1 Nephi 1-5: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man

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Chapter 1: 1 Nephi 1- 5

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Mormonism saw itself involuntarily drawn into the wider debate of fundamentalism and religious motivated violence by Krakauer’s book “Under the Banner of Heaven: the Story of a Violent Faith” published in 2003. At the core of Krakauer’s argument lies the double murder committed in 1984 by Ron and Dan Lafferty, a pair of brothers in Utah belonging to LDS ‘apostate’ groups, widely referred to as Mormon Fundamentalists because of their continued or renewed practice of polygamy.

Krakauer amongst others believes that the roots to the ‘divinely’ commissioned crime lies deep in the history of the Mormon faith. The book makes special reference to the Mount Meadows Massacres in 1857 and refers to past allegations of practices of ‘blood atonement’ among the early Mormons. In response to the book, LDS Church public affairs officials made statements refusing ‘to extrapolate truths from isolated examples of religious excess’ and think that Krakauer had, instead of contributing to a wider debate on religion and violence, obfuscated many facts and created more confusion than clarity with regards to Mormonism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Personally, I think that in the then-current climate of discursive truth on the link between terror and fundamentalist interpretations of religion (islamic or christian), skeptical and critical reports towards religious extremists and in broader terms towards the religious traditions that provide meaning to their violence are well founded (see LDS church video teaches about war). Apologetics, although helpful in putting the records straight by distinguishing the differences between good religion and religion ‘gone bad’ are not necessarily addressing the root of the problem.

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why Nephi killed Laban

An example may be taken from the Book of Mormon, in which the first prophet-leader Nephi killed Laban to appropriate himself brass-plates that contained the history of his forefathers in Jerusalem, including the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament: “And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Nephi 4:12-13)

It is important to recognize that Nephi, probably recounting the killing of Laban many years after it happened, quotes God’s spirit in almost exactly the same words as the Jewish priest Caiaphas later used in an ends-justifies-means argument to the Sanhedrin in order to condemn Christ: “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not”. (John 11:50) But even more troubling is the evidence that Nephi’s account directly contradicts the full revelation of God’s nature as the One revealed in Christ who utterly rejects violence – and who demands that we do the same.

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The Lafferty brothers used this passage in court to defend the slaying of their sister-in-law and her baby. Some Mormons persist on using this passage of scripture today to rationalize violent rhetoric, justify the use of capital punishment or indeed to excuse other violent acts. In fact, the Book of Mormon is often used to justify war or violence, the LDS church leaders often do so – based on the assumption that the Spirit of God or that God himself indeed teaches his children that the end justifies the means. For those of us troubled by such rhetoric and actions, no other passage has seemed more contradictory to New Testament and other Book of Mormon teachings about the impartiality and absolute goodness of the Lord – and about the central role nonviolence plays in Christ’s mission.

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I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded

Eugene England, a late peace advocate in the LDS church, offers a challenging reading of the killing of Laban in his essay “Why Nephi killed Laban“. He connects the killing of Laban with God’s command to Abraham to kill Isaac, suggesting that this was the test designed to push Nephi to the limits of the human dilemma of obedience versus integrity and to teach him and all readers of the Book of Mormon something very troubling but still very true about the universe and the natural requirements of a saving relationship with God. “What if it is to show that genuine faith ultimately requires us to go beyond what is rationally moral, even as it has been defined by God – but only when God himself requires it directly of us? And what if each reader is intentionally left to solve the dilemma on their own through a vicarious experience with the text?”

England further argues that God’s revelations are given to prophets “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24), indicating that scripture is at least partly limited to the perspectives of the writers, not simply expressive of God’s perspective. He also believes that ‘prophets may also be inspired to describe accurately and fully real human dilemmas of the kind Nephi experienced in ways that open up, with rich and educational moral perplexity, the full challenge of human violence’. Our difficulty with apparently contradictory scriptures may be a matter of understanding how God’s justice and his mercy work together to bring us to self-knowledge and guilt, but also to self-acceptance and repentance.

