“And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” – Alma 5:20-21
We often think that if we do not personally mock or persecute that we are innocent of such accusations. We think that if we are constantly and consistently polite and careful with our personal interactions, we are free of the charges of mocking and heaping persecutions on others. But we must look beyond the personal experience if we wish to be judged correctly.
The first place to look is in the minds of the persons we interact with – we cannot read those minds, but we know that they are not our own. How do we know that what we think of as polite and proper is interpreted to be the same way in the minds of our neighbors, the people we meet and work with directly? How often did politeness give an appearance of kindness as it papered over apartheid, segregation, and antisemitism? Even as I speak of those things as national policies, they had impacts on the personal level to where the persecutors were unaware of how hurtful they were because, in their minds, they were always polite and proper.
When we use words that are pointed out to us as having a negative implication to an audience, we should seek to stop using those words. Accusing the audience of overreacting or taking us the wrong way is not a defense – it is not a rethinking, a repentance. When we rethink, we repent. When we repent, we not only become aware of how to keep peace on earth, but also how better to approach God.
And when we look at the larger picture, we must be sure and certain in not supporting legal regimes that “heapeth persecutions” on one or more groups. Mockery may or may not be in the legal wording: older American laws specifically stated that Blacks, Latinx, Asians, First Nations, and other cultural minorities were to be restricted vis-a-vis their White counterparts – mockery and persecution, combined. Modern American laws may remove the direct mockery, but preserve the persecution by creating use cases defined by factors common to those cultural minorities.
Gender and sexual preference are also targets of laws that create persecution. Again, they can be directly called out with mockery directly included with the persecution; or, they can be indirectly implied, with the mockery buried under cleaned-up words. But, with or without the mockery, the persecution remains as an indictment against the godliness of the people that put it into place.
“And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yeah, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting you hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God… and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” – Alma 5:53-55
Alma makes it very clear that he is speaking to a society, not each person as an individual. This is a collective sermon that targets inequality in the society. As above, the supposition of being better than another person can be masked by politeness and protocol. If I say I am the same as everyone else but then expect to be treated differently due to my status, wealth, profession, or some other irrational criteria, then I am quite likely a hypocrite. I should strongly note that differentiated treatment to overcome disability or poverty is justice, not discrimination. Preserving one’s power through denial of justice is discrimination, is persecution, is mockery of one’s own brother in the most ungodlike way possible – the building up of a kingdom rooted in cruelty, injustice, and the violence necessary to support such a thing.
The door is not yet closed on those who persecute – as long as we have thoughts, we can rethink them. We can repent and choose instead to treat one another as equals not only in our personal relations, but in how we frame the laws of our nations. It means we must think harder and produce solutions that may not seem intuitive, but if we wish to attain the pearl of great price, those efforts are part of the price we pay for the treasure of Eternal Life.