The death of Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ, reverberated far beyond traditional Mormon circles this past week. It even attracted a very thoughtful tribute from President Trump. Politicians, especially those who are Mormon, issued appropriate statements of respect and admiration. Utah’s Catholic community’s sentiments drew tears. I loved him. A lot of people did, obviously. Simply the sound of his storytelling voice and the optimistic ring it unfailingly carried will never be forgotten.
I don’t have any stories of personal interaction to share, though I wish I did. There’s nothing I can add to the many fine tributes I’ve read in his memory this week. I did hear him speak at a stake center in Pocatello years ago, but I was just another guy in a tie sitting in the back. I remember how imposing — but not intimidating — his entrance was. I remember how simple his message was. This week it dawned on me that, for me at least, he was a hero in a world that desperately needs heroes.
It’s not often that a prominent death these days does not become political in some way. Sadly, the departed lives of even the most devoted servants of faith do not always escape the lashes of secular hostility. We can typically expect it from online lurkers seeking relevance and always awaiting a chance to denigrate those of faith.
This past week, it came from the New York Times. While the newspaper shared some of Monson’s positive legacy in what it called an “obituary” its opening salvo was a critique largely addressing the LDS Church’s failure, under Monson’s watch, to capitulate on the divisive LGBTQ and gender issues, at least in the way the Times would have liked it to. Paragraph one mentions rebuffing women’s efforts to be ordained to the priesthood and refusing to alter opposition to same sex marriage. The piece goes on to discuss the complicated recent history with the Boy Scouts of America, and mentions the excommunicated Kate Kelley. Over 20 paragraphs in, some biographical background is finally offered up.
I know I sound a little angry. I’m not. Not even a little. I realized how selfish, or foolish, it is to expect a secular media outlet that adorns dead pornographers (Hugh Heffner) and genocidal dictators (Fidel Castro) with posthumous admiration, to afford the same “honor” for a man who did everything he could to prepare, or repair, the families broken by such degradation. I was reminded that prophets are valuable because of their steadiness in the currents of worldly disapproval; the Times’ backhanded tribute to Monson affirms it.
Certain varieties of disapproval are worth celebrating, because sometimes disapproval is a better moral GPS than unskeptical adoration.
I will tell you why I’m going to really miss President Monson, though, and it doesn’t really have to do with any sort of perceived defiance to the demands of social whims. It’s that in the midst of this incredibly complex and increasingly chaotic world, somehow he projected peace, light, and kindness. His messages always left a sense of hope that nobody — not even those who feel alienated, scarred, or severely injured spiritually — is ever beyond the reach of Christ. It is a message he told in different ways over the years, and always with a story, but every time I heard it, I needed to hear it. Sometimes for myself, and sometimes for me to apply that hope to others more abundantly.
His legacy is a sprawling one, far beyond the bounds of the faith he led, and now beyond the years he lived.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls writes at www.neallarson.com. He is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.