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the ambivalence of the sacred

In a way, cynics like Krakauer fail ‘to appreciate the profoundly humane and humanizing attributes of religion and the moral constraints it imposes on intolerant and violent behavior. While on the other hand’, R. Scott Appleby, a professor in religious peacebuilding and the author of The Ambivalence of the Sacred, argues that ‘apologetics fail to consider that an authentic religious precept – a sincere response to the sacred – may end in subordinating human life to a higher good, albeit either a willingness to die, or a willingness to kill’.

In order to argue the case for nonviolence, and to draw power for our nonviolence from the restored truths of LDS gospel principles – as this website tries to do – one has to differentiate religious actors between violent religious extremists and committed nonviolent peacemakers and posit them on both extremities of a large spectrum of possible religious responses to conflicts: “While the extremist sees physical violence against his enemies as a sacred duty (see Zion cannot be built up), the peacemaker strives to sublimate violence, resisting efforts to legitimate it on religious grounds. Both types ‘go to extremes’ of self-sacrifice in devotion to the sacred, both claim to be rooted in or renewing the fundamental truths of their religious traditions”. In these ways, they distinguish themselves from people not motivated by religious commitments – and also from the vast middle ground of believers.

My nonviolence, the latter day satyagraha I am exploring on this site, is both religiously motivated and grounded in peace theory. I seriously believe that Jesus, our exemplar, showed us the way with truth to life, and the way goes from the garden of Gethsemane to the hill of Golgatha.

To the Sound of Guns: LDS Apostle on Civil Rights


dallin oaks

Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave an address on religious freedom yesterday at Brigham Young University – Idaho. One of his remarks attracted wide media attention because he compared voter-intimidation of African-Americans during the civil rights movement in the South with the harassment some LDS church members experienced following a concerted and church-led effort towards the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Many have already argued the case for and against this analogy, while some have also said that there is in fact no comparison that can be made. Judge for yourself at the following video-link where Oaks justifies the use of this analogy.

The question that interests me however, and also probably those checking out this website, is whether or not one can actually make a credible link between civil rights activists in the South and Mormons in the West. The idea seems rather odd at first for several reasons:

1. the LDS church only granted the priesthood to its members of color in 1978, and

2. members of the LDS church are neither known for their progressive politics, nor for a tradition of nonviolent direct action, and finally;

3. the LDS church as such or its members are neither the victims of systematic physical violence, nor of political and social discrimination. Unfortunately their gay and lesbian “opponents” in this political debate are continuously exposed to it.

4. Admittedly, civil hostility towards mormons continue unabated in the US and Europe, but the mormons do not need help in fueling under that hostility. “Smile to the world and the world will smile to you” does not seem to be the maxim by which the Church abides, when Oaks suggests that  “atheism’s threat is rising as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness”, or frames gay rights as “newly alleged” civil rights.

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police brutality during Selma march

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For all these reasons, Oaks’ evocation of the African-American experience during the Civil Rights movement sounds more like a shot in his own rhetorical foot and does not make his speech a credible appeal for greater and more inclusive civil rights. I doubt mormons suffered police brutality in this case? However, the point he is trying to make is that religious freedom is a civil right, but the problem is that people are not solely religious.

Do not misunderstand me, religious freedom is an important right to protect and Oaks makes a valid point by explaining that this right is not a given in many countries in the world, but I think it is a paranoid exaggeration to suggest that “there is a rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates”.

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gays and lesbians are pro-love

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The only reason why this might be reality, is exactly because religion is not known for being on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the persecuted or even on the side of civil rights, but rather has been a negative conservative force in political debates. This kind of rhetoric in a global church movement alienates all those within the movement that are gay, also in countries where homosexuality is much less acceptable and in fact where it is still a criminal offense – and perhaps the LDS church would still want it that way in those countries. This is why the separation of church and state is so important: to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority (be it a secular majority or a religious majority).

Now, onto the subject that is of interest to us: nonviolence. Dallin H. Oaks draws on the experience of a hunger strike in Mongolia that resulted in greater democracy and a new-found religious freedom for the country. The lady who led the hunger strike later became one of the first converts to join the church in Mongolia and her son is now the first stake president in that country:

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In that precarious environment, a 42-year-old married woman, Oyun Altangerel, a department head in the state library, courageously took some actions that would prove historic. Acting against official pressure, she organized a “Democratic Association Branch Council.” This 12-member group, the first of its kind, spoke out for democracy and proposed that state employees have the freedoms of worship, belief and expression, including the right to belong to a political party of their choice.

