Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

D&C 98 Fighting Words for Saints

Posted by robf on November 28, 2007

Since the recent discussion of the Strippling Warriors keeps referring us back to Doctrine & Covenants 98, perhaps its worth taking a closer look at that section. There has already been some good commentary on it posted at the feast wiki. This section seems to consist of fighting words for Saints, as some take it as a clear denunciation of warfare under all but the most stringent of circumstances, while others see here a clear justification for supporting modern or even recent war efforts. What does this section really say? Is there a clear war doctrine spelled out here? How are we to read this section in conjunction with the rest of our scriptural canon and other authoritative LDS statements? And how are we to apply whatever instructions we think we see here?

For my own part, I’m curious as to what others think it really means to “renounce war and proclaim peace”. Is this a commandment to the modern Church, or just temporary counsel given for a limited number of 19th Century Saints? If it is a commandment, what does it mean and how are we to do fulfill it?

58 Responses to “D&C 98 Fighting Words for Saints”

  1. I have always read it as giving “justification”, a legal term in my mind implying that you won’t be judged for your actions, after you fulfill a number of specific things. It however does indicate that there is a higher law that will give you blessings, more than justification, if you forgive your enemies and do not attack.

  2. BrianJ said

    robf: I want to get back to this, but first I want to remind myself of how we discussed Romans 12:20 on the blog. I think it was a post by Matthew, but I can’t find it. Anyone help me? I know that D&C 98 came up in that discussion.

  3. robf said

    BrianJ, I think you are looking for this post:
    I Don’t Want No Peace (GD Lesson 23)

  4. Clark said

    It seems to me the key verses are around 36 with the key phrase being, “Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.” This is much more than simply being justified in the sense of not being proclaimed “evil” despite engaging in less than optimal situations. (Which is how we often discuss justification in the scriptures) The point is that when you bring the situation before the Lord he will give us a commandment. And, if we are to live by the words of God, that commandment is a directive in how we should act.

    I thus read D&C 98 as indicating part of the process for receiving revelation on when we should go to war. The “renounce war” thus can’t be taken as an universal decree of pacifism. To renounce war is not to completely abstain from war (otherwise verse 36 makes no sense). Rather it is to renounce war as our typical way of dealing with things. Our aim and goal should not be war but peace. Something I don’t think the Saints did well. (There is no command for the Saints to go to war in the guerilla conflicts from 1838 up through 1844 that I can see)

  5. robf said

    Clark, that is a very interesting point. But how does it relate to v.37 where the Lord then says that he will fight the battles?

  6. BrianJ said

    robf: yes, that’s the one. (what does it say about me that I can’t even remember my own posts?!) Thanks

  7. Clark said

    The question is how he fights the battles. If God commands them to go to battle and says he will fight their battles I think this is simply saying God will be with them in their battles. (Much like in some of the wars where Israel carried the Ark of the Covenant with them) God typically works through us. The point though is to be fighting on spiritual terms with God with us. If we go up with our own power we don’t have that with us.

    Of course the reason many find D&C 98 so problematic isn’t this but the following verses where God speaks about punishing the 3rd and 4th generations. I don’t know about you but that always struck me as unfair.

  8. robf said

    Clark, what about Moses 7:13 where the LORD seems to be fighting for, not with, Enoch and his followers? Obviously Captain Moroni didn’t subscribe the the view that the LORD would fight for them, but does that tell us more about the LORD or Captain Moroni?

  9. Clark said

    Rob, to me that is an example of God working through people in battle. It’s Enoch and his people who are fighting but are using the power of God to do it. You can find similar events in the OT. (Although every time I say that I think of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is explaining the ark via illustrations from a Bible of questionable historical accuracy)

    I’d add that I think you are correct to invoke Enoch here. Enoch and the City of Enoch are the pattern I think God is presenting to Joseph and the Saints. That is our treatment of Missouri and the New Jerusalem are supposed to be modeled on Enoch. (Which is why I think that part of the JST was revealed as well as the shorter but similar passage about Melchezedek) The Saints and Joseph failed in this. On many levels.

