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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.
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