Christ’s gospel is one of peace and harmony. Anger and violence are the opposite of what Jesus taught. Abuse in any form is often born of both anger and violence. For those who are new to the gospel message or for those who were raised in a life that did not include adherence to the gospel standards, there is a steep learning curve as they learn new ways of feeling and behaving. This requires both commitment on their part and patience on the part of those who are nurturing them in the gospel.
I lived in Hawaii with a large number of those whose parents or grandparents came from different islands all over the Pacific. I can’t count the number of times I have heard this exact comment over the pulpit in a Fast and Testimony meeting, “It has made me into the person I am today.” Each and every time that sentence was spoken it was preceded by a listing of the beatings their parents gave them as children growing up. It was always spoken with pride and in an almost boastful manner as if their souls would have been lost without the nurturing and guiding influence of the “lickings” they received as a youth.
The nature and extent of lickings vary greatly from home to home and instance to instance. One person talked over the pulpit about the hanger her mother used to hit the children with to get them to comply with her wishes. Another person referred to the “slippa” (flip flop) his mother used to hit them with. I have also heard tales of young men getting into trouble in school, and by the time they got home the news had already reached the house and their dad was waiting for him with the 2×4. I have been in priesthood meetings and heard the brethren talk about almost “beating to death” their children, most notably their sons when they got too uppity with them. This is, of course, always spoken as an exaggeration. When people say such things from the pulpit there is often a quiet wave of laughter that rolls through the congregation. They all understood what was being said.
One prominent member of the ward used to talk openly about beating his sons. One Fast Sunday he spoke about the realization he had as he stood there looking at the blood run down his son’s chin after striking him in the mouth for something. Fortunately, his transformation from a man of great passion to a man of humility has been inspiring to see. He is still a force to be reckoned with when he is angry, but he has been a real shining example of how much a person can change through the Gospel of Christ.
What is it?
What is it that causes such fierce loyalty to a system of abuse that has persisted for dozens of generations inherited from their ancestral culture? The parents are convinced that without the beatings their children cannot be taught to govern themselves or be respectful. They teach their children that the child must be beaten or they cannot be taught to be a good person. And true to form, these youth stand in church and publicly thank their parents for loving them enough to beat them into submission, to make them into the person they are today. That is what their parents taught them.
As we talk about the importance of the culture of Christ taking precedence over any other culture, the old timers openly talk about their regrets that they are no longer allowed to do right by their grandchildren because the laws of this country forbid them from “teaching them the right way,” i.e. through lickings.
A glimmer of hope
Over sixteen plus years of living in Hawaii I saw a very slow, but steady move of the younger generations toward new parenting tactics. I know how difficult it is to be faced as a parent with a child doing something that you did as a child and how strong the temptation is to react just as your parents would have in the same situation. But some have chosen to try other ways to discipline their children. This slow progression away from more brutal roots reminded me of the early days of converts to the Church.
When someone comes into the Church they don’t come in as a spiritually matured individual. They come in just as they have been raised by their parents, but with new convictions of spiritual truths. It takes time for the Spirit to work with them and soften them. It takes time to learn the culture of Christ and the culture of the Church. Sometimes it takes several generations for the descendants of a convert to become fully integrated into the cultures of Christ and the Church.
We look at the problems faced by many who joined the Church in the early days of the restoration, and many of the problems can be traced back to their religious roots and their social upbringing. It took a number of generations of saints living together to create a new Church culture and to learn how to parent and live by the culture of Christ’s teachings.
My hope in writing this is that this little reminder will help us all be more patient with those who are new to the Church or who are coming back after being away for many years. It takes time to make the change. Some will make the change very quickly, but even for those who are quick adopters, it takes years to learn all the nuances of what is acceptable and not acceptable in an LDS culture. My wife and I worked at BYU-Hawaii, and one of the stated purposes of that university is to help train those who come from the Pacific and from Asia in the ways of the gospel and Church cultures so when the go back to their homes they can take that culture with them.
One of the big issues all people have to grapple with as they come back to or into the Church for the first time, is the change of culture. We never want anyone to feel that we are advocating that they throw out their native culture, but it is important to remember that as covenant-making members of Christ’s church Christ’s culture takes precedence over native culture. In that struggle to navigate that transition, it falls on all of those who have been in the Church and understand what is expected to be patient and loving, helpful and kind to those who still don’t know what changes they will have to eventually make to be fully integrated into their new life as a covenant maker with Christ.