    I think this connection between Enoch and Joseph and Missouri and the City of Enoch is introduced in D&C 84. As you know there is a big controversy over whether the condemnation regarding the Book of Mormon by Pres. Benson is fair given this context. (I think it is since I think this is ultimately the theme of the Book of Mormon as well – with the sealed portion probably dealing with it in more depth) I’d note that this revelation is dated very early – well before the 1838 Missouri war.

  10. Clark said

    BTW – the more interesting revelation on all this is D&C 105. Interestingly that can be used to support your reading.

    For behold, I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfil—I will fight your battles. Behold, the destroyer I have sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine benemies; and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, and to blaspheme my name upon the lands which I have consecrated for the gathering together of my saints.

    On the other hand verse 16 includes a command to what can easily be taken as violence.

    Behold, I have commanded my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., to say unto the strength of my house, even my warriors, my young men, and middle-aged, to gather together for the redemption of my people, and throw down the towers of mine enemies, and scatter their watchmen; But the strength of mine house have not hearkened unto my words.

    This is 1834 – still well before the Missouri War. Exactly how to take this verse isn’t clear to me. Is this, as some suggest, more a call to missionary work or is it a command that some Saints (including probably Joseph) took as justifying preparation for a guerilla war which culminated in the Missouri War and then later events in Illinois and finally Nauvoo.

    The key that binds it all together is the following which seems to demand the armies being built up be righteous – a point that I just don’t think the Saints reached.

    And after these lands are purchased, I will hold the armies of Israel guiltless in taking possession of their own lands, which they have previously purchased with their moneys, and of throwing down the towers of mine enemies that may be upon them, and scattering their watchmen, and avenging me of mine enemies unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. But first let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me, that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon, and that her banners may be terrible unto all nations; That the kingdoms of this world may be constrained to acknowledge that the kingdom of Zion is in very deed the kingdom of our God and his Christ; therefore, let us become subject unto her laws.

    It’s hard not to take that in military terms. (I’ve always found the quote from Song of Solomon 6 to be interesting given Joseph’s feelings about that text)

  11. robf said

    Interesting that this martial language specifically refers to tearing down physical objects (towers) and scattering (not killing) people. I’m wondering if “warfare” in this regard is the right way to think of these activities. In the OT (and to be honest, I’m reading this more as a potentially instructive story, rather than as verifiable history) you’ve got Gideon, who surely killed a lot of people, but also had the famous battle where they scared the enemy away with torches and trumpets–again, not a classic “battle” in the way we think of them.

    Is there a difference between destruction of property and destruction of life in the eyes of the LORD? When the LORD says he will fight the battles with us, what makes us think that means he will help us kill people? And what is a “sanctified” army like anyway–surely not like any army we know of in our modern context?

  12. Clark said

    Being scattered has a particular metaphorical use in the scriptures. It isn’t a mild one but rather as a metaphor of near total destruction.

    Unless I’m mistaken the metaphor originates in winnowing where the chaff and wheat are thrown in the air. The chaff is scattered although there are plenty of uses of the scattering of ashes (say Ezek 5; 20; 29-30) The other metaphor is of course wolves among the sheep flocks.

  13. NathanG said

    It’s interesting that our discussion (which includes a lot of scriptures) focuses on the war aspect of D&C 98 rather than the peace aspect. Is that a reflection of us as receivers of instruction and revelation? Is that all that we’re capable of understanding? Is peace too difficult of a concept to pin down and understand? Is peace even more confusing than war?

  14. Clark said

    I think you have two oppositions. One about war and the other about peace but each can only be understood in terms of the other.

    Peace is, in some sense, the absence of war and vice versa.

  15. JKC said

    “Is there a difference between destruction of property and destruction of life in the eyes of the LORD?”

    Hell yeah, there is!

    We don’t have anything in the scriptures about the worth of property being great in the sight God. And if you accept the traditional hierarchy (reflected, for example, in Alma) of sin with murder at the top, sexual immorality next, and everything else afterwards, it’s hard to see how destruction of property could ever come close to killing.

  16. Clark said

    While that’s true as far as it goes I think there are exceptions. For instance having no property at all and being sold into slavery. Some might prefer death.