When Oyun and others were fired from their state employment, Oyun began a hunger strike in the state library. Within three hours she was joined by 20 others, mostly women, and their hunger strike, which continued for five days, became a public demonstration that took their grievances to the people of Mongolia. This demonstration, backed by major democratic movement leaders, encouraged other government employees to organize similar democratic councils. These dangerous actions expanded into a national anti-government movement that voiced powerful support for the basic human freedoms of speech, press and religion. Eventually the government accepted the demands, and in the adoption of a democratic constitution two years later Mongolia took a major step toward a free society.

For Latter-day Saints, this birth of constitutional government in Mongolia has special interest. Less than two years after the historic hunger strike, we sent our first missionaries to Mongolia. In 1992 these couples began their meetings in the state library, where Oyun was working. The following year, she showed her courage again by being baptized into this newly arrived Christian church.


What I love about this story, the only story that Dallin H. Oaks draws on in his speech to make his point about civil rights, is that it is about the power of nonviolent direct action to create positive social change against an oppressive regime. It was the courageous act of a woman (please note!) that decided that her rights, both as a woman and as a citizen of Mongolia, should no longer be violated. Her strong belief in freedom led her and her co-workers to carry out a hunger strike. Mahatma Gandhi was one of those who “perfected the art” of hunger strikes in his pursuit of freedom for India as an independent nation free from oppression and British rule.

However, Dallin H. Oaks shows little understanding for that kind of nonviolent direct action, when he starts his speech with the following lines:

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In choosing my subject I have relied on an old military maxim that when there is a battle underway, persons who desire to join the fray should “march to the sound of the guns.” So it is that I invite you to march with me as I speak about religious freedom under the United States Constitution. There is a battle over the meaning of that freedom. The contest is of eternal importance, and it is your generation that must understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail.


It is a very poetic maxim, but alas it is lost on those of us who believe in nonviolence – unless he too would interpret “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a hymn of praise to the God of peace and that truth and nonviolence are marching on…

This website started because I wanted to challenge the “warrior” culture that is prevalent in the LDS church, its current theology and religious reasoning. Stories like those of the “last battalion”, “Black Hawk Down”, “put on the whole armour of God”, “young stripling warriors”, “Helaman’s army”, etc. are all examples of a militarized movement that uses a military logic to explain its purpose and mission in the world. If only mormons could use that energy and the power that derives from such a discourse to fight for equality, social justice and against poverty, the grave consequences of climate change, food insecurity, unjust trade agreements, etc.

And yet, the LDS church and Dallin H. Oaks in particular, have a very limited and narrow definition of what civil rights are all about – a definition that excludes economic, social and cultural rights. I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture about the different generations of human rights, but political and civil rights is a very US-centric definition of what human rights are all about. Already in the 1950s this narrow definition was challenged in UN circles and else where. If I was to accept Oaks’ narrow definition of what human rights are, then yes, within that definition it is clear that gay rights are “newly alleged” civil rights.

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girls on hunger strike

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But let the story of Oyun Altangerel inspire you, as a prophetic people, to join the ranks of those who fight nonviolently for their freedoms and for their rights in Burma, in Bolivia, in Tibet, and other places, and who wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against “powers and principalities”, against injustice and against the tyranny of the majority, “because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

It will not be by sword nor gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth [satyagraha] is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel [of Peace].


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

Barack Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

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President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today, after the statement given by the Nobel Peace Prize Awarding Committee. This is controversial as Barack Obama has not even been President for more than a year. Nonetheless, the reasoning behind this award is that according to Alfred Nobel’s testament, the prize must go to the person who has done the most for world peace.

Barack Hussein Obama II  is the 44th and current President of the United States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is the first African American to hold the office, as well as the first born in Hawaii. Obama previously served as the junior United States Senator from Illinois from January 2005 until he resigned after his election to the presidency in November 2008.

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A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President

By Eric Stoner, December 17, 2009

Obama receives the Peace Prize. Credit: White House.

In Oslo last week, President Barack Obama ironically used his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize to deliver a lengthy defense of the “just war” theory and dismiss the idea that nonviolence is capable of addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

After quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and giving his respects to Gandhi — two figures that Obama has repeatedly called personal heroes — the new peace laureate argued that he “cannot be guided by their examples alone” in his role as a head of state.

