“Honestly, I have to put myself in a mindset that’s willing to receive the truisms of what President Nelson is teaching because I don’t necessarily see him as one of my leaders.”
Hello, Saints. My name is Jeff. I’m a pastor exploring everything I can about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. And one of the best things that I can do to learn about what the church teaches and practices is to watch their conference talks. Twice a year, Latter day Saint converge on Salt Lake City, where all of the church leadership gathers and gives a series of talks over the course of a few days, touching on specific and relevant topics of doctrine and practice and anything else that they feel they need to share with the church. And at a recent general conference, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, who is also considered a living prophet, gave a talk on the topic of peacemakers. Now, the talk is quite lengthy, so I’m not going to show the whole thing, but I’ll give my thoughts on the main points and I’ll leave a link in the description to the entire talk.
So let’s dive in.
My dear brothers and sisters, it is a joy to be with you. During my surgical internship many years ago, I assisted a surgeon who was amputating a leg filled with highly infectious gangrene. The operation was difficult. Then, to add to the tension, one of the team performed a task poorly and the surgeon erupted in anger. In the middle of his tantrum, he threw his scalpel loaded with germs. It landed in my forearm.
That’s not good.
Everyone in the operating room except the out of control surgeon was horrified by this dangerous breach of surgical practice.
Something I want to key in on that really caught my attention when I first started looking into Latter day Saint leadership is that the individuals who are at the highest level of leadership were not vocationally or occupationally church leaders. Actually, many of them were lawyers and architects and in this case, doctors. And they’re everyday people who work everyday jobs while also serving with the church. This is something that is in some ways similar to evangelical Christianity, being that a lot of people within specific churches locally are volunteer. So you have a lot of ministries like men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministries, and a lot of the individuals who help with that volunteer to help. But when it comes to pastors, it is more common than not that the pastors are fully vocational or they work full time as pastors. And even at the top level denominationally, most church leaders in each denomination at the highest level are doing it full time. Now, I know that’s probably the case at the highest level in the Latter day Saint church now, but it is interesting to hear that Russell M. Nelson isn’t a career religious leader, that he’s actually a career doctor, while also fulfilling certain roles of leadership within the church.
Gratefully I did not become infected, but this experience left a lasting impression on me. In that very hour, I promised myself that whatever happened in my operating room, I would never lose control of my emotions. Even now, decades later, I find myself wondering if the contaminated scalpel that landed in my arm was any more toxic than the venomous contention that infects our civic dialogue and too many personal relationships today, civility and decency seem to have disappeared. During this era of polarization and passionate disagreements. I am greatly concerned that so many people seem to believe that it is completely acceptable to condemn, malign and vilify anyone who does not agree with them.
He’s keying in on something. I know he hasn’t really gotten into anything scriptural yet, but when he’s saying, Why are we so quick to condemn? The first thing that comes to my mind is John, chapter three, where it says, jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. Which really boggles the mind when you think about that, because he was coming into a very sinful world that was full of all kind of wickedness, and it’s true that he would confront those things, and yet his primary message was one of invitation and salvation, as opposed to contention and condemnation. I won’t get too preachy on that. I’m going to let President Nelson keep going.
Many seem eager to damage another’s reputation with pathetic and pithy barbs. Anger never persuades. Hostility builds no one. Contention never leads to inspired solutions. Regrettably, we sometimes see contentious behavior even within our own ranks. We hear of those who belittle their spouses and children, of those who use angry outbursts to control others, and of those who punish family members with a silent treatment.
One thing that I’m really appreciating about what he’s doing here is he’s being honest. He’s being transparent. He’s not trying to send some message that, oh, it’s other people who are being this way, but that we ourselves, even within the four walls of our homes, can sometimes conduct ourselves this way with the people that we love most. And it’s something that everybody watching this video can resonate with, because regardless of what we present to other people, we know what can sometimes happen in those relationships with those we’re closest to.
