DC 98: The Immutable ‘Rejected’ Covenant

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March 24, 2011 by Ron Madson

Here is my lecture at Claremont.  My thesis is that we have once again in our generation (as was done in Missouri in 1838)  rejected the Covenant of Peace revelation found in Section 98.  I also argue that like the saints in the primitive church, there came a time when we, like them, pledged our allegiance to our nation and in so doing, our nation’s “enemies” became our enemies.  They deeded their allegiance to the Roman Empire and we have to the American empire. In my opinion my lecture ties directly into the questions posed to Elder Wickham later that night:

and here is the q & a follow up questions

That evening Elder Wickham gave the keynote speech.  He is an emeritus general authority who while serving as a General Authority was the church’s General Counsel.  He is officially emeritus but has retained his position as the church’s general counsel.  He asked that his remarks and the follow up questions not be recorded.  In my opinion two highly pertinent questions were asked and one person pushed back as to the responses to the two questions.   Frankly, I could not tell whether Elder Wickham was speaking on behalf of the church or just expressing his personal opinion in that even though he indicated at times he was speaking personally, at times the statements came across in tone as declarative statements as to our church position/doctrine as to our approach to our nation’s wars–past and present.  Having said that, one question I know was asked was the one I posed in that I had it written down:  “Elder Wickham in 1095 at the Council of Claremont (amazing coincident that it was held at “Claremont”) Pope Urban II, in an effort to justify the current crusades issued a edict that Christians of their faith were under duty to support their nation in their wars AND that if the soldier engaged in such wars that they (the soldier) were free from sin (War Indulgence).  My question is whether in our mormon faith today we have adopted the same approach to war?”   The answer was from Elder Wickham:  “Yes.”   Then another conference attendee asked essentially:  “Do we have any doctrine or teachings, like the Anabaptist/Quaker tradition, that can be used to inform or even influence our decision as to whether to “renounce” any particular type of war?”   The answer was essentially that we are not like those  faith traditions—we are different and do not follow those traditions.  We have a different mission.  Okay.  The push back was from an attendee that took exception to the suggestion that those that are conscientious objectors are NOT following the law, ie, constitutional law.  The attendee emphatically countered that such statement is not true in that CO status is not only legal but constitutional.   The take away for me is that, at least in Elder Wickham’s opinion, the duty to support our nation’s wars overrides any doctrine that we might have.  And that those that do their duty in supporting any of their nation’s wars (no matter whether they are “just” or not) are not  morally responsible in doing their duty to their nation. Of course, Elder Wickham said that we should pursue peace and we desire it–whatever that means as a practical matter I have no clue in that the formula of DC 98 seems to be irrelevant to the policy he stated. My paper and lecture takes the position that if we abdicate that decision to our government then our doctrine is by definition whatever our sovereign defines it to be.  In the case of current hostilities (Iraq and Afghanistan) it is therefore the Bush doctrine articulated in September of 2002 that states that “We” our nation have the right to engage in pre-emptive strikes against any other nation that we believe might harm us in the future to “prevent” their attacking us.   In my opinion the “Constantine Shift” occurred in our faith when we became a state and remains today.  And that Elder Wickham’s position is the position as stated so clearly by President Hinckley in his speech “War and Peace” in April 2003 and is the predominant view in our faith.   There it is.   Elder Wickham did give accounts of great heroic acts in war that he witnessed and goodness in the crucible of conflict.  More on that in the final summary given by Richard Bushman that I will address in another post.

Comments?  Thoughts?  Did anyone that was there interpret the “take away” from Elder Wickham’s words differently?

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24 thoughts on “DC 98: The Immutable ‘Rejected’ Covenant

  1. mormongandhi says:

    Hello Ron,

    I am not surprised at Elder Wickhams responses. In the “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled” video (Message of Peace for LDS in the Military), Elder Wickham pretty much says the same thing. He especially underlines the importance of “not worrying about the justness of a war”, to not trouble oneself with the politics of the war. This is not exactly the kind of peace I thought the Church should advocate, which is pretty much “peace of mind” that comes from not worrying about ethics…. He further has the following things to say in the video that pretty much sums up our Church’s official stance and doctrine of war (and by the same token – of peace):

    Have you ever thought about the fact that the statue of the angel that graces the spires of our temples, and whom we honor as the angel of the restoration, is the statue of a soldier? This is no quirk or coincidence. I believe that there is considerable significance in that easily overlooked fact. For one thing, it tells us that service on the battlefield in times of war does not by itself remove one from the ranks of the righteous. Mormon and Moroni saw and participated in a carnage so widespread and terrible that the experience that you and I have had pales in comparison. It is likely that many men died at their very hands in the battlefield. They were soldiers because they had to be, because their people needed them, because it was the right thing to do. Mormon’s and Moroni’s service on the battlefield not only did not disqualify them from prophetic service: it enhanced their service.”

