In the midst of a contentious election season when differing issues and opinions so easily divide us, unity can begin to sound like a pie-in-the-sky impossible goal. Is it? The other day I was thinking about the city of Enoch, where a people united in the midst of a wicked and war-torn world. They became a Zion people-of one heart and mind, not divided into parties or factions, in spite of what was going on all around them. Can those people give us hope that the unity of Zion can be created even in our politically fractured society?
How Can Any Kind of Unity Prevail in the Midst of Political Differences?
Being truly Christian means conducting our lives in a Christ-like way in our daily interactions with others. It may be the most difficult to do that in the arena of politics. Most of us have found ourselves in uncomfortable discussions when a political subject is brought up. Differing opinions can ignite emotionally-charged dissention in offices, neighborhoods, even in wards and families. The other day I found myself arguing with my own husband about politics!
When my friend Debbie Bake read this article, she suggested that we consider the following ideas and ask ourselves the following questions:
Does the tone of your political discussions motivate unity or division in your family? Do family members feel your love? Are relationships being damaged due to pride and a need to be right?
Can you discuss to educate, not to prove how wrong others are? Can you discuss your views in a temperate, respectful way? Can you leave others feeling good about your relationship with them even if you disagree about issues?
Most Americans, when polled, were disgusted at the mud-slinging ads brought out by each party. They are too personal, attack mode. Yet, how many of us in our political meetings (sometimes with family even) get into that same mode of behavior?
How can you be an example of a believer even during tense discussions?
I’m reminded of how many near-death experiencers felt total love by the person conducting their life review. No condemnation, just truth spoken, direction given, total love felt. This is what made people want to change when they came back to their lives, not “I can’t believe you think that ______.” Light and truth forsake that evil one- D&C 93:37. Light and truth can forsake evil doctrines or errors, not bickering, back-biting, etc.
We need to work hard at defending our liberties – no need for dishonesty, condemning or slandering others. We will be held responsible for harming others through half-truths.
Every time we open our mouths we become a source of unity or division, peace or dissention. How can we be sure we are being an instrument in the Lord’s hands, rather than the opposite?
Keeping our Focus on Principle, not Personalities
President George Albert Smith said, “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground. . . . It is not our duty to go into the world and find fault with others, neither to criticize men because they do not understand. But is is our privilege, in kindness and love, to go among them and divide with them the truth that the Lord has revealed in this latter day.” (In Conference Reports, Apr. 1914, 12, Apr. 1935, 44.)
It is important that we remember that we can’t antagonize and influence for good at the same time. We can’t be a force for unity at the same time we are speaking angry words or throwing darts at others.
Elder Robert S. Wood, of the Second Quorum of the Seventy gave a talk called “Instruments of the Lord’s Peace” in the April 2006 Conference (Ensign May 2006). The entire text is worthy of study. He said, “Have we who have taken upon us the name of Christ slipped unknowingly into patterns of slander, evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping? Have personal or partisan or business or religious differences been translated into a kind of demonizing of those of different views? Do we pause to understand the seemingly different positions of others and seek, where possible, common ground?”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, has counseled: “Now, there is much that we can and must do in these perilous times. We can give our opinions on the merit of the situation as we see it, but never let us become a party to words or works of evil concerning our brothers and sisters in various nations on one side or the other. Political differences never justify hatred or ill will. I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties.” (“War and Peace,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2003, 80.)
Standing up for a principle we know is right is quite a different thing from making personal accusations. No individual should be made a symbol of all that is wrong with the world and be held up for scorn or derision. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one.
We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt . . .” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” April 2012 Conference.)
Although disagreements are part of life, to be disagreeable is not Christian. The ten commandments apply to politics too!
Is the Answer to Avoid the Subject?
Should we take to heart the old adage, “never talk politics or religion in polite company?” What would become of the entire missionary program of the Church if we did? We send our entire missionary force out with the express purpose of “talking religion in polite company.” And every member of the Church is asked to do the same every day, “Every member a missionary.” Similarly, avoiding the subject of politics would keep us from becoming the type of citizens we need to be: able to discuss and decide and debate. Through deliberation we become better able to deliberate. If we ban politics and religion from polite company, we overtly relate them to impolite company. A democracy is only functional if “We the People” make it so.
So the question is: can we discuss politics and religion without the kind of contention that divides us? The Book of Mormon teaches the danger of contentions that are of the devil, and the moment a political discussion gets angry or mean-spirited, that discussion is doing more harm than good. However, we read in that the righteous people of Alma engaged in passionate debate about their laws, debates described as “wonderful contentions.” Talking politics, it seems, can and should be a positive experience.
How can we make it positive and move toward unity?
Unity in the Context of Political Discussion
Since unity is so important and our politically-charged environment is making it so difficult, it seems important to look at the basic concept of unity more closely than we may have done before. A few months ago I listened to my son Scott address his home ward on this subject of “Unity.” His ideas were thought-provoking. Unity is so important, yet so rare and elusive, so misunderstood.
