Comer: Choose to be a peacemaker and end contention
There’s a story I read once about Joseph Smith, founder and first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that made such an impression on me that I haven’t forgotten it. As the story goes, while Smith was in Far West, Missouri, at his parents’ home, armed militiamen showed up with the announced intent to kill him because of a crime he had supposedly committed.
The account is detailed by Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, in a book called “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.” I shall quote directly:
“(Joseph) looked upon them with a very pleasant smile and, stepping up to them, gave each of them his hand in a manner which convinced them that he was neither a guilty criminal nor yet a cowering hypocrite. They stopped and stared as though a spectre had crossed their path.
“Joseph sat down and entered into conversation with them and explained to them the views and feelings of the people called Mormons and what their course had been, as also the treatment which they had met with from their enemies since the first outset of the Church. He told them that malice and detraction had pursued them ever since they entered Missouri, but they were a people who had never broken the laws to his knowledge. But if they had, they stood ready to be tried by the law. …
“After this, he rose and said, ‘Mother, I believe I will go home. Emma will be expecting me.’ Two of the men sprang to their feet, saying, ‘You shall not go alone, for it is not safe. We will go with you and guard you.’ Joseph thanked them, and they went with him.
“The remainder of the officers stood by the door while these were absent, and I overheard the following conversation between them:
“First Officer: ‘Did you not feel strangely when Smith took you by the hand? I never felt so in my life.’
“Second Officer: ‘I felt as though I could not move. I would not harm one hair of that man’s head for the whole world.’
“Third Officer: ‘This is the last time you will ever catch me coming to kill Joe Smith or the Mormons either.’ …
“Those men who went with my son promised to go disband the militia under them and go home, and said that if he had any use for them, they would come back and follow him anywhere.”
In what was almost certainly an extremely tense situation, Joseph Smith displayed a quality that many of us today would be wise to develop in greater abundance: that of being a peacemaker.
Being a peacemaker is hard. It seems increasingly challenging in this social media age where so many seem intent on one-upping each other’s invective. It isn’t enough to simply disagree with someone, there has to be biting, oftentimes profanity-laced tirades.
Cable news channels and late-night programs don’t help, with pundits and comedians whose main purpose doesn’t seem to be to lead people to greater understanding but to attack, mock and ridicule anyone on the opposing side. In our ever so polarized state, they recognize that’s what the people who watch them want, and they’re all too happy to deliver.
Thankfully, as the story above illustrated, there exist examples of those who have overcome troubling situations to promote peace. We should learn from those examples.
Jesus Christ was the master peacemaker.
After suffering in Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples were approached by a multitude. Luke 22 tells the story of what happened.
“And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.” (Luke 22:47-51)
Such a miracle didn’t prevent Jesus from being arrested, smitten, mocked and ultimately killed. Certainly, he knew it wouldn’t, but he did it anyway. He wanted peace.
We should all ask ourselves, “Do we want peace?” Or are we satisfied with things the way they are? According to an NBC News poll published at the end of January, 69% of those surveyed provided negative words and phrases when asked how they feel about the direction of the country over the next year. For context, that’s 17% higher than two years ago. To me, that isn’t an indictment of one person or party, but rather many people across different ideologies. Americans can see that many of those in power don’t seem to care about working together and promoting peace. Shouldn’t we desire better? If we know that this is the wrong direction, shouldn’t we want to do all we can to change course? How much worse are we willing to let the situation get?
It starts with each of us individually. If we desire better, we can choose individually to be a better example. We can begin with the choice to end contention. We can end it in all our interactions. How can you do that, you might ask? Russell M. Nelson, current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provided a solution during general conference earlier this month.
“Charity is the antidote to contention,” he said. “Charity is the spiritual gift that helps us to cast off the natural man, who is selfish, defensive, prideful and jealous. Charity is the principal characteristic of a true follower of Jesus Christ. Charity defines a peacemaker.
“When we humble ourselves before God and pray with all the energy of our hearts, God will grant us charity.
“Those blessed with this supernal gift are long-suffering and kind. They do not envy others and are not caught up in their own importance. They are not easily provoked and do not think evil of others.
“Brothers and sisters, the pure love of Christ is the answer to the contention that ails us today. Charity propels us ‘to bear one another’s burdens’ rather than heap burdens upon each other. The pure love of Christ allows us ‘to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things’ — especially in tense situations. Charity allows us to demonstrate how men and women of Christ speak and act — especially when under fire.”
One of my best friends is someone who I disagree with on probably an overwhelming majority of subjects ranging from the spiritual to the political. Whenever we get together, it seems like we just rehash the same arguments. Why is he still one of my best friends? Because he has charity. He has the pure love of Christ, whether he recognizes it as such or not. He was one of my main supports when my wife passed away. He desires to be helpful rather than hurtful. I’d like to think he thinks of me in the same way. The truth is, for all our differences, whenever I see him, I see his charity and compassion a lot more than I see those differences.
I hope we can all strive to be the type of person who others look at and say, “I may not agree with this person on a wide range of issues, even issues that are deeply important to me, but I can still see their goodness, and I see that more than I see our differences.”
Just imagine how much peace there could be.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org.