December 11, 2008 by theradicalmormon
Whenever I have a fresh audience, I post this piece I wrote back in 2003 after the start of the Iraq war. There’s a lot of good food for thought on the topic of what sort of attitude we should take toward war as disciples of Jesus Christ. Without further ado:
There once was a country that was a danger to it’s neighboring nations. It would constantly attack the nation next door unprovoked. It had a horrible record of human rights abuses. The king of the nation would slaughter his own servants unjustly when they did not do their jobs satisfactorily. The closest nation bordering it was a relatively more righteous nation. They were founded on principles of Christianity and had a sense of moral justice. The sentiment among many in that nation was to go up against their horrible neighbor and destroy them up out of the land, and rightly did they feel so. And yet, there were four young men who had a different idea. They thought they ought to try their hand first at preaching to the unrighteous nation so that they could save a few souls instead of sending them to hell. This is the true story of the sons of Mosiah and you know the rest of the story (1). So let me pose this question to you: What would Ammon have done if he were the President of the USA in dealing with the Iraq situation or the Yugoslavia situation? Before you answer that, let’s go on.
Why was it not right for the Nephites to go up and destroy the Lamanites out of the land? In 1976, in his bicentennial address to the Church, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke on this subject:
“The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return. But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel ships, planes, missiles, fortifications and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus in the manner of Satan counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45.)
“We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7) or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chronicles 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (vs 17).
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,” for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon” (D&C 64:24)”. (2)
Is this teaching not applicable to us anymore? Have we forgotten all that the prophets have taught us about loving our enemies? Of all our prophets, Brigham Young has been one of the most vocal on the issue of how to deal with ones enemies. He said, “Never try to destroy a man. It is our mission to save the people, not to destroy them. The least, the most inferior spirit now upon the earth, in our capacity, is worth worlds.” (3) It is easy for us to forget that even the most heinous of human rights abusers fit into this category.
“Let our worst wish toward our worst enemies be that we may see the time when they will be obliged to do right,” says Pres. Young, “I love my friends, and as for my enemies, I pray for them daily; and, if they do not believe I would do them good, let them call at my house, when they are hungry, and I will feed them.” In another place, “[Our religion] does not send a portion of the people to howl in torment for ever and ever, but it reaches after the last son and daughter of Adam and Eve, and will pluck them from the prison, unlock the doors, and burst the bonds and bring forth every soul who will receive salvation… Had we the power, would we hold the wicked down and whip them? No; for, except in self-defense, it is our duty to plead with them and offer them the terms of life and salvation–to give them all the opportunity God has designed them to have.” (4) This is the brand of compassion that the Lord requires us to have upon our enemies, for they are our brothers and sisters who are miserable in their sins. Likewise, Joseph Smith commented on his enemies, “I have been afraid to ask God to kill my enemies, lest some of them should, peradventure, repent.”(5)
There is the thought that we must harm our enemy before he harms us, the so-called doctrine of pre-emption that our nation has embraced. Can we by the greatest stretch of the imagination, imagine that this is righteousness before the Lord? Said Pres. Young, “They can do us no harm–they can do nothing against the truth. The Lord will make the wicked and ungodly and their acts accomplish his design.”(6) That’s dangerous, we might say, what if one of their weapons of mass destruction gets to us? Do we need to fear thusly? Pres. Young says, “As the Lord live[s], if this people will be faithful in the performance of every duty, they will never come upon a field of battle to fight their enemies.”(6)
So, how then do we get justice against our enemies? Answers Pres. Young, “How easy it is for the Almighty to direct the steps of our enemies, until they fall off the precipice and are dashed in pieces, without the efforts of his servants.”(7) Says the Lord, “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.”(8) Commenting on this scripture, Pres. Young said, “It is written that the Lord will destroy the wicked, and He has done so by bringing about circumstances to cause them to destroy themselves.”(9) There is a spirit that stirs up men to war one with another, said Pres. Young, “There is a spirit that prompts the nations to prepare for war, desolation, and bloodshed–to waste each other away. Do they realize it? No.”(10) The Lord taught thru Moses the way of safety and security, “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments,… I will give peace in the land,… neither shall the sword go through your land.”(11) So why are our enemies allowed to exist? What is the purpose of the Lord in not destroying these people off of the earth since he has the power to do it? Again, Pres. Young taught, “We have received enough to understand that the wicked are a rod in the hands of God to chasten his children. If you do not [understand that], it is time that you had learned it, for it is even so; if we are chastened, it is for a purpose… But were we ever destroyed? No, neither will God permit us to be, so long as we are desirous of being his servants, and of doing the work given us to do.”(12) The Lord explained to Nephi right from the get-go what purpose the Lamanites as enemies of the Nephites would serve, “And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.”(13) In another place Nephi repeats this teaching, “And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.”(14)
