Guest blogger Jamie Huston posts again!
“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention…” 3 Nephi 11:29
“Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech.” D&C 112:5
I know, these verses are talking about different things: confrontational hostility versus zealous engagement. Still, these two scriptures illustrate a problem in my mind: just how assertive can we be before we’re being pushy? On one hand, we run the risk of being too deferential and missing opportunities to advance the Lord’s work. On the other hand, we push the possibility that we might come off as obnoxious and offend people…and miss opportunities to advance the Lord’s work.
How do we exert our zeal while avoiding obnoxiousness? What’s the magic formula? Is it all just relying on the Spirit from moment to moment? That’s a necessary element of all our work, and nothing to sniff at. But what else should be shaping our level of assertiveness?
And when there’s a choice to be made, which way do we err? It’s said that when there’s a conflict between justice and mercy, lean towards the side of mercy. Does that apply here, counseling us to proceed with more caution than courage?
Actually, my position is that, when pressed, we usually do better to do more rather than less. After all, doesn’t life teach that we tend to regret the chances we let slip away out of fear more than actions that backfired?
I remember talking to a great bishop of mine once about this, and he directed me to Alma 38:12: “Use boldness, but not overbearance.” The striking thing was his application of the verse. Think about the times you’ve heard that verse quoted; it’s probably been in the context of advising each other to hold back and “be cool” with people.
But my bishop at the time focused on the first part of that admonition. He said that our culture in the church today had moved too far into the “but not overbearance” territory, often resembling little more than passive accomodation. It was his belief that the world of the 21st century would need us to be straight shooters who don’t worry about occasionally rubbing people the wrong way; in fact, we should expect it. True prophets do offend the mainstream (Helaman 13:26-28).