“No power or influence can or ought to 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)
“Why do the Members of Christ tear one another; why do we rise up against our own body in such madness; have we forgotten that we are all members, one of another?”–Pope St. Clement of Rome
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”—Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address
Things are more than a little bit slippery on the deck of Good Ship Zion these days. Responses to the new policies have been strong and divisive—and not only among the usual suspects. People we know and love are fighting with each other, and with us, and positions are getting more and more entrenched.
Over the last week, I have seen families split apart, lifelong friendships destroyed, and relationships with the Church altered forever. And I have been sad. Achingly, desperately sad. I am sad for my gay friends whose place at the Church’s table seems to have gotten smaller. I am sad for my friends who have been called all kinds of ugly names because they choose to sustain their leaders. And I am sad for my children, who feel trapped and isolated by all sides of what they rightly perceive as another generation’s culture war.
As one who loves the Church and believes in the principle of Zion, I would like to humbly suggest that we all stop trying to tear each other apart and start trying to persuade each other the way that the Lord suggests in the Doctrine & Covenants: “by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”
This is a strange position for Latter-day Saints to be in, as we are not used to trying to persuade each other of religious things. We are, I’m afraid, used to power and influence coming by virtue of the priesthood—by the callings we (or others) hold, by our place within the institution, or by the perceived level of official support for the positions that we hold.
This sort of deference to authority—real or perceived—produces something that can look suspiciously like agreement, but which is really nothing more than the suppression of disagreements by indirect institutional power. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King called this a “negative peace,” which looks a lot like peace to those in positions of power and a lot like total defeat to those who are not.
This is why the Lord has instructed us to influence other people by persuasion and love and not by invocations of institutional authority. The rationale for a spiritual decision can never be, “because I say so and I’m the __________ (fill in the blank with anything from Beehive President to Prophet). This is not good enough for the Kingdom of God. Our job is to persuade each other, not to boss each other around.
And this is a time in the Church that calls for people who believe things strongly to try to persuade others with love and meekness. Some of us need to be persuaded that the current set of policies are good ideas—not just that they were instituted by prophets and apostles, or even by God, but that they will actually accomplish objectives that should be accomplished.
Others of us need to understand why it is ever acceptable to speak against, or even disagree with, a policy instituted by men that we believe to be guided by revelation. We need to understand why something that has been consistently cited as a danger to families (i.e. same sex marriage) should be embraced or even permitted within the ranks of the Church.
On both sides of the issue, there is real pain and honest concern that deserves to be listened to.
The wrong answer is to speak angrily or dismissively or to cast those who disagree with us as crazy, stupid, or evil. For many years, this has been a standard response to those who disagree with us politically, and we have developed a large arsenal of rhetorical weapons to use on our opponents. But, like all weapons, they do not belong in Church.
The right answer is to talk to each other as brothers and sisters, to understand the pain that people on all sides of the issue are facing, and to calmly, gently, and meekly explain what we believe and why others should believe it too.
This will not produce universal agreement. That is too much to ask. But it will produce people who love each other more, understand each other better, and find ways to commit to being part of the same religious community despite their very real disagreements over important religious matters.
Another word for such a community is “Zion.”