Here the Lord also gives us the attitude we should be brought into because of our enemies. Have we learned this lesson? The ancient Nephites learned it at one point. After the Lamanites and Amlicites had attacked the Nephites mercilessly and caused a war that brought to pass the death of tens of thousands in one year, the Nephites sentiments were thus, “And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty.”(15) Or do we react as the ancient Nephites did when they were wicked as is evident here in this exchange between Mormon and the Lord, “And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.”(16) Have we been awakened to a remembrance of our duty by the events of 9/11? Let every soul as him/herself that question, while keeping in mind the words of the Lord which say, “Behold what the scripture says–man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay.”(17) What is it then that causes us to desire to go to war with an enemy? As usual, Pres. Young spoke with great wisdom on the subject saying, “Just as soon as our eyes are turned away from watching ourselves, to see whether we do right, we begin to see faults in our neighbors; this is the great difficulty, and our minds become more and more blinded until we become entirely darkened… The main difficulty in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied is, they are not satisfied with themselves… If you want a revolution go to work to improve yourselves and give your minds something to act upon instead of looking at the faults of others… But, says one, ‘I want to fight.’ Do all such persons know that they are not right? If they will examine their hearts, they will find a wicked anger and a malice there; and they cannot get into the kingdom of God with those feelings.”(18) In fact, Pres. Young taught that it is this warmongering attitude that gets the wicked destroyed in the end, “No man or people possessing wisdom will give vent to wrath, for that is calculated to weaken, to destroy, to blot out of existence. When the Supreme Ruler of the universe wishes to destroy a nation, he takes away their wisdom… and they are filled with wrath: they give way to their anger, and thus lay the foundation of their own destruction.”(19) What is the current level of wisdom in our nation? The Lord commented on our wisdom when He said: “And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priest crafts, and whoredome, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my Gospel from among them.”(20) Moroni, adding to this said, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But Behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.”(21)
If a nation wages an unjust war then, what is the sin they commit? Says Pres. Young, “Our traditions have been such that we are not apt to look upon war between tow nations as murder… Does it justify the slaying of men, women and children that otherwise would have remained at home in peace, because a great army is doing the work? No: the guilty will be damned for it.”(22)
One of the things Pres. Kimball listed as a problem was the committing of, “vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel ships, planes, missiles, fortifications and depend on them for protection and deliverance.”(2) Why is it wrong to build up our army into a mighty fighting machine? Says Pres. Young, “A large share of the ingenuity of the world is taxed to invent weapons of war. What a set of fools!”(23) In another place the prophet said, “Much of the skill, ingenuity, and ability of the Christian nations are now devoted to manufacturing instruments of death. May we be saved from the effects of them! As I often tell you, if we are faithful, the Lord will fight our battles much better than we can ourselves.”(24) Here, Pres. Young expresses a desire to be saved from the effects of an arms buildup, and doesn’t seem to be afraid of the consequences of not being ready for an attack from another country, and why is he afraid of an arms buildup? Pres. Young answers, “When the nations have for years turned much of their attention to manufacturing instruments of death, they have sooner or later used those instruments. Our nation, England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and other nations have for years exercised their inventive skill, and expended much means in inventing and fabricating instruments of death… From the authority of all history, the deadly weapons now stored up and being manufactured will be used until the people are wasted away, and there is no help for it. The spirit of revolution goes on through the nations: it never goes back.”(25) How soon do we forget that the First Presidency itself has made an official statement on the buildup of weapons that our country is engaged in saying, “We repeat our warnings against the terrifying arms race in which the nations of the earth are presently engaged. We deplore in particular the building of vast arsenals of nuclear weaponry.”(26)
J. Reuben Clark was a great proponent of peace and from his position in government as a legal aid to the Dept. of State, and Ambassador to Mexico, and from his position in the Church as an apostle of Christ and as a member of the First Presidency, he often spoke of it. On the issue of developing weapons he said, “Thus we in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds. We do it not only shamelessly, but with a boast. God will not forgive us of this. If we are to avoid extermination, if the world is not to be wiped out, we must find some way to curb the fiendish ingenuity of men who have apparently not fear of God, man or the devil, and who are willing to plot and plan and invent instrumentalities that will wipe out all the flesh of the earth… [We] Americans wiped out hundreds of thousands of civilian population with the atom bomb in Japan… [Not] only did the people of the United States not rise up in protest against this savagery, not only did it not shock us to read of this wholesale destruction of men, women, and children, and cripples… it actually drew from the nation at large a general approval of this fiendish butchery.”