    The latter part really troubles me! You can watch the rest of the video at the following link: http://mormongandhi.com/a-house-of-faith/video-a-message-of-peace-for-lds-in-the-military-service/

  2. Ron Madson says:

    Mormongandhi,
    thank you for providing clips from the DVD “Let Not Your Heart be Troubled” at your web site. I was fully aware of this DVD and had viewed it several times and taken notes. I had considered referencing it in my paper and alluding to it in the lecture. However, I knew Elder Wickham was the keynote speaker and thought in discretion to leave it out. The reference he made to the Angel Moroni at the top of our temples I found very, very revealing. This reference further confirms in a haunting way Josh Madson’s observations in his lecture/paper regarding a nation/culture having foundational narratives and/or sacred “swords” which reinforce “sacred” violence narratives.

    I am grateful that Richard Bushman and Patrick Mason and others put this conference together. The exchange of ideas must begin somewhere. I was disappointed that Elder Wickham did not attend any of the lectures—but only spoke. However, the q & a that followed his speech was priceless.

    We need more “mormongandhis” in our faith like yourself—even if it is a voice in a internet wilderness.

  3. mormongandhi says:

    Ron,

    Thank you for that. I am also extremely grateful that Bushman and Mason put this conference together. The result is amazing. Just the fact that this was filmed and now posted on the net makes this conference a huge contribution to “mormon perspectives on war and peace” – and not the least, as one of the attendees said: LDS perspectives on violent and nonviolent action.

    In a follow up to Elder Wickham’s thoughts on the video, I wrote the following few paragraphs:

    The only link that one can make between Jesus and soldiers is, to be honest, not a pretty one. This is a very well-known passage of scripture and perhaps also an easily overlooked fact: those who tortured Jesus were soldiers. The soldiers stripped him naked and put a scarlet robe on him, they platted a crown of thorns on his head; and they bowed their knee before him and mocked him, saying Hail, King of the Jews. They spit on him and hit him in the head. And after they had mocked him, they led him away to crucify him. They parted his garments, and then sat down and watched him die on the cross and set over his head his accusation: This is Jesus the King of the Jews.

    Why would Jesus teach his sons and daughters in the last days that we ought to be soldiers, soldiers who, by profession, mocked him, tortured him and crucified him, and for whom he pleaded unto the Father “forgive them, Father – for they know not what they are doing”. So one can easily conclude: Jesus was not a soldier. On the contrary, I believe that anyone who wears the uniform of a soldier today and still confesses to have Jesus as a role model is mocking the God of peace (all over again).

    Were the soldiers who tortured the Lamb of God not only doing their duty, and in that case, also being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates? Were they not doing the right thing: what they owed to their gods by protecting the powers that be? They crowned Jesus as king, but Jesus had previously shown that he did not want to be king: he had fled the multitude whom he had fed with loaves of bread, because they were planning to take him by force and crown him King. Neither in front of Pilate did he say that he was a king, in the contrary, he said: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence”.

    Ron, this begs a theological question related to DC 98: is the “mormon” kingdom of god on earth too much created and built in the likeness of kingdoms of this world? Did we not at some point crown Joseph Smith King? But Jesus said: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

    Another mormongandhi article of interest to this topic is “Mormon Masculinity – a Soldier for Jesus”, where I make the link between the LDS Seminary video “the Whole Armor of God” and our vision of empire-building (instead of peacebuilding)…: http://mormongandhi.com/a-house-of-fasting/mormon-masculinity-a-soldier-for-jesus/

    • Ron Madson says:

      Mormongandhi,

      Just read your article linked above. It rings true, and very insightful. This is what Josh Madson was expressing when he discussed the “sword of Laban” as becoming a symbol of Nephite culture.

      You raise a very good question as to whether the “mormon kingdom” is taking on the likeness of the kingdoms of this world. My answer is that we clearly have. Mormon 8 and 3 Nephi 16 are not there for window dressing but as a warning specifically to the “Holy Church of God” in the last days. I will take it further. The way I approach the church is that I differentiate it from the “Kingdom.” In fact I see three entities that overlap but are distinct: There is the church’s 501 (3) (c) corporation which has its’ own internal rules and agenda. It strives to protect itself and frankly, acts and operates like any business model; then there is the “Church” which is an institution that has certain stated goals, but primarily it exists as a means to and end and not the end in and of itself (although most in our faith relate to it as if it were). It should exist to produce “kingdom of God” like people individually and collectively; then there is the Kingdom of God and I do not conflate the Corporate church nor the “Church” with the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God that Jesus of Nazareth described consists of individuals who have attributes in order to be a part of it—if one follows His teachings and in particular the Sermon on the Mount then one is part of the Kingdom of God—if one does not practice and live those attributes then one is not part of the Kingdom of God no matter the layers of authority, rule keeping or pride in some “correct” doctrinal creed, etc. One either emulates Jesus of Nazareth or one does not. That is why I see the Kingdom as much more universal. It is the gathering of those from “north, south, east, west” and from all walks of life, religions and creeds in the last days for “more are the children of the desolate then the married wife” in that final kingdom. Even Jesus told those with proper authority in his time that “these publicans, sinners, losers that you have pointed your finger of scorn at will “enter the kingdom of God” before you will.