“I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” he continued. “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Unfortunately, this key part of Obama’s speech, which the media widely quoted in its coverage of the award ceremony, contains several logical inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies that tragically reveal Obama’s profound ignorance of nonviolent alternatives to the use of military force.

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The Power of Nonviolence

Almost immediately after acknowledging that there is “nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,” Obama equated nonviolence with doing nothing.

To live and act nonviolently, however, never involves standing “idle in the face of threats.” Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dave Dellinger, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and countless other genuine peacemakers have put their lives on the line in the struggle for a more just world. Advocates of nonviolence, like Gandhi, simply believe that means and ends are inseparable – that responding in kind to an aggressor will only continue the cycle of violence.

“Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the end-in-progress,” Martin Luther King explains in his book Strength to Love. “Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means.”

Therefore, to put it bluntly, it’s impossible to create a world that truly respects life with fists, guns, and bombs. As A.J. Muste, a longtime leader of the labor, civil rights, and antiwar movements, famously said: “There is no way to peace — peace is the way.”

Using a broad array of tactics — including strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, and protests — nonviolent movements have not only gained important rights for millions of oppressed people around the world, they have confronted, and successfully brought down, some of the most ruthless regimes of the last 100 years.

The courageous, everyday citizens who spoke out and took to the streets to stop the murderous reigns of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, to name only a few examples from recent decades, were anything but passive in the face of evil.

Moreover, these incredible victories for nonviolence were not flukes. After analyzing 323 resistance campaigns over the last century, one important study published last year in the journal International Security, found that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

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Victories Against Hitler

Contrary to Obama’s speech and the dominant narrative about World War II, nonviolent movements in several different European countries were also remarkably successful in thwarting the Nazis.

In 1943, for instance, when the order finally came to round up the nearly 8,000 Jews in Denmark, Danes spontaneously hid them in their homes, hospitals, and other public institutions over the span of one night. Then, at great personal risk to those involved, a secret network of fishing vessels successfully ferried almost their entire Jewish population to neutral Sweden. The Nazis captures only 481 Jews, and thanks to continued Danish pressure, nearly 90% of those deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp survived the war.

In Bulgaria, important leaders of the Orthodox Church, along with farmers in the northern stretches of the country, threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This popular pressure emboldened the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.

Even in Norway, where Obama accepted the peace prize, there was significant nonviolent resistance during the Second World War. When the Nazi-appointed Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling ordered teachers to teach fascism, an estimated 10,000 of the country’s 12,000 teachers refused. A campaign of intimidation — which included sending over 1,000 male teachers to jails, concentration camps, and forced labor camps north of the Arctic Circle — failed to break the will of the teachers and sparked growing resentment throughout the country. After eight months, Quisling backed down and the teachers came home victorious.

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Alternatives to the War on Terror

Obama’s rejection of negotiations as a possible solution to terrorism also doesn’t square with the evidence. After analyzing hundreds of terrorist groups that have operated over the last 40 years, a RAND corporation study published last year concluded that military force is almost never successful at stopping terrorism. The vast majority of terrorist groups that ended during that period “were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40%), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43%).” In other words, negotiation is clearly possible.

For his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, University of Chicago professor Robert Pape created a database on every suicide bombing from 1980 to 2004. Pape found that, rather than being driven by religion, the vast majority of suicide bombers — responsible for over 95% of all incidents on record — were primarily motivated by a desire to compel a democratic government to withdraw its military forces from land they saw as their homeland.

“Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism,” Pape said in an interview with The American Conservative, “the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.”

Apart from pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East, calling off the deadly campaign of drone attacks, and ending military, economic, and diplomatic support for repressive regimes in the region, how can the threat of terrorism be best minimized? A recent article in theIndependent by Johann Hari may provide an answer.

Through interviews with 17 radical Islamic ex-jihadis over the course of a year, Hari discovered that they all told strikingly similar stories about what drew them to extremism, and what eventually got them out. They all felt alienated growing up in Britain, and connected their personal experiences to the persecution of Muslims around the world. In most cases, however, coming into contact with Westerners who took the values of democracy and human rights seriously, opposed the wars against Muslim countries, and engaged in ordinary acts of kindness first made them question whether they were on the right path.

As I silently carried a cardboard coffin from the UN headquarters in New York to the military recruiting center in Times Square during a protest on the day of Obama’s speech, I couldn’t help but cringe to think of the president justifying the deployment of 30,000 more troops to the “graveyard of empires.” Every nonviolent alternative has not been exhausted. In reality, they have yet to be tried.

Eric Stoner is an adjunct professor at St. Peter’s College and an editor at Waging Nonviolence. His articles have appeared in The GuardianMother Jones, and The Nation, among other publications. He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.


Faith Without Reason is Dead

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Here’s a revolutionary thought!

What we know from the scriptures is that faith without works is dead, but works without reason borders to stupidity and faith without reason borders to folly! For this reason, I suggest that faith without reason is dead. In a post-modern era, where the tendency is to deconstruct all human thought constructs by applying critical thinking, we find ourselves left with very little concrete. The more you deconstruct, the less you have. Or is it so? Enter the creative age! With deconstructionism follows new constructions, better designs, improved results.

What many young development professionals have inherited today is the end-road of an era where the secularization of societies in the West was the budding sign of the end of God and the end of religion. Many still argue and hope for this. In fact, many believers used to be embarrassed to say to friends that they are religious or that they have faith. “Why on earth do you go to church?” There is something backwards about it, something regressive.

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faithreason

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God is not dead

But go to Africa for example or any other developing country in the South, and the reality is much different. Faith has come to stay! In Africa, religion is the single thread of the tapestry of your existence. Religion is perfectly natural. Anything else would be worthy of critique. It is good business for faith-based organizations to operate in the South: there is a lot of goodwill there. No danger of being dismissed as irrelevant if you have the Church-word in your name logo. In fact, many northern aid agencies in partnership with agencies in the South are working within a culture that does not question religion at all!

Religious traditions have done a great deal to motivate people – faith without works is dead – for both good and evil. One must admit that religion has results to show for and is influencing both the lives and the living conditions of most human beings on earth. Missionaries throughout all ages have contributed immensely to basic service delivery (and still do!): building schools, health clinics, relief work, vocational training, etc. Religious institutions and organizations are present in every community of the world and in that sense are legitimate advocates as to defending the cause of communities every where. The main problem here being that religious leaders often speak out of their own opinion (LDS prophets often do) without getting a mandate from the communities they represent.

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Religious leaders should stop shouting and start coming up with better solutions

But religious leaders have it within them to propose a more holistic and futuristic view of development! Economic development is not holistic enough. What about cultural, intellectual and emotional development to name a few? In fact, religious leaders should speak out against the current economic order and suggest a more holistic approach to life that is informed by the wisdom found in religious traditions. It should not be about prophetic shouting (Hinckley said he did not want to be an alarmist), but prophets and faith leaders should rather propose and come up with better solutions.

If you are impatient with the Churches, it is quite understandable. There is a lot to be impatient about. Many of them seem to be taking money only to maintain their own (dying) institutions. But wait a moment: Churches happen also to be the birth-parents of development agencies today, and even secular agencies have been inspired by faith cultures. Actually, when you think of it, churches are the most reliable allies in development work. They may in fact be the greatest resources of faith-based development agencies: who come in the thousands and thousands to knock on doors and participate in fund-raising activities for the poor? The churches. Who filled the ranks of the Jubilee campaign? the churches. The vast majority of those who marched for a fairer and more equitable world were church-goers. So don’t write them off!

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What should be our role?

If churches are not working well, if they are not ‘anxiously engaged in a good cause’ (or in building an economic Zion), what should be our role, as specialized ministries or as diaconal organizations and individuals? Our call is to build the capacity of the churches to respond to the work that we need them to do! In order to work with the churches, aid agencies need to recruit and staff their organizations with people who will understand the churches, who are able to speak the language of the churches, and by using the action-reflection cycle, you can draw on spiritual and religious traditions and have them enrich your thinking about development. Our theology must and cannot be superficial! It must be engaging, challenging and ‘cutting-edge’. There must be a creative tension between theology and reality.

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and why bother with faith?

