Peace and Zion

For me, one of the most beautiful concepts in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the idea of Zion. Yet, to achieve that ideal, we are going to have to think and act radically differently than we are accustomed to thinking and acting. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Patrick Mason and David Pulsipher discuss their book, “Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict” and some of what that book covers to help Latter-day Saints think about proclaiming peace to work towards Zion. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with excerpts and discussion), but feel free to hop on over to read the full interview here.

Mason and Pulsipher explained the purpose of the book as follows:

In a world increasingly filled with contention and violence, most Latter-day Saints don’t realize that our Restoration scriptures contain rich resources for transforming conflict and achieving peace….

More than anything, we hope to initiate a conversation among our fellow Latter-day Saints about principles of peace. But we also believe the Restoration has something important to contribute to a larger conversation that has been going on among other faith traditions, including other Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. We’ve benefited from their remarkable insights, and so we’ve tried to offer unique insights from the Restoration in return.

When asked what those insights are,  they responded:

Too many to enumerate here (thus a book-length treatment was necessary). But one of the greatest contributions of the Restoration to principles of peace is an insight into the nature of enduring power. As Joseph Smith prophetically wrote from Liberty Jail: “No power or influence can…be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41).

This is a stunning insight into how God’s power actually functions. Because he loves us with perfect love, persuasion, gentleness, and long-suffering, we know we can love and trust him, and we surrender to his influence “without compulsory means” (D&C 121:46).

Fleeting forms of power can be achieved in other ways — through intimidation or deception, for example — but such types of power cannot “be maintained.”

Only power based on love and trust can endure through the eternities. Understanding this is one of the great keys to unlocking patterns of peace in our individual relationships and in our societies. …

The central insight of the Restoration is that in a universe of self-existent beings endowed with agency, the only power that one individual can have “over” other individuals is that which comes through their free consent. …

When we speak and people obey, we have power— they are consenting to allow us to influence their behavior. By this calculation, power equals influence. They are one and the same. And, as we’ve already noted, the only types of power and influence that can “be maintained” are those forms of consent that are obtained through love and trust.

It’s an interesting observation that changes how we approach and think about power structures.

 

Another insight that they offered had to do with conflict.

In our Latter-day Saint culture, we’ve become somewhat expert at conflict avoidance, thinking that any kind of conflict is negative. But conflict is inevitable in a universe full of free agents. It is baked into creation — light and dark, earth and water, female and male. As Lehi said, “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” Indeed, without these fundamental, conflictual oppositions, creation would be for “naught” (2 Ne. 2:11-12).

Our task is therefore not to avoid conflict, but to engage conflict constructively, to channel it toward positive ends.

We sometimes think about “conflict” and “contention” as synonyms, but there is an important distinction. When Jesus visited the Lehites after his resurrection, he commanded that “there shall be no disputations among you.” Furthermore, “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” Jesus’s way — his “doctrine” — is not “to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another,” but rather for us to engage conflict in love (3 Ne. 11:28-30).

So, conflict is inevitable, and can even be seen as a divine gift that allows us to engage difference with persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, knowledge, and most of all love (see D&C 121:41-42).

Contention, on the other hand, comes when we engage conflict in anger.

Followers of Jesus do not seek to eliminate diversity, but rather to appreciate the gifts that difference can bring, and to consecrate those gifts toward unity and the greater good (see 1 Cor. 12:12-27).

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing (it can actually be a good thing– in fact,  I would say that if you are committed to a relationship and care enough about it,  you’re bound to face some conflicts as a part of that relationship), but the problems tend to arise from how we approach the conflict.

 

Along those lines, they discussed the viciousness and fissures between Church members that have been displayed on social media at times in recent history:

It’s amazing how social media can have a Jekyll and Hyde effect on people. I’ve had friends and ward members who are some of the loveliest, most Christlike people when you’re with them in person, but whose social media postings are shockingly full of bile and venom. There’s something about the psychology of interacting with people anonymously, or behind a screen, that allows us to say things that we would never say in person.

A few years ago President Nelson asked the youth of the church to participate in a social media fast. If you find yourself wrapped up in negative patterns on social media, taking a break may be a good idea, giving you some distance and allowing you to reassess whether your discipleship applies in the digital world as well as it does in the analog world. We appreciate the current Church leadership’s emphasis on civility and moderation as we think about the tone we each take in the public sphere.

I thought about that statement when looking at the recently-announced Church handbook updates.  In particular,  there is a new section about civility on social media that one colleague lovingly dubbed as the “DezNat Section”:

[Members] should also exemplify civility in all online interactions, including social media. They should avoid contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29–30; Doctrine and Covenants 136:23).
Members should avoid all statements of prejudice toward others (see §38.6.14). They [should] strive to be Christlike to others at all times, including online, and reflect a sincere respect for all of God’s children.
Members should not use threatening, bullying, degrading, violent, or otherwise abusive language or images online. If online threats of illegal acts occur, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.
There is a great need for civility in public discourse as members of the Church discuss and stand up for what they believe in.
It’s a great interview that includes much more than what I’ve discussed here, such as how the small plates of Nephi are truly a tragedy rooted in using the wrong approach to power,  how promulgating peace is part of what needs to happen to create Zion, and how wards can function as a microcosm in which to build Zion. I encourage you to hop on over to read the full interview here.

