Perfecting the Saints and Human Development
This is the third article in the ‘human dignity series’, where we compare the human dignity triangle with the three-fold mission of the LDS church to invite all to come unto Christ. Perfecting the Saints is normally understood as full participation of members in all Church programs. We discuss here an expanded concept of perfecting the saints that includes adherence to nonviolent principles, as well as the pursuit of human development.
Human development implies access to education, vocational training, skills acquisition, as well as improving the way societies work with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed by providing them with equal opportunities as well as debunking myths and stereotypes around these groups.
and nothing shall offend them
The October 2006 conference address of Apostle David Bednar And Nothing Shall Offend Them is perhaps the best treatise I have read so far on mormon nonviolence by an Apostle. Although he is trying to address the most probable cause of inactivity among less-active members – of having taken offense – and does therefore not directly reprimand those who may hold the kind of negative attitudes that have chased less-active members away, he does provide the doctrinal foundation for the kind of nonviolence that must be at the center of latter day satyagraha teachings.
“Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation”. He then goes on to recount the stories of Thomas B. Marsh, who elected to take offense over an issue of milk strippings, and of Brigham Young who, after having been severely and publicly rebuked by the Prophet Joseph Smith chose not to take offense.
The Savior’s example of nonviolence
“The Savior is the greatest example of how we should respond to potentially offensive events or situations”, Bednar explains: “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9). Through the strengthening power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and I can be blessed to avoid and triumph over offense. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
This reminds me of the Freedom Riders movement in the United States in the 1960s, where african-americans responded to violence with nonviolence, to hatred with love, to ignorance with knowledge. However, I have explained in an earlier article, that to be the only anti-nephi-lehi to exercise the principles of nonviolence as taught by Bednar – as one tries to survive in an environment of mainly young strippling warriors – is indeed a difficult task, when the source of antagonism is exactly my ‘otherness’.
One cannot simply ask the oppressed to ignore the oppressor. Is there an LDS church court where brothers and sisters who have been offended may present their case before trained peacemakers? Are disputes being resolved through properly trained personnel? The influence of the Holy Ghost, or guidance of the Holy Ghost, in trying to restore dignity to those who have been hurt, is not always enough to make people come back to full activity – without proper remorse by the offender, true reconciliation and/or apology.
Let me return to Marvin J. Ashton’s statement that “a person’s image of [themselves] is nothing more or less than what [they] learned through [their] experiences and [their] interactions with others’. Human dignity has a lot to do with cultural peace, with promoting peaceful attitudes in relation to the other. The Church must take a stand against demonizing tactics that misrepresent the qualities and attributes of some of its members, or some of its ‘so-called enemies’. As a collective, it must do what it expects of the individual. It must, all-in-all, become a nonviolent church.
eternal progression and human development
Perfection nonetheless, which includes nonviolence, is more than just mere adherence to a principle of ‘not taking offense’. Franklin D. Richards, another apostle, taught with reference to the perfecting of the Saints, that the Savior has asked us to become perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. (See Matt. 5:48.) In modern revelation we are told that we “are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected.” (D&C 67:13.)
Richards believes that, ‘to accomplish the second objective, the perfecting of the Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides opportunities for all members to become involved in many different kinds of activities that develop them mentally, morally, physically, and spiritually in the perfection process. A high percentage of the members of the Church are active in the perfection process and are being blessed in many ways’.
Again, with regards to the perfecting of the Saints, Richards is concerned with the less-active (who do not enjoy full participation in Church programs and who miss out on opportunities to develop mentally, morally, physically, and spiritually). If the goal is human development however, including to bring to pass the imortality and eternal life of men and women, we must look at ways by which members and non-members alike may benefit from the admonition of the Savior to become perfect. What changes in attitudes must take place in order for the Saints to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided for them on the path of eternal progression, both within the Church and outside of the Church.
and the Lord called his people Zion
Are we providing sufficient educational opportunities towards eternal progression and human development to all of God’s children? What kind of vocational training, and skills transfer must take place in developing countries, where the LDS church is now having a larger and larger presence? Are we sufficiently engaged as members of the Church in lifting our brothers and sisters out of the cycles of poverty? Have we, in the ‘developed world’ attained the perfection that God requires of us – also that of imparting of our substances to those who, by the virtue of our riches, are poor?
As President Spencer W. Kimball once said: “Let us learn our lessons well. Let us emulate the Savior in our lives by serving and consecrating, by overcoming temporally so that we might more fully achieve spiritually. If we all so labor, then it will eventually be written of us that “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God”.