  17. Clark said

    Obviously Captain Moroni didn’t subscribe the the view that the LORD would fight for them, but does that tell us more about the LORD or Captain Moroni?

    I realized I didn’t discuss this. I think the Nephites were then so wicked God would not, as a nation, support them. So it isn’t that relevant. I think the model is the OT one where one brings one political issues to the prophet and seeks prophetic support. The Book of Mormon model is the prophet/general but is basically the same idea. Although what makes the Book of Mormon so interesting is that it is far less “edited” than the OT. So we see more of the human element in Captain Moroni where he’s a prophet-general but still screws up at times.

  18. Clark said

    To add, the stripling warriors is a case, given the text, where the Lord was fighting through them. (The clear presentation is that this was a miraculous event – even if no one had Enoch styled miracles going on)

    And I made a mistake in the above. I was thinking of Moroni in the final battle and not Captain Moroni – which is who you referenced. However it appears in Alma that the “true Saints” may not even be the majority of the Nephites. And even Moroni is constantly butting heads with the government. So it’s still not analogous with Enoch.

  19. robf said

    Something that I think we often dodge in this section are the verses leading up to the injunction to “renounce war and proclaim peace”.

    After a discussion of just government (itself very interesting), we are told:

    11 And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.
    12 For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.
    13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.
    14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.
    15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.
    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.

    This makes it sound like we are being tested to see if we will always do what the LORD requires, even to the laying down of our life. This is what proceeds the “therefore” in vs. 16, which then seems to indicate that we are to renounce war and proclaim peace–even if unto death, if we are to “abide in” the covenant.

    That seems like a very serious test, indeed. If we are ever told to go to war, as discussed later in this section, it would seem to be a special case granted under this larger general injunction.

    In short, we are being tested to see if we will always do what the LORD commands. In general, this means to renounce war and proclaim peace–even under pain of death, unless we are given a contrary order to go to battle defensively after being attacked.

    Does this seem like a fair reading of this?

  20. Clark said

    I can see that reading except that it neglects all the other martial passages. Certainly we are only to live by the word of God which, by extension, includes our going to war. Put an other way we are to live by the spirit. It seems to me that the word of God in these passages isn’t purely scripture (which is always at best vague and doesn’t tell us what to do in particulars) but every spiritual revelation given us. That idea of direct revelation seems to be the higher law.

    The idea though that those verses entails never going to war and laying down our life in response to violence just seems a stronger assertion than the verses contain. That is I think I need something quite a bit more specific to take it as such given other passages, not to mention other scriptural examples like Captain Moroni.

    But of course the passages in practice, as I said, tend to demand praying about everything we do. (// Alma 37:37) So almost by definition the command excludes a general law since the move is from general laws to “every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.”

  21. cherylem said

    There is this interesting article, which someone linked to here on the Feast a long time ago, during a similar discussion:


  22. cherylem said

    Part of this discussion goes around and around based on how we read scripture. Are we literalists? Does the Spirit teach something different than the words say? How do we come to agreement?

    In the end, I think we are led by God to whatever conclusions we draw. However, I’ll offer the following, which is more or less a repeat of what I’ve said before in other places:

    One thing Rene Girard offers is the idea that God does not interfere with man’s agency, EVEN WHEN man’s agency causes him to write something like “God commanded us to kill,” when God didn’t command it. This then becomes the worst kind of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and Girard puts forth the radical idea that this does and can occur in scriptural cannon.

    Thus we have to read every record, every scripture, with a discerning spirit. In this way, I cannot become the interpreter of scripture for you, nor can you for me, but only the Spirit interprets for us all.

    Each time we try to discuss this then, we risk arrogance of personal interpretation. But still, I think this issue of violence – especially divinely sanctioned violence, is critical and must be discussed.

    I have often looked at D&C 98 as God’s highest written law for us, so far. Can we live it? Maybe not.

