Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Saints Differ

Recently a decision was made in a stake in my state not to participate in a particular service opportunity. I am not privy to the reasons why, but my best, most understanding guess is that the stake president felt that the nature of the service, though it was compassionate, was too closely related to a topic that is currently warmly debated by the two major political parties, and that, though members of the stake could freely volunteer to serve on their own, having that service sponsored by the stake would create antipathy and division among church members who held opposing political positions. Basically the stake president had a good finger on the spiritual pulse of his stake.
In other words, they, like many of us, had not, as a group, learned the lesson of the people of Ammon and the Nephites.

We often discuss the heroic nature of the “sons of Helaman”, young sons of Ammon's people, who, not bound by their parents' oath of non-violence and full of faith in God, went to war alongside their Nephite brothers to defend their homes and families from annihilation. We don't often stop to consider the geopolitical state of the place where they and the Nephites were living. Basically, there were two groups of people living in proximity under one government there, one group convinced that they should lay down their lives rather than take up weapons to fight, the other, convinced that they had a moral obligation to fight against aggressors.

When the Lamanites began to attack and kill Ammon's people some of them were, naturally, sorely tempted to set aside their moral convictions and religious commitment to non-violence. It would have been easy for their neighbors, the Nephites, to encourage them to do so and to resent their position of non-violence when they were all threatened by the Lamanite armies. And those of Ammon's people who were not inclined to pick up their weapons of war, but were determined to maintain their standard of non-violence could easily have looked down upon the Nephites who chose to fight back, seeing the Nephite belief as less noble or inspired than theirs.

However, remarkably, these two groups, ones we might consider political opposites in their positions when it came to matters of military aggression, did not despise, argue with or contest with each other. Instead of becoming divided by their differing political opinions, they supported each other in their respective rights to act according to their moral positions. The people of Ammon were supportive (and likely also grateful) for the protection of the Nephites who volunteered to fight off the Lamanites who were attacking them. It would have been a natural human response to be, instead, simultaneously dismissive of the Nephites' position that military might is a necessary skill to learn, perfect and use. It would have been easy for them to insist, therefore, that their sons choose non-violent response as well. But they did not. They allowed their sons to make their own choices.   Remarkably, the Nephite position was similarly respectful. They actually encouraged the people of Ammon who had made a sacred commitment to non-violence to maintain that commitment while, at the same time, intending to do whatever was necessary to fight of the Lamanites who sought to destroy them both. They respected the people of Ammon's moral response to a terrifying situation even while they felt a moral responsibility to respond in a way that was directly the opposite.

Here were two politically opposing views in a desperate time, each held by people who understood that they were divinely tied to each other by their faith in God. The result of that understanding was not only eventual victory over the aggressors (at a terrible cost, as is often the case), but even, perhaps more profound, a sense of unity of brotherhood and respect for freedom to respond according to conscience had played out between those two groups and had transcended their widely differing and opposite personal responses to a political crisis. What could have created division, resentment and discord, instead created mutual respect for differing positions and willingness to honestly respect and coordinate with each other's choices of how to respond.

It is interesting to contemplate just how much that amazing phenomenon may have played into the successes in the chapters that followed both during the subsequent war, and also in the peace between them in the years that followed.

I whole heartedly believe that “If ye are not one, ye are not mine”. And I believe that that doesn't mean that we must all see eye to eye or agree on issues. I believe that the story of the people of Ammon and their neighboring Nephites teaches that  we can love and respect each other enough to work respectfully, unitedly and for the common good, each in a way that he or she feels called by God to do, in spite of how different our calls to action may be, or how widely our political and social positions differ.

It is hard to do, but I believe that peaceable, mutual respect in spite of glaring, seemingly insurmountable differences of deeply held opinions about what course of action to personally take is one of the keys to Zion.

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