In our last General Conference, at least three of our living prophets called on us, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ, to be peacemakers in a warring world. Elder Soares spoke about our need to develop Christlike attributes specifically so we could “become instruments of His peace in the world.” Elder Christofferson emphasized the importance of developing unity in our communities and families. And President Russell M. Nelson explicitly called on members of the church to become peacemakers in the midst of the “venomous contention that infects our civic dialogue.” I recommend reading or listening to all three; you will come away with a profound sense of being called on a mission or to a new and unfamiliar calling.
The call is clear, from the Savior himself in our scriptures and from living prophets in our world today, that we, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as members of His Church, are to stand out as peacemakers.
The difficulty of this call, though, is this: the only reason I have contention in my life or in my heart is because there are people/groups/ideas/political parties that are dangerous and need to be contended with!
There’s a political party or movement that is going to destroy my country.
There’s a toxic person that’s going to destroy my family.
There’s a horrible coworker that’s going to destroy my career.
When we’re faced with threats, we often listen to our prophets speak about peacemaking, and think: “Well, sure, that’s a great idea in general. But in my case, with the threat I’m facing, obviously I can’t be a peacemaker about that. I need to maintain my contentious spirit about that thing/person/idea because it is just so wrong and dangerous.”
The question is, how do we honor the Lord by following His prophets, when their counsel feels downright dangerous and it conflicts with our political, intellectual, or personal convictions?
The situation we find ourselves in parallels the situation of Christ’s own disciples during his mortal ministry. They met the Savior, they knew Him, they trusted Him. They believed, rightfully, that He was the promised Messiah.
They also faced extreme threats. Arguably, they faced worse threats than any of us. In our current political culture, many people believe their political opponents are not just opponents but are active enemies who are going to destroy their nation or contaminate their culture. Well, the Israelites of Christ’s time already had their nation destroyed and their culture contaminated. They were already living the worst-case scenario.
They were a small, uninfluential culture that was actively oppressed by violent invaders. They paid tribute to a distant despot that kept them from advancing and succeeding economically (unless by betraying their people and collaborating with the invaders). The political power wielded by the oppressors meant that they could arrest, punish, or even kill ordinary citizens for the flimsiest of reasons. And Herod, Rome’s political representative over the citizens of Judea, was a paranoid and bloodthirsty tyrant who was not above murdering babies.
The Israelites were generally allowed to live their religion, but not to the extent that it interfered with Roman goals or Roman laws; Romans could angareuo, or compel, labor from non-citizens such as Jews without compensation. The practice started as the right to take a low-status person’s horse if needed to maintain the conveyance of crucial messages over long distances, and eventually morphed into compelling low-status persons to bear burdens themselves, i.e., as if they were themselves beasts of burden. This particular practice was, at best, humiliating and mightily inconvenient for the Jew so compelled, and at worst was used to justify retaliations and abuse.
Certainly, these people had more right than we to say, “Well, peacemaking is a good idea in theory, but I have to contend against the Roman oppressors who threaten God’s covenant people!”
And yet Christ said to them, “Whosoever shall compel [angareuo] thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” That is, if some bullying and vicious Roman oppressor comes along and makes you carry equipment for him like a pack animal, your Christian responsibility is to not only submit to the humiliation, but to willingly offer even more service.
This is, at least partially, why the people turned against their own Savior and consented to his torture and murder. He presented Himself as their Messiah but also told them to love and serve the individual Roman soldiers who oppressed and humiliated them. The people couldn’t bring themselves to do it, not even for their anointed Savior and King. So instead they shouted, “Crucify him!”
The Savior has the same message for us today through the voices of His prophets. The President of the Church of Jesus Christ has declared: “The Savior’s message is clear. His true disciples build, lift, encourage, persuade and inspire, no matter how difficult the situation. True disciples of Jesus Christ are peacemakers.”
It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether we truly believe that others are out to destroy our country, our culture, our neighborhoods, our careers. We already know what he says to those who are oppressed, defeated, mistreated, and humiliated by aggressors: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
His message to the Jews at the time of His mortal life is the same as His message to us today. We are His disciples, and we are called to live differently. The Lord asked:
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”
Or in other words, if you only love the people who share your political opinions, you’re no better than anyone else. Any thoughtless fool, any vicious criminal, any con man or manipulator, can care about the people who agree with him. It takes no character, no effort, no covenant, and no priesthood to be friends with the people who like us already. Any lazy malefactor can have good relationships with the people he is most like. It takes no humility, character, or charity to restrict our love and our service to people in our existing social or political circles or to those of whom we approve.
Our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ is the same today as it was in Jesus’ own time: to remember that our political or personal adversaries are not the adversary.
The adversary is the eternal author of evil and destruction. The people in our lives that anger or frustrate us are not that adversary. They might be influenced by him, but honestly—so are we. They might be fooled by his lies, but most of us are at some time or other. They might be mistaken, or they might be intentionally choosing wrong actions, as we all do at times.
But they are all children of our Heavenly Parents; they are potential gods. Most importantly, they are those whom the Savior loved well enough to endure unspeakable torments. They are those for whom he assumed a mortal body and submitted it to torture and death. They are those for whom he willingly entered Gethsemane and for whose sins he shed his own blood. If they are sinning rather than mistaken or impaired, (and we find it impossible to know) then He has willingly paid for their sins. If they are mistaken, He has paid for their ignorance. If they are impaired, He has paid for their trauma or disability.
What right have we to treat them as though they are not worthy of His sacrifice for them? How can we, who know Him, treat those He loves with anger, scorn, contempt, or hatred?
The message from the world is that we must fight, we must contend. That some people, because of their actions or opinions, can be mistreated. But the message of the gospel is that all people are beloved of the Savior, and we dishonor our discipleship if we scorn, ridicule, threaten, attack, abuse, give up on, or contend with those He has suffered for.
None of this means we cannot argue against ideas, laws, practices, or behavior we disagree with. Christ himself called out hypocrisy and evil behavior, and passionately defended the sanctity of the temple. If we honestly believe an idea is dangerous, especially if it contradicts the truths of the gospel, we are under no obligation to roll over and submit to it. In some cases, the presiding Councils of the Church even ask us to defend ideas, laws, or principles that are important for society or the safety of the gospel and to counteract others. We are free, and encouraged, to express our sincere opinions and to state when we disagree with an idea, approach, ideology, or plan, and to explain why.
However, as disciples of Christ we must do all of that while bearing in mind that the people on the other side of our opinions are beloved of Him. If we are true disciples of the Savior of mankind then we will resist the anger and contention of our times and treat our fellow children of God the way He would want us to treat them.
“Today I’m asking us to interact with others in a higher, holier way” the prophet said. That means resisting the easy road of insults and contention and taking the higher road of looking for common ground, looking for the good in others and their beliefs, and interacting with kindness and compassion.
Our Savior tells us, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” Our calling from our prophet, our calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, is to treat all people as befits those for whom God willingly suffered. No less is required of us than to honor His suffering as we interact with those He loves, even when they’re wrong.
Kimberly White is the author, with her father, of The Last Safe Place: 7 Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times. Learn more here.