    Regarding the unwritten law (at least to most of us) I think the highest revelation, so far, is in the temple. Girard points again and again to the stoning circle, where violence ends with the death of a victim, and a moment of peace results (that is the peace of this world, not as God gives though). But in the temple there is a circle formed around victims, those in pain, and those in the circle participate in healing and forgiveness. This is the peace of the world reversed, turned upside down.

    Jesus put himself in the stoning circle, and received death. (This didn’t bring peace though – it brought a sword, as all such events do). But in the temple, Jesus asks us to be one with those in the center of the circle, and help heal them. This is the work of God.

  23. cherylem said

    Also, as Jesus used the OT method of “acting out” prophesy in several places, including the cleansing of the temple, so his death (and resurrection) is also an “acting out” prophesy. He is not just explaining to us in words what the Son of Man must do, but he is showing us in the symbol of his life.

    Symbols are always interpreted personally, individually. But in seeking to follow Jesus, I think we have to take time and really consider what this “acting out” prophesy of the most extreme kind means for us.

  24. Cherylem,

    well said, I like the scapegoating turned upside down in the temple imagery.

    It seems to me that the way we read scripture is a very large factor in our peace/war message we get from the scripture.

  25. robf said

    Clark, I’m not sure we can get anything more simple and explicit than what Christ is saying here in D&C 98:

    a) I’m going to test you to see if you will do whatever I ask
    b) Even if it kills you
    c) “therefore” renounce war and proclaim peace–give up justifying war and concentrate on the real work of the gospel, linking fathers and children

    Agreed that many folks in the scriptures didn’t live like this. I think we can come up with lots of reasons why. But to use their negative example to delegitimize what seems to be as straightforward a commandment as we ever get in scripture, seems to be doing this passage–and perhaps all scripture–an injustice.

    So if someone had to chose to do an injustice to a scriptural passage–why choose to discount this injunction rather than tales of bloodshed or even genocide?

    Here’s why I might chose to rethink and possibly discount those bloody tales:

    1) They don’t harmonize with the teachings of Christ in mortality and after his resurrection–not just D&C 98 but statements about loving neighbors, and many others we’ve already discussed.
    2) They don’t harmonize with teachings of the prophets that declare warfare to be of evil.
    3) Historically these passages have been used to justify atrocities
    4) Many of the OT passages are of dubious historical accuracy–in particular there is no evidence for a hostile conquest of Canaan, divinely sanctioned or otherwise.
    5) Many (most?) of the OT passages are of dubious or unknown authorship.
    6) The BoM passages were edited, and in many cases written, by authors with a decidedly military background–potentially coloring how they depict warfare
    7) As Hugh Nibley has argued, the BoM illustrates how warfare only occurs when both sides are wicked.
    8) The horrific nature of warfare as organized mass murder is hostile to the Spirit.

  26. Clark said

    That works if and only if God never prompts you to go to war…

  27. Clark said

    BTW – the problem with 6 is that God inspired the BoM for our time and thus the military themes (which frankly make up most of the text – even the Isaiah passages) are revealed explicitly for our day. The claim by Nibley that warfare occurs only when both sides are wicked seems demonstrably false. (Nibley’s experiences in WWII biased him a great deal here I think)

  28. Clark,

    realistically how often do you think God really “prompts” anyone to go to war ever, let alone nation states. And by prompting what would you require, a feeling, thought, a physical manifestation.

    As to #6, I thought the Book of Mormon was clear that the Lamanites would only attack if the Nephites were wicked

  29. s james said

    Thinking out loud …

    First, I’m wondering how the ground shifts when D&C 98 is read against the background of it being addressed specifically to the saints experiencing persecution in Kirtland 1833, in response to their extremities and needs. And what it meant for them, as it was meant for them.

    Second, what happens when we extrapolate the ‘law of war’ from the rest of the section. This ‘law’ is embedded in messages of promise, exhortation to goodness, consolation, warning, and treatment of enemies. It is prefaced by very specific references to laws of the land and their relationship to the ‘Constitution’,and how people should live under that law and constitution. (For us on the isles of the sea, this is a matter of some ambivalence as it is addressed to, and relates to, those living under such arrangements.)

    Third, the Lord is very specific that He will command His saints to war, it is not something they (we)decide:

    … 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.

    Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

    Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.(vss 33,36,38)

    The Kirtland saints are counseled to bear their persecutions with patience and not seek revenge.

    Fourth, in relation to the dilemma: freedom or peace, the Lord says, ‘I, the Lord God, make you free’,(vs 8), we do not do this ourselves.

    Finally, I find it instructive that the one of the most prodigious offerings in the Old Testament is the ‘peace offering’; that the Son of God is named the Prince of Peace; that we labour for Him, as peace-able followers.

  30. robf said

    Clark, no denying that the BoM martial themes are inspired for our day. The problem is in the interpretation of what kind of inspiration they are to provide. The existence of war stories in the BoM can not be taken as a clear endorsement of warfare.

  31. Clark said

    Joshua, I think God prompts in these things quite regularly. Of course the very nature of personal revelation entails both a grave personal responsibility and a difficulty of moving from simple general laws to particulars. Without such direction we shouldn’t go to war.

    Rob, I don’t think I’ve ever endorsed war. It’s evil as is much of this telestial world. The question isn’t whether it is evil or not but whether it is necessary. That’s where I part company with you. I think underlying your hermeneutic is the idea we shouldn’t engage in areas of evil ever. But this seems clearly wrong since often a lesser evil is necessary to suffer so as to bring about a greater good. The examples of this are multitude. But clearly the best example of this is the very plan of salvation which is hinged upon such logic.

    So to point out something is evil (to which I agree) is not to say we have to deal with it.

  32. Clark,

    Isn’t violence and coercion the very thing the plan of salvation is not about. Does it not strike you as odd to say that agency had to be suspended to allow a plan based on agency to go forward.

    I think a large part of Christ’s life and mission was to teach that if there is anything to this plan and God it is that he will not rule anyone by violence but only but renouncing all violence and even death. His rule is love and compassion

  33. Clark said

    And yet here we are on this world. All you are doing is presenting the classic problem of evil in a new form.

    To say that God never engages in violence simply seems wrong. But I can understand those who discount any account of God engaging in violence. I strongly disagree but then what we end up with is debates about what grounds to discount texts. (And for the record, even if it isn’t massive violence, I consider a cat of nine tales in the temple and overthrowing tables hardly reconcilable to what you describe)

  34. robf said

    Clark, I’m still trying to figure out the textual or political commitments that seem to lead you to be more accepting of violence than I appear to be.

  35. Cherylem said

    Clark #33

    Cat of nine tails? Where is this written?

  36. Clark said

    Rob, it’s all the accounts of violence by righteous people who are called righteous and who appear to be doing what God wants in addition to the clear indication in the D&C that God will usher such commands in the future. Frankly the OT justifies and even commands a lot of violence. To simply say that the whole OT is entirely apostate just seems impossible to accept. I can accept that a lot is. But I can’t accept that basically everything is. (Reminds me too much of how the Gnostics viewed the God of the OT) One can’t read the OT without realizing God is often harsh.

    BTW, Rob, how do you read Matt 10:34. I can think of several readings that allow one to adopt a total non-violence position but I am curious as to how you take it.

    Cherylem, good call. I was writing quickly and conflated the whip Jesus was flogged with and the whip Jesus makes from chords in the temple. Exactly how nasty Jesus’ whip was isn’t clear. Interestingly some scholars think that due to differences in the two accounts that we may have actually two separate incidents. Which would be quite interesting.

    BTW – one point I don’t think I’ve raised yet is that D&C 98 and Deut 20 are very similar in many ways. It gives the “proclaim peace and renounce war” motif a rather different thrust.

  37. robf said

    “One can’t read the OT without realizing God is often harsh.”

    Or without thinking that most of the people depicted are actually quite messed up, including their perspective on God.

  38. robf said

    As for Matt 10:34, remembering that we don’t know exactly how well the sayings of Jesus were remembered and recorded, perhaps Luke 12:51 is a better rendition of something that Jesus said? Even in the context of Matt 10, the reference seems to be about conflict within families, rather than the instigation of violence. At no point is it indicated that this sword is to be used to hurt people. In other circumstances, he and the prophets speak of his word being a sword. Perhaps in this circumstance the sword that the LORD brings is his word, which cuts or divides families.

