The Nonviolence of Early Followers of Christ

The 6th nonviolent article of faith says:

We believe in the same nonviolence that existed in the Primitive Church: “And to those who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our founder, we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of Jesus, to cut down our hostile and insolent swords into ploughshares, and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in war. For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” – Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD).

The Restoration implied that the Prophet Joseph Smith would restore the primitive church that was instituted during and after the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is therefore surprising that little research is done in the LDS church to uncover how the early saints lived, and what was characteristic of their beliefs. They heard it directly from the mouth of Jesus and their immediate interpretation of His Gospel was most probably the most correct application of his divine teachings – unspoiled by time and interpretation.

Below are selected writings of “early-day” saints (EDS) characteristic of their time and of their attitude to war, peace and even to capital punishment. You cannot convincingly tell me that the early Saints had perverted the Lord’s teachings by pursuing an ideal that had not been taught by Christ and that went contrary to the logic of their time.

May we heed their council as we seek to live as Jesus wanted us to live until his return:

jesus and the first saints

“For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.”  – Clement of Alexandria (150-aprox 211 AD), The Instructor 1.12

“The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.” – Hippolytus (170-236 AD), The Apostolic Tradition 16.11

“But how will a Christian war, nay, how will he serve even in peace without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed, still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” – Tertullian (160-225 AD), On Idolatry 19

“Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” – Tertullian (160-225 AD), The Chaplet 11

“We cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.” – Athenagoras of Athen (aprox 180 AD), A Plea for the Christians 35

“Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.” – Lactantius of Bithynia (aprox 240-317 AD), Divine Institutes 6.20

a poor wayfaring man of grief

“A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” was the favorite hymn of Joseph Smith, Jr. The hymn was introduced to the LDS movement by Apostle John Taylor, who learned the hymn in 1840 as a missionary in England. On the afternoon that Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in prison in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844 (165 years ago) the Smiths had requested that Taylor, also in prison, sing the hymn twice.

Joseph Smith, Jr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. were respectively assassinated at the age of 38 and 39.

King was shot at 6:01 p.m. April 4, 1968 while he was standing on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The bullet entered through his right cheek smashing his jaw and then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. According to Jesse Jackson, who was present, King’s last words on the balcony were to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at an event King was attending: “Ben, make sure you play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

the nonviolent articles of faith

Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS movement

Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of the LDS movement

 

Thirteen statements describing the fundamental beliefs of the latter day satyagraha movement both within and outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

1. We believe that we are all sons and daughters of heavenly parents with a divine nature and destiny. We believe the words of our brother Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and we believe in the Holy Ghost that teaches all to come unto Jesus and to follow His example.

2. We believe that men and women throughout the ages have committed grave crimes of violence, that they have delighted in bloodshed, and that the whole posterity of Adam and Eve has been unduly suffering for this reason.

3. We believe that through the atoning and exemplary sacrifice of Christ, all humankind can be reconciled to God and with each other, by applying the same principles of truth and nonviolence in their own lives.

4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of a latter day satyagraha were taught by Jesus Christ in the sermon on the mount: first, blessed are they that have faith in God, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven on earth; second, blessed are they that repent and seek a change of heart, for they shall be comforted; third, blessed are they that hunger and thirst for justice, who through converting their oppressor have broken the cycle of violence; fourth, blessed are the pure in heart, whose actions are guided by the Holy Ghost, for they shall see God in whomever he would reveal himself, and they shall see that the other, whom God also has loved, is a human like themselves.

5. We believe that many are called, but only few are chosen. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

6. We believe in the same nonviolence that existed in the Primitive Church: “And to those who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our founder, we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of Jesus, to cut down our hostile and insolent swords into ploughshares, and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in war. For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” – Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD).

7. We believe that the fruit of the spirit is peace and that through the spirit we may receive the gifts of tongues, prophecy, revelation, vision, healing, interpretation of tongues, to further the cause of justice in the world. We say as Mohandas Gandhi: ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is wisely interpreted; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God for it teaches us, through the wars that led to the destruction of its peoples, that we too must lay down our weapons. It stands as a second witness to a last generation of Jews and Gentiles that God is seeking, through us, to restore his covenants of peace before the coming of our brother, teacher and King.

9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. We also believe that the Kingdom of God is to be found within us and that through us, a New Jerusalem – a city of peace and holiness – will be built.

10. We believe that God has restored his covenants, and that all peoples that have been scattered by war, famine and disease, must one day return home under conditions of just return. We also believe that through structures of holiness, in our modern day temples, we are currently being united into one eternal family under the principles of freedom and justice for all; that many Zion communities, exemplar ‘cities on a hill’, must be built upon the American continent, as well as on all other continents and that these model-communities should be reproduced in all places where the hearts are broken and the spirit is contrite; that Christ will, after due preparation of all peoples, reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth must be saved from environmental degradation and that through our conscious efforts to do so we will be able to properly account for our stewardship over this our playground and place of learning.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all humanity the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may – but let no man or woman infringe upon the rights of any others. God is no respecter of persons.

