Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"blessed are the peacemakers"

lately i've been working on a paper that was due a year ago for my independant study on mormonism and war. i'm writing a comparision of reactions and responses by the lds church and the community of christ (formerly rlds) to 9/11 and the war in iraq. the following section was rather bothering me as i was writing it.

In the October 2002 Semi-Annual General Conference of the LDS Church, as the war in Iraq was becoming an imminent possibility, LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson gave a talk entitled “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” In what would quickly be called (and later disavowed as) an anti-war message, Nelson begins by addressing the sorrow, pains, and evils of war, arguing that the only cure to avoid and end war is “when that natural inclination to fight is superceded by self-determination to live on a loftier level.”[1] After citing numerous teachings of Jesus to be peacemakers, loving neighbors and enemies, turning the other cheek, forgiveness, and the Golden Rule, Nelson says,

Wherever it is found and however it is expressed, the Golden Rule encompasses the moral code of the kingdom of God. . . . It is equally binding upon nations, associations, and individuals. With compassion and forbearance, it replaces the retaliatory reactions of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” If we were to stay on that old and unproductive path, we would be but blind and toothless.

This concept of treating others as one would like to be treated is easy to understand. And it acknowledges the precious nature of each of God’s sons and daughters. Scripture asks parents to teach children not to “fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin.” Instead, we “teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.”[2]

Though Nelson briefly mentions that at times war may seem necessary to defend families and freedoms, he still affirms that “Peace is possible.” Because of the common goal for peace ultimately held by the human family, he believes we “can learn to love our fellow human beings throughout the world.” However it is not easy. “Resolution of present political problems will require much patience and negotiation.”

Looking forward to the prophesied days of peace, Nelson sees the true patriots as those who use Christian love to avoid aggression and create peace.

These prophecies of hope could materialize if leaders and citizens of nations would apply the teachings of Jesus Christ. Ours could then be an age of unparalleled peace and progress. Barbarism of the past would be buried. War with its horrors would be relegated to the realm of maudlin memory. Aims of nations would be mutually supportive. Peacemakers could lead in the art of arbitration, give relief to the needy, and bring hope to those who fear. Of such patriots, future generations would shout praises, and our Eternal God would pass judgments of glory.[3]

Nelson finishes with what appeared to be an official pacifist stance for the church, “Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does the Lord expect of us? As a Church, we must ‘renounce war and proclaim peace.’”[4]

That evening several news outlets reported on Nelson’s talk, referring to it as an anti-war statement. For example CNN reported that “The Mormon church issued a strong anti-war message at its semiannual General Conference, clearly referring to current hostilities in the Middle East, advocating patience and negotiation, and urging the faithful to be peacemakers.” As evidence for this, CNN refers to Nelson’s reference to the Middle East, present political problems, and the need for the descendants of Abraham to be the peacemakers.[5]

In response to this and other reports, the LDS Church released an official statement declaring that Nelson’s talk had been misinterpreted, implying that it was not an anti-war message. The statement encourages reporters “to consider the full text of Elder Nelson’s remarks which is available on our Web site,” and then proceeds to cite the only two paragraphs (1/17th of the thirty-four paragraph talk) which refer to the obligations to defend families and freedom, and the obligation of military personnel to fulfill the duties to which they have been entrusted.[6]

if you read the full context of the talk, it seems pretty clear to me that nelson was advocating a strong anti-war statement concerning the war in iraq. that is what cnn and other news outllets reported. from beginning to end, his talk advocated for peace and alternative measures to war. over and over and over again he argues for peace. and as cnn reported, it was abundantly clear that he was advocating for peace and denouncing war for the imminent conflict in iraq. the only two paragraphs that could be read contrarily only briefly mention the scriptural accounts of defensive wars and the unaccountability of military persons thrown into an immoral war.

my questions then are:

1. why does the lds church feel the need to seperate itself from the notion that one of its leaders gave an anti-war message? i know the church pretends to keep politcal neutrality on certain issues, but isn't war with it's accompanying sorrow and suffering a sufficient moral issue that should be addressed? shouldn't the church of JESUS CHRIST be the first and foremost to stand up against war and proclaim peace as our scriptures urge? instead of shying away from being perceived as being against the war, shouldn't the church be standing up and saying, "damn right we are anti-war" (except for maybe the 'damn')?

2. how dare the church tell the news outlets that they misinterpreted nelson's talk and that they should read the context of the whole talk to properly understand it? THE WHOLE CONTEXT OF THE TALK IS AN ANTI-WAR MESSAGE. it is the church that took two paragraphs out of their context and are pretending they say something they don't. in context, those two paragraphs seem to be clearly directed at military personnel who happen to find themselves duty-bound to a war in which they have no control over. now i don't know nelson's feelings concerning the matter. perhaps he did not mean for his talk to say what he said. if that's the case, then he should have definitely worded his talk better. perhaps by not using the word 'peace' so many times and not claiming that "as a church we must denounce war and proclaim peace."

if anything, this seems like another attempt for the church to let it's public relations firm control its actions instead of the gospel of christ.

ugggh. frustrating.

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” Ensign, Oct 2002, 39.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5], “Mormon church makes anti-war statement,” retrieved from the website at on April 25, 2007.

[6] “Message of Peace Misinterpreted,” retrieved from the official LDS website at on April 25, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. why does the lds church feel the need to seperate itself from the notion that one of its leaders gave an anti-war message?

    Because the smelly hippies in the streets, Cindy Sheehans, Jehovah's Witnesses, Democrats, et al give the "anti-war" crowd a bad name. It's a PR nightmare. No wonder they were all over it.


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