Dying for Jesus

My prior post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps it was a bit insensitive (or at least poorly timed) given what is surely a terrible tragedy for one Utah family.  But I do want to segue into a serious topic that I have long found perplexing:  When and to what extent is it appropriate to stand up for one’s beliefs?  Specifically, when does publicly counting oneself as a disciple of Christ become so important that it warrants the risk of severe negative consequences, yea, even unto death?

My sense is that dying in the process of fearlessly standing up for one’s religious beliefs is widely considered to be honorable.  I’m not well versed in Christian history, but I understand there were many devout martyrs in the early Church that suffered ignominious and painful deaths as a result of their professed Christianity.  In contrast, the Apostle Peter denied knowing Christ three times, and even though this was presumably a safer choice for him, modern Christians don’t look upon what he did as virtuous.  The Book of Mormon contains accounts of whole families being put to death for their professed beliefs in Christ, and the moral of the story doesn’t seem to be that these Christians had wasted their lives.  Finally, let’s not forget Columbine:  We’ve all heard the story of the Christian girl who was asked by the teenage shooters whether or not she believed in God.  "She said yes," so the story goes, and she may well have been killed for it.  Her act was widely viewed as being courageous, noble, and even inspirational to many, many American Christians.   

Nevertheless, it is not intuitively obvious to me that if I found myself in a life-threatening situation whose outcome turned on my denying my Christian faith, Christ would necessarily want me to embrace death.  It seems to me that continuing to live, to improve myself, to raise a family, to help others and to build the Kingdom would be a better course of action, for a host of unselfish reasons.

The question of how to balance Christian self-identification with self-preservation has arisen for me every now and then over the years, in the form of a hypothetical.  For example, at BYU, I took a Colloquium class (John Dehlin was there) in which the question of professing allegiance to Christ in the face of certain death was posed to the students.  If I remember correctly, numerous class members expressed strong, unwavering support for the imperative of an unambiguous, public embrace of Christianity, consequences be damned.  After a number of strident testimonials and zealous declarations of religious faith, a student put the same question to one of our professors.  The professor replied that if his life were on the line and he was being pressured to deny Christ, he would probably do what it took to stay alive, given that he looked forward to spending time with his children and grandchildren.  He also voiced the belief that his offspring, in turn, would probably benefit from spending time with him.  This made a lot of sense to me (and to others too, I think), but it’s fascinating, in retrospect, that none of the students had previously articulated a justification like this.  It’s as if there was an unwritten understanding that to do so would be cowardly. 

This issue also once arose for me in the MTC.  One fine day, my district was lounging around, and someone posed the following question:  "What would you do if you were confronted by a man with a gun in a theatre who asked the Christian members of the audience to self-identify, so that he could shoot them?"  As I recall, several members of my district were convinced that a true, committed follower of Christ would fearlessly stand and count himself as a Christian, never mind the ominous consequences to follow.  One of my companions, not particularly known for tact, proceeded to ridicule this answer and proclaim that he’d never do such a stupid thing.  The ensuing argument became extraordinarily intense, with at least one elder driven to tears, and a couple others that almost came to blows.

My own gut reaction to the MTC hypothetical is this:  I’m inclined to think my companion had the better of the argument.  Why should I throw my life away, just so I can answer a question "correctly"?  What cosmic significance would there be to a public exchange of words between myself and a gun-toting psychopath?  Perhaps the signficance isn’t cosmic, except that my own salvation depends on it.  But why?  Is this what the purpose of a Christian life really boils down to?  Could the "test" of my Earth life potentially be to see whether I will profess allegiance to Jesus during some freak incident?  Does Jesus really care?  Wouldn’t Jesus be better served by my saving my own skin, so I can live another few decades, and maybe spend much of my time doing missionary work or something?  I’m sure my wife would rather that I stick around and try to qualify for Celestial bliss via some other, less melodramatic means.

Perhaps there are distinctions that can be drawn between various hypothetical scenarios that entail a risky profession of Christian belief, and maybe Christ would want me to embrace the risk of death for Him in some cases, but not in others.  If that’s the case, I invite you all to draw these distinctions for me.

