What Shall We Do? – Mormon Change Theories
After having felt the influence of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2:37, the people surrounding the early apostles asked of them: ‘Men and Brethren, what shall we do?’ The response to that question depends very much on who at a certain given point in time is in authority to answer that very question. In different situations, there are different interpretations of the divine will and therefore depending on the interpretation the chosen course of action will vary.
Appleby in The Ambivalence of the Sacred believes that theologies of redemption can have very dramatic social consequences.He perceives mainly three basic different models of Christian conflict transformation, all bespeaking of different interpretations of the divine will and different orientations to the world:
1. Spiritualists (peaceful attitudes toward the other)
The spiritualists are known for being committed nonviolent practitioners who view reconciliation as a spirituality, not a strategy, and still less a technical or professional process. Anabaptists – Hutterites and Mennonites in particular – and Quakers have the great virtue, which Latter day Saints presently lack, of ‘being really committed to peace through nonviolence: ‘We certainly know and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outwards weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world’. The Quaker Peace Testimony is grounded upon Jesus’ words to Pontius Pilate – a central scripture also to Latter day Saints: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. However, it is important to see that scripture in context: ‘If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence’ (John 18:36).
In Mormonism, a spiritualist interpretation of the divine is probably best captured in the Conference address The False Gods We Worship given by then-President Spencer W. Kimball at the bicentennial of the USA in 1976: ‘We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel – ships, planes, missiles, fortifications – and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Saviour’s teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”.
2. Liberationists (just conditions toward the other)
On the other hand, the violence of the oppressed is perceived by the liberationists to be a response to a prior ‘original’ and structural violence of the oppressor. Liberation theologians employ elements of just-war theory in order to emphasize the defensive nature of the counter-violence. Gordon B. Hinckley left no doubt to his personal sentiments in regards to the war in Iraq. “We must be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation. When war raged between the Nephites and the Lamanites, the record states that the Nephites ‘were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. And they were doing that which they felt was their duty, which they owed to their God”.
The LDS prophet believed that “it is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression’. I firmly believe that Gordon B. Hinckley’s Conference address on War and Peace opens up for the possibility of a Mormon Liberation Theology.
3. Conversonists (righteous behavior toward the other)
The conversionists seek to bring the world more closely into conformity with the reign of God, primarily by spreading the good news of salvation through the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and where possible, converting people to Christianity. Conflict and violence may be inevitable in a world divided between children of darkness and children of light; spiritual warfare is often a common theme.
Mormons are best known for their missionary work and when it comes to bringing salvation to the living, there is pretty much no other way than proclaiming the Gospel. This theme is recurrent in Doctrine and Covenants, in particular the often-quoted chapter 4:
Now, behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work. For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo he that thrusteth his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.