Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Prophet On War

As Memorial Day fast approaches, my mind has been focused more on war and what our position should be on it. Really, it's quite simple. The word of the Lord was recorded on the subject in 1833, now known as Section 98 of the Doctrine & Covenants. Among the things this revelation teaches us:

  • Anything that is constitutional law of the land is justifiable before the Lord. Anything more or less than this cometh of evil. (verses 4-7)
  • We must diligently seek after and uphold those honest and wise men who support these constitutional principles. Anyone who does less than this cometh of evil. (verse 10)
  • We should not fear our enemies. (verse 14)
  • We must renounce war and proclaim peace. (verse 16)
  • We will be rewarded if we bear violence directed towards us and our families patiently (as many as three times) and without seeking vengeance. (verses 23-31)
  • We must not go out into battle against anyone unless the Lord has commanded us to do so. (verse 33)
  • If anyone has declared war on us, we must lift a standard of peace unto them (as many as three times). (verses 34-38)
  • If our enemy has trespassed against us, we must forgive him as many times as he repents for his actions. We must also forgive him if he doesn't repent for his actions (as many as three times). (verses 39-46)
This is fairly straightforward. We may squabble over what kinds of offenses would count as far as the "three times" rule, but there should be no squabble over the principle being taught here--vengeance, violence, and war are all things to be avoided at pretty much all costs. And that's just when the enemy is the aggressor. If we're planning to invade someone else's homeland, then it's a big fat NO from the Lord unless He specifically commands otherwise. As far as I know, there have been no divine approbations for the recent overseas engagements of America.

Try telling that to Thomas Monson.

Pure Mormonism reader Isaac posted a link to a 1991 Deseret News article in which Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency, gushed about Mormons' support for the Persian Gulf War.

It's one thing for a church leader to be supportive of a war (we are, after all, entitled to our opinions and free agency); it's another thing completely for that leader to wantonly misrepresent the doctrine of his church.

The article, which illustrates the Mormons' impressive patriotism (USA! USA!), is an interview with Brother Monson, who makes sure that, as far as loyalty to his country is concerned, he will never be dubbed "Doubting Thomas."

Here are some of The Living Oracle's statements from the piece, followed by my commentary:

"In time of war or stress, we have no hesitancy in following the flag. You won't find any more patriotic group."
You hear that? "No hesitancy." It doesn't matter what "the flag" is doing, we will not hesitate to follow it. This is basically the Follow the Prophet doctrine morphed into another form--either way, such blind conformity is "slavery to the extreme." Such people "should not claim a rank among intelligent beings."

"Once the United Nations took its action and President Bush took his stand, we were behind our leader. That's all that was needed (Congress ratifying the U.N. action). Interestingly, in our church, it is assumed and understood that when the leadership of our nation lines up behind a particular policy in a crisis, we support and sustain it."
Monson can assume 'til the cows come home that Congress ratifying the U.N. action was all that was needed, but it was not. In fact, no war since World War II has been declared under the Constitution. Even if it was (and there is debate over whether the methods used by the U.S. to go to war since Korea can be considered constitutionally authorized or not), it wouldn't mean it should garner a priori support and sustaining by us as a church. We must first ask: does it meet the Lord's requirements set out in Section 98? Methinks not.

President Monson, a forthright, amiable man of 6-foot-3 with the air of a confident businessman--which he once was...
Okay, it's not a statement from Monson himself, but I had to include this line. I know there's no one I'd rather have leading my church than someone with the "air of a confident businessman." Bonus points if he actually was one!

"We're not just sheep that are going to roll over."
This reminds me a little bit of that verse in Luke 25* when Jesus said, "Thou shalt not be just sheep that roll over."

Oh no, wait, he said, "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39).

"You rarely find any Latter-day Saints in the role of conscientious objector. We don't believe in marches and protests and carrying placards."
There have been a lot of ridiculous statements made by general authorities over the years, but this one may take the cake. This is such a puerile, misguided mindset that I can't even imagine supporters of the war feeling comfortable echoing it. I don't care how staunchly I was committed to America's overseas excursions in the past, I would have never said I don't believe in protests. You have just as much right to oppose war as you do to support war, Latter-day Saint or not. This nation was founded on the principle of conscientious objecting; to say that "we" (quite a blanket statement) don't do or believe in such things is the height of ignorance.

He said the church encourages "grass-roots involvement" in democratic processes, but holds that needed changes can be brought about by working through the established system.
Upon what does he base this? Where in the scriptures does it advise against marches, protests, and carrying placards, actions that are all permitted by law? The only thing I can think of would be a truly twisted interpretation of the twelfth article of faith.

"If there's no disloyalty in the person, then no disloyalty in country. From childhood on, we're instilled to be loyal."
We should be loyal to our friends. We should be loyal to our families. Above all, we should be loyal to our God. But we are under no obligation to be loyal to our country, if we believe that country is doing that which is contrary to the Lord's will. Not to go all Reductio ad Hitlerum on y'all, but could you not see this exact quote being on page one of the Nazi handbook?