Aaron B


  1. This is a really thoughtful post, Aaron; thank you for it. I can remember, many years ago, having a discussion similar to the ones you mention (I don’t remember who with). The conclusion I brought away from it was that, as important as it may well be to affirm what one holds to be the truth even at great cost, a lot of the time we’re actually investing a lot of personal pride in our acceptance of those costs; that is, to say that one would rather die than deny one’s testimony (or tolerate one more swear word, or whatever) often is more about parading one’s testimony, whether intentionally or not, than actually thinking about it. In a sense it’s actually easy to say that you wouldn’t deny Christ in the context of, as you rightly put it, some “freak incident”; what’s hard is saying that, because I believe in Christ, I will continue to hold on and endure and make my way through all the ordinary incidents of life.

  2. Hot button: The Apostle Peter. Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times, but he was hardly alone; most of His chosen twelve abandoned Him in his final hours. And I contrast the frightened, anguished Peter of Good Friday with the post-Pentecost Peter, forthrightly and fearlessly witnessing of Jesus to the Sanhedrin. He was transformed after Christ’s death by the power of the Holy Ghost to a brave and faithful leader.

  3. I, too, don’t see the greater good of professing belief to a random gunman. If we want to talk about the actions that would lead to the greatest good for the most people, I think attempting to disarm the perpetrator is much more noble than dying for God.

    BTW, most sources agree that the Columbine story did not happen that way. Apparently, one of the gunmen did ask a girl why she believed in God, but did not kill her after her answer.

  4. In some ways this relates to the scriptural conflicts of keeping or breaking an oath that in retrospect seems less beneficial. It seems that sort of thing is all over the place.

    From my perspective, I can think of no good reason to singularly engage death instead of prevarication or equivocation. Now, if it were a the dichotomy of living a life of sin vs. confessing Christ and death, I think confessing Christ might be the better choice…but even there, I don’t think we can judge, except for ourselves. The example of Shadrach et al. is an argument for this.

  5. John Williams says:

    Didn’t the LDS Church cover up plural marriage for the greater good?

  6. Aaron,
    This is a great post. I have often had the exact thoughts of your penultimate paragraph. Because of that I really don’t have anything else to say.

  7. I remember a teacher in seminary once posing the following scenario to us students: If we were stranded in the desert, dying of thirst, and we came across a cup of coffee, would we drink it?
    As I recall, the consensus of my classmates (endorsed by the teacher)was that it would be better to die of thirst than to break the Word of Wisdom! My mind was completely blown out of my skull and I couldn’t help but feel we were being fed some pretty erroneous ideas. Recognizing that those who sincerely would choose death over denying Christ (or, in this case, committing a small sin) based on their understanding of right and wrong are probably rewarded for their faith, I still think that there is a level at which it becomes absurd. Believing that God loves me and values my life, I think there are instances when He would be okay with me breaking his rules to save my life (though I am okay with the idea that I would have to repent for said rule-breaking later).

  8. This must be a common scenario in the church (or at least at BYU). I participated in the same discussion in an EQ meeting while I was at BYU — you know, the one about a psycho with a gun demanding you deny Christ. The same thing happened in our meeting, except I was the one that said I would tell the psycho whatever he wanted to hear. That is a lie I would have no qualms about telling. Needless to say my response caused quite an uproar… unusual or frank answers sometimes do that ya know.

    The problem is that what we say has very little to do with actually denying Christ. We deny Christ with what we are — or rather with what we fail to become. We have made covenants to repent and become like him; when we don’t become like him we deny him.

  9. Good points, Aaron. The point of confessing Christ isn’t to form the oral utterances, but to actually persuade others and to live one’s life in an exemplary manner. None of these situations give the confession any weight at all. There’s just no gain in telling the gunman who is obviously prejudging the idea of Christ that you believe in him.

    Put it another way: once the door gets slammed on you as a missionary, you wouldn’t keep screaming at it, would you?

    Once people start pointing guns at other people over a verbal declaration, I’d consider the door closed.

  10. John Mansfield says:

    If a couple of murderers in the process of killing a dozen people aimed their rifles at me, I would hope for the presence of mind to die on my terms instead of theirs. As Fabrizio Quattrocchi put it, “I’ll show you how an Italian dies.”