(27) So what of all of the wars of old? Was not the Lord the author of much bloodshed and war in days of old? The answer is yes, but war sanctioned by God was shaped within very strict confines. The Lord himself gives us the law that he gave to the nations of old as to how to govern themselves with relation to war. He said, “And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord; Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people. And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.”(28) Therefore, as the story is told in Alma 43:23-24, the war of self-defense that the Nephites fought against the Lamanites was sanctioned by the Lord as Moroni consulted the prophet Alma on how to proceed with the battle. Pres. Clark commented on wars of self-defense, effectively offering a clause for a nation that is not righteous enough to take the counsel of a prophet of God, saying, “to be justified in going to war in self-defense, a nation must be foreclosed from all other alternatives.”(29)
The main statement on war that the Lord makes to us in the scriptures is thus stated, “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children.”(30) Pres. Young makes the relationship between war and God and religion thusly, “Is there war in our religion? No, neither war not blood-shed… Of one thing I am sure: God never institutes war; God is not the author of confusion or of war; they are the results of the acts of the children of men. Confusion and war necessarily come as the results of the foolish acts and policy of men; but they do not come because God desires they should come… War is instigated by wickedness–it is the consequence of a nation’s sin.”(31) Our church leaders have often commented on how to bring peace to the world. Dallin H. Oaks said, “The Savior and his Apostles had no program for world peace other than individual righteousness. They mounted no opposition to the rule of Rome or to the regime of its’ local tyrants. They preached individual righteousness and taught that the children of God should love their enemies (see Matt. 5:44) and ‘live peaceably with all men.’ (Rom. 12:18.”(32) Joseph F. Smith said, “There is only one thing that can bring peace into the world. It is the adoption of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, obeyed and practiced by rulers and people alike.”(33)
Can we not force the human rights abusing nations to embrace principles of peace and democracy? Again, Pres. Clark, “The love of liberty is a fairly universal passion of humanity when free to express itself. But liberty was never implanted in the hearts of a people from the point of a bayonet, nor will it ever be from the nose of an air bomb. Can we keep a straight face and say that bombers and occupying armies are to bring subjection without fear,–that they will give freedom from fear through fear?”(34) It was pres. Clark’s opinion that the USA shouldn’t be involved violently in solving disputes between other nations. “Moral force is far more potent than physical force in international relations. I believe that America should again turn to the promotion of peaceful adjustment of international disputes.”(35)
At his farewell speech to the American Public, one of our greatest military men and the outgoing President of the United States at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower thought it important to give this warning to the people, “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”(36) Why would a general and warrior give such a warning? Pres. Clark imparted generously of his wisdom on the subject saying, “Furthermore, I regret to say, indeed I am almost ashamed to say, that at the moment, our military branches seem to dominate Congress, and under the circumstances, we may assume they are in sufficient control of our foreign relations to be able to set the international scene. To us who do not know, it looks clear that we are today getting the same sort of forebodings that preceded the last war. We are not justified in doubting, on the facts we have, that we of the United States are, for the first time in our history, under a real threat from our military arm, and that if the plans of the militarists carry, we shall become as thoroughly militarized as was Germany at her best, or worst. Certain it is we are being generously dosed with that sovereign narcotic, which designing militarists have in the past always administered to their peoples, the doctrine that to ensure peace we must maintain a great army and gigantic armaments. But this ignores, indeed conceals, the unvarying historical fact that big armies have always brought, not peace, but war which has ended in a hate that in due course brings another war.”(37)
That brings us to our present position. What is the Church’s current position on the war that we pursue? Pres. Hinckley spoke on the issue during the April 2003 General Conference and directed us as follows, “We can give our opinions on the merits of the situation as we see it, but never let us become a party to words or works or evil concerning our brothers and sisters in various nations on one side or the other.”(38) This was the extent of direction to the saints at that time on how we should behave in relation to the issue of war. He did give his own personal opinion that we should be mindful of protecting our liberty as the armies of Moroni did, which principal, “governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.”(38) His personal opinion is well noted, but he did not at that time give us direction from the Lord as to what opinion we should carry in relation to the war. In this case, my personal inclination was to suppose the previous First Presidency statement on war to be the default counsel for us to look to. This statement was made in the middle of World War II, a war that most people would consider a “just war.” It includes this: “the Church is and must be against war… It cannot regard war as a righteous means of settling international disputes; these could and should be settled–the nations agreeing–by peaceful negotiation and adjustment.”
