Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Public Display of Religion

originally posted at Mormon Matters

Sanya Richards, Olympic athlete, is confident that she will be the first to cross the finish line in the 400 meter race.   91,000 fans at Beijing National Stadium and millions more on television will be watching the event.  Richard plans to drop to her knees, say a quick prayer and then point skyward in spiritual appreciation. This might not be a problem if the Olympics was being held in any of a number of countries. However, the Chinese government frowns upon public displays of faith outside state-sanctioned religious events and does not allow proselytizing.

This news story came to my attention because Olympic athletes who plan to openly display their faith on the playing field face somewhat the same dilemma my family did when we lived in Saudi Arabia this past year.  Saudi is another country which does not allow public religious meetings or proselyting.  While our local leaders advised us not to proselyte, we did hold worship services surreptitiously.  Perhaps the situation is a bit different because of the scale and the publicity involved.  But the issue raises questions for religious adherants.  Should respect for others' beliefs be the overriding consideration in actions performed while in their countries?  Or should one stand as a beacon for what they believe and "let the consequence follow?"

In 1968 when John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood on the Olympic medal podium in Mexico City and raised their fists in the black power salute, not only were they were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village where the athletes lived during the games, they were also vilified for years to come. Reaction to their act of civil disobedience was so strong that they and their families even received death threats.  Today, the act is seen as courageous and respected.  They were recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at last month's ESPYs.

How should religion and respect for others' sensibilities be negotiated?  How far have Latter-day Saints carried civil disobedience in the past, and has it changed today?

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