I suggest Monson and those who think like him should do a bit of reading--perhaps from the sagacious Hugh Nibley, who said, "Loyalty is one of the few words in existence about whose meaning dispute is virtually impossible. Everyone knows what loyalty is, and what a desirable, nay indispensable thing it is to the survival of any community. Like honor and chastity, it is strongest when least talked about, and thrives only in a climate of uncritical acceptance. A virtuous investigation of loyalty is like a noisy oration in praise of silence, and the appearance of loyalty order and loyalty a sign of lost confidence, a desperate groping in empty air for something which groping fingers only push farther out of reach."

May I add "loyalty sermonizing" to the list of those signs of lost confidence?

"We don't believe in people following blindly. They weigh things out . . . They're not just `yes men,' puppets on a string. They have free agency, accountable for their own actions, the right to choose." But they're also instilled with the obligation to serve common interests beyond their own. If a person questions a national course, "he can serve in some capacity that will suit his conscience and country together."
According to Brother Thomas, we have free agency and the right to choose, but if we believe our country is going the wrong way in its course, we must still serve that country in some way? Sounds like a false dilemma of choice to me.

And by the way, O Prophet, when you state that Congress approving a U.N. action is "all that's needed" to support a foreign engagement, that is the very definition of "people following blindly."

"You have to be careful what you ask a Mormon to do, he'll do it. They love the church and love the Lord."
Oh, us Mormons! Obedience isn't an issue with us! Guess it doesn't matter, though, what we are obedient to.

It is my prayer that on this day of memorial, we mourn with those that mourn, and remember those who have lost their lives in warfare. Yet may we also take a deeper look into our hearts, into the scriptures, and learn the truth concerning war. Not what Thomas Monson said in an interview in 1991. Not what Gordon Hinckley said in 2003 general conference. But what the Lord himself has said. Remember, we are commanded to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despitefully use and persecute us. I know it's much easier to follow the precepts of men, which almost always involve retribution, but we've been asked to live the Higher Law. It's time to follow Christ.


*Luke 25 is a fictional book composed of things one would think Christ actually said if one listened solely to the leaders of the LDS Church. When I accrue enough verses from Luke 25, I intend on publishing it in a blog post. NEW SCRIPTURE IS ON THE WAY, PEOPLE!


  1. Outstanding! I hope every member of the Church reads and shares this excellent piece.

    Monson's words in this interview are are despicable and it should be clear by these words that he is unfamiliar with the gospel of Christ.

    1. Thanks Rock! I really appreciate your support.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about our Mormon obsession with followership. I suppose it is tied to our belief in Zion- perfect unity.

    I think it is supportable that Mormons just get completely carried away with Zion as group-think. I think the concept of Zion itself has its redemption in a much more complex definition of "of one mind and one heart" - or that the mind and heart of the Zioner is that we should develop our individual gifts and insights and contribute them to the chaos of creation inside a spiritually growing (evolving) society. I suppose we Mormons got off on the wrong track when we decided that Zionism *must* mean having only one set of thinking (mirroring the prophet) which is why we had such colorful years in 1866-69. Today we would laugh at the idea of the church leadership attempting to make everyone think the same or threaten to abscond with the priesthood into the wilderness. I hope we re-think our Zion-concept soon because this current group-think obsession is not good for us and certainly not good for our national discourse on violence.

  3. ugh. morning fingers -- 1856 to 1859 (mormon reformation)

  4. Luke 25, awesome! Totally looing forward to that.

    Please remember though that charity actually really does never fail. (Maybe that can go in Luke 25).

    1. I agree Shawn. Charity's a great topic to write about in fact. So if it doesn't show up in Luke 25, expect at least a post about it on here soon...

  5. The Church has branches in 176 countries, so I suppose a more accurate statement would have been, "In time of war or stress, we have no hesitancy in following the flags." When "the leadership of our nation" decides on a policy of dispossessing an ethnic group of its property "we" will obviously "support and sustain it." Or if the policy in a time of crisis turns out to be building ovens and shoving innocent people into them, well, I guess "we" will all have to do our part to support and sustain the decision of our leaders. It all makes sense now.

    1. Excellent point, Isaac. Thanks, by the way, for providing that link on Rock's blog. I had no clue Monson had ever been his (and his church's, apparently) beliefs on war.

  6. Well done! Thanks for the writeup. Its amazing how open, and dare i say evil, these things can be.

  7. Where do you live? I have a fantastic story along these lines that I'd love to tell you, but I don't want to put it into print. We should chat.

    1. I'm out of Colorado. You can always email me at

  8. Luke Chapter 25? I've always referred to it as Section 139.

    1. See, I always thought Section 139 was the Priesthood ban for folks named Ernie...