Political discourse has now become part of our daily lives.
Almost constantly, we are asked to take a side on the battlefield of politics. Statistics show that political parties are more divided today than they have ever been in the past two decades. With new issues being raised weekly, the divide gets deeper, and often political discourse turns to political distaste. It can be easy in this “war of words” to develop feelings of dislike, even hatred, for our fellow brothers and sisters.
While there are no clear answers about who is right and who is wrong in politics, there is a standard all of us need to bear when it comes to political discourse. General Authorities have drawn two clear lines on the way we should treat others of different viewpoints.
- We are all different, but we should strive to be united
- Personally attacking others for their beliefs is not of God, and neither is holding personal grudges because of other’s opinions.
Different, But Unified
His stance, and by extension the Lord’s, is clear:
In the Church, in spite of our differences, the Lord expects us to be one! He said in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”
He goes on to talk about a topic that most of us agree on. When we enter the church or especially the temple, we are to put aside all the things that divide us. Social status, political opinions and personal achievements have no place in places of worship. When we do this, we come together as one in our desire to worship God.
However, what about outside of these meeting halls or with others not of our faith? Does this viewpoint change?
Of course not.
Says Elder Koch:
However, what really determines, solidifies, or destroys our unity is how we act when we are apart from our Church members. As we all know, it is inevitable and normal that eventually we will talk about each other.
Depending on what we choose to say about one another, our words will either have our “hearts knit together in unity,”as Alma taught those he baptized in the Waters of Mormon, or they will erode the love, trust, and goodwill that should exist among us.
Words have power. They can shape our feelings about one another the way a sculptor shapes his clay. Are we going to mold feelings of love and unity in our political discourse or form resentment and anger? The choice is yours to decide, but the commandment from God is clear.
What if the time for niceties has past? What if we carry scars of political discourse that have caused us to distance ourselves from others?
How are we to move past that?
He first acknowledges the cause of our hatred:
“When someone opposes or disagrees with us, it’s tempting to assume that there must be something wrong with them. And from there it’s a small step to attach the worst of motives to their words and actions.”
When this happens, there is a tendency to become offended. Offence often leads to distance from one another, and if that offence is towards the Church’s viewpoint on a political subject, it could even mean distance from the Church itself.
President Uchtdorf cautions against such thinking.
Of course, we must always stand for what is right, and there are times when we must raise our voices for that cause. However, when we do so with anger or hate in our hearts—when we lash out at others to hurt, shame, or silence them—chances are we are not doing so in righteousness…
…We are responsible for our own discipleship, and it has little—if anything—to do with the way others treat us. We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return, but our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us.
Offense is a two way street. Political discourse is healthy and encouraging, but if you use it as a weapon, you’re going to hurt someone, and that attitude of hatred is not of God. In return, the armor we can use when we are offended by others is to dissociate their opinion with who they are as a person. We can and are commanded to be charitable to everyone, even if they aren’t charitable to us.
A War of Words
When it comes to opinions and conflict of words, Joseph Smith had a pretty good idea of the dangerous effects of negative rhetoric.
In his day, the discourse was about religion. Faiths contended with other faiths, and feelings of hatred ran high as many claimed they were the true religion of God.
Joseph Smith History 1:6— For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
Joseph Smith didn’t join the mud wrestling that was occurring. At the young age of fourteen, Joseph Smith recognized that this “war of words” was detrimental to true spiritual and intellectual growth. Nothing was solved with hatred. It was all noise that divided, not inspired.
In our quest for truth in this life, it’s important to acknowledge that others are on a similar quest, even though they are on a different path. When we discuss different viewpoints we need to foster feelings of understanding, love and encouragement for the pursuit of truth. When we do this, the Spirit can still be part of the discourse, and we leave the conversation enlightened, not discouraged.
Words can change the world. Let’s make sure the ones we use will take it on a positive path.