Sunday, November 16, 2008

A FUNDAMENTAL NOT PRESENT IN FUNDAMENTALISM

I lived in Limestone, Maine near the Canadian border during the mid-1950’s, a place where the snow piled up as high as telephone poles bordering the road that led to an old farmhouse in which we lived. My former spouse was there with the U.S. Army, attached to a Strategic Air Command base that guarded U.S. borders against enemy invasion. I was a 19-year old southerner who had never lived in the northeastern U.S. and certainly hadn’t experienced sub-zero temperatures before that tour of duty with the Army. During the time I lived in what was termed a “hardship area,” the warm spot in that snowbound town was the home of a Mormon family, the Groesbecks, who lived across the street from us.

The Groesbecks were devout Mormons, and I know now, after studying their literature through the years, that they were more interested in a doctrine contained in their ARTICLES OF FAITH (a copy of which the Groesbecks gave me when I left Limestone) concerning “Benevolence” than they were in banning other religions or people. Benevolence, according to this family, embraced and far exceeded charity. As far as they were concerned, they were to make their neighbor as dear to them as themselves. This family shared many things with me, including a large Maine lobster that they divided six ways one evening when we were invited to supper! Marion, the wife and mother, often baked honey bread and brought me a loaf. When I had a miscarriage, she was the first person on the scene afterward. Her children spent many nights in my apartment and gave me the joy of children before I knew the joy of my own children. Marion and her family offered me the gift of friendship during a stark period of my life.

When I sat in the Groesbeck’s living room or ate supper with them, I never heard talk about hatred of blacks or that black members could not hold the priesthood in the Mormon Church or that missionaries could not evangelize in Africa, the Caribbean, or other regions inhabited by populations of blacks. I also heard no gay bashing or talk of polygamous relationships. In that cold, sub-zero weather, the Groesbecks were a warm, loving family faithful to their religion, bound to the doctrine of benevolence, rather than devotion to social issues. The only proselytizing they did was to give me the BOOK OF MORMON, ARTICLES OF FAITH, and a book entitled TREASURES TO SHARE when I left Aroostook County. I have vivid memories of listening to classical music with them, reading to their children on snowy evenings, and attending a Mormon women’s group where I was surprised to find a group of literary people interested in studying WUTHERING HEIGHTS. No one tried to recruit me, no one spoke of just tolerating and not accepting other groups or religions. It was a rare experience of Mormonism, and I suppose I have lived in a time warp about their decent beliefs and faith since those days I spent in Maine.

As I read the headlines yesterday about the “Latter Day” Latter Day Saints raising $40 million dollars to support a social ban, although they claim “attacks on churches and intimidation of people of faith have no place in civil discourse over controversial issues,” etc., the Mormons today,unlike those I knew in Maine, seem to have joined the ranks of fundamentalists who are moving far from the doctrine of love espoused by Christ: if man would win eternal life, he cannot afford to neglect the duty of love to his fellow, for “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

I often wonder where my benevolent Mormon neighbors…those people who believed that “sincerity of disposition and humility of soul whereby the word of God may make an impression upon the heart” are today, and I guess I wonder where many of my so-called benevolent Christian neighbors, who profess the same thing, live, as they vent their hate in the streets of our towns…from Maine to Louisiana. The question comes to my mind, where is that belief of all Christians in their inherent sense of justice? Or this: “Is the world to be forever confirmed in its opinion that theological partisans are less truthful, less candid, less high-minded, less honorable even than the partisans of political and social causes, who make no profession as to the duty of love?” (to quote the Mormon’s ARTICLES OF FAITH!).

I guess that my experience of the Mormons of that time in Maine was an unusually blessed experience. Idealist that I am, I choose to remember them the way they were.
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