We have heard many words of wisdom today. It would behoove us to consider these words before we consider how we shall think of the wars that our nation pursues. It is my belief that all that the scriptures say and the prophets have said are true, and that we would do well to be guided by them. As John wrote, “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”(40) It is my belief like Mormon of old, that if we, “perish it will be like unto the Jaredites, because of the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge.”(41)
Now I leave you with the wisdom of Pres. Clark: “The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill…’ is binding upon every one of God’s children. It speaks to them as individuals; it commands them as associated together in nations… it embraces the mass slaughter of war… It forecast the Master’s law of love and forgiveness… To Peter, striking off with his sword the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant, at the moment of the Savior’s arrest, Jesus said: ‘They that take the sword shall perish with the sword,’ and lastly, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ which James called the Royal Law, which Jesus declared was one of the two commandments upon which hung all the law and the prophets.”(42)
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. Alma 17-26
2. President Kimball, Ensign, June 1976. “The False Gods We Worship.”
3. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 207-208.
4. Ibid 189, 208-9, 221-2
5. Ibid 254-5.
6. Ibid 189-90
7. Ibid 189-90
8. Mormon 4:5
9. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 191.
10. Ibid 214.
11. Leviticus 26:3,6
12. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 190.
13. I Nephi 2:24
14. II Nephi 5:25
15. Alma 4:3
16. Mormon 3:14-5
17. Mormon 8:20
18. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 206-9.
19. Ibid 204.
20. III Nephi 16:10.
21. Mormon 8:35-6.
22. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 214.
23. Ibid 210-1.
24. Ibid 210-1.
25. Ibid 214.
26. The First Presidency, “Statement of the First Presidency on Basing of the MX Missile,” Church News, 9 May 1981, 2.
27. J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, 5 October 1946, 89.
28. D&C 98:33-8.
29. J. Reuben Clark, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1550.
30. D&C 98:16.
31. Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 212-3.
32. Dallin Oaks, Ensign, May 1990, 71.
33. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, Sept. 1914, pp. 1074-5.
34. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Law and International Order by Edwin Brown Firmage and Christopher L. Blakesley, BYU Studies, vol. 13 (1972-3), Number 3 – Spring 1973, 305.
35. J. Reuben Clark, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1550.
36. Public Papers of the Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960, p. 1035-40.
37. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Law and International Order by Edwin Brown Firmage and Christopher L. Blakesley, BYU Studies, vol. 13 (1972-3), Number 3 – Spring 1973, 306.
38. Pres. Hinckley, April 2003 General Conference.
39. “Message of the First Presidency to the Members of the Church,” Conference Report, 5 April 1942, 94; also in Improvement Era 45 (May 1942): 348. (Mormons and Foreign Policy by Ray C. Hillam and David M. Andrews, BYU Studies, vol. 25 (1985), Number 1 – Winter 1985).
40. Revelation 13:10.
41. Moroni 9:23.
42. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Law and International Order by Edwin Brown Firmage and Christopher L. Blakesley, BYU Studies, vol. 13 (1972-3), Number 3 – Spring 1973, 313.