Why I am a liberal Mormon Part Three
I have spoken about the value of intelligence and free speech in the Mormon tradition. These are neither Liberal nor conservative values per say, but ones identified with the more traditionally liberal view that encourages unbridled and unrestricted free speech as well as a constant seeking for knowledge even in unexpected sources and places. As I am well aware from my internship at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the left wing in America today is as prone to restrict free speech in the form of political correctness and hate speech restrictions. I now want to move on to a position that is more fully a “leftist” position that I hold and show how fully the Mormon religious values encompass them. I am a conscientious objector. I strongly believe that for myself personally I would rather sacrifice my life than be used to kill or be culpable for the death of another individual.
Pacifism is a well defined position among many Christian groups such as the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These groups base their positions on the words of Christ in which he admonishes to turn the other cheek and to love one’s enemies. While Mormons are not traditionally Pacifist, it is ironic that the Book of Mormon is the only major scripture of a world religion that actually reveals an example of pacifism being held as the highest virtue and the power of a stance of civil disobedience against foes ala the actions of Ghandi or Martin Luther King.
In the book of Alma we find a group of Lamanites that becomes converted and aggrieved to the depth of their soul in regard to their previous wrongdoings. They therefore pledged to never bear arms even at pains of death These scriptures are worth quoting extensively
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.
21 Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.
22 And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.
23 Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword—
24 Now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done.
25 And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.
26 And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.
27 And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.
What a beautiful story that minorities of the world can learn so much from! Have you ever heard of a more profound example of laying down the sword and being willing to die in order to establish peace? I feel like this chapter of Alma could be a profound influnce on movements world over. Imagine if thousands of Palestinians stood in front of Israeli tanks throughout the west bank and refused to move or to be moved? What kind of world opinion would this action engender? The beautiful and awe inspiring result of this action was the massive conversion of conscience among a group of hostile people. Such peace loving stirs the heart of even the most intransient of foes…
Yet, this story in the Book of Mormon is not the only profound example of pacifism and a focus on peace in the early Church History. The tumult in Missouri which involved widespread persecution as well as mob violence such as tarring and feathering and the destruction of property and persons forced the Latter Day Saints to mobilize and to militarize. Yet, revelation received by Jospeh Smith strongly urged peace
D+C 98: 16 “ 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.”
The same section goes on to say that if enemies strike at one or even at ones family that is one bears it patiently they will be rewarded. The section says that one should bear patiently without retaliation three times. After the third time, one is permitted to respond but this revelation has a lovely caveat.
“30 And then if though wilt spare him, though shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.”
Thus, even when one is permitted to retaliate by the laws of god, abstaining and allowing ones foes to continue is a meritorious action deserving praise for multiple generations…
Along similar lines, love and respect for animals was encouraged as a first step to rid man of his violent urges. Joseph Smith cautioned the men at Zion’s Camp as they were about to kill several snakes
“When will the Lion lie down with the Lamb and the venom of the Serpant cease, while man seeks to destroy and wate the flesh of beasts, waging continuing war against reptiles, let man first get rid of his destructive propensities and then we may look for a change in the serpants’ disposition.”
Thus, respect for the integrity of life was to be a first principle leading to a transformation in the nature of things in the world.
This is ultimately a progressive world view that I fully embrace. We are imperfect beings and nations and so should not wield our weapons as if they are tools of force. We should forebare and endure opposition and even then if we respond peacefully it is a blessing to us. Likewise, respect for the integrity for the environment and the world around us is a first step towards a more respectful and peaceful overall world. Good stewards do not engage in needless and mindless warfare or fighting. Fundamentally we are called to be good stewards of the precious gifts of life we have been given and therefore to be an inspiration even unto those that seek to oppress us.