America Welcomes the World

 

In May of 1895, the ship Teutonic left the port in Liverpool, England, bound for the United States of America. On the ship was a three-year-old girl, Hannah Askew. She and her family were traveling to America to be reunited with her father. The family had moved from England to Australia in 1888, because of the shortage of work in England. Life in Australia, however, was not much better than life in England, so they had moved back to England. When the Panic of 1893 hit, Hannah’s father went to America to find work. He worked sporadically in different jobs until he got a well-paying job in the iron mines near Ishpeming, Michigan. After procuring lodging he sent for his family. Now the family was coming to meet him and begin their new life in the United States.

The ship had rough sailing and Hannah, her brother and sister, and mother were constantly sick. The quarters on the ship were cramped and miserable and she was kept inside for much of the voyage. The family finally arrived in the United States on July 3, 1895, and were welcomed at Ellis Island. That night they stayed at a friend’s house who fed them a dinner of bread and milk. They traveled from New York by train to Michigan and were reunited with their father. Hannah Askew is my great-grandmother and one of the millions of immigrants that came to America in the 1800’s.

As immigrants like Hannah entered New York Harbor, they passed under the welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty. On the pedestal of the status are these immortal words:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door!”

The people who came to America were usually not the rich or the famous; they were the tired, the poor, and the wretched seeking a golden door. That golden door was opened for them in America and so they came seeking a golden opportunity an opportunity that was found in the great cotton and wool mills of the large cities, opportunity that was found in the mines, the farms, the west, and the railroad

These immigrants contributed to our culture and much of the richness that we now enjoy. Immigrants from Norway and the Netherlands brought many of our Christmas traditions. Italian immigrants brought some of our favorite foods. Immigrants from Ireland brought their legends of Saint Patrick. Movies were introduced to America by the Russian Jews and the Greeks. The log cabin was introduced by the Swedes, and the Germans organized symphonies and clubs. Because of the diversity of the cultures that are mixed to form the American culture, we have the richest culture in the world. America’s welcome became America’s wealth.

Since the days of the Ellis Island, we have continued to welcome immigrants and their descendants. We have strived to accept and befriend all people into our churches and our schools. We have elected them to public office and befriended them in our neighborhoods.

Although our doors may not be opened as wide as they were in 1895, when my great-grandmother arrived, our hearts are open still. In our hearts America still welcomes the world. We welcome them by carrying their burdens, by lighting their way, by reaching out to them.

The United States has helped people recover from war, and improved living conditions in third world countries. We have been a major contributor in disaster relief throughout the world and have been the intermediaries and helpers of many struggling governments.

In no war in which the United States has been engaged has it seized property or land from an enemy as a treasure of war. Always we have graciously helped the people in countries regain their lives. After World War II, the United States gave Japan millions of dollars to build steel factories and to help restore what had been destroyed by the war. When soviet armies blockaded Berlin, we airlifted thousands of tons of food through the winter to keep the people from starving.

The United States has also played a prominent role in disaster relief around the world. When there were earthquakes in India the US helped immediately. Rescue workers from the US were sent to help. Food was sent from the Red Cross and many religious institutions. When rain waters flooded the country of Bolivia, we again sent workers and food to help the suffering people.

Just as our government reaches out to others, so do our people. As individuals, we welcome the world. The United States is home to thousands of humanitarian organizations that routinely send help and supplies to the poor and needy of the world. In high school I traveled to Peru with one of these organizations. We took simple things such as nails, hammers, crayons, beads, and educational supplies, and we taught them how to use them. We taught them how to build an efficient stove out of mud, and helped put in a water system to help with sanitation problems. We helped them to improve their overall experience of life by taking America’s richness and sharing it with them.

Many other people help the poor and needy people of the world. We have organized groups like the Oulessabougou Alliance whose mission is to help the people of Mali. This organization raises money by selling goods produced by villagers in Mali to people in America. This money then goes back to Mali to pay teachers and to send educational and medical supplies. By helping in this way, they do not make the people dependent on America for leadership and organization. Almost all of the leaders in the alliance are from Mali and will continue to live there and support their country. The founders of the alliance have reached out with their hearts and helped to take the golden door to Mali.

America has welcomed the world in different ways throughout its history. In the 1800’s we welcomed thousands of people to our shores and our way of life. These people brought their culture with them and enriched our culture by it. People still come to America and we should welcome them still. Today we welcome the people of the world into our hearts as we not only welcome them to our shores but also build them up in their native lands and help them better their lives. Our welcome reaches across borders, it embraces all people, it seeks to better the whole world.


This text is a slightly reworked speech that I gave as part of a Independence Day speech competition in 2001. I think it is pertinent today

Respecting the Office of President of the United States

Today I decided to fly the American flag at my house to celebrate the office of President of the United States of America. In this country we have a remarkable pattern of peacefully transferring power from one president to another. This election was very contentions and divisive and for all that love America I would venture to guess it was saddening and painful in many respects.