      Our Mormon church is a wonderful church that teaches truth, light, and assists us to become more and more like Jesus—but it has IMO taken upon itself incrementally the ways of this world. In my opinion we are as benighted on the “war and peace” issues as we once were on the slavery/race issues. We once voted in slavery when we became a Utah territory, and we practiced institutionalized racism for decades but we finally repented (well in part–we have yet to confess publicly) as to the race issue –and eventually, in my opinion, if we want to as a church to become more and more like the Kingdom of God then we will need to actually repent of our “Constantine shift” wherein we have syncretized our allegiance with the nation state and in so doing rejected Jesus’s Covenant of Peace found within our own sacred scriptures.

      Ideally such changes would come from the top down, but they rarely do. Rather it is voice like yours and others that in time can effectuate change to the point that the Corporate church together with the Church finally (if it is true and living) fulfills the measure of its creation. If it does not then it goes the way of all churches (see 3 Nephi 16). The choice is ours.

      • mormongandhi says:

        Ron said: “This is what Josh Madson was expressing when he discussed the “sword of Laban” as becoming a symbol of Nephite culture”.

        When I was explaining this concept to my brother yesterday night, it occurred to me that what Joseph Smith found buried on the Hill Cumorah was what is normally left at a crime scene: the murder weapon (the Sword of Laban) and evidence that a crime had been committed (the Golden Plates). So, crying from the dust is a testimony from those who fell victim of the Sword of Laban, a weapon of foundational murder responsible for both the establishment and the ultimate demise of the Nephite nation.

      • Ron Madson says:

        I will never think of that Hill Cumorah cache the same. Brilliant observation!

  4. Jose says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for these things.

    I find several of the comments by Wickham troubling, specifically linking Moroni to soldiers and a soldiers duty (and how that enhanced their prophetic calling), and the comment on the Council wherein soldiers moral duties are abdicated in service of the nation. I find it odd that we believe “man will punished for his own sins” and yet openly declare that there are times – some of which are significant lengths of time and include significant actions – when those sins are wiped clean simply by serving a nation.

    It’s a mad, mad world.

    • Ron Madson says:

      Well said! I had not considered how we make clear that we are individually responsible our own moral agency unless it involves allegiance to our host nation. How very incongruous!

  5. Jose says:

    P.S.

    Ron: where can I find both yours and Josh’s actual papers to read and digest in their entirety?

    • Ron Madson says:

      I am not an administrator of this web site, but I will see if they can be linked somehow to this web site as part of a reference library to the Mormon Worker.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    Ron,

    First Nephi 14:10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

    As you said, the Kingdom of God cuts across denominations (including ours), as does the kingdom of the devil.

    • mormongandhi says:

      Forest,

      I like your use of 1 Nephi 14:10, as the Church of the Lamb of God to me represents the peaceable followers of Christ that Moroni speaks of in chapter 7:3-4 “Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men”.

      Even St. Augustine said the following with regards to the Lamb of God symbolism: “Why a lamb in his passion? For he underwent death with being guilty of any inequity. Why a lion in his resurrection? For in being slain, he slew death.” Nonviolence at its best!

    • Ron Madson says:

      Perfect! Had not thought of that scripture but I see it exactly as you see it —that interpretation is the only one that makes sense to me personally. thanks

  7. James says:

    One of my big questions is how does one determine what is, when spoken from the pulpit, actually doctrine of the church and what is personal opinion? How do we determine what, of all that has been said of war and peace, is truth and what is not? And how do we avoid cherry picking from doctrine according to our own ideology? How do others move forward with such issues?

    • Ron Madson says:

      James…great question.

      There are the words of Christ, the words of a church and the words of man/personal opinion. Those are each three different voices that may or may not intersect. For example, President Hinckley made it perfectly clear in April of 2003 that “his loyalties” as to our nation and his thoughts as to whether to sustain the wars of our nation were his “personal opinions.” And that we had the right to dissent. The church after Elder Nelson’s talk on Section 98 had a statement that the words of Elder Nelson was misinterpreted and should not be applied to our current wars. Sometimes those speaking on behalf of the church are not speaking the words of Christ as time has shown us. So in the end we each have, in my opinion, the personal responsibility to seek the spirit and judge the words ourselves and in the end we govern ourselves. How do we judge? I think in Second Nephi the key is given:

      “5For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will ashow unto you all things what ye should do.