We hear of youth and children who bully and of employees who defame their colleagues. My dear brothers and sisters, this should not be as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are to be examples of how to interact with others, especially when we have differences of opinion. One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.
What he’s saying right here is actually bringing a passage to my mind. It’s in the Book of John, I think, in chapter 13, where Jesus is talking to his disciples and he says, by this people will know that you are my disciple. By your love, one for another. And if you think about that, when you think about the diversity that existed among Jesus’s disciples, you had fishermen and tax collectors, you had the Sons of Thunder who were wanting to push against the establishment. And Jesus is telling them that with all of your diversity, your ability to relate to one another with love and compassion really is the best marker and a key marker to indicate that you are my disciple.
Before his death, the Savior commanded his twelve apostles to love one another as he had loved them. And then he added, by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.
There you go. I mean, I didn’t say ye because I was using a different translation, but obviously we’re referencing the same thing here.
True disciples of Jesus Christ are peacemakers. The Savior’s atonement made it possible for us to overcome all evil, including contention. Make no mistake about it, contention is evil. Jesus Christ declared that those who have the spirit of contention are not of him, but are of the devil, who is the father of contention. And the devil stirth up the hearts of men to contend with anger one with another. Those who foster contention are taking a page out of Satan’s playbook.
Now, I don’t disagree with what President Nelson is saying here. I think one thing that I might draw out is there’s a difference between a contention that is meant to tear someone down or to do harm to them. There’s also another type of contending with someone for the purpose of correcting them because you love them. So sometimes I have to contend with my kids, maybe even get contentious with my kids for the purpose of correcting them or for the purpose of even protecting them. But I get what he’s saying here, that there is a type of contention that is evil, a type of contention that comes from Satan, and it’s the type that’s meant to self protect, to tear down someone else and to do harm. And there I agree that that is one of Satan’s greatest tools and something that we really need to be careful we’re not falling into.
My dear brothers and sisters, how we treat each other really matters. How we speak to and about others at home, at church, at work, at online, really matters. Today I’m asking us to interact with others in a higher holier way.
There is a real current application to what he’s saying here. If you think about how people related even 50 or 100 years ago, we were isolated in communities by proximity. But now that we’re online and we’re connecting with people all over the place and we have this virtual dynamic that all of us can live within or hide behind, sometimes we feel that there’s a sense that we can. Say what we want or proclaim what we want about how we feel about others without really counting the costs or really understanding what those words mean or how they’re going to make other people feel. So the fact that he’s saying how we view people, how we talk about them, what we think about them matters, is 100% true. It’s when we think that our regard for other people doesn’t matter, or we’re just flippant about it, that we give ourselves permission to say things or maybe even do things in regard to other people that push us down a path of unrighteousness that we really need to guard ourselves from.
Please listen carefully. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy that we can say about another person, whether to his face or behind her back, that should be our standard of communication. If a couple in your ward gets divorced, or a young missionary returns home early, or a teenager doubts his testimony, they do not need your judgment. They need to experience the pure love of Jesus Christ reflected in your words and actions.
What he’s saying here is so important because, especially within religious or faith contexts, we can get very passionate about certain virtues marriage when he’s talking about divorce, faith when he’s talking about testimony. But what he’s driving at here is, though those are virtuous things, there is a higher virtue. This is one corinthians chapter 13 A Higher Virtue of Love, that still must lead us into conversations with people who, in other areas of virtue, might be struggling. And I really do need to point out these issues of being judgmental or harsh with people who might be struggling with certain issues of religious or faith virtues or lifestyle is something that we very much have to deal. With within evangelical churches where we can find ourselves becoming very harsh with individuals who might not be falling in line or living in a way that we believe they need to be living. Which is why this call to a Higher virtue of love is so important.
If a friend on social media has strong political or social views that violate everything you believe in, an angry, cutting retort by you will not help. Building bridges of understanding will require much more of you, but that is exactly what your friend needs. Contention drives away the spirit every time. Contention reinforces the false notion that confrontation is the way to resolve differences. But it never is. Contention is a choice. Peacemaking is a choice. You have your agency to choose contention or reconciliation.
