cleared up. Others are nothing more than a difference of opinion on doctrine and those are likely to be unchanged through debate. Talk to your children about not letting anti-Mormon literature shake their testimonies. Their testimonies should be entirely based on assurance from God, not attacks from men.

Anything can be proven by using scriptures out of context or without understanding. I once met a man who had “proven” through creative use of scripture, that Martians were real and also lived among us on earth. Teach your children that scripture bashing is a poor way to make their point, since their friends will have as many scriptures as they have, and interpret them differently. It’s acceptable to show what scripture we use to verify our teaching, but teach them to show one or two scriptures and to simply say, “This is where we learn about this in the Bible.”

If we can’t scripture chase or debate, how do we go about coping with intolerance? First, if a child is facing basic harassment (“How many mothers do you have?”) the child can be taught to walk away and go to an area near a teacher or other trusted adult. It’s less likely verbal abuse will happen near an adult. He can also join other friends who can bolster his courage if no adult is around. If he is confident and liked enough, he might also develop cheerful answers to deliver as he walks away. “Just one; my parents have never divorced.” (Yes, that is a deliberate misinterpretation of the question.) These should be delivered with a smile and a friendly tone, so they aren’t for everyone. While re-education is a good thing, not every child is ready to deliver a lecture on church doctrine, and most often, the tormentors weren’t doing anything more than bullying, and the battle had nothing to do with religion in reality. If the tormenting is persistent, your child may need to make an appointment with his teacher or principle and ask for advice. This works better than tattling or filing an official complaint. When a student asks for advice on handling a situation appropriately, the adult often becomes a supporter and defender of the child. Certainly, asking for help in a non-accusatory way is preferred to starting a fist fight or running to the media.

If older children are faced with constant pressure from missionary-oriented peers, they can begin learning to be missionaries themselves. As a family, study Preach My Gospel and practice answering church questions. Remind children that our church has so much to say about its own teachings that there isn’t time to attack the beliefs of others, and it isn’t our way. Instead of saying, “Your church is wrong” say, “We believe.” Focusing on our own beliefs instead of the beliefs of others helps our approach to be filled with the kindness so often missing in religious discussions. You aren’t attacking, just sharing your beliefs. In addition, your children must then be willing to listen to the beliefs of others as well. This means their testimony must be strong enough to handle hearing opposing viewpoints.

We’re commonly taught to invite our friends to pray about what we’ve said. Some groups that have organized to fight our church teach their followers not to do that, since they won’t know if the answer came from Satan or God. Your children can counter that with a gentle reminder of who God is. “We believe God can do anything, even give us an answer we can recognize as His.” Then they should move on so it doesn’t seem like an attack, but again, as a statement of their own beliefs.

So, in summary, handle intolerance by:

1. Moving to a safe location near adults or friends.
2. Gently correcting beliefs if the child feels comfortable and feels there is a sincere desire to learn.
3. Sharing only one or two scripture references.
4. Talking about our beliefs, not the beliefs of others.
5. Inviting friends to find out for themselves.
6. Seeking help from school officials if necessary, in a loving, concerned way.

Finally, ask your children to evaluate each response in this time-honored way: What would Jesus do, and how would he do it?

Copyright © 2007 Deseret Book
Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service

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Content copyright © 2018 by Terrie Lynn Bittner. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Terrie Lynn Bittner. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Jamie Rose for details.


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