Making Peace: Personal Essays
Healing and Making Peace, in the Church and the World
Just before Christmas, in 1955, Charlotte and I were living in Mapusaga, a small village in American Samoa. We had been married two years and had been missionaries to the Polynesians for a year and a half. Charlotte was six months pregnant. We were teaching a woman named Taligu E’e, who had Mormon relatives and had agreed to meet us each Wednesday afternoon. We would walk to her fale, her circular, open, thatch-roofed home, and teach her in far from fluent Samoan one of the lessons from the systematic missionary teaching guide. She would listen politely and impassively, her eyes looking down at the mats we sat on, and after we finished would serve us the meal she had prepared.
One Wednesday we discussed the plan of salvation. We told her how we had chosen to come to earth, with Jesus, who had offered himself as our Savior, and how important it was to follow him. Then we told her how, through temple ordinances, we could help those who had died without knowing Christ but would be taught about him in the spirit world. Her head came up as I told this story. Timidly she asked about her own ancestors who lived before Christian missionaries came to Samoa, whom she had believed must be damned because they did not know Christ and were not baptized.
I repeated what I just then realized fully for the first time was indeed the gospel, the Good News. I assured her that God loves everyone equally who comes to earth and has provided a way for all, including her ancestors, to know about him and obey him and be saved. She kept her eyes on my face, and they filled with tears. I sensed that a deep sorrow, a long-standing wound, was being healed, and I kept repeating, “‘O le Atua, alofa tele ‘ia i latou ‘uma,” which I hoped conveyed, “God really loves them all.” Taligu was baptized the day after we left Samoa. Our mission president, we believe by inspiration, had transferred us to Hawaii for our baby to be born, and it turned out that the medical facilities there were necessary to save Charlotte’s life during a very difficult delivery. We have heard that Taligu became the matriarch of a great church family in Samoa. We trust that she did the saving ordinances for her ancestors in the New Zealand temple built just a few years after her baptism.
What I know is that the gospel of Jesus Christ healed her and brought her peace. Truth is an essential part of healing and of peacemaking—though not just any truth administered in just any fashion. Paul talked about “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Mere “truth” can build weapons of mass destruction and motivate endless quarrels, even violence, over rights and wrongs. Truth can be a weapon to wound and increase animosity, to foster continuing adversarial escalation. Redemptive truth, the gospel, spoken in genuine love, can heal.
When I was bishop of a congregation of married students at Brigham Young University, one of them asked me to talk with a friend who had attempted suicide. When I met her, I found that, like many young Latter-day Saints I had counseled, this woman had a strong sense of justice and of self-condemnation, but a weak sense of Christ’s mercy and love. She spoke quickly and harshly about her failings and her despair. I simply read to her from the Book of Mormon those passages that teach Christ’s mercy in the Atonement and the spirit of reconciliation, or at-one-ment. After a while I could see peace visibly come over her, and she began to weep. When she left, she had perhaps been healed a little.
When John Taylor was president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, two men came to him for resolution of a bitter quarrel. President Taylor was an exceptionally good singer. He told the two, “Brethren, before I hear your case, I would like very much to sing one of the songs of Zion for you.” When he had finished, he commented that he had never heard one of the church’s hymns without wanting to hear another and so sang one more—and then another and another. Finally the two men were moved to tears and left, fully reconciled, without any discussion of their problem.1
Healing does happen; peace can come. These stories give me hope and direction: The redemptive truths of the gospel of the Prince of Peace can heal—if they are conveyed in a way consistent with their own nature and thus able to move others with their potential power. The central truth seems to be God’s unconditional love, the unique power of mercy to heal our souls and bring peace to our lives—but it must touch our hearts and wills as well as our minds and understandings.
I remember one of the first sermons I heard Elder Marion D. Hanks give, shortly after he was called as a general authority over forty years ago. He told of two Mormon families who had been alienated from each other for years by an offense and then revenge. They would not speak to each other. They nursed their wounds and inflicted new ones. Finally the father who had been first and most sinned against went to the other father and asked forgiveness—and the two families were reconciled. I remember clearly how stunning it was for me to understand and feel for the first time, from that simple anecdote, the claim of Shakespeare’s Portia, in The Merchant of Venice, that mercy blesses the giver as well as the receiver. Mercy is, in a phrase Elder Hanks may have learned, as I did, from Lowell Bennion, “the homeopathic medicine of the soul.”
Such medicine does not work automatically or easily, though I believe it works directly and consistently when we really work at it. Again, understanding is not enough. Portia is a case in point. Disguised as a legal consultant in the court where Shylock has gone to claim his pound of flesh from Antonio for a defaulted loan, she admits that Shylock’s claim is legal and in the name of justice must be honored, but she pleads nevertheless for mercy:
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Itis an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice … .
… consider this
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation.