12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law, and we believe that civil disobedience is justified when any form of government – be it ecclesiastical, political or economic – would compel us to act contrary to our conscience, or in the case of there being no legal recourse for fighting injustice.

13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men and women; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Sisters In Zion – Unite For Peace!

In What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable, Relief Society General President Julie B. Beck quotes Joseph Smith as having said that ‘the women of this Church were organized to provide for “the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes” and “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls”. That relief effort was further defined by Elder John A. Widtsoe as “relief of poverty, relief of illness, relief of doubt, relief of ignorance – relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman”. Does that mean dismantling patriarchy?Relief_Society_Seal

In Women as Peacemakers, Elizabeth Ferris explains that ‘women suffer disproportionately from the effects of militarized economies in which governments choose to devote scarce resources to arms and wars. When a government shifts money from education to military spending, more women than men lose teaching jobs, while more men than women gain jobs in the military sector. Women and children suffer the most from the economic and social consequences of military spending and foreign debt. Wars have other consequences for women. There is considerable evidence that men who return from wars are more likely to be violent towards their wives. As one author writes, ‘militarism and violence against women are inextricably linked. Military spending not only creates an economic injustice for women, it supports the ethic of violence against women’.

In addition, awareness is growing that violence against women in armed conflicts is often a conscious policy, not an incidental by-product. Rape and sexual intimidation are common features of war in all societies. Rape and war go hand in hand.Rape, when used as a weapon of war, is systematically employed for a variety of purposes, including intimidation, humiliation, political terror, extracting information, rewarding soldiers, and “ethnic cleansing”. The consequences for victims of sexual violence in war are grave and may affect women for the rest of their lives. These include serious and chronic medical problems, psychological damage, life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS, forced pregnancy, infertility, stigmatization and/or rejection by family members and communities.

250 000 women are believed having been raped in the war in the DRC

250 000 women are believed having been raped in the war in the DRC

Julie Beck, as President of the Relief Society, is aware of the harsh conditions under which the women of the church are called to do God’s work. She explains: ‘the greatest and most important work for the women of this Church still lies ahead. The earth must be prepared to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must help with this preparation in the midst of wars, turmoil, natural calamities, and an increase of evil. There has not been a time in the history of the world when a full-scale relief effort was more needed. Because we are disciples of Jesus Christ and we have made covenants with Him, we are already committed by covenant to participate in that relief effort’.

Elizabeth Ferris further explains however that ‘in some cultures beating of wives and children is an accepted tradition’. In fact, in most cultures, violence against women is not openly discussed or acknowledged. Rather it is kept undercover by a tradition that a “man’s home is his castle”, and as head of the household what he does in his home is of concern only to him and his family, not to the community. ‘Men get away with beating their wives and girl-friends because they believe that it is men’s right to own and control women’.

Traditionally, women are believed to be care-givers with the ‘nurturing gift of motherhood’, and are thought to have a potential motivation to speak up against war because of their maternal thinking. It is true that maternal roles of resolving conflicts within families, reconciling differences and of naming and challenging threats to their children create a certain predisposition towards working for peace and using nonviolence. More than 60 percent of the participants in the Salt March organized by Gandhi in April 1930 were women for example; and of the 30 000 people arrested, 17 000 were women. Gandhi himself saw women as offering the best hope for the practice of nonviolence.

Women activists wait at the starting line during the "Follow the Women - Women for Peace" ride in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon Tuesday, April 10, 2007. Some 350 women activists from 35 countries kicked off a 12-day bicycle ride Saturday in northern Syria and then transferred to Lebanon, to convey a message of peace and highlight the suffering of Arab women in the Middle East.

Women activists wait at the starting line during the "Follow the Women - Women for Peace" ride in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon on April 10, 2007. Some 350 women activists from 35 countries kicked off a 12-day bicycle ride Saturday in northern Syria and then transferred to Lebanon to highlight the suffering of Arab women in the Middle East.

