News Matters– A Public Display of Religion

Bored in Vernal athletics, civil disobedience, diversity, international, mormon, religion, sports 24 Comments

Welcome back to News Matters– a news feature which presents an LDS look at current events with an opportunity for our readers to interact from a Mormon viewpoint.  Your thoughts are welcome–just remember we all bring a different slant to the table, and be respectful.

Sanya Richards, Olympic athlete, is confident that she will be the first to cross the finish line in the 400 meter race.   91,000 fans at Beijing National Stadium and millions more on television will be watching the event.  Richard plans to drop to her knees, say a quick prayer and then point skyward in spiritual appreciation. This might not be a problem if the Olympics was being held in any of a number of countries. However, the Chinese government frowns upon public displays of faith outside state-sanctioned religious events and does not allow proselytizing.

This news story came to my attention because Olympic athletes who plan to openly display their faith on the playing field face somewhat the same dilemma my family did when we lived in Saudi Arabia this past year.  Saudi is another country which does not allow public religious meetings or proselyting.  While our local leaders advised us not to proselyte, we did hold worship services surreptitiously.  Perhaps the situation is a bit different because of the scale and the publicity involved.  But the issue raises questions for religious adherants.  Should respect for others’ beliefs be the overriding consideration in actions performed while in their countries?  Or should one stand as a beacon for what they believe and “let the consequence follow?”

In 1968 when John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the Olympic medal podium in Mexico City and raised their fists in the black power salute, not only were they were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village where the athletes lived during the games, they were also vilified for years to come. Reaction to their act of civil disobedience was so strong that they and their families even received death threats.  Today, the act is seen as courageous and respected.  They were recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at last month’s ESPYs.

How should religion and respect for others’ sensibilities be negotiated?  How far have Latter-day Saints carried civil disobedience in the past, and has it changed today?

Comments

comments

Comments 24

  1. If Sanya has a plan like that it isn’t so much a show of faith as an act of showboating. Let’s face it, does God really care if she wins? Does God even honor the accomplishment of athletes, actors, race car drivers, celebrities, etc? Why provoke something?

    Our best show of faith is as an example. People will know more about us in that way than in any other. Gestures like that don’t mean anything other than attention seeking.

  2. This actually reminds me of the story of Richard Feynman when he won the Nobel Prize. I guess you’re supposed to walk backwards down the stairs from the king after receiving the prize, without turning away. Feynman disliked ceremony and pomp so much that he actually practiced hopping down a staircase backwards, just to stir things up. But he eventually decided not to do, since it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I feel like China’s the same way. I disagree with their policies and practices in a number of ways, but demonstrations of this sort will accomplish nothing to change them.

  3. Ah, but for the millions of Chinese Christians living in oppression, the symbolic value of this act being performed on their soil would be tremendous. And if the Chinese authorities were to intervene, how disastrous for their image.

  4. RE: #1 Assuming you see God as a loving parent, I expect he’d be very pleased at her accomplishments and the accomplishments of any of His children. Especially if we acknowlege His hand in our lives.

  5. My main problem with this scenario is the assumption that she needs to win in order to praise God in this manner. Why can’t she do the exact same thing at the end of the race regardless of where she finishes? Why does she have to win the race to show her thanks for the chance to run the race? Is the best message that God will help her win – or that God brought her there regardless of the result?

    Personally I think the most powerful expression would be to kneel and offer a short, simple prayer BEFORE the race was to begin that you would be able to do your best – but if it is not a regular practice for every race, it smacks to me of being primarily political, not religious. That bothers me, since I don’t believe God should be invoked for political statements.

  6. #4 – BG – I do see God as a loving parent, but i also see Him as wanting His children to bring real value to the lives of individuals and the community as a whole. i am not sure those endeavors I listed do that. And, I should think, as Ray said, it is more important to do your best than to win.

    John – Most Chinese don’t know they live in oppression and would never even know about such an act. And the middle class in China would rather not have Americans or anyone else come and rock the boat for them. They have gained so much in the last 15 years.

  7. Re: #6 I don’t want to turn this into an argument but it seems to me that becoming the best you can be in any endeavor, Olypmic competition, whatever gives a lot of meaning to a persons life and an immense amount of pride to ones parents and family. If one of your children did well in soccer or school and you decided that in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that big a deal it could be devastating for them. Plus I think that your comment to John is way off the mark. People know when they’re oppressed and know when they can’t do anything about it. They know when they’re believers and that they’re not allowed to believe.

  8. #7 – “I don’t want to turn this into an argument” We’re having a discussion, a sharing of opinion. We are not close to the argument stage. 🙂

    “but it seems to me that becoming the best you can be in any endeavor, Olympic competition, whatever gives a lot of meaning to a persons life and an immense amount of pride to ones parents and family. If one of your children did well in soccer or school and you decided that in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that big a deal it could be devastating for them.”

    Personally, I’d support my children and do support them in anything they do that is good and praiseworthy, but in the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather they be honest, hardworking, upstanding, giving and honest members of society, good spouses and parents and good examples to others. To me to be good at a sport or anything like that is ok, but only to point where a person is dedicated to it, sets a goal and achieves something for it. The glory doesn’t interest me too much.