    Wikepedia has an interesting discussion of this passage.

  39. Clark said

    But Rob, the OT doesn’t just pretend to be perspectives on God but also outright revelation. And frankly the difference in culture between the OT and NT (or BoM) isn’t that big. If you reject the OT on what basis do you not similarly reject the NT and BoM? Why should I assume the Psalms and the Torah can all be rejected but can’t reject the Canonical gospels when most scholars don’t even think the peoples whose names they bare wrote them?

    What makes Joseph’s revelations so interesting is how much OT stuff is in there. Contra traditional Christian tendencies Joseph seems to have taken a lot of the OT very, very seriously. As I mentioned D&C 98 makes extensive use of famous passages in the OT on war. (Do a search for ‘fourth generation’ for example)

    Anyway, I guess I just don’t quite fathom your hermeneutic stance.

  40. Clark said

    In case that comes off wrong, let me say I don’t mean that in a negative sense. In a sense I adopt a similar position where the word of God in the sense of revelation becomes prime. So I think one has to have a hermeneutics of suspicion towards texts. Yet, I also tend to think one has to give the benefit of doubt to texts as well. (Kind of an odd double move) So if we simply say God is renouncing all violence, take that as our prime text, and then discount the rest, it just seems a bit odd to me.

  41. Matt 10:34 may be stating that as a result of his ministry that the sword would come to the world. Families do get divided because osme follow Christ, others not.

    The sword does come because the sacrificial scapegoating no longer work.
    The sword does come because people choos not to follow him and create their own apocalypse.

    I dont think we can assume that Christ is using the sword rather that our unwillingness to follow the Sermon on the mount causes it.

    How could Christ force men to have peace? It can’t be done. This is the great argument in Brothers Karamazov with the grand inquisitor. That if only Christ would have forced people we would have peace, but he gave us a God of love which allows us to do great violence rather than rule us through violence.

  42. Clark said

    Note, I’m not in the least suggesting that the verse in question is Jesus killing people. The idea is that he is bringing a lack of peace but that this is necessary to bring greater peace. One could, I suppose, argue that if one isn’t directly doing the violence then the actions you bring about that lead to this secondary violence don’t matter. (So, to get contemporary, we have the Iraq War which enabled Sunni on Shiite violence and vice versa – is the US responsible?)

    My point is just that violence is a necessary part of existence and God knew that this would happen given what Joshua points out about free will.

  43. robf said

    Clark, I don’t reject the OT, just the view that the OT accounts of God inspiring violence are accurate.

  44. Clark,

    I dont accept that violence is necessary, perhaps inevitable but never necessary. God doesnt need violence, and we dont need it either. God may have known it would occur but thats because we dont follow him

  45. Clark said

    Joshua, really? So if you came in your home and your daughter was being raped you wouldn’t use violence to stop it?

  46. Robert C. said

    Clark #45, I think Joshua means that violence isn’t necessary in the sense that if we all followed the commandments there wouldn’t be any violence—or if he didn’t mean that, that’s the sense I would say that violence isn’t necessary, even though it’s pretty much inevitable….

  47. Clark,

    Robert C. was right on what I meant. As to your question, I would of course stop the rapist with the least amount of violence possible to stop him. My actions would be about stopping the violence against my daughter and hopefully not a mimesis of the violence being done to her. Violence must always be the last resort. There is a quantum leap, though, from your hypo to national wars.

    There are many who may not intervene violently though.

  48. Jim F. said

    I have little to say about the question at hand. It is a difficult one, and I don’t know what I would do if my loved ones were attacked, though I think I have some idea. However, I just finished a conference on inter-faith dialogue at Notre Dame. The opening speaker was the archbishop of the Malkite Catholic diocese of Galilee. He buried ten of his parishioners during the Lebanon war earlier this year. When he was younger, his family was lied to by Israeli soldiers pretending to be their friends in order to get them to leave their home. After they left, it was bulldozed and the property on which it stood was confiscated, without remuneration. Yet he insisted that violence only begets violence, that we must forgive those who trespass against us, that the only solution to the problems of the Middle East is loving cooperation between people who are presently enemies.

