Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Preaching a la Paul

Interesting doctrine taught in SS this week--we were studying the 2nd part of Acts and the teacher focused on Chapter 21 where Paul is asked by James to demonstrate his adherence to the Jewish Law by attending the synagogue and purifying himself. (Acts 21:20-26) Paul was accused of being dangerous because of his teachings about the relationship of Christians to the Law of Moses. Paul followed the counsel of "Bishop James," went to the synagogue, and complied with Jewish purification ritual. Brother M. compared this story to our situation here in Riyadh. He said that though most of us have been taught to proclaim the Gospel, here we should follow the counsel of our leaders and maintain a low profile.

I don't disagree with this strategy--I just wonder if we can compare our situation with the actions of Paul. In Acts 21:4 and 11 Paul was being advised not to return to Jerusalem because of the danger he was in. With complete disregard of his own safety (and what the Spirit was directing?) he said:

I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 21:13)

It feels strange to have so many years of indoctrination to preach the Gospel no matter what the consequence, to have the examples of Paul, Alma, the sons of Mosiah, and the early missionaries of the Restoration--and then, when consequences might actually occur as a result of missionary work, to be told to hide the light.

Is speaking of the Church here folly--a blatant disregard of what our leaders have advised, or is it bravery? And what, exactly, was the example of Paul?


Amira said...

I must say this is a pretty odd comparison. A closer comparison might be if Saudi authorities required anyone living in the country to fast for Ramadan and pray 5 times a day no matter their religion.

It might be brave to preach the gospel in Saudi or a number of other countries, but it would be pretty stupid too. It would probably get that person kicked out of the country, possibly get the entire church organization in that country shut down, and certainly no local who heard and believed would allowed to be baptized. What's the point?

But it is hard to feel restricted on what you can do. At least you have clear guidelines in Saudi. Some countries we've lived in had so few members that the church attorneys kept changing the policies so we never knew if we could say nothing or hand out copies of the Book of Mormon. Small comfort, but it was easier when we lived in Israel.

J G-W said...

Well, the same Paul who said "I am ready to... die at Jerusalem," also said, "let every soul be subject to the higher powers" (Romans 13:1).

There is a time to obey and submit oneself meekly to those who have power over us, and there is a time to be bold and recklessly speak out.

I also find this text fascinating because of its illustration of how the early Church struggled over the meaning of law and faith. As a person who has been told that I must submit to the law of complete, lifelong celibacy in order to be acceptable to God, this and other texts exploring these themes have HUGE personal significance to me...

Ann said...

Great post, BiV. I recall reading a comment somewhere (BCC?) that discussed a similar situation in a similar country. Some members decided that The Work Must Roll Forth, and were really overt and bold about it. The church had been working quietly behind the scenes for some time to just allow public worship, and these people's open proselyting shot that work down completely.

You are living in a theocracy. Your ability to meet with the Saints AT ALL is at the whim of politicians. It isn't what you personally are willing to sacrifice, but being willing to forego missionary work now for the possible benefit to many later.

Bored in Vernal said...

thanks for your comments. There is no question that the position of the Church here is very precarious. There is a letter posted on the bulletin board at "The Villa," and it's read aloud every few months, which cautions members about proseletyzing in Saudi Arabia. We are not to discuss the Church with others. If a Christian investigator wishes to attend, they must first meet members of the Bishopric and be approved to come to meetings. Muslims may not attend any of our gatherings in the Arabian Peninsula Stake.

All of these things serve to protect the members already here. Trying to convert Muslims to Christianity is a serious crime here, and can land you in jail. No one wants to go to a jail in this country. It's not like the U.S.--they don't feed you, or let you watch TV or get a Master's Degree. Your family has to come every day and give you food.

Everyone is being a lot more careful during this month of Ramadan and all the religious fervor in the air. When you think about it, it's really amazing that we are able to meet and have an actual ward here.

m_and_m said...

I think the caution also shows a respect that the Church has for boundaries. Sometimes we are accused of being arrogant and pushy, and I think respecting the limitations the Church has there can help people realize that we do have respect for others' beliefs and aren't simply out to get bodies into our churches. We also want to build bridges of trust and respect.

And I just barely got how clever you were in how you changed your name (still BiV). Well done. (Yeah, I'm slow.)

skyeJ said...

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, I was not allowed in any way to proselyte. PCV's aren't allowed to proselyte in any country they serve. I was allowed to answer questions about my lifestyle. I had to explain to just about everyone I met why I didn't drink the obligatory tea. I was asked all the time if I prayed daily, and ALL the time during Ramadan if I fasted. So I just told people, yes I pray every day- just not five times. Yes I fast, but only on the first Sunday of the month- and instead of that I did try to fast for Ramadan. (There being no fast and testimony meetings in my little village, anyway.) I told people I was a Christian if they asked, and left it at that. Most people I knew admired all the things I did that were similar to the teachings of Islam. One guy asked me to get him "my church's bible, if they make it in Arabic". I declined and told him that I wasn't in Morocco to do things like that, but I told him he could probably order one online.

Mostly I just focused on pointing out the similarities in my Christian religion to Islam, as an interesting exercise in cross-cultural relations. That was my role as a PCV anyway. I seriously doubt that any of the Moroccans I talked to will ever get baptized, but I didn't feel like I was being cowardly. I was simply working with the reality that I had.

I acted the same way with the other PCVs, and I got compliments for just living my religion- instead of shoving it in everyone's face. It takes courage and strength to be the only one not drinking beer or smoking or sleeping with one's boyfriend at a party. It takes even more to be open to the idea that those who do not believe what I do will accept me as a friend, embrace the similarities we share and look past our differences.

I don't think overt proselyting in a place like Saudi Arabia is brave at all- more like stupid. I think the truly brave thing is to live like Christ- showing charity towards ALL our sisters and brothers. Let our lives speak for us when our mouths can't. "Ye shall know them by their fruits..." (Matt. 7:16)