  11. That coffee example reminds me of something one of my instructors at BYU did. A couple years ago he had a kidney stone. He went to the doctor and the doctor said that he has two options 1) they could pump him full of drugs and operate on him (which would cost him a couple thousand dollars) or 2) he could drink a six-pack of beer and piss it out. He went to the store, picked up a six-pack of Foster’s (he’s Australian), went home and got drunk. He pissed out the stone and was better the next day. At the time of this incident he was in the bishopric so he told the bishop what he did and they had a good laugh (and this was in SLC). So he saves a couple thousand dollars, doesn’t pump his body full of drugs (just ingests a bit of alcohol), and his only recovery time was a bit of a hangover.

  12. I agree with Russell. It almost amounts to parading one’s testimony, and is therefore like taking the Savior’s name in vain.

    I don’t think this is the kind of thing it is possible to know beforehand what to do, though. I leave open the possibility that God might want me to stand up and I hope I would be willing.

  13. This and the coffee comment remind me of a lecture by a Jewish professor on hte judaic principal of pikuach nephesh, saving of life. The Jewish sages came to the conclusion that any tenet of Judaism could be sacrificed in order to save a life. As the prof. said several times, “If the only way to save a Jew’s life is to feed him a ham and cheese sandwich on Yom Kippur, bring on the ham and cheese.” That violates several large Jewish prohibitions- eating on a high holy day, eating pork, and eating meat and milk together.

    Only way to save life is drink coffee? Bring on the coffee.

  14. This is a great subject, but I agree with Geoff J. – I never quite understood the quandary of whether or not to confess your belief in Christ to a potential murderer and be killed for your beliefs. Jesus Christ and you both know what your true beliefs are – so why provoke a clearly unstable person to kill you? Sounds a bit like suicide to me.

    However, this post reminded me of the movie “Europa, Europa”, about a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany who is separated from his family and joins the Hitler Youth to avoid the fate of other Jews. Which raises the question of just how far one should go to disguise his or her religious beliefs in order to survive. (It’s an excellent movie, btw.)

  15. I guess I’m older than the rest of you. The discussions I’ve had have not been about a psychopathic killer asking for your commitment to Christ but an invading Soviet Army (you know the Godless commies) occupying your home town and asking each person to state their beliefs in Jesus Christ or their disbelief. I remember this conversation with a thoughtful friend when I was in college (mid 70’s) and my friend suggested that such a circumstance might invoke additional courage and committment on the part of believers who just might accept their death sentence if they considered living the remainder of their lives under a communist regime. But, he went on, the more important action, as mentioned by D-Train above, would be to commit oneself to Christ in everyday thought and action and to be courageous in defending the gospel and those who live by its tenets. Refusing to answer to a madman’s demands crazy logic, in my opinion, would be acceptable regardless of one’s religious commitment and sacrificing one’s own life for the ill-advised, heroic notion of being a committed disciple seems short-sighted and perhaps even arrogant. To lead by example includes being responsible and intelligent about when to “fall on our sword” and the example given in the previous post doesn’t seem to fit either definition.

  16. Having been present during a bank robbery, I can tell you it’s really hard to predict how you’ll react when faced with a life-or-death situation. It’s easy to talk about this in the hypothetical. I can say that during that robbery my only thought was of my husband and kids, and that I couldn’t die because it would mean leaving him alone to raise them.

  17. I believe God wants us to use common sense. So I’d drink coffee, deny Christ, and listen to swearing instead of dying. Would it comfort my family to know that even though I was dead I hadn’t listened to one more profanity, or that I’d refused to lie about being Christian?

  18. #7 I had the same question posed in an Institute class, the liquid was beer. The professor said, “I’d drink it in a heartbeat.” One student very righteously proclaimed, “I wouldn’t.” But I pretty much think if he was really thirsty, he couldn’t help himself.

    About the invading Soviet army, I would have to ask how they were going to kill me. Or if they were going to torture me.

    It’s all relative. One day, my little daughter (not Princess BG, the other one), who was 5, was misbehaving. I said, “if you don’t stop it, you’re going to get a spanking.” She looked at me and asked, “Is you going to spank me or is Dad going to spank me?” I said, “I am!” And she went on doing what she was doing, without worry.

