Saturday, August 23, 2008

Renouncing War and Proclaiming Peace

Sometimes the spirit of Freedom and Liberty burns so deeply within my soul that I do things I probably shouldn’t do.

Last Sunday, in Sunday School, I “renounced war and proclaimed peace” to my Sunday school class. In the process, it seems I offended some of the class members, including the Bishop. I’ll need to explain some of the details, but the summary is that by Sunday evening I was on “Sunday School Probation” (i.e., I would be taking a break from teaching for a while) and by Tuesday I was released.

In class, I listed on the board the questions I mentioned in my last post. I then referenced Book of Mormon passages and writings from Latter-day prophets that related to each section. The passages from the Book of Mormon we read lead to the conclusion that offensive war is waged for power and gain while defensive war is for freedom and liberty. As to our current condition as Latter-day Saints, the following statement from President Kimball probably still stands (he wrote this in the June 1976 Ensign):

In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.

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’s 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)…

I listed on the board some of the numbers related to the current conflict (number of dead and wounded, number displaced, cost in dollars) and then I made the offer in class that if there was anyone who is for the current war, to come by my house, I’ll fix us a couple bowls of sherbet (I’m watching what I eat) and we’ll discuss war.

This was too much for the Bishop and he stated that I had “gone too far.” I said, “OK” and brought the class to a close.

By Tuesday evening I was released from teaching Sunday School.

Just a couple of observations…

I spent a considerable amount of time wondering where I went wrong (because I did go wrong). On Tuesday morning I figured it out. I knew I was teaching about a sensitive subject. It was important that what I taught had the second witness of the bishop or bishopric member. I did not work with them in advance to secure that witness. The bishop’s disagreement with what I was teaching took the Spirit from the room.

While explaining my release, the counselor in the Sunday School showed me a portion from the Church’s handbook of instructions that states that controversial subjects should not be part of Sunday School. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with this. Does this mean that I could not reference Sister Beck’s last conference talk – it was controversial? Would I have to ignore the Book of Mormon’s warnings about Secret Combinations? That’s certainly controversial. I could go on and on. The Book of Mormon tells us about two societies that were completely destroyed and why. Am I supposed to pretend that the book does NOT apply to us? Or that, somehow, we as members of the Church are living as we should – when Mormon is quite clear that we are NOT? How can I bring up our errors without being controversial? Am I supposed to sugarcoat the Book of Mormon when teaching it? Sorry, I have to stand in front of Mormon someday and explain what I did with his book.

I do believe that these topics can be taught in a non-controversial way. It requires thought, preparation, and most of all, cooperation with the congregational leaders. I believe that establishing an environment of learning, respect, and understanding in the classroom is essential. I made too many mistakes in my zeal. The bishop was appropriate in his actions.

I am left to mourn that I can “renounce war and proclaim peace” to my gentile friends but cannot do so to my brothers and sisters in the gospel. At some point, God will no longer be able to ignore the blood of the millions of people we have murdered. When that time comes, we as a people will cry to him for help, and he will be slow to hear our cries for our punishment will be just. My God have mercy on us.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On War

Toward the end of last year I was asked to teach Sunday School. Not sure why.

The course of study this year is the Book of Mormon (the schedule is Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants). The lesson for this coming week is Alma 43 - Alma 52. It's all about war.

Last week, I tried something a bit "risky" in an attempt to motivate the class to read the assignment and ask some questions. I put together a petition. It went something like this:

Whereas as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have been commanded to "Renounce War and Proclaim Peace" and

Whereas as we believe the United States Constitution is a divinely inspired document and was established by wise men whom God raised up for that very purpose, and

Whereas the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan is being waged without congressional approval as required by the Constitution,

We, the undersigned members of the of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do call for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the removal of all troops from the aforementioned countries.

I then asked, "What would be your reaction if I were to send this around for you to sign?" Before I even had an opportunity to call on him, a member of the stake presidency said, "You can't do that. This is a political issue and the Church doesn't get involved in political discussions."

I didn't respond to the comment (I might address it this coming week). I asked for a few more comments. They included: "I wouldn't sign it" and "We need to support the troops" and "It would make me uncomfortable."

I'm not sure I'd be comfortable either with sending it around. In the weeks leading up to the class I really pondered on what to say after reading the petition: Do I send it around? Do I leave it up at the front of the class afterward for people to sign? Do I ask, "What if I were to send it around?"
And, I don't necessarily disagree with the member who said, "You can't do that." I didn't feel like I should do it either.

I then said, "Well, interesting comments. The reason why I read this is because the issue is relevant for the discussion coming next week. We're going to read about war in the Book of Mormon. I believe the Book of Mormon was composed by a prophet, Mormon, who saw our day. He wrote it for us. For some reason, he included significant sections on war. While you're preparing for the lesson next week, please ask the following questions of the text:

Under what conditions is a country justified in waging an offensive war?

...a defensive war?

Under what conditions do you cease hostilities?

How do you treat prisoners of war?

What is the role of the church during war?

Who fights in wars (righteous vs. wicked, righteous vs. righteous, wicked vs. wicked)?"

I think people were a bit nervous with the whole petition thing. But the questions at the end were a good recovery.

Now, I have the lesson tomorrow.

I think sticking with those questions, and others like them, will be a good guide. I've found a lot of good statements by LDS Church leaders that will inform the discussion.

So, you should know however (and you'll see this confirmed if you continue reading my blog) that I'm very much against the current war. I believe it is wrong for us to be involved and the blood of the innocent people we've murdered is on our hands and we will have to pay the price sometime.

I have an opportunity in Sunday School tomorrow to "Renounce War and Proclaim Peace" to the members of my congregation. I hope I can do so in an appropriate way.