In a letter written from Carthage Jail to Emma, Joseph Smith wrote, ‘There is one principle which is Eternal, it is the duty of all men to protect their lives and the lives of their households whenever necessity requires; and no power has a right to forbid it’ . In addition JS is reported to have said ‘any man who will not fight for his wife and children is a coward and a b*!&%$d’ . Last Friday night, my Grandfather was beaten by the son of his next door neighbour (a man 50 years his junior), and I have struggled to know how to respond.
A stone of anger and resentment has sat in my gut almost constantly during the days following the attack. I am torn between a physical response or following the pathetically slow and ineffectual legal process.
Now I am obviously aware that Christ said ‘whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’. I am just not convinced that Jesus meant that if one of my children is murdered, that the Christ-like response is to give the attackers another one to slaughter. Accepting there might be limits to what we can infer from this scripture I am faced with two big problems: 1) I don’t know what the limits are and 2) I have certain physical limitations. I do believe that responding with violence does not always solve the problem, I think this is especially true in the current situation.
Despite this, the two problems remain for me. The second is more pressing, because I doubt I will ever adequately understand the first. I am not, nor have I ever been a violent person. Though I am fairly tall I am also very slight. More than that I do not know how to ‘handle myself’. Honestly, I think I am a bit of a coward. It is easy for me to say ‘turn the other cheek’ because i would not want to fight; it is much harder for me to retaliate and defend with courage.
I think the twenty year old boy who did this should be punished, and I think he should be punished physically. Being candid, if I heard that my cousin (who is 6ft 5in, a Royal Marine and built for war) had taken matters into his own hands I would have been pleased. Yet, I won’t do it myself; primarily because I know that I would accomplish little and I scared of getting hurt.
I don’t feel proud of my ‘christ-like’ response because really I know that it is not the hard choice to act in this way. Moreover, I feel that Christ would have defended his family, even if that meant physically.
1. Copies of this letter can be found in Brodie’s No Man Knows my History & Jessee’s Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.
2. Scott Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 298.