Over the past several months, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published several essays addressing specific doctrines of the Church. Many of the subjects have been a source of concern for individuals, within and without the Church, who have questioned the historicity and validity of certain truths of the gospel. I, for one, welcome the discussion these essays have engendered and hope readers will study and pray about the messages as they try to understand what we believe.
Unfortunately, answering questions for those who struggle with their faith also invites criticism from those who never had much faith or who have a desire to ridicule or belittle the beliefs of Latter-day Saints. Such is the case with these essays.
I wish it were not so.
I wish we could share without rancor.
I am reminded of a story from the scriptures.
In the Book of Mormon there is an experience the Prophet Alma shared as he began a new chapter in his life. These events occurred during a transitional time in Nephite history – they were changing their form of government and some new issues came to the forefront.
Governmental workings can be dicey under the best of circumstances (just look at what we go through with a system that has been in place for nearly 2 ½ centuries) but when governance makes drastic changes, undoubtedly there will be trouble.
King Mosiah, for reasons that are clear as you read the scriptures, suggested that the tradition of Kings should be abandoned and a new form of rule accepted by the people. He proposed a system of judges, all accountable to the people, who would take on the task of helping maintain peace and freedom.
The people accepted and Alma was chosen to be the first Chief Judge of the people. He also happened to be the High Priest of the Church at that time. Yes, there was a mixing of Church and State – really not that unusual in days of old (see David and Solomon for example).
Almost immediately, there was a challenge to the new ruling system. Some who desired glory chafed at the idea of having a government determined by the voice of the people – they probably felt they were better equipped to decide what was best.
But in his role as Prophet/Chief Judge, Alma was confronted by an even more difficult challenge. A man, Nehor by name, came among the people of the city and began to preach doctrine that was contrary to the teachings of Christ. He was very convincing and drew many people away after his teachings.
The law of the land stated that all people were allowed to believe what they would about God and His commandments.
But no one was above the law of the land.
Nehor, with his preaching of another doctrine, was perfectly within his rights and found no legal resistance to his efforts. Because of his work, he was bound to have adversaries in the Church of Christ. One was a man named Gideon who had gone through many struggles defending the Church and its leaders. When Gideon challenged Nehor’s teachings, there was a dispute and Gideon was killed with a sword.
I don’t want to focus on the individuals in this story so much as what happened after the fact. Though Nehor was punished with death, his efforts were not destroyed. There were still some who relished in the doctrines he espoused.
The outgrowth of this rise in a new ‘religion’ was inevitable.
Here is what Alma recorded, speaking of those who accepted Nehor's doctrine:
But it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God, and had taken upon them the name of Christ…
Nevertheless, there were many among [the believers in Christ] who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows… (Alma 1:19, 22)
Despite Alma’s best efforts, many in the Church of Christ felt it was necessary to stand in aggressive opposition to those who spread the doctrine of Nehor.
The result was not good.
There is always cause to defend the truths of Christ as we understand them. But to defend them ‘warmly’ is not the way of the Savior.
The result of ‘warm’ defense is always something less than what God invites us to do or be.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke to this subject in the last General Conference:
Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).
I sincerely believe in Christ and His Atonement.
I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Kingdom of God on earth today.
I believe that there are good people outside the LDS Church who have many beliefs in common with my own.
I also believe that there are many who do not accept some of the things I hold dear to my heart.
They have the right to believe what they feel is true.
I do not have the right to speak harshly, warmly, or any otherly way about what they hold to be true.
I spent two years as a missionary in another land, and to my recollection, never once spoke in the negative about someone’s religious understandings. If they asked, I was delighted to share what I had to offer and would even show them some differences in our doctrine. But NEVER with the intent to belittle or demean what was in their heart. That is not the way of Christ and it is not the way of those who seek to follow His pattern.
My intent, in this message, is to remind myself and others of strong religious persuasions to be kind as we discuss differences in our beliefs.
We are all children of the same Father and have much in common.
Most of us have faith in a Savior who has made it possible for us to overcome all the challenges mortality can devise.
We love Him for this gift and follow His teachings because of that love.
While we may not agree on specific doctrines, we CAN agree to be kind in our words and civil in our discourse as we discuss these things. That is the way our Exemplar would have us do things.
I believe in Christ.
I believe Christ.
I will speak as He speaks.