One must be aware of one thing however, that nonviolence advocates have been criticized in the past for any practice of nonviolence which does not include a commitment to women’s issues: ‘any commitment to nonviolence which is real, which is authentic, must begin in the recognition of the forms and degrees of violence perpetuated by men against women. Any analysis of violence, or any commitment to act against it, that does not begin there is hollow and meaningless. Any male apostle of so-called nonviolence which is not committed, body and soul, to ending violence against women is not trustworthy’. So a latter day satyagraha is naturally concerned with the position and situation of women within the LDS movement and is committed to end violence (direct-structural-cultural) against women in the Church and outside of it. Relief Society, on the lds.org website, lists three different objectives for the LDS women’s movement that may represent a starting point for a latter day satyagraha:

1. increase faith and personal righteousness (cultural peace)

2. strengthen families and homes (structural peace)

3. serve the lord and his children (direct peace)

Unfortunately, maternal thinking and maternal roles do not necessarily lead to defiant actions against oppressive governments (both political, ecclesiastical and familial). Women often organize or are organized in support of the status quo. Many leaders are conscious that ‘when women mobilize as mothers on behalf of their families, they become a potent political force’, but one as adaptable to repressive as to liberating causes. Not all women’s groups espouse progressive agendas.

why dismantle patriarchy

why dismantle patriarchy

Ferris reports that ‘while some Chilean women’s groups organized for democracy and for life in the 70s, the network of women’s organizations created to support the military dictatorship of General Pinochet evolved to encompass an estimated 2 million women in the ten years between 1973 and 1983. For this reason, some women’s rights advocates are critical of building a peace movement solely on women’s identity as mothers. Women play many roles in society and justifications based on biology reinforce patriarchy. They also suggest that linking maternal values to peace-making absolves men of their equal responsibility to value and protect life’. This we will address in a separate article on ‘priesthood responsibilities’.

Julie Beck reminds her sisters in the faith of President Hinckley’s plea to [women of the church]: ‘We have a greater challenge than we realize. ‘Do the best you can’. But I want to emphasize that it be the very best. We are capable of doing so much better. We must get on our knees and plead with the Lord for help and strength and direction. We must then stand on our feet and move forward.’ Julie Beck testifies that ‘our prophet has said that there is a better way than the way of the world. He has called uponthe women of the Church to stand together for righteousness. He has said that if we are united and speak with one voice, our strength will be incalculable’. I have expressed to him my confidence that the women of this Church will stand strong and immovable in our faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel (cultural peace); strong and immovable in upholding, nourishing, and protecting our families (structural peace); and strong and immovable in providing relief (direct peace)’.

Orange Democratic Movement women supporters carry posters and shout slogans against the government as they march to the city centre, Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. Kenyans mobilized Friday to demand the truth in their deadly dispute over presidential elections, with hundreds of women in the peace march yelling "No peace, no justice!" while civil rights groups presented police with a demand they prosecute electoral commissioners for allegedly falsifying the vote tally.

ODM women supporters carry posters and shout slogans against the government as they march to the city centre, Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. Kenyans mobilized to demand the truth in their deadly dispute over presidential elections, with hundreds of women in the peace march yelling "No peace, no justice!"

joseph smith and mahatma gandhi on change

Here is an article from January 2008 published on ‘Thoughts of a Seeker‘. It is definitely worth publishing here as well, as it is in harmony with the spirit of this site:

mahatmagandhi

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

“A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”Joseph Smith

Continuing along the line of “what should we be doing?” I present these two quotes in tandem for reflection, one a call to action and the other offering proper motivation.

So often, whether the topic is politics or organized religion, the sentiment is “me” and “them” (the institution). People expect their interaction with organized religion or government programs to be similar to a movie theatre with an audience sitting passively looking for all their needs to be satisfied by this world “out there.” In reality there is no screen, we are all actors in this great drama of life and the beauty and condemnation is that we all contribute to the script and storyline. Whether one wants to rewrite the script for their own life or the community at large the power is within the individual through conscious choice. For the individual the scriptural language calls it repentance, a turning away from a previous path realigned to goodness, light, and truth. In society it is expressed succinctly in the vision of Bill Drayton: “Everyone a Changemaker” (Bornstein).

I love the second quote because of its test of sincerity but also because of the beauty of the refining nature, a natural consequence of the true love of God being internalized. I observe in our society that the consequence of increased religious devotion does not always lead to the natural consequence Joseph Smith describes. Increased religious devotion can lead to increased isolation, a stronger focus on personal salvation, personal attainment, with feel-good gestures to others up to the point when the benefits to the giver are satiated. While on the other extreme we find a group of people who care deeply for the poor, and sacrifice to make the world a better place yet they scoff the religiosity of believers and deny religion altogether. I believe the truth lies in the realm of Joseph Smith’s quote, that true religiosity, true love of God will naturally result in a sincere desire to uplift the entire human race, and that professions of faith minus that natural drive to uplift others is indeed hollow faith. But at the same time the do-gooders who deny the power behind their drive are at the least ungrateful, still tinged with a sense of pride, and sadly, I believe, missing out on a fuller and richer understanding of the purposes of life and meaning for spirit that drives them to do good.

May we all be filled with that true love of God that drives us to a force for good.