Scott said, “There’s a reason why people generally avoid discussing politics; it’s because they don’t want to create a division with people they care for. It almost seems ironic that as our church teaches the importance of unity, it also encourages its members to be involved in politics, a realm that excels at creating divisions. We’re in a political season right now, and division is easy to come by if you’re active in politics in the slightest. Not long ago we were encouraged to attend caucuses where surely our leaders knew divisions would be brought to the surface.
“However, becoming aware of differing opinions results in contention only if pride gets involved. (See President Ezra Taft Benson’s landmark talk Beware of Pride.’) If we can properly humble ourselves, and have charity toward our brothers and sisters who think differently than we do, political discussions can be productive. Think of how you try to talk to people who may think very differently about the Church when you’re doing missionary work. The same principles (taught clearly in the Preach My Gospel manual) apply to any discussion where we are trying to come to a mutual understanding.”
Unity Does Not Mean Conformity
One of the points Scott made was this: “the goal is unity, not conformity. Unity requires understanding and understanding requires discourse, which inevitably involves disagreements. We could say that conformity describes only our behavior, but I believe unity to be something deeper, a coming together not just of common action, but of understanding as well. Someone who has a hard time emotionally separating the two concepts, can resist any call for unity because it feels like a call to blind conformity. Is simple conformity the aim of the Church when they call for unity? Let me ask you this: If you were omniscient (you really knew and perfectly understood everything in it’s proper context), would you have any disagreements with other omniscient beings? Of course not. Does that mean that omniscient beings have lost their identity or are simply conforming with the status quo? Of course it doesn’t. They are conforming to the truth, and this agreement with and conforming to truth is what we are striving for: to be one with God. We do that by uniting with Him, little by little.”
Unity does not mean that we are cookie cutter duplicates, all thinking and acting the same. That is not God’s way. Think of snowflakes, all beautiful, but each one remarkably unique in its beauty. No two human beings are identical in gifts, tendencies, preferences, or personality, not even identical twins. And to become identical even in our thoughts is not the goal. The goal is becoming more and more united in the purposes of Christ as we fill our minds more and more with His light and truth. As we do this we maintain and even become stronger in our individual identity. I remember Elder Neal Maxwell speaking of the boring sameness in the bondage of darkness and sin, as contrasted with the breath-taking variety and adventure in the freedom when we choose to align ourselves with God’s laws, God’s plan, God’s truth. And we must be certain that is what we are uniting FOR.
United for What?
Scott made the following stellar connection: “As we unite with God, filling our minds with light and truth, we will naturally become united with others who are doing the same. However, we see many scriptural examples of people who lost sight of the most important things we should be united in. Being united for the wrong purposes can cause all sorts of trouble. Part of the Jaredites united behind Shiz and the rest united behind Coriantumr and they fought against each other and destroyed themselves. The Israelites united with Egypt to fight against Babylon with disastrous consequences. The Nephites united to attack the Lamanites and were destroyed. In less cataclysmic examples, the twelve tribes of Israel united in their desire for a King, ignoring the counsel of the prophet Samuel. The effects of that unity signaled the beginning of a spiritual decline of the people. So the question remains, what should unite us? The Restored Gospel, of course.“
The gospel opens our minds to God’s glorious purpose. (See Moses 1:39, “For behold, this is my work and my glory– to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”) God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one in purpose, and they stand with open arms, inviting us to unite with them in fulfilling that purpose.
Counsel on Unity
Marion G. Romney said, “There is but one way that we can be united, and that way is to seek the Lord and his righteousness. (See 2 Nephi 13:33.) Unity comes by following the light from above. It does not come out of the confusions below.
While men depend upon their own wisdom and walk in their own way, without the guidance of the Lord they cannot live in unity. . . .” (April 1983 General Conference)
We Can Unite in This Knowledge:
God’s Purposes Are Never Thwarted
Freedom of choice brings risk. Because all men had agency in the pre-existence, one-third chose Satan. There is an element of risk in the choices available in a free society. Consider the scripture: For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God” (Ether 2:10). Suppose the worst-case scenario actually happened in our country: the majority choose not to serve God. Suppose that we suffered the consequences of being “swept off.” (See Ether 2:8-10.) Would God’s purposes be thwarted? Can the choices of the blind or wicked keep prophecy from being fulfilled or keep the Millennium from coming? No!
Regardless of the outcome of the current political races and issues, we need to remember that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), and that it is man’s purposes that are thwarted, and not God’s. In D&C 3:1 we read, “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.” God is in charge. We can unite in the solid belief that His prophecies concerning these last days will all be fulfilled regardless of the choices of individual men.
Our great challenge is not to be united in a certain political party or even to be united as American citizens, but to be united in our faith in Christ and our undying belief in His power to bring about His purposes. A Zion people will conform to truth and unite in truth. Subsequently, the Millennium will be ushered in, and Christ will reign. The Lord has spoken it and all His words are truth.
As members of the Church we seek to fulfill the prophecies of becoming a united Zion people, one in purpose. Those of us who have our hearts set on Zion need to stay open to hope that it is possible to come together and see through differences to commonalities, where mutual love and concern are paramount. How important is this unity? “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” (See D&C 38:27.) Let us seek the unity that keeps us safely in His fold and remember that regardless of the frailties of men, God’s purposes will not be thwarted and He will see us safely through.