However,  as we watch the Inauguration of Donald Trump today we should choose to honor the office of the President regardless of our political leanings. Regardless of who we voted for or what we believe to be the correct direction for this country we should remember that the office of President of the United States is one that deserves respect. It is due that respect from the citizens of the country and especially from the person that holds the office.

I did not vote for Trump and I am deeply concerned about the direction he may take our country. Today I hope that we will commit ourselves to doing our all to ensure that this country goes in the right direction. We should choose to do all that we individually can to contribute to this great country and remember that the President is first the servant of the people that elected him.

Vote FOR Evan McMullin . . . not AGAINST another candidate.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words seem, on this election day, to call to us from the grave. The Civil War had not yet ended when Lincoln spoke these words, yet they were a call to action. Today, as they were in 1865, they are a call for civility, a call for unity, a call for loving our neighbor.

While this election season has drawn out some of the worst in the citizenry of our great nation, it has also drawn out some of the best. I have seen friends thoughtfully and courteously engage with others in discussing the candidates and issues so vitally important in this election. I have seen neighbors kindly entertain conversations about the important problems and the great strengths of our country. I have seen politicians and statesmen stand up for just and true principles before the derisive noise of the popular media and powerful political influence.

Because I subscribe to Lincoln’s dearly held belief that we are better as a unified country, I have decided this election to vote for a man for president who I believe is uniquely qualified to help us achieve that unity – Evan McMullin. Evan McMullin is described quite well by a quote from years ago by a great religious leader and statesman, Ezra Taft Benson, who said: “Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just.” Evan McMulllin is this kind of man. He has taken a stand for our founding principles of individual liberty and our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He has taken this stand in the face of overwhelming odds and despite very low chances of actually winning the race for the Presidency.

If we as a country are to return to our moral and founding principles, I believe we must stand for what we believe in and cast our individual votes for people that embody those principles. Please don’t just vote against a candidate. Join me and hundreds of thousands of others in voting for Evan McMullin for President of the United States of America.
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What do I do now?

Questions

What do I tell my boys now? Where is the example of standing by values and convictions? Can I trust that my boys will be safe from ridicule and persecution as we camp? How do I help them face the growing evil in the world? These questions and many like them have been crowding my mind this evening after I heard that the Boy Scouts of America decided today to amend it’s long standing adult leadership policy to “[remove] the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees.”

scout-leader-young-men-1151653-wallpaper (1)

I have been associated with scouting for most of my life. When I was eight-years-old I joined as a cub scout and throughout my youth participated in scouting. I am an Eagle Scout and I have credited my scouting experiences as some that have shaped who I am and the way that I see the world. In my adult life I have continued my association with scouting. The National Eagle Scout association paid for me to go to school through their generous scholarship program. I have served as a merit badge counselor, on the cub committee and I am currently serving as a Scoutmaster in my local troop. I have tried to live the standards outlined in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law and have tried to model these values for the boys that I work with every week.

I am deeply troubled and saddened by the choice of the BSA National Executive Board to allow openly gay scout leaders to serve. I believe that this is the wrong decision for the BSA to make. Scouting is an organization whose methods, I believe, are some of the best at teaching boys strong values. I believe that the principles embodied in the Scout Oath and Law are timeless and moral. Because of this belief, it is hard for me to accept that an organization that has morality and Duty to God at its core could take a step such as this.

There are two reasons that, for me, this is a troubling development. First is the actions taken by the leadership of the organization at the national level and second is my experience with my boys after the membership policy for youth membership changed several years ago. I will address both topics.

Robert Gates Should Have Kept His Word

When Robert Gates was first selected as president of the BSA, he said the following:

“I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year’s decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own. That is just a fact of life. And who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts of America? Millions of scouts today and scouts yet unborn. We must always put the kids and their interests first. Thus, during my time as President, I will oppose any effort to re-open this issue.” — Robert Gates, 2013, emphasis added

Now, a mere two years later Robert Gates has not only completely reneged on this commitment, but he has actually led the change to re-open this issue that in his own words may “provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement.”

How can I teach my boys that they are to be trustworthy, loyal, and brave when the president of their organization blatantly demonstrates that he is none of these on this important issue? The “reasons” are plenty he says that the policy must change. Sure there are social pressures — there are even lawsuits. There are groups that are openly defaming the Boy Scouts for their policy. However, if there is to be something that destroys the Boy Scouts of America I would much prefer it be pressures from the outside that force the organization to die rather than the organization imploding due to social pressure because we chose not to stand by our moral convictions.

 

The Boys Were Bullied and Harassed

scouts-leader-compasses-959599-wallpaperIn 2013, just weeks after the membership policy was amended to allow gay youth in scouting (a change that I understood and even partially agreed with), my boys and I headed to our summer scout camp. We were expecting to have a great week full of water sports, rifle shooting, archery, wilderness survival, rock climbing and just about any other adventure you could want to have as a boy (or as a man for that matter!).

Not more than a day into the program we began to realize the very real effect that the policy change was having on our youth’s experience at camp. While boys were at the water front and when they were in the showers they were taunted and teased by other boys attending camp. They were asked if they were gay. Other boys reviled and persecuted them when they did not want to talk about it and tried to dodge the question. Boys were openly speaking of lewd actions.

Now a certain amount of this can be attributed to boys just being boys. I usually expect to have to deal with a certain amount of potty talk at camp. These things happen when you get a bunch of 12-13 year olds together. This was much, much worse. The staff of the camp was totally at a loss and had no idea how to deal with the problem. They were confronted with the difficulty of the membership policy in their faces, and this ruined camp for many of my boys that year. The actions of the scouts at that camp resulted in multiple reports to scout executives and review by the adult leaders at camp. I am happy to report that we have not had a similar experience in our other years at camp since that experience.

I worry that with this change in policy these types of experiences will come more and more often. I will have to worry about what boys from troops that do allow gay leaders may say or do to my boys. My boys will have to be taught to be resilient and to stand on their own. They will have to be taught that sometimes they have to stand utterly alone in the face of ridicule and political correctness. They will be confronted by questions of sexuality in places and situations that should have been safe havens for these boys.

I hope and pray that I am over reacting and that men and women of good faith can come together and continue to provide the scouting program to my children’s generation. I know that in the end God is at the helm. My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has long been a proponent of scouting is reviewing its position. I trust that whatever the outcome, God will provide a way for our young men to develop into the men of God that this world so desperately needs.

Keeping our baptismal covenants

Today I taught a lesson to the deacon’s quorum at church. The topic of the lesson was “What covenants did I make at baptism?” I had been really busy this week and sadly didn’t get to preparing my lesson until Sunday morning. I was struggling to figure out what to talk about when I had an inspiration from the Holy Ghost to share a story about my ancestor Christian Hans Monson who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Norway in the 1800’s I have always loved this story and I wanted to share it with my deacons as an example of someone who kept his baptismal covenants. I thought it would be a good story to tell but I was completely unprepared for the way that I was touched as I shared this story to these young men today. As I was sharing the story, I was overcome by gratitude for what this man had done for me in choosing to join the church. The spirit filled the room as I recounted his story of conversion and of his courage in standing up for what he knew to be true. I admire and respect this great man and hope to live in such a way as to honor his name.

Christian Hans Monson 16 June 1837 – 23 September 1896
Christian Hans Monson
16 June 1837 – 23 September 1896

I wanted to share his story here for you to enjoy. This version actually originally appeared in The Friend magazine in 1976 and you can find the original here.

Christian fingered the key in his pocket as he walked toward the jail. It had taken months of study and prayer before he had finally decided to use that key for something more important than just opening the jail door so he could carry meals to those who were held there as prisoners.

Almost all the men in the jailhouse were Mormon missionaries. Many of them had sailed into the Port of Frederikstad in a pilot boat they had fitted up and named Sions Löve (Zion’s Lion) so that they could easily travel to coastal areas of the Scandinavian Mission, then including all of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

At first Christian hadn’t paid much attention to the missionaries, for he was busy learning the catechism so he could correctly answer any questions he might be asked by the priest at the confirmation service that was soon to be held for prospective young members of the Lutheran Church. He was not concerned about the fact that almost as soon as any Mormon missionaries arrived in Frederikstad they were arrested.

Lutheranism was the national religion of Norway and missionaries who taught other doctrines were promptly jailed, some for only a few weeks, others for many months. During this time they frequently were taken to court and almost forced to renounce their religion and declare allegiance to the national church of Norway. Refusing to do so, they were then returned to their quarters.

Christian worked for the warden of the jail who instructed him to heckle and be as unpleasant as possible to the prisoners when he carried meals to them. This seemed like fun until one day a young missionary said, “Why do you talk and act as you do? Remember that so persecuted they the Christ and His followers in Bible times.”

The startled boy asked him to explain what he meant, so two of the elders began talking about the gospel and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon.

Every night as Christian studied for his confirmation examination, he also studied the Book of Mormon, comparing it with his Bible and the Lutheran catechism. As the truthfulness of the restored gospel became more and more apparent to him, Christian prayed to know what he should do. Since no answer came before the confirmation date, he purposely failed the examination and then made application to take it again in six months.

Thinking back over his months of prayer and study, Christian knew what he must do. He finally decided to use his key to the prison to let the two missionaries out of jail long enough to go with him to a nearby fjord so he could be baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward the three walked back to the jailhouse where the elders returned to their room and Christian turned the key in the lock to their cell.

Because of the persecution toward members of the Church throughout Norway, and also because he knew how angry his father would be, Christian did not tell anyone of the thrilling event that had taken place on that cold winter night of 1852. He knew he would not be able to make his stern father understand what he had done. He tried to talk with his mother but she would not listen. When the next confirmation service was held, Christian honored his application and appeared for his examination with the other prospective young Lutherans.

“Do you believe in God?” was the first question asked by the priest.

“Oh, yes,” Christian answered quickly.

“Can you describe Him?” was the next question.

“I know He is a Being with body, parts, and passions,” Christian replied. “I also know He does not sit on the top of a topless throne. I know our Heavenly Father is good and kind, that He sees, hears, and answers prayers. I know we are made in His image as was His Son Jesus Christ.”

The priest was surprised by this description but continued with the examination, becoming more and more amazed with the answers Christian gave. As the boy glanced at his father he could see that he was very upset. Finally, the priest said angrily, “You answer as if you belonged to that sect known as Mormons.”

“I do,” Christian said, “and I’m proud of it!”

At this declaration, Christian’s father arose from his seat near the front of the Church and rushed up the aisle and out the door, striking his cane hard against the floor with every step he took. Confused and embarrassed, Christian’s mother followed her husband, and their son was abruptly dismissed.

Christian went home wanting to talk with his parents, but he was afraid of what they would say. Having carried his usual armful of wood into the house that night, Christian was piling it near the fireplace when his father came into the room. At the sight of his son who he felt had disgraced him, Christian’s father struck him with his cane and then began to beat him. At last, panting for breath, his father laid the merciless cane on the table.

“Oh, Father,” Christian said quietly, “it feels good to be whipped for the gospel’s sake.”

At these words, the father became even more furious. He picked up stick after stick of firewood and hurled them at Christian. When the wood was gone, he opened the door and shouted, “Get out of my house. I never want to see you again!”

Bruised and bleeding from the beating and the wood that had been thrown at him, Christian dragged himself out to the barn where he threw himself upon the hay. Late that night after her husband was asleep, Christian’s mother noiselessly tied a little food and a few of his belongings in a handkerchief and went out to the barn. Tearfully she treated her son’s injuries as well as she could.

“Why, oh why, did you do this thing, Christian?” she pleaded heartbrokenly.

“Because I had to, Mother,” Christian replied. “I have studied and prayed and I know this is the only true Church. I tried to tell you but you would not listen to me. I cannot deny what I know, Mother. If I did, it would be to deny Jesus Christ, our Savior, and I cannot do that.”

“If, as you say, you know this is right, my boy,” his mother told him, “then you must stand firm. But oh, how my heart aches.”

When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the sky, Christian’s mother crept back into the house. Christian picked up the little bundle she had brought to him and started walking down the road. As he passed his house he breathed a good-bye to his parents, for he knew he would never see them again.

Christian Hans Monson didn’t know where he would go or what he could do. “But I have a testimony,” the fourteen-year-old boy said to himself. “Whatever happens, I can never deny that. And I know that because of my testimony, all will be well.”

Good Thursday

As I was readying bible stories with my daughter tonight, I was pondering on how we as Christians often focus so much on Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that we forget what happened to Him the day before that all-important day. In some ways, perhaps, what happened on “Good Thursday” was even more important than what was to follow on Friday. Jesus Christ had two primary missions to accomplish on this earth that related to our eternal salvation: to overcome sin or spiritual death, and to overcome physical death. Through His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday, He overcame physical death and made it possible for all of God’s children, each of us, to return to the presence of God one day. However important and transcendent the resurrection of the Savior was, that miracle would have been incomplete without the miraculous atonement that He began on Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane and completed through His suffering and death on the cross.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane
Jesus praying in Gethsemane

In the garden on that all-important night, Jesus Christ, the Son of God willfully took upon Him the sins of all living persons.

“The Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.” (Alma 7:13)

lost-lamb-art-lds-425852-tabletThe Savior Himself described the experience this way:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:18-19)

 

In addition to taking upon Himself the sins and transgressions of all people, He also suffered the pain and afflictions of all men. Because Christ completed His atonement, He is perfectly able to succor each of us in our times of trial.

“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

I know that the atonement of Christ is real. I am far from a perfect person, but I have felt the effects of the atonement in my life when I have repented of my sins and tried to follow Christ’s teachings. I have also felt the power of the atonement helping me through some of the darkest and most trying times of my life. I am grateful that Christ completed His mission both on Thursday and on Friday so that our sins can be forgiven and so that we may return to live with God after this life is over.