    I agree with all you guys.

  19. I distinctly remember an MTC branch testimony meeting in which one Elder from my district stepped to the mike and, with tears brimming in his eyes, loudly and almost defiantly proclaimed that he would be willing to die for the cause in which he was engaged.

    And the only thing I could think was, “Then why aren’t you willing to stop being such an @$$#0!&, Elder?” He was ill-mannered, abrasive, boorish, resistant to counsel, and he carried his football-player’s frame with an insufferable swagger. He picked on smaller and less self-assured missionaries with sophomoric sadism. He put little effort into learning the lessons or the language, and derided anyone who wouldn’t break the rules and converse with him in English. Theoretical martyrdom was his way of making up for his shortcomings–a trump card he knew he’d probably never have to play, but one he thought he’d get credit for just for having it in his hand.

    I have to think the _idea_ of martyrdom is probably attractive to some missionaries, somewhere in the back of their minds. You pack your entire existence into two suitcases and a carry-on, spend weeks or months at the MTC forgetting your prior self and your prior goals and desires and devoting all your energies to preparing for service, and then undertake what can be a very difficult and frustrating work. And it’s _work_. Imagine, if you found yourself in a positiion where you could expend all your devotion in one enormous and heroic act (instead of a lifetime worth of small and seemingly menial acts); and on your mission — at the height of your game!

    I don’t mean, by any of this, to disparage the memory of the returned missionary recently in the news. Surely we don’t know the full story of his circumstances, and surely some broader psychological or emotional issues came into play.

  20. I once worked with a woman who was born in Vietnam. Her parents were Christians, and they fled the country when the Americans withdrew and the communists took over. They rented a boat, stocked it with as many supplies as they could, and headed out into the sea. They were found by a commercial fishing boat and taken somewhere safe (don’t remember where). They had an advantage in that the Christian missionaries had taught them some English. They made their way to America somehow. Should they have stayed behind?

    I can only hope that if I’m ever faced with a situation like that I’d be guided by the Spirit in what to do.

  21. Check out the report on Korean Christians on the Drudge report this morning. Those are true martyrs, not those of us who speculate whether we’d drink a beer if we were dying of thirst.

  22. I’m curious. Has the nature of this discussion deterred those who hold an opposing viewpoint from expressing it, or is this (further) evidence that the bloggernacle really is pretty different from the general LDS population?

    It seems most of us have had some variation of conversation at some point in the past, and that most of us remember the position taken here being in the clear minority. Why is that? Do people just not say what they really think when in those settings (i.e., at church, in seminary, on your mission, etc.), while they feel free to do so here, or are the average views held just really that different? Perhaps a bit of both.

  23. A related question: if threatened by a man with a gun, would you reveal the signs you learned in the temple? After all, he could just look them up on the internet anyway. Would your answer differ depending on whether you took out your endowments before 1990?

    There’s also the story about Joseph F. Smith that can be found here.

    As he was depositing the recently acquired firewood, one of the leaders of the group, still holding a gun, came toward Joseph F. cursing and declaring in drunken speech that he was duty bound to exterminate any Mormon he found. The inebriated scoundrel shouted, “Are you a Mormon?” Without a moment of hesitation and looking the ruffian in the eye, Joseph F. Smith boldly answered, “Yes, siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.”

    Of course whenever I’ve heard this story the implication was that JSF’s actions were noble, not stupid.

  24. That first question’s easy, Ed — I’d just make stuff up. How would he know if I was telling the truth or not?

    The second one’s a little trickier. I recently encountered that story in a primary lesson I was teaching. Seems to me the main takeaway from the story, at least for primary kids, is “So if JFS can stand up for what he believes in those dire circumstances, surely you can pipe up when your friends at school are talking trash about Mormons” or something like that. I certainly hope the kids would remember _that_, and implement it accordingly in everyday situations, rather than filing the story away under “What to do when my life is threatened because I’m a believer.”

    Maybe JSF’s model is the one we should follow in those unlikely circumstances. But the point is that those circumstances are, for most of us, unlikely, and speculating about finding ourselves in them could perhaps foster a sense of righteousness and “confidence in the presence of God” that would be better earned through the day-to-day toils and trials that are more commonly our lot.