I love what he’s saying here, that contention is a choice, which it is. Whenever you want to respond to somebody online, or whenever you want to text somebody back, or even when we want to respond or react to a spouse or to a coworker, it’s a choice. But if contention is a choice, so is peacemaking. And for him, to put out the call to make the choice of peacemaking.
Is a good one, brothers and sisters. We can literally change the world one person and one interaction at a time by modeling how to manage honest differences of opinion with mutual respect and dignified dialogue. Differences of opinion are part of life, 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.
So, focusing on charity, I think another way that we can understand charity is simply with the word love. When we love others, there’s a willingness to let our guard down and to be more giving in a relationship as opposed to just taking, where we can conduct ourselves in a matter that’s for the benefit of the other person, as opposed to self preservation or something that benefits us.
I’m talking about treating others in ways that are consistent with keeping the covenant you make. When you partake of the sacrament, you covenant to always remember the Savior in situations that are highly charged and filled with contention. I invite you to remember Jesus Christ. Pray to have the courage and wisdom to say or do what he would. As we follow the Prince of Peace, we will become his peacemakers.
So he’s keying in on a couple of characteristics that coincide with the decision to be a peacemaker or to be charitable. And they’re characteristics that I myself have been finding are really instrumental and important for me to keep an eye on even as I’m maneuvering through doctrinal differences between mainstream Christianity and Latter day Saints. One of those things is courage. It requires bravery. I’m not saying I’m the most courageous person in the world, but I’m saying I have to muster up courage to be willing to step into areas where there could be contention and to engage in a way where there’s a hope and a trust that love will prevail over contention. But that can be a scary thing sometimes. In fact, it can be a risky thing that doesn’t always work out in our favor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right way to be. Which is why courage is necessary. Another thing that he hasn’t explicitly stated but I find is necessary if we’re going to be peacemakers, if we’re going to be charitable with the people around us, and that is patience. A lot of times when we’re engaging with people who disagree with us and we take a charitable posture, they don’t really know what to do with that.
And they might even press in more intensely. And that requires patience. In fact, patience might be one of the most important things that I’ve been learning in this journey of Hello Saints. That where people don’t necessarily get what I’m doing or why I’m doing it or how I’m doing it, to just patiently continue to explain and patiently continue to try to understand rather than get defensive or contentious. So none of this is automatic. It coincides with all of these other virtues that we have to look to and where they might seem elusive. I would agree with him that we can find clarity by looking to Jesus. He’s the one that exemplifies all of these characteristics when it comes to really understanding what it looks like to live these things out.
At this point, you may be thinking that this message would really help someone. You know, perhaps you’re hoping that will help him or her to be nicer to you. I hope it will. But I also hope that you will look deeply into your heart to see if there are shards of pride or jealousy that prevent you from becoming a peacemaker. If you are serious about helping to gather Israel and about building relationships that will last throughout the Eternities, now is the time to lay aside bitterness. Now is the time to cease insisting that it is your way or no way. Now is the time to stop doing things that make others walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting you. Now is the time to bury your weapons of war. If your verbal arsenal is filled with insults and accusations, now is the time to put them away. You will arise as a spiritually strong man or woman of Christ.
When he’s talking about this verbal arsenal, I think that’s really helpful, because in the same way that we can prepare to be contentious or ways that we might have tucked away certain patterns that have been successful in winning arguments, there are ways that we can have an arsenal of love. I think that’s a really helpful and a reasonable and thought provoking challenge.
The temple can help us in our quest. There we are endowed with God’s power, giving us the ability to overcome Satan, the instigator of all contention. Cast him out of your relationships. Note that we also rebuke the adversary every time we heal a misunderstanding or refuse to take offense. Peacemakers thwart the adversary.