    “Plus I think that your comment to John is way off the mark. People know when they’re oppressed and know when they can’t do anything about it. They know when they’re believers and that they’re not allowed to believe.”

    If people know when they are oppressed, do you think the American people know?

  9. “People know when they’re oppressed and know when they can’t do anything about it.”

    Not always. Much of perception of self is based on availability of information about others. Also, “oppression” is actually a very subjective word. I’m not sure those who are not being oppressed religiously often feel oppressed to the degree that it bothers them greatly. After all, most of us put up with a degree of oppression for a greater degree of security.

    “They know when they’re believers and that they’re not allowed to believe.”

    Amen – as to not being allowed to express belief openly and worship communally.

  10. It seems that everyone’s displeasure with this young lady has less to do with religion and more to do with her “showing off”. The term “prideful antagonism” is used in Arthur’s comment. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve stumbled on a blogsite of Calvinists.

  11. Seems just like spiking a football, then dancing in the end zone to me. Or maybe more like Terrell Owens mooning the crowd, only here the crowd is COMMUNIST CHINA.

  12. “Richard plans to drop to her knees, say a quick prayer and then point skyward in spiritual appreciation.”

    I mean come on man. Maybe I’ve been playing music too long but this just seems very… rock star-ish to me. Simply a performance.

  13. #13 – Don’t you think a large part of the motivation for this is to insult China? As I said, if this is a regular part of her race routine, fine. If it is done solely for the Olympics that are being held in China, I have a problem with it.

  14. Not being a mind reader it’s hard to say. It may very well be that she’s a very religious person grateful to God for her gifts and anxious and willing to stand “as a witness at all times and all places.” Personally I’m not too concerned about China’s tender sensibilities.

  15. Premeditated displays aren’t the same as expressing real emotion. Like Jim Craig waving the American Flag in 1980 or the wrestler dude breaking down and crying. Or the Gymnastic team carrying Kerry Scrugs after her win on the vault.

  16. “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship HOW, WHERE, or what they may”. Joseph Smith.
    [Emphasis added]
    Mind and heart readers, are we, to pronounce judgement on the purity of her motives? It’s a bold thing to do, but whether it’s good or bad, or whether its consequences will be good or bad, I can’t say.

  17. Saudi [Arabia] is another country which does not allow public religious meetings or proselyting.

    The same goes for Israel. Proselytizing and street preaching is illegal and strictly enforced (especially if Christian or Muslim).

    This year’s motto: Recreate ’68! (See y’all in Denver…)

  18. So, Raoul, do you think Smith and Carlos’ actions in 68 were admirable? Are you comparing them to LDS practicing civil disobedience by holding clandestine Church meetings in Saudi and in Israel?

  19. Bored in Vernal: Recreate ’68! is the battle-cry slogan of the civil disobedience and direct action against the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, later this month. I know a few Mormons that will be fighting the cops in the streets of Denver in only a few weeks.

    So my mention of it is parallel to discussion here of your mention of the ’68 Olympics, civil disobedience, and Mormon participation therein, and other’s mention of “unknown oppression” in particular countries (such as ours).

    I am with GBSmith on this lady’s actions, I wish her well and hope her controversy sparks Chinese imagination.

    A friend just returned from a six-month mission trip in Israel, and she was only allowed to participate in “spreading the word” and other missionary activities on her moshav/kibbutz and other private property. In Israel, a lot of Christian missionary work is disguised as “tourism” (according to the admission of the moshav and bible institute and student exchange program that her uncle runs).

    Arthur: In COMMUNIST CHINA, the crowd is Moonies! In capitalist American, you BUY the crowd! In Soviet Russia, the crowd moons you!

  20. BiV,

    I found this on Latter-day Saint civil disobedience in the past, “The Latter-day Saints began the longest campaign of civil disobedience in America until the civil rights movement of the 20th century”:

    http://historytogo.utah.gov/salt_lake_tribune/history_matters/070101.html

    I don’t see how anybody could criticize Smith and Carlos’ actions in ’68 or Sanya Richards’ actions in ’08. We all have freedom of expression, or did the 1936 Nazi Olympics change the games forever? I like Ray’s comment, I hope she kneels to pray regardless of winning.

  21. “Arthur: In COMMUNIST CHINA, the crowd is Moonies! In capitalist American, you BUY the crowd! In Soviet Russia, the crowd moons you!”

    hahahahahahaha… oh man… thanks for that.

  22. This just in….

    BEIJING – It was theirs to lose, and they did. Sanya Richards led in the stretch but was outrun to the finish in the 400 meters, Lolo Jones clipped the ninth of 10 barriers in the 100-meter hurdles Tuesday night — and just like that, two of America’s top runners let Olympic gold medals slip away.

    Richards still won bronze, but a woman who has dominated the distance — save for the biggest races — looked crushed during the medals ceremony. Afterward, she was sitting in a hallway beneath the Bird’s Nest stands, crying into her cell phone.

    I guess God did not want her to win and put on her public display……

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