  25. You know, the simple answer to these questions is: What does God want me to do? If you’re in tune with the Spirit, He will tell you which course of action to take. Perhaps in some cases, it would serve’s God’s plan for us to die, in others, not to. We all have choices to make, whether it be death, or the humiliation of going to Sacrament meeting, but not partaking because of some unresolved issue.

    I doubt that it would have helped the Church to have Peter killed when approached at that time. On the other hand, what about Abinadi, who snuck into the city in disguise, then proclaimed himself, knowing the king wanted him dead? http://scriptures.lds.org/mosiah/12/1#1
    I can only assume that JFS had some sort of clue as to how he should respond.

    I can’t personally claim that I would know the Right thing to do, were my life in peril. But this would seem like a good guideline.

    (Incidentally, in comment #11, wouldn’t drinking beer for the purpose of passing a stone be considered “medicinal purposes”? ;) )

  26. As long as we’re slathering on the hypothetical situations like mayonaise I’ll add my own. Same crazed gunman in a theatre demanding to know if you believe in Christ. Let’s say that before you answer, it becomes very clear to you (call it precience or revelation or whatever) that if you answer “yes,” then the news will pick up your story and many people in the world will come to believe that Mormons really are Christians and many of those will accept the gospel. While all of that is happening your oldest child becomes bitter and angry that Christ would “steal” you from them like that and would leave the church and never return. If you answer “no” then your kids may or may not stay in the church, and all those other people may or may not accept the gospel. So do you leave the “99” for you child? Or do you “sacrifice” your child for the good of “mankind?”

    Me? I’d pick my kid. I’ve been given a specific stewardship over him and as far as the other people are concerned my responsibilities to them right now are a vague “every member a missionary.”

  27. Steve McIntyre says:

    First off, I can’t help but laugh at some of the situations we Mormons contrive as possible tests of our commitment to Christ. An armed maniac parading into a theater, with the intent of shooting only those who identify themselves as Christians? Stranded in the desert, and the only refreshment you can find is a cup of coffee? Fortunately, I don’t see myself in that predicament anytime soon.

    I recently heard a debate in a BYU classroom about whether or not Christ actually commanded Peter to deny Him, in order to protect the Senior Apostle of the Church. The student who advocated this position maintained that, had Peter actually denied Christ thrice, as is recorded in the New Testament, then he would be a son of perdition.

    Besides reflecting an unscriptural understanding of what makes one a son of perdition, this argument also seems to point to a misunderstanding of what denying Christ really is.

    As many have already stated, our commitment to Christ is measured far more by our lives and day-to-day actions than a mere verbal confession. Likewise, a true denial of Christ would constitute far more than a one-time silence or verbal denial in a freak situation.

  28. First off, I can’t help but laugh at some of the situations we Mormons contrive as possible tests of our commitment to Christ.

    Indeed. I’d go so far as to call these “martyrdom fantasies”–imagining some heroic way to get out of living our toilsome lives while still getting into heaven. When we say “I’d do anything for you,” what we mean is “I’d do anything else.”

  29. For the life of me I cannot imagine that Jesus would want me to be dead and miss out on raising my 4 kids. I would cross my fingers behind my back and repent to the bishop later…..

    Having been shot at in an attempted mugging I can tell you that survival instincts kick in. pat Sunday school answers are out the window.

    Quick mission story. Once 4 missionaries on my mission were confronted with a mob of angry rioters. One of them wanted to calmly denounce them in the name of Jesus and trust the Lord. My MTC Comp smacked this elder grabbed 4 shovels and they clutched the shovels and threatened the crowd for about 5 minutes until the police arrived. The shovel defense worked. Later the Mis P thanked my MTC Comp for his quick thinking and told the other elder to get a grip.

  30. Last Lemming says:

    First off, I can’t help but laugh at some of the situations we Mormons contrive as possible tests of our commitment to Christ.

    Certainly when used as excuses to wax self-righteous, they deserve mocking. But extreme hypotheticals can also be useful thought experiments to help us clarify our values. If we have thought through the extremes, I believe we make better and more consistent choices in less extreme circumstances.