(Merchant of Venice, 4.1.184-200).2
Shakespeare has Portia convey here the basic point of the atonement of Jesus Christ: We all sin beyond any ability to make amends, to make anything like full restitution, if we are left only to the demands of justice. These demands, which our consciences make on us and on each other, as well as the unanswered demands of a just God, leave us forever divided, unhealed, unatoned. The Atonement, which originally meant and was pronounced At-one-ment, delivers the power from Christ, through his self-sacrificing mercy, to reunite us to ourselves, to overcome sin, which is the division within us between our knowledge and our action. And in the same way we can only be reunited with each other through similar acts of forgiveness for each other.
However, though Portia speaks of mercy brilliantly when she wants it for her friend Antonio, she is not capable of showing it in a less self-serving situation—when an enemy, Shylock, clearly deserves severe punishment. By applying the letter of the law, she saves Antonio from Shylock’s revenge, but then she and Antonio use the law as revenge against Shylock, not only threatening his life and fortune but, most horrible crime of all, forcing him to renounce his Jewish faith and become a Christian. I believe that Shakespeare wanted us to see that they thus miss their chance to be genuine peacemakers and are ultimately most un-Christian.
There are great wounds in the world that need healing. There is continuing violence that needs genuine peacemakers. The hopeful developments in Eastern Europe of the past seven years were brought about, I believe, not as much by military build-ups and threats as by non-violent efforts of many people. Despite those developments—which ended the Cold War and suggested a great and marvelous possibility of a quick and relatively peaceful movement toward international cooperation—great wounds remain. War continues in the Middle East, South America, Africa, Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia. The peace talks between Arabs and Israelis, Catholics and Protestants, Hutus and Tutsis, Bosnians and Serbs too often break down as both sides engage in violence and counter-violence even as talks begin; both sides stake out non-negotiable demands, couched in the language of justice, seeking a small advantage here or there. No one seems able to extend even the smallest act of trust, of giving up territory, or even old slogans and ancient grievances, as a way of changing the patterns of violence to something new. No one seems to be able to remember that tactics based on seeking advantage, on demands for justice, have never worked, certainly not permanently. No one seems to remember that the two occasions when nations tried something like mercy—the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the economies of our former World War II enemies, and Anwar Sadat’s sacrifices, which included eventually the giving of his own life—are the only two acts that have brought lasting peace between enemies in modern times.
There are also great wounds in the LDS church. The Mormon intellectual community seems riven in two, reduced to mutual alienation and public name-calling. Most of those in the Seminary and Institute system, along with many BYU religion faculty, are separated from those in the unsponsored or independent sector, including much of the BYU faculty outside of Religious Education. There is a scandalous lack of respect, isolation in effectively exclusive symposia and publications, with almost no learning from each other through dialogue or even sympathetic reading of each other’s writings. The press has emphasized and perhaps created animosity by exaggerating or even misrepresenting controversial articles in the independent Mormon press and thoughtless or provocative expressions by independent symposia participants. In response, public statements by BYU professors and even church and university leaders seem to have hardened divisions and escalated antagonisms. In addition, there are deepening divisions over gender issues and the wounds that many Mormon women feel. In the late 1960s, when there was turmoil in the church and anger and even action against the church over our discrimination against blacks, there was already evidence of potentially greater turmoil over women’s issues. And that is what is happening. As Susan Faludi demonstrates in Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, the gains women made in the 1970s have been more than reversed in the 1980s. Abetted by government indifference and male anxiety, prejudice and discrimination have tended to increase, as was made dramatically visible in 1992 when it seemed to many people that fourteen male senators struggled and failed to deal either justly or mercifully with Anita Hill and her allegations. Now many women respond in despair and anger, and backlash escalates against backlash. We have great need for healing.
During this national period of gains for women and subsequent backlash, Mormon women seem also to have experienced gains and losses–certainly gains in general freedom and opportunity and in attention from church leaders but also what appears by some measures a reduction not only of their independence in their own organization and publications but even in their overt and formal healing role. In Samoa, when we were isolated as a missionary couple, Charlotte assisted me in administering to the sick. The official church handbook, Elder John A. Widtsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government, quoted Joseph Smith as an authority that such a procedure was proper.3 And of course many frontier women, like Eliza R. Snow and Patty Sessions, had healed by laying on hands. They spoke and sang in tongues and, up to the 1940s, administered a special ritual blessing to pregnant women.4
Charlotteno longer gives blessings with me. We are obedient to what seems to be an official withdrawal of the gift that LDS women once enjoyed be formal healers. LDS women of course continue to bless each other in the temple ordinances and otherwise act as informal healers and peacemakers. In fact they bear for us all the central ideals and qualities of the healing arts, both symbolically and literally, and that function must not be lost in any backlash against women, in or out of the church.
Let me explain what I mean by that apparently sexist claim that women have a special healing role. French anthropologist Rene Girard has provided the most convincing theory about how violence and hatred begin in all cultures and relationships, how it perpetuates itself and spreads like a plague, and how cultures survive by ritualizing violence in things like duels and executions and football games and by focusing their violence on individuals or groups or even animals as scapegoats. He explains how cultures continue to harbor the plague of violence because they don’t face the violence in themselves or go about healing it.5
Girard provides convincing analysis of a mechanism familiar to us all: Any two