    Tonight the bishop of Baghdad spoke to us. He arrived late for the conference because he had been held and tortured by kidnappers. Yet his message was the same. No hatred. No recrimination. No call for revenge. Only a call to love those who despitefully use us.

    I was not only humbled to be in the presence of these two people, I was shamed.

  49. There is a fabulous little book By John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite, that deals with these very situations “What would you do if..”


    sounds like a great conference. Some people are truly peacemakers.

  50. Clark said

    I think Joshua means that violence isn’t necessary in the sense that if we all followed the commandments there wouldn’t be any violence

    But that’s kind of an irrelevant point. Certainly that’s the case but tells us very little about how to engage in the telestial world where so many aren’t nice. Thus many wars (such as Enoch’s).

  51. cherylem said

    Jim #48,
    Can you explain more why you were “shamed?” I read that and thought of several reasons why I might and would feel the same way in the same situation, both on a personal and institutional level, but I wonder what your thoughts were particularly, if you care to share.

  52. Jim F. said

    For me the shame was more personal than institutional. I felt ashamed that I can become angry and even retaliatory over such petty things when those men were able to forgive in much more difficult situations than I am likely ever to face.

  53. Robert C. said

    Yeah, makes my frustration with bad/rude drivers seem pretty silly, for example….

  54. NathanG said

    Thanks for sharing that experience.

    One difficulty I have with this topic is that is has mainly been hypothetical for me. Nobody in my family has been in war (at least in my lifetime). Any persecutions I have received have been minimal. My family, extended family, and wife’s family have had general peace. It is hard for me to know how I would really behave in the different situations (not that I’m looking for them). After this series of discussions I would just say the message of peace is strong in the scriptures if it is sought after (I just read 1 Peter last night, and there was the message again). It seems more fruitful to me to try to understand peace now, so if/when the trying times come, I can come out of it following the examples of this archbishop and bishop.

  55. Clark said

    Perhaps I should point out my biases up front. I tend to be deeply suspicious of treating any statement as a kind of universal true in all contexts. My comments about anti-violence scriptures really is about that. I tend to think that the meaning of phrases can be best found in terms of narrative use. That is looking at how they are understood. Admittedly with texts purporting to be divine that gets trickier. Likewise of course narrative is itself based upon peoples attempted self-understanding of these texts. So if the text is the ideal the narrative might fall very short. However overall I tend to think this “historicizing” is very important.

    Thus when someone asks about seeking peace and renouncing war, my tendency is to ask, “well how do we find out what it means?” My inclination is to look to the narratives presented as inspired that demonstrates it. When we find even Enoch in war, I tend to find the simplistic readings of it doubtful.

  56. Clark said

    Jim, the message I take away from the Book of Mormon is that we shouldn’t hate our enemies. Yet, necessary violence can be done without hatred.

    It reminds me of this fairly inspiring story of a Marine sniper in Bagdad during the first year of the war. He often would shoot enemy and then call medics and even help these people to the hospital. He said it was very important not to hate the people and spoke very compassionately. When I first read that interview it instantly reminded me of the Book of Mormon. While it is undeniable that some horrible things have been done by our troops in Iraq, it is also amazingly inspiring to me to see cases like this over and over again. I guess that’s the ideal I’m trying to point out.

  57. Jim F. said

    Clark, I didn’t intend my report of the conference at Notre Dame to be an argument for complete pacificism. You are right that it would be very difficult to pull such a view from the Book of Mormon.

    I also agree that the Book of Mormon ideal is the person who, if it is necessary, can do violence without hating–and I especially agree that we have to understand what the scriptures say in their narrative context rather than treat them as disguised books of law.

    My point was much less interesting: The people I heard speak made me ashamed of how often I am “violent” in some way toward others when I have so much less provocation. In turn, that made me think that we, as a culture (Mormon and wider), may be too quick to assume that violence is the answer to a problem. It didn’t make me think that violence is never appropriate, just leery about my ability to decide when it is.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: