The Keeper at the Gate – Mormon Peacebuilding
Patrick Mason believes that the primary case against a ‘general argument – that LDS can develop and promote a distinctive brand of Mormon peacebuilding that features a structural and cultural approach – is that from a faithful Mormon perspective, nothing remotely compares to the critical necessity of preaching the Gospel and bringing souls to Christ, before and above any other consideration’.
I think that Mason is considerably downplaying the structural and cultural approaches already existing in LDS theology. An LDS change theory, if there ever was one, is based on the following assumption, that ‘institutions are unworkable as reform instruments, if they are too far above the moral plane of the society to which they are given. Men must first organize their own lives; then they might be united into a more perfect social and economic order. Faith is the instrument of change – not institutions’.
This pervasive idea in Mormonism is well caught in an often referred quote with regards to Christ’s power to generating positive change: ‘The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. [..] You do change human nature, your own human nature, if you surrender it to Christ. Human nature can be changed here and now. Human nature has been changed in the past. Human nature must be changed on an enormous scale in the future, unless the world is to be drowned in its own blood. And only Christ can change it’.
Mormon missionaries offer an initial ‘step-by-step’ approach, a gradual process of conversion to help their potential baptismal candidates. This process is based on what they call the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, (2) Repentance, (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, (4) the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying of hands by those who hold the right authority. A minimum level of personal righteousness and commitment is expected of new LDS converts, meaning to live in harmony with Gospel principles such as honesty, chastity, tithing payments, abstaining from coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
This obedience in turn predetermines their worthiness for full participation in all Church activities and in the voluntary capacities in which members serve. In these capacities, members receive training and are socialized into taking an active role in the three-fold mission of the Church, which is to help the world come unto Christ by proclaiming the Gospel, redeeming the Dead, and perfecting the Saints. There is perhaps more to LDS theology than meets the eye. A three-fold mission to help all to come unto Christ may look a bit like this?
A. Cultural Peace – Perfecting the Saints
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him,relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a loveof God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.(2 Nephi 31:18-20)
To press forward with steadfastness in Christ speaks volumes on how to become perfected as a saint. I think it has all to do with a latter day satyagraha, firmness in a good cause, the fiery power of truth. A power that moves us forward. To press forward is not static, it is dynamic, and so is the idea of perfecting the Saints. Does it mean going to the Temple? Yes, but that is not sufficient. LDS believe the Temple is the only gateway to heaven, and that it reinforces the covenants made at baptism – that first gate into the Church, or the Kingdom. Be ye perfect.
It is not sufficient to enter by the gate if you do not persevere and press forward. The end should be the building of the Kingdom of God on earth – as it was built in heaven, but the means wherewith the Kingdom is put together must conform with the ends. And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself. Nonviolence is perfection. It is the higher law between forgiveness and retaliation, between peace and war. Peace must be achieved by peaceful means.
B. Direct Peace – Proclaiming the Gospel
Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me. Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.
The Apostle L. Tom Perry once explained in the Ensign article The Gospel of Jesus Christthat, ‘The ordinance of baptism by water and fire is described as a gate by Nephi (see 2 Nephi 31:17). Why is baptism a gate? Because it is an ordinance denoting entry into a sacred and binding covenant between God and man. Men promise to forsake the world,[and through their behavior]love and serve their fellowmen, visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions, proclaim peace, preach the gospel, serve the Lord, and keep His commandments. The Lord promises to “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [us]” (Mosiah 18:10), redeem His Saints both temporally and spiritually, number them with those of the First Resurrection, and offer life eternal. Baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost are the prescribed ways to enter the strait and narrow path to eternal life’.
C. Structural Peace – Redeeming the Dead
Gordon B. Hinckley wrote in the Ensign article Our Mission of Saving, ’All about us there are many who are in need of help and who are deserving of rescue. Our mission in life, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be a mission of saving. There are the homeless, the hungry, the destitute.’ But I think mainly of Peter, and the link between overcoming unjust structures in the world through the power of redemption of Jesus Christ:
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:17-21)
So it is perhaps the case that LDS focus mainly on the mission of bringing all unto Christ – and therefore proclaiming the Gospel is the first and only thing that comes to mind: but both liberating the captives temporally and spiritually from structures of oppression and death, and seeking perfection according to the higher law of Christ, make LDS theology more than just a ‘direct peace’ religion (the absence of war) – it forces us to seek to challenge unjust structures, as Jesus once did, and to seek to do His will and not ours – the better way to salvation, the one that is in harmony with the Kingdom (and the end) that we seek – that promised land spoken of by the prophets in all ages.
It dawned on me, many years ago, that the answer to the question on the meaning of the cherubim and the flaming sword was a simple one, even though Alma spends several chapters explaining their meaning. The flaming sword is the word judging us, the very judgment by which we all have to pass to enter into his Kingdom, his ark, his covenant, his promised land. It is the word of God that judges us, and our thoughts, our words and our actions. It is the standard of liberty set by Jesus through his example, as he taught and lived the higher law.
And the cherubim, you may ask, what does the cherubim represent – who is the keeper at the gate?
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Nephi 9:41)