It is true that in development work, many elements must be technical. It would be difficult to grow corn without speaking to an agriculturalist or to establish a community bank without talking to an economist. If you want to “love your neighbor”, you must understand what their real needs are and you must know or at least understand how you may best meet those needs. Otherwise, love becomes an unintelligent and a harmful thing! You must be a professional. There must be technical expertise. But technical disciplines are not enough by themselves. Look at the following video-ad prepared by Christian Aid on ending poverty:

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YES, WE CAN!

This is a great video to get people on board! The video actually shows that professional disciplines are important. In order to rid the world of smallpox, you needed medical knowledge (technical know-how), and for changing tax-regimes you need legal know-how. However, to say that we got rid of apartheid or fascism or slavery is misleading, if not outright wrong! The economical apartheid in South Africa is far from over, fascism is real and alive, and modern slavery is – and some argue – far worse than what it has ever been. And when it comes to changing things, most people would actually disagree on the how. Should we have used violence against fascism? Should we have enforced sanctions on South Africa?

If we have known the theory, that we have had the technical know-how for all those years, why haven’t we done it before? The world is in fact not changed. Poverty is still around. The gap between the rich and the poor is ever widening. And yet, Christianity is imbued with the idea of progress, of development: on we go and upwards! So what should we base our hope for the future on:

  1. on one hand there is reality: will we ever turn our global community into the Kingdom of God or will the Kingdom ever be established? and;
  2. what is Christian hope all about? There is no situation that is completely void for good or for change. But can we, as a collective, get rid of the deep-rooted problems in our lives?

What have you done to people’s spirituality, if you haven’t dealt with the failure of human will to change? What have you done to people’s hopes, if you promise them Zion today, here and now, and you do not first recognize that people are socialized into believing that acting out of self-interest is in fact in their own interest?  The problem with reason, is that just having good techniques is not enough – disciplines do not on and of themselves respond to issues of human nature. Christianity is not the only one that has insights in dealing with human nature, many other faith traditions do too.

theology reality

Can we change trade regulations? How many failed WTO meetings have we had? Vested interests have to be wrestled with. One could say that a Christian understanding of human nature is that humans are definitely insecure and vulnerable, and based on these insecurities, they have learned to be (carnal, sensual and devilish) selfish, egoistic and are acting out of self-interest and self-preservation. A behavioral pattern reinforced and confirmed on a daily basis – for isn’t the natural man also the enemy of God? And if that’s reality, is there any hope for Zion? What if human nature is on the contrary definitely creative, what are the potentials?

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revelation-powerpoint-sermons

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But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him

Well, here is a new thought: faith is not revealed – according to christian realism! Ideas about faith and about beliefs, as well as religious teachings and church doctrine are all human constructs, or in other words, they are human conclusions: that’s why there are so many of them and they differ so widely. Humans observe, understand and interpret. In fact, this is what the LDS official church website has said about the process of receiving revelation:

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Take time to ponder. When you take time to ponder the truths of the gospel, you open your mind and heart to the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost (see 1 Nephi 11:1; D&C 76:19; 138:1–11). Pondering takes your thoughts from the trivial things of the world and brings you closer to the Spirit.

When seeking specific guidance, study the matter out in your mind. At times the Lord’s communication will come only after you have studied a matter out in your own mind. The Lord explained this process to Oliver Cowdery, who served as Joseph Smith’s scribe for much of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord spoke to Oliver Cowdery, explaining why Oliver had not been able to translate the Book of Mormon even though he had been given the gift to translate: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:7–8).

Patiently seek God’s will. God reveals Himself “in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (see D&C 88:63–68). Revelation will probably come to you “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30; see also Isaiah 28:10; D&C 98:12). Do not try to force spiritual things. Revelation does not come that way. Be patient and trust in the Lord’s timing.

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Three basic questions

Put very bluntly: all faith statements are “teachings of men mingled with scripture”. Does that make them less true? In a way, it does. It makes them less sacred, in any case – and more changeable: We observe, we understand, we interpret – line upon line, precept upon precept. All in all, faith and reason try to tackle the same things. They are trying to make sense of our shared existence by answering the following three basic questions:

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  1. WHAT is reality? What is true and what is truth? What am I dealing with here? What is human nature? What is the current situation?
  2. WHERE do we go from here? What would be more satisfactory (the kingdom of God, Zion, the ideal and just society)? What kind of society would we like to live in? Do we want a more urbanized world? A polluted and degraded planet? Do we want to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear war? No. If not, then what alternatives do we have?
  3. HOW do we get there? What can be changed and what cannot be changed? Forgiveness for example is a HOW answer: how to get somewhere (Zion) with irredeemable or at least with unreliable human beings.

