The value of the Illinois apology

By By William Pingree

By William Pingree

This week, the state of Illinois apologized to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the brutal events that occurred in the 1840s in Nauvoo and Carthage. The value of such an event is often lost by dismissing such an action as manipulative or as an attempt at political correctness. This case shows us why neither of these assessments is valid.

In such cases, we might ask ourselves why such an expression is necessary, especially since all of the participants have long since died. While the event is useful in its historical context to help us understand the political circumstances on the American frontier of the 1840s, its actual value is not directly applicable to our current day. The inhuman events surrounding the expulsion of the Mormons from Illinois is merely one event in a long series of such events that have progressively become worse as the years since then have unfolded. We tend to view Nauvoo as instructive, showing the extent of the cruelty humankind can inflict on its fellow beings. But beyond that, in light of the more brutal current events, it is but a footnote to history.Such an assessment misses the point. Even though the actual participants in the tragic events of yesterday have long since passed away, the institutions to which these participants belonged still endure. The LDS Church is now a worldwide institution, not just a parochial sect, and of course, the state of Illinois still exists. As descendants of those families who were expelled, my family has particular stories of interest with respect to these tragedies that have been carried down through generations.

In addition, hymns sung by the church used to contain verses remembering the “blood of Nauvoo” that condemned the despicable acts of the state of Illinois. Revenge was clearly implied in these songs. These acts have provided fringe elements of the church with justification for conduct equally outrageous, such as the murder of children and the practice of plural marriage. The long-lasting effects of these events are not forgotten, nor are they completely ameliorated over time.

The great value of the Illinois apology comes from the fact that the state itself recognized the wounds caused by its own actions and now seeks to reconcile itself with the church. This is an act of great courage on Illinois’ part and the effect of such an act will also undoubtedly provide a point of healing for generations to come.

This event is very instructive in our world today. Great men have shown great acts of compassion that have changed the events of world history. We will long remember Anwar Sadat and his flight to Jerusalem to speak to a hostile Israeli cabinet. His bold efforts at peace and reconciliation brought two warring factions to the peace table at Camp David. The peace treaty that Israel and Egypt signed was a direct result of the courage and determination of Sadat to make peace without any conditions. Although his efforts cost him his life, the peace between Egypt and Israel, albeit sometimes strained, persists.

Other examples of trust are evident. During the Reagan administration, the president met with Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a historic summit. It was there that both leaders dared to go against conventional wisdom. The first night of the summit, both leaders transcended the script and talked about the abolition of nuclear weapons.

As a result of this meeting, the thrust of the Reagan foreign policy changed. The Soviet Union changed from the evil empire to more of a status quo power with which we could do business. Even though the Summit ended without agreement on “star wars,” Reagan and Gorbachev began to trust one another. It was a moment in which history was made and one that led to the eventual structural changes in both Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union.

These moments of courage reflect true leadership of the men involved and produce great change. After Reykjavik, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union was irrevocably different and different for the better.

Sometimes, bold efforts end in failure. The world will also long remember the Red Brigade and the kidnapping of Aldo Morrow, an Italian industrialist and close friend of Pope Paul VI. The pope plead for Morrow’s life through back channels, offered himself as a hostage in exchange for Morrow and publicly prostrated himself in an act of personal humiliation and love for his friend. Days later, Morrow’s body was found in the back of a car in Rome, brutally killed by these fiends. The act of the Pope seemed useless when faced with the apparent non success of his efforts. However, upon closer examination, the selfless acts of Paul VI did not go unheeded in the world generally. Within five years, the pope was dead, but a new Polish pope had come to occupy the Throne of St. Peter. John Paul II has told us in his biography that this act of personal devotion of his predecessor moved him to act in compassionate ways toward events in the church’s past that needed to be addressed: the Holocaust, the division within the various Catholic churches and the role the church played in other atrocities of the past. Healing has begun-forgiveness and understanding are making important strides to improve the human condition.

The act of Pope Paul VI, although it seems unsuccessful, in fact has had a positive structural effect on the church he led specifically and on the cause of the Red Brigade generally. This same Polish pope played a significant role in fighting against communism in his own homeland and the radical values of the killers of Aldo Morrow have been replaced with a more progressive vision for the future for millions.

The LDS Church itself has gained a vision of the value of the role of forgiveness. Some years ago, President Gordon Hinckley met with the descendants of the Mountain Meadow Massacre on the very site and acknowledged the role of members of the church in that tragic event. He apologized for that role, returned artifacts to the families and thus started a trend for reconciliation that continues today. Perhaps we can take a lesson from all this. The attempts at reconciliation and healing will boldly affect the events of our future. Clearly compassion and forgiveness are some of the highest forms of human conduct.

Thank you, Illinois, for your courage and caring.

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