How discouraging these days, when old hostilities are abating and peace seems next door, to see that the ancient enemies of man - bigotry and prejudice - are doing so well.
Despite the enlightenment of our day, we still face the cancer of old hatreds. Racial slurs, ethnic divisions, bigotry against religious beliefs have not gone away, nor do they seem likely to. School teachers complain of a resurgence of intolerance in their classrooms, hate organizations find candidates for office, countries split apart and slip into civil war between ethnic groups.The saddest casualty of all this is the toll it takes on children. Intolerance and bigotry have to be learned, often at an early age and, unhappily again, often from parents. Like a poison seeping down through the generations, the wretched attitudes twist young and supple minds into misshapen monoliths of ignorance. These vicious feelings work only by denying the children their humanity.
They are precisely the opposite of the message of love and acceptance that Christ taught. The gospel direction is simple: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (John 13:34.)
Consider the origins of words we use to describe these tools of small minds:
Bigot, which means holding blindly and intolerantly to a creed or an opinion, was an insult based on an old Norman oath.
Prejudice, an opinion formed before the facts are known, suspicion, intolerance or irrational hatred of other races, creeds, religions or occupations, comes from a Latin phrase meaning to prejudge.
Hate is an Old English word, handed down through the centuries to describe a feeling of dislike and aversion that is motivated by malice.
Narrow minded is self-descriptive: limited in outlook, without a breadth of view or generosity, but comes from an Old English root meaning to turn or twist.
Now consider the words describing an antidote to these corrupted attitudes:
Tolerance, to recognize and respect others' beliefs without sharing them, to be free from bigotry and prejudice, came to us from a Latin word meaning to lift up or to bear.
Sympathy, to have a mutual liking, to have pity or compassion for another's troubles, was given us by the ancient Greeks from two words that mean to be together in feeling.
Understand is of Old English meaning literally to stand under, and thus to perceive more and to support. It means, of course, to have sympathetic rapport with someone, to comprehend and be aware of things.
Love, to be fond of, and in one definition to have a feeling of brotherhood and goodwill toward other people, is so basic a feeling it goes back to Old English roots unchanged.
To define the words is to describe our obligation when, as followers of Christ, we are unexpectedly confronted with prejudice. Oddly, prejudice cannot stand the full light of knowledge. To know is to understand, to understand is to sympathize, and to sympathize is to destroy the prejudice.
The process begins with knowledge. President Ezra Taft Benson once wrote: "The Master pointed out that the fundamental characteristic of truth is freedom. Every principle of truth, properly applied, will free man from doubts, fears, suspicions, prejudices and those qualities which make for misunderstanding, pride, lust and selfishness." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 118.)
Church members know full well the wintry chill of bigotry. Prejudice drove the Saints from their homes, took their lives and forced them to a desert sanctuary. With that heritage, who more should be on guard against it, chopping away at its roots in each generation, both within and without?
Who more should then offer comfort to those who are outcast? The Church's message now is the same that Christ proclaimed to the lowly and outcast of His day - love unfeigned and acceptance unquestioned.
In religious matters we proclaim it in our 11th Article of Faith: "We claim the privilege of worshiping 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." The spirit of those words should apply to other arenas where bigotry and prejudice wage their wars against reason.
John wrote the early Church thus: "He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes." (I John 2:9-11.)