  31. LL: Clarify our values, perhaps, but only hypothetically. The tragic event that started this thread resulted from someone apparently unable to discern how to implement the value — perhaps because of an inability to distinguish hypothetical from practical.

  32. harpingheather says:

    Six words:

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

    It’s a commandment. To deny or by not acting imply a denial for your faith in God and Christ is to bear false witness.

    On the note of “what if a gun toting maniac were threatening you”– what would someone think who saw you deny? They’d think that your faith in God and heaven wasn’t so great if you’d fold in the face of adversity. It’s a bad example. Back to Peter– nobody thinks that what he did was a good thing. Not even him.

    Yes your family would benefit from more years with you. But God can turn all things to good if we let him. Personally, I hope never to be in that situation but I also hope that if I am, I will have the strength of conviction and faith not to deny my relationship with my Saviour.

  33. Aaron Brown says:

    “But God can turn all things to good if we let him.”

    Yes, I suppose he can. And this fact can easily cut the other way. If I refuse to embrace death at the hands of the maniac, then maybe God will have 50 more years with which he can use me for all sorts of good. I suspect that good will far exceed the momentary “good” of having some observer say “Gee, that Christian guy must have lots of conviction!”

    Aaron B

  34. HH,

    If the commandment being broken in such a situation is bearing false witness, couldn’t one claim the “strategem” precedent?

    But then you say “What would someone think.” So, is the broken commandment bearing false witness or _being seen_ bearing false witness?

    I was recently in a position in which I had accepted a 1-year position and had signed the contract, but then I was offered a permanent position somewhere else. There was a loophole allowing me to get out of the contract for the 1-year job if I did so by a certain date, but I still felt apprehensive about backing out of a contract I had signed and my verbal indication of my intent. I was in the clear legally, but ethically I was unsure. And, I must admit, that ever-present Mormon self-consciousness figured in as well (both employers knew I was Mormon, and knew very few other Mormons). I didn’t want to put the church in a bad light.

    I consulted with many trusted people about what to do. One of my mentors gave me what has turned out to be wise counself — and circumstances so far seem to have borne this out. He said: “It appears that you’re worried that if you back out of the contract and take the better job, you’ll establish a reputation for being a vacilating weasel. I don’t think that’s the case. My greated concern is that if you decline the better job, you’ll establish a reputation for being an idiot.”

  35. harpingheather says:

    Matt 16:25
    For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

    Mark 8:35
    For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.

    Luke 17:33
    Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

    Seems clear to me.

  36. John Williams says:

    Harping Heather,

    Bearing your testimony of Christ to the type of individual who would gun you down in a theatre might be like casting pearls before swine.

    An insane gunner in the situation described might be better off ignored. His question is not worthy of a response.

  37. “Thou shalt not bear false witness”

    I don’t want to open a can of Spam here, but, technically, aren’t the the 10 Commandments part of the Law of Moses anyway?

    *ducks and runs*

  38. Steve McIntyre says:

    Clearly there are situations where we may have to sidestep the so-called “letter of the law” to serve a greater good. For instance, Abraham was commanded by God not to reveal to the Egyptians that Sarai was his wife, for his and her safety. Nephi killing Laban is another classic example. The Nephites’ strategems against the Lamanites frequently involved deception, but as they were preserving “their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore [they] thought it no sin that [they] should defend them by strategem” (Alma 43: 30).

    I’m not suggesting we all convert to relativism, but I’m saying that “the right decision” can (and frequently is) different from situation to situation, depending on the specific circumstances. Joseph Smith taught this (I could dig up the quote from Teachings later, if anyone would like).

    If you’re ever in a situation where a crazed gunman threatens to kill you if you identify yourself as a Christian, and the Spirit tells you to do so, then by all means, do it. But generally speaking, I don’t consider this hypothetical situation to be a true test of one’s commitment to Christ. What good is an affirmative testimony going to do against this gun-toting maniac? If I were to identify myself as a Christian and then get my head blown off, chances are that most on-lookers would marvel at my stupidity more than my conviction.

  39. harpingheather says:

    What’s at stake here is your commitment to your God and your covenants and I don’t think turning your back on them at any time is a good thing. Scared and in a moment of weakness can be repented of and forgiven– it’s PLANNING to do so I find repulsive.