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Following the above logic, a “true” church must be a church that has an explicit and a clear analysis of the current world we live in and of its role and potential within that world. It is a church with a vision of a better and of a just society, that gives priority to the poor and with a clear direction for how we could organize ourselves in this world. A church that bases its theology on equalizing relations of power and that is willing to learn from its own mistakes – quickly adapting to changing circumstances and recognizing the new reality. We cannot bypass the issue of power, because the only difference between a rich person and a poor person is that the rich has the ability to pursue his self-interest. The poor does not.

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Conclusions:

  1. Faith-based agencies have a responsibility to enable churches: give them professional know-how and engage with their faith and their beliefs. Have it inform your work.
  2. Religious faith is here to stay: maximize the good that is already there. Draw on the wealth of wisdom that is contained in them.
  3. We need a bigger discussion around the word MISSION. Development must be part of the mission of the church (its three-fold mission to come unto Christ).

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These are notes from a lecture on the role of faith in development given at the Ecumenical Institute in Geneva on Wednesday 30th September 2009 by Professor in Social Theology Michael Taylor.
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To Renounce War and Proclaim Peace

written by Conor Boyack at LDSFreemen.com

Fifty-six years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Mormon community in Missouri was viciously attacked by a mob consisting of their disgruntled neighbors. Speaking of this event, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote:

July, which once dawned upon the virtue and independence of the United States, now dawned upon the savage barbarity and mobocracy of Missouri.

Having lost their homes, their loved ones, and their possessions, the remaining Latter-day Saints understandably felt a desire for retaliation and revenge. After all, this latest bout of persecution was not a unique occurrence; time and time again, the Saints were subjected to similar oppression to some degree. In the midst of such intense feelings and contentious circumstances, the Lord gave a revelation in response.

Despite a strong desire to strike back, God’s instructions were to “renounce war and proclaim peace”. This pursuit of peace was intended by the Lord to be a persistent effort, for the Saints were told to thrice “lift a standard of peace” to whomever tried to do them harm. Then, and only then, would the Lord justify their retaliatory attack. And what’s more, He would fight their battles for them, ensuring them victory. Lest we think that this protocol is not relevant to our own day, the revelation explains that this requirement for justified warfare applies to all people.

In a world of constant conflict, how well are God’s chosen people renouncing the status quo of destruction and death and proclaiming peace? Do the followers of the Prince of Peace carry His standard in the face of war, or do they gladly parade around with the flags and insignia of their respective Caesars?

It would seem that in recent years, the Saints have rallied around the standard of the sword, as evidenced by the stinging assessment of President Kimball:

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 Savior’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;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45.)

We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us-and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7) – or he will fight our battles for us (Exod. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do…

Our efforts to proactively proclaim peace undoubtedly pale in comparison to the vast amount of blood and treasure expended on war and all its related industries. Bleating like sheep for security, we dedicate unconscionable amounts of money to anything and everything that can be used to wage war and kill others. Lacking immediate threats of attack on our soil, we now go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

The latest in a long string of wars has, sadly, enjoyed a healthy amount of fervent support among American Latter-day Saints. Prophetic pleas for peace are evidently cast aside as partisan politics and their attending talking points rise to the surface and become adopted as each person’s own. And, most regrettably, the voices calling for peace are pushed to the fringe by warmongering hawks, labeling such individuals with the pejorative “pacifists”-as if the preference of peace over war is a social evil.

President and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower, who himself said that he hated war “as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity,” once commented on the cost of war in terms of peaceful, productive enterprise:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. . . .

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace. It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty. It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?