So obviously, when he makes reference to the temple playing a role in some of this, how I would say that differently as an evangelical is that the Holy Spirit is really the one that’s going to enable us and empower us to look like Christ. Because really, the Spirit of God is the spirit of Christ. And this is one of the reasons why we hold so dearly to a passage in one corinthians that talks about how we are the temple, we are the body of Christ. We are the building within which Jesus resides by the Holy Spirit. So another way you can think of it is when Jesus left Earth, he said it was good that he would leave Earth because then he could send the helper or his spirit, the Holy Spirit, at which point, where Jesus has physically ascended to heaven, he is still, in a sense, physically present because his church is filled with the Holy Spirit. And we are going throughout the world demonstrating the fruit of the Holy Spirit to those around us. So where he would point to the temple as a helpful way in which we can find that enablement and empowerment, we would quite simply say we need to rely on the Holy Spirit that he has given us to function in a way that’s going to exemplify Jesus, look like Jesus, and really point to Jesus.
Let us as a people become a true light on the hill, a light that cannot be hid. Let us show that there is a peaceful and respectful way to resolve complex issues and an enlightened way to work out disagreements. As you demonstrate the charity that true followers of Jesus Christ manifest, the Lord will magnify your efforts beyond your loftiest imagination. My dear brothers and sisters, the best is yet to come for those who spend their lives building up others. Today I invite you to examine your discipleship within the context of the way you treat others. I bless you to make any adjustment that may be needed so that your behavior is ennobling, respectful and representative of a true follower of Jesus Christ. I bless you to replace belligerence with beseeching animosity with understanding and contention with peace. I so testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I can honestly respond to and react to this talk from President Nelson with an agreeable amen. Because this really is in line with the posture that I’m trying to take with Hello Saints. And I just want to point to two things from my perspective that might share a slightly unique angle from an evangelical pastoral standpoint. And the first one is this the reason why we want to be peacemakers is not just so we can be good people, but because it is that type of love and charity and grace that God has shown us that has been so transformational. In fact, if it wasn’t for the kindness of God that has led us to repentance, we believe that we would die in our sins and forever be eternally separated from God. So when Paul is talking about the love of God, is clearly seen by this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That really is the greatest act of love and charity that actually brought peace between God and mankind, where by default there’s immunity between God and man because of sin, he crosses that divide with Jesus. So we would say that there’s an added layer that points to the mission of God and the love of God.
When we are peacemakers, when we are loving people, when we’re providing grace, what we’re doing is we’re representing God and we have a greater opportunity to really exemplify the testimony of God’s kindness and love and compassion in our lives. This is a helpful reminder for me. And honestly, I have to put myself in a mindset that’s willing to receive the truisms of what President Nelson is teaching, because I don’t necessarily see him as one of my leaders. This doesn’t come automatically. It takes intentionality. And I would say, most importantly, it takes a close relationship with God, understanding his love for us and relying on His Holy Spirit to help us exemplify Jesus to the people around us so that anyone and everyone that we encounter, whether we agree with them or disagree, can see Jesus clearly. And that is something that I can agree with. I really appreciate President Nelson’s posture. I appreciate his tone. I appreciate his desire to constantly be pointing people to Jesus’s example. And can I just say, as I conclude this video, I am so grateful and happy that you have joined me in this conversation because I know it’s a two way street.
I know that as a Latter day Saint, when you’re watching some of the videos that I put out, I say things or share beliefs that might make you uncomfortable sometimes. But I appreciate the willingness and the patience and the courage that you have to hear me out and to also allow me to be honest about what I’m learning about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. This is a virtuous and important journey that we are on, and I’m glad that you’re on this journey with me. I truly consider it to be an honor to practice these things with you and to do that in the form of making more videos, which is why I would love it if you liked this video and subscribe. If you want to support me on Patreon, feel free. If not, it’s totally fine. Just come back. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s be charitable, let’s be courageous and together be peacemakers. So until next time, I’ll see you later, Saints.