1857 / 2001
Every once in a while, I find that I feel sort of uneasy about church history. It's the feeling that I see something that nobody else recognizes and the wall of silence that it seems to build up around me and others can be a bit uncomfortable. And on this day every year, so many American church members will fill their Facebook walls with images meant to instill patriotism and righteous anger. For some reason this year, it feels harder to watch in silence.
The build up to this day of remembrance of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011 is pretty big every year. Whether you knew anyone who died in that attack or not, it was a powerful statement and injury on our consciousness. The understanding, motivations, deaths, heroes, and compassion that almost always arise in force during times of great trial was burned into us and whether we agreed with some of the motivating factors or not, we still thought about them, chewed on them, and swallowed the bitter pain of the waste and irrationality of it all.
This day is a tough day for many and an anniversary of trauma and pain. However, for me today is a day of pain not only for the events in 2011, but also the events of the same day in 1857 when the Mountain Meadows massacre was committed.
This date should be imprinted on the soul of every active Mormon member, not for the above mentioned event, but for a massacre perpetuated by our ancestors. This day should be remembered every year for so many reasons, but one of the most important reasons is that to be a member of the LDS church... to embrace the gospel and church history as a strong part of our faith and our testimonies... the stories that we tell ourselves about our faith that are positive, strengthening and heroic.... we cannot be true to ourselves as a religious community if we push our failures under the rug. Take a poll in every ward or branch you attend and you will find the majority of members have heard of the Hauns Mill massacre, but very few have heard of Mountain Meadows. The difference between the two is simple; Hauns Mill was a terrorist act towards members of the LDS faith by outsiders while Mountain Meadows was a terrorist act committed by Mormons towards others. It is one of our community's -and I say 'our' including myself- big embarrassments, an act in itself of terrorism, and an act that no matter how rationalized or justified... is a shame and a sore on the skin of the gospel and the church.
Some people believe that we should not talk of these things and there are many reasonable reasons to not speak. But in our silence, it can cause more difficulty for members and non members alike when they discover this information for themselves and then become part of the festering mass of confusion, anger, shame and betrayal that is found when attempting to reconcile this painful information with their positive experiences with their faith. Some argue that, like reparations for slavery, it is in the past and so it is no longer relevant. For those who say this, may I ask a question? Look deep into your heart and your memory and think of the sins that you have 'quietly' repented of... or the sins that you have kept to yourself and have hidden from the light... Do you feel that they are now all better? Do you feel that repentance absolves you of any responsibility to try and fix the harm you have inadvertently caused? In my mind, repentance is much like a u-turn: when you realize that you are going the wrong way, you repent and turn around.... but that doesn't stop you from having to recover the ground you have traveled. True repentance is a journey, not a magic spell that will apparate you back to where you began when you lost your way. (Although living in the world of Harry Potter would make a few things a tiny bit easier- imagine your few second trip from Maine to Paris for a romantic dinner and then home for work the next day. :)
While none of us living have primary responsibility for these crimes in the past, I firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to try and continue the process of healing- for the family members, for the ancestors on both sides of the tragedy, and for the continued healing of our present community. I hope that next year, maybe a few more people will remember this date for more than just the attack in New York. I hope that more people will pray and remember Mountain Meadows and that even good, kind and godly people can make a mistake in ignorance, anger and fear. Remember that all of us are capable of horrible things in the grip of many negative emotions such as anger and fear. May we spend the day in remembrance and good works. Today is an important day....