To a people taught from a young age to love their enemies and live the golden rule, the commandment to renounce unjust war and proclaim peace would seem natural. And yet, a casual assessment of the average Latter-day Saint’s understanding of the application and practicality of this commandment as it applies to conventional geopolitical conflict seems to betray this assumption. Indeed, the degree to which so many American members of the LDS Church adhere to the arguments made by political pundits and mainstream media demonstrates a firm reliance upon the fleshy arm of military might.

President David O. McKay once said that “war is incompatible with Christ’s teachings,” and that “it is vain to attempt to reconcile war with true Christianity.” These declarations have their qualifiers, but fundamentally support the claim that war should be a last resort in all circumstances, and that any glorification of war, military strength, or political dominance should be rejected.

Until we start honoring those who dedicate their lives to the promotion of peace as much or more than those who lose their lives in war, we will fail to come anywhere close to God’s commandment. Understandably, the mandate to favor peace over war is a difficult one to achieve in a world of political turmoil, threats of terrorism, and fortified standing armies. But that’s the point-despite the ease with which we can escalate conflict and use force to spread democracy, dethrone a dictator, or repel an invasion, we are commanded to choose the higher road and pursue peace at all costs.

How well are we doing?

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Connor Boyack is a web developer, political economist, and budding philanthropist trying to change the world one byte at a time.

Early Mormons Exercised Civil Disobedience

On the morning of July 4, 1885, Salt Lakers awoke to find the American flag flying at half-staff over City Hall, ZCMI, the Salt Lake Theatre, the Deseret Newsand other LDS Church-controlled buildings. Many feared former President Grant or John Taylor, the Mormon prophet, had died. When word spread that LDS officials had lowered the flags to protest polygamy prosecutions, Utah’s non-Mormon population exploded.

For five years, Congress had been turning up the heat on Utah’s odd marriage customs, and in February 1885, Taylor denounced the federal government’s anti-polygamy campaign. God had revealed “certain principles pertaining to the perpetuity of man and of woman,” he said, and he would not disobey the Lord. So what should the Latter-day Saints do? “If you were out in a storm,” Taylor said, you would “pull up the collar of your coat and button yourself up, and keep the cold out until the storm blows past.”

Taylor told his people to forsake violence and not to “break the heads” of the miserable sneaks “crawling about your doors,” or “spill their blood.” There should be “no rendering evil for evil.” Instead, he advised, Mormons should avoid the authorities, “just as you would wolves” and “get out of the way as much as you can.” Then Taylor disappeared into the “Underground.” The Latter-day Saints began the longest campaign of civil disobedience in America until the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

That summer Taylor directed that American flags on all LDS church buildings be flown at half-staff on Independence Day to protest the federal anti-polygamy “raid.” As historian B. H. Roberts wrote, this was to mourn “the subversion of those principles of religious and civil liberty in our Territory.” Leaders of Utah’s majority religion had misread the temper of the non-Mormon population. An overwhelming majority of the so-called “gentiles” had suffered through the horrors of the Civil War fighting for the Union, and their devotion to Old Glory went far beyond mere sentiment.

Outraged citizens stormed City Hall and raised the flag. One demonstrator said he was “as mad as when Fort Sumter was fired on.” The Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’organization, branded it “a deliberate expression of Mormon contempt and defiance of the law which that flag represents.” Even ex-Confederate soldiers proposed holding an “indignation meeting” on the 24th to denounce “the insult offered to the flag on July 4, by the Mormon church.”

The Deseret News kept its flag at half-staff until dark and defended the action as an exhibition of sorrow by Utah’s people “over the decadence of their liberties.” When rumors claimed the Mormons planned a similar protest on Pioneer Day, President Cleveland ordered Army units in the West to prepare to put down a rebellion in Utah.

The protest continued to generate controversy. For years, there had been two separate Fourth of July celebrations in Utah, but in 1887, LDS leader John W. Young suggested Mormons should show they revered Independence Day “even under such trying circumstances.” This resulted in the first united Fourth of July celebration by all Utahns, which proved to be an important step toward reconciliation. Few Americans recall that during the 19th century, Utah’s Latter-day Saints defended what they perceived as their civil rights with one of the longest and hardest-fought nonviolent protests in American history.

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early mormons exercised civil disobedience was published on 01 July 2001 in ‘Utah History to go’ by historian Will Bagley. He learned of the ‘half-mast incident’ in David L. Bigler’s Forgotten Kingdom.