      6Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall amanifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.”

      The take away in this passage is that the “doctrine of Christ” is that we shall primarily observe Jesus’ words and His example and filter all other scripture, conference address, policies, and statements through that prism. For example, if the “church” says that we must do something or believe something then we have the God given, inalienable right and privilege of testing it not only by the spirit but by reason. We are a church governed by “common consent” and righteous, confident leaders who emulate Christ invite us to test all things and are not threatened by empowering us in doing so.

      So as Josh Madson pointed out so well in his Claremont address posted in the post before mine, the actual words of Christ and His example override any other voices or opinions–

  8. tariq says:

    Ron and Josh,
    Great talks. Both of you deepen my understanding of the Gospel.

  9. Forest Simmons says:

    With regard to Bro. Wickham’s opinion that soldiers following orders need not worry about the consequences:

    I assume he applies that to the soldiers of our official enemies, too. Thus for centuries we have had Christians shooting at each other in the line of duty.

    It must make Satan brag that although he was the supposed loser in the pre-earth war for leadership, he now has the putative winners shooting each other at his command.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand. In this sense Bro. Wickham’s doctrine is inherently self-contradictory: how can a true doctrine requires A to kill B while requiring B to kill A, at the same time?

  10. Ron Madson says:

    Forest—exactly!
    Elder Wickham expressed his personal opinion. He, Elder Robert Oaks, and Elder Packer expressed essentially the same opinion in the church DVD called “Let Not your Heart be Troubled.” President Hinckley also made it clear that it was his “personal loyalty/opinion” when he stated that we have a duty to sustain our respective governments and their wars per 12th Article of Faith. So what do we have? A whole lot of “personal opinions” but in a faith that considers even personal opinions of church leaders as mandates thundered down from Mt. Sinai, they should know that even their “opinions” would be taken as written in stone by the finger of God by adoring members. They/we have cultivated what I consider a form of personality worship/cult where we take our cues from our leaders from something as small as whether to wear “two earrings” or one per ear to life and death issues such as nation to nation wars—thus per the 14 Fundamentals taught last conference even the words of Christ so clear in Section 98 are subjugated (worse rejected) in favor of the latest “personal opinion” of President of the Church (see #2 of the Fourteen Fundamentals which states: “The words of a living prophet are more important then the standard works.”)

    My question is whether Section 98 in any real way informs us as a church body in our approach to any war/conflict? I know we cherry pick phrases like “we are for peace” and “we don’t like war”—like duuuhh! Who isn’t of that mind? But if the doctrine is not to be applied to “current hostilities’ then I suggest we remove it from our canon of scriptures—we don’t need the window dressing nor the risk of making any of us uncomfortable when engaged in our latest crusade.

    I take one exception to your comment, Forrest. We are not divided but rather we are united in pronouncement from our church leaders that we have an overriding duty to support our nation/state no matter how evil and for this we have all been given essentially a blanket “War Indulgence” circa 1095 Pope Urban II.

    Fortunately, per our standard works we retain our sovereign will/conscience and we govern ourselves. And no virtuous, humble leader even a president of our church would ever state: “I will never lead you astray.” That would be the height of arrogance and outright false doctrine, in my opinion. Rather a confident leader would invite us to test all things and seek our own confirmation. So in the final equation as to matters of life and death, I will seek personal revelation on such matters and judge for myself and invite anyone else to do the same.

    • Forest Simmons says:

      Thanks for your reply. I entirely agree with you, and it grieves me to no end to think that church members are so united in agreement that our duty requires us to kill each other when leaders of our nations of residence declare war against each other. This is the division I was referring to, i.e. the inevitable division along national lines mandated by our church leaders (if we follow their interpretation of the 12th article of faith).

      So we have a paradox; unity in following our leaders’ counsel inevitably divides us during international conflict.

  11. Gregory VanWagenen says:

    Just wanted to thank you for posting these. You did a great job and it was a pleasure to watch.

    • Ron Madson says:

      Great to hear from you! Always a treat to hear from you—one of my favorite past posters…..I/we welcome any of your contributions–anytime. Hope all is well for you and your family….

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  14. Joy says:

    Question for Ron. You claim that Condaleeza Rice, speaking at BYU, justified the use of torture to which the audience responded with loud applause. That event would seem to have grave implications. Since the address was not recorded, do you have verification for the incident?

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