Monday, November 12, 2007


When I was little I remember very clearly the day my mother taught my Sunday School class, the one where the killing of Joseph Smith was described for the first time. I remember her voice catching, her tears, shocking us children to silence. I remember the awful details of the event retold, the guns' muzzles belching smoke and fire into the room through the doorway, the "Joseph, I am a dead man" from Joseph's brother Hyrum, the pathos of the scene, of Joseph himself falling from the window through the bullets of the mob below. That word "mob" was so prominent in these stories. . .and even though we were suburban children in a wealthy country, those stories of our collective origin in persecution marked us all, I think, in ways hard to really understand. We were part of the mainstream, we would listen to the pop music other teenagers listened to -- but we had a secret identity. We revered a martyr. I remember very clearly this was the first time I understood that word, enunciated reverently by my mother, with tears in her eyes, in that classroom. She explained it to us. We knew.

I wonder if the Mormon Church still uses the word "martyr" in its teaching materials for young people. I wonder if the shadow of the religious war believed in by most Americans has fallen over this invisible minority, the Mormons. Has the word "martyr" been so stained by association with Muslim fanatics dying in suicide attacks that they no longer dare use it? Simply describing his Godly self-sacrifice in a linguistic detour around the precise word that denotes all this?

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