  40. Steve McIntyre says:

    I don’t think anyone here is suggesting turning one’s back on their covenants. I think a distinction needs to be made between two types of hypothetical “faith testing” situations:

    1) There’s an “Abinadi” situation. Abinadi was specifically commanded to testify before the king and his corrupt priests who had perverted the Church of God, even though doing so meant losing his life. As a prophet, it was Abinadi’s responsibility to testify of the people’s wickedness, thus ridding his garments of their blood. Additionally, he was testifying to those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the people. And of course, his testimony fell upon the open ears of Alma, a critical event in Nephite spiritual history.

    Like Abinadi, we are not to back down in testifying of our commitment to Christ, because it’s our covenant duty (Mosiah 18:9). And we have to expect some opposition in doing so, although rarely are the consequences so extreme as in Abinadi’s case.

    2) However, there are other situations where silence is best. For instance:

    – When the Nephites became thoroughly hard-hearted, the Three Nephite Disciples withdrew from among them.

    – When Korihor was brought before some of the high priests (before he was taken to Alma, the chief high priest): “when they saw that he would revile even against God, they would not make any reply to his words” (Alma 30:29).

    – When Ether had to dwell in the cavity of a rock in order to preserve his life and complete the Jaredite record (had he continued to testify, he would have been killed).

    – When Mormon was obliged to stand by as an idle witness, and no longer testify of the Nephites’ wickedness.

    Now these are all extreme situations. Well, so is facing a maniacal gunman. I think it’d be far more beneficial to one’s family and the kingdom of God for a Latter-day Saint to avoid death by keeping his mouth shut in this freak situation.

    Even though Abraham had covenanted not to bear false witness, he did not reveal Sarai as his wife in the face of the Egyptians. He deceived them. But he did this to serve a greater good, and ultimately perform his earthly mission.

    There are times when, in order to accomplish a greater good, our testimonies may need to be witheld. Granted, they are few and far between — I mean, come on, how many of us are going to face the insane gunman situation? But they do exist, and I think it’s important to be aware of that.

  41. No man has worth unless he is willing to die for what he believes in.

  42. Mosiah 24:11-12

    11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

    12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

  43. Susan M: Having been present during a bank robbery, I can tell you it’s really hard to predict how you’ll react when faced with a life-or-death situation. It’s easy to talk about this in the hypothetical.

    I nearly froze to death (seriously, I had advanced hypothermia) once when I was locked out of my (still running) car in winter on a western Maryland highway. It’s a good story, and when I tell it, sometimes a person will ask why I didn’t break a window of the car to get inside and keep warm. The reason is simple: If I’d have done that, everyone would have thought that I “wigged out” or “panicked” and broke the window. I guess if you think that’s not such a bad thing, then there’s not a lot I could say to make you understand why it really is important.

  44. Steve McIntyre says:

    No man has worth unless he is willing to die for what he believes in.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that we shouldn’t be willing to die for our beliefs. In fact, we’ve all covenanted to do so. But it’s important to recognize that, just as there as situations where dying for our beliefs is appropriate, there are also situations where it is more important to avoid death, so that we can live for our beliefs.

  45. Hannah G., comment #7: I was with you right up until the end when you wrote: “I think there are instances when He would be okay with me breaking his rules to save my life (though I am okay with the idea that I would have to repent for said rule-breaking later).” If it’s really the right thing to do, why are you repenting? It reminds me of a branch president in my mission who told the branch members, most of whom relied on public transportation to get to church on Sunday, that it was okay to spend fare money on Sunday but they should repent of it every week.

    Susan M., comment #16: “Having been present during a bank robbery…” How much did you get away with?

  46. I find it interesting that the Scriptural prooftext showing we don’t always have to give our testimonies in hopeless times was NOT about lying. Rather, it was about shutting up altogether. The moral, for anyone who cares to listen and not make excuses, is there might be times when no answer is the best answer.

    On the other hand, the only scriptures used to show when to break Covenants and Commandments is when God COMMANDS you, and not on a whim. The moral, for anyone who cares to listen and not make excuses, seems to be to keep the commandments even unto death should be the default unless the Spirit says otherwise.

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