Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, along with other state leaders, dignitaries and leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were in one of the Kansas City Missouri Temple sealing rooms two weeks ago during the temple’s open house. Before the tour ended, Governor Nixon addressed those gathered, and three times in his remarks he said the temple’s opening symbolizes “a time of healing.”
Church Public Affairs managing director Michael R. Otterson shares this story in his Washington Post “On Faith” piece this week, noting that Governor Nixon’s comments are important because of the persecution the Church endured in Missouri in the early 1800s (for example, the 1838 “Extermination Order” and the brutal shooting of 17 Latter-day Saints, including a 10-year-old child, at Haun’s Mill).
Otterson says most journalists who sat for interviews at the temple open house asked about the persecution the Church suffered. However, Elder William R. Walker, who oversees the Church’s temples worldwide, declined to dwell on it, speaking of the times of growth and progress during the Missouri period and noting that some of the Church’s most powerful modern scriptural passages were received during the same period.
“Healing,” Otterson says, “suggests not so much a debate on the rights and wrongs of history in which none of us had a part, as much as a willingness to set aside modern personal biases and engage in the kind of mutually respectful treatment befitting a nation that wears religious pluralism as a badge of honor. In such a society in 2012, we don’t call each other ‘cults.’ We don’t automatically assume the worst of those who worship differently from us. We don’t mischaracterize their beliefs or quote their scriptures out of context.
“At a time when people are asking questions about Latter-day Saints with renewed interest and curiosity,” Otterson continues, “some journalists really do seem to be striving for the right tone, and exploring in very open and honest ways how to represent a faith group that is still little known to the public at large. Of course, there are exceptions. We can always count on a minority to launch the verbal equivalents of Haun’s Mill’s hail of bullets. But today is 2012, not 1838, and I like to think that we have learned something in 170 years. Over the next few months, with the intensity of interest in Latter-day Saints as high as it is, we may find out how much.”