12 comments for “Peace and Zion

  1. As I can’t see the 80% of members who voted for trump, having any concept of zion, I think this is futile. On a more uplifting note.

    Australia at present is hosting England for a series of cricket matches. Today is the second day of a 5 day match, this is the second match. An incident from today; Australia is batting, England bowling. The batsman is hit on the body, and the ball drops at his feet. He picks it up and hands it to an opposing player. (sportsmanship) Score 390 for 7. A cricket ball is slightly larger and heavier than a baseball, but only the wicket keeper is allowed to wear gloves.

    Americans will not understand the unifying significance of your country playing another country at your national sport. You can have a world series without anyone else in the world playing. Perhaps in soccor or the olympics?

  2. Just been watching a show where people from across the political spectrum were asked the best and worst from the lsst year. Most were proud of their community which has united to fight the pandemic by wearing masks, supporting mandates, and getting vacinated. Over 90% and rising.

  3. Geoff- Aus, do you see the irony of attacking Trump supporters in a comment here on a post about being civil to others? Jesus was not the alternative to Trump on the ballot.

  4. I love what you are saying, but I see a lot of genies being let out of bottles at the moment, and very little developed thinking amongst many members who I encounter. perhaps if our leaders were to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper more frequently we might start to counter the narrative of the age which seems to have permeated the church of save yourself and leave the others behind, magnified in the face of fear of the pandemic whilst we furiously maintain that we have no fear.
    I would love to see the church developing the narrative of acceptance, civility and soft power, lessons which I personally see repeatedly being enacted in the Book of Mormon, but honestly these days I wonder if I am in that church.
    Thanks for the article, so encouraging to those like me losing sight of what I so loved about the gospel.

  5. Is it “attacking” someone who voted for trump who created division, attacked the character of anyone who disagreed with him, and did the same to the press who disagreed with him, and refused to accept the election result, and encouraged an insurection, and whose policies are the opposite of “no poor among them”, as not having any concept of zion?

    Jonathan, there are anti vaxers, and protesters in Australia but they probably number 5000 and are seen as extreme. Notice in the article you show they are condemned by everyone. Generously 1 or 2% of population.

    My perception is that there are a goodly number of Americans say 40%, who question any government initiative to control the covid, or anything else. Look at the discussion on BCC. Trump undermined so many of the institutions that support US society, and his followers continue.

    The evidence is that your vacination rate struggles to get to 70%, where ours is just passing 90% even though we did not have adequate access to vaccines until June.

    We are a much less divided society. More Zion like. So many of the issues that divide Americans, are settled in Aus. Universal healthcare, abortion, gay marriage, support for the poor and needy. So less contention, more unity.

    We do have a national election required by May, and the leaders are in election mode, and I am hoping the present conservatives will be replaced. There will be no question about gerrymandered boundaries, there will be no questioning of the vote count. There will be an accepted result. No contention.

    I have lived in America for a couple of years and visited on other occasions. If you vist Australia, would be happy to show you our part. Particularly what big government looks like (our beaches which are for everyone).

  6. Completely w/ Geoff on this one. J Green your comment is beneath you and displays unfamiliarity w/ term & concept “ad hominem.” This country has been severely damaged by a demagogue named Trump and the vast majority of Saints drank his Kool-Aid. WHY??? THIS is the problem. A multiply-bankrupt, promiscuous casino owner captures the hearts of LDS. You can’t make it up.

  7. Apparently, we are not close to achieving Zion. Achieving Zion will come from within individuals, not from fromage institutions or elections, and not from mocking or pointing the finger at others. Achieving Zion will not come by demanding that all Saints vote the same way, or by hating Saints that vote a different way. Achieving Zion will not be achieved by trying to change others; rather, it will be achieved by individuals making their own decisions in personal righteousness.

  8. What is preaching the gospel but trying to change others?
    Some decisions clearly bring us closer to Zion, and some don’t. Individualism clearly does not make Zion more likely, because Zion will require me to be my brother’s keeper.

  9. Ideally, preaching the gospel is not trying to change others. Rather, preaching the gospel is an invitation to come and see, with those others being free to accept or not, and with any subsequent changes coming from within. At least, that is how I see it.

  10. Freinds from our ward have just had a new home built in a new subdivision of a dozen acerage blocks.They moved in last week and were met by a bunch of flowers and an invitation to a block party to meet everyone.

    They think they have arrived in zion. Not another mormon in sight. Does zion need religion/preaching or is it describing an ideal community?

  11. I think these verses from 4 Nephi give us a sense of what Zion was like among the descendants of Lehi:

    1 And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.

    2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

    3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

    5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.

    11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.

    12 And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.

    15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

    16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.

    17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

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