On Persuasion and Love Unfeigned

“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.”

Comments

  1. Eve of Destruction says:

    While I do not excuse these reactions, it is probably worth considering that they are characteristic of emotionally abused people (http://eqi.org/signs_of_emotionally_abused_people.htm).

  2. Britain Morris says:

    Excellent post

  3. The pure in heart.

  4. Michael Austin, you are a wonderful human-being. Thank you.

  5. Thank you. Some sanity, at last.

  6. This is what we need. Thank you.

  7. Thank you indeed.

  8. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    AS ever you speak the truth Michael!

  9. “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.””

    And perhaps by learning this as a whole church, we can be part of helping the entire world to do the same: how to cease naming the critical or differently-minded “monsters,” and rightfully calling them our brothers and sisters.

  10. A breath of emotional and spiritual air, thank you.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    “The wrong answer is to speak angrily or dismissively or to cast those who disagree with us as crazy, stupid, or evil.”

    The wrong answer is a large element of the BCC aesthetic.

  12. At lesat we’re not alone, Manny.

  13. Larry Morris says:

    Thanks very much. As I try to work out my complex feelings on this complex issue, I’m going to re-read this post often.

  14. I don’t disagree, but I think that many of us are still at the “mourning with those that mourn” phase, and trying to understand and love those who are attacking those that mourn, is a little outside what is realistic. I am fine with leaving people alone, if they we leave those of us in mourning to be in mourning.

    Come at us with sanctimonious bs about doing the wrong thing in the wrong way? Yeah, I am not ready to be “persuaded” out of my feelings at this point. That may say more about how I have experienced “persuasion” in the past, but I am just not there.

  15. John Mansfield says:

    “Come at us with sanctimonious bs about doing the wrong thing in the wrong way?”

    Like a special week-long 17-part series on the many ways the LDS church is wrong, wrong, wrong? You’ll find it very hard to care, but I on the other side of these things have had several occasions to mourn. These calls to “mourn with those that mourn” appear one-sided and self-serving.

  16. “You’ll find it very hard to care, but I on the other side of these things have had several occasions to mourn. ”

    John, I do care, and I wouldn’t mind hearing more about what you’ve been going through.

  17. I think many of us will need to stand up against this policy to make sure there’s a place for all at the table.

  18. Lorraine Janeway says:

    The moment I hear that tone, my hearing turns off. Those that say they love the Lord most must examine their own ability to love their fellow humans most. Love is our commandment; judgement is not.

  19. Lorraine Janeway says:

    I’ve not posted on this site before; when I posted about “that tone” it was in response to someone’s angry/negative post that I no longer see published…my apologies to all those who are thoughtfully working their way through this difficult situation. I value “By Common Consent” and appreciate the opportunity to learn from others and to, on occasion, add my voice.

  20. John Johnson says:

    Finding spiritual purity by way of exclusion of others and branding children and their parents went out with the fall of Adolph HItler, or so we thought.

    Why are our leaders pumping life into these old bigotries? I’m hoping it’s just because a few select people at the top of the pyramid are suffering Alzheimer’s disease. Complain very loudly and you’ll find yourself ex-communicated.

    Does anyone else have thoughts?

  21. Those that are truly upset seem to be friends and Mothers of gay people who are NOT staying celibate (they are being true to themselves, baloney) but somehow think that their wonderful friend/ child has a a pass on those commandments because they are so wonderful. I never hear any discussion on how to encourage folks with SSA to just live the commandments.
    The Lord’s paradigm is is to get a body, control it, receive the ordinances of salvation, endure to the end and help others do so.
    The policy protects children and families from more discord that they would get. It also protects/shields families and children of the members who do attend.

  22. @ John Johnson
    Not kind and not true about your pyramid comment.

  23. John Johnson says:

    Dear Hemlock (This is my response to your comments dated November 17, 2015 at 2:57 pm and 2:59 pm),

    When we have church elders attempting to label children and fellow parishioners as Apostates and reducing them to a label of an SSA instead of loving fellow human beings we are in deep trouble.

    Elders now officially want children to reject and denounce their gay parents. Adolf Hitler labeled fellow citizens in the same way. I think wondering if some church elders might be suffering Alzheimer’s is about as close to “kind” as one can get considering how cruel and unkind they are being toward caring and loving fellow parishioners . . .

    I believe that Jesus would want a child to honor and love his/her parents even if they were murders. The idea of telling children to denounce their parents is not Christian. When you state that these new Hilter-like policies are designed to protect/shield families and children, you sound as brainwashed as many German citizens did before WWII. Church Elders secretly creating and disseminating polices that conspire against very human and loving fellow parishioners from behind closed doors is cruel and horrifying. I don’t think it’s just friends of gays that are upset by these policies…it’s a large number of our fellow parishioners within the church and fellow Christians around the world.

    It’s not my intention to hurt your feelings, but hoping to wake you up out of a deep sleep. Finding spiritual purity by way of exclusion of others and branding children and labeling their parents has unfortunately done great damage to our church, fellow parishioners and our reputation.

    We need to love all of our fellow parishioners as He gave them to us and not attempt to be their judge and executors. Dear Hemlock, as I’m typing on this page, I’m praying to Him asking him to help forever free you of such hatreds and truly open your heart as He has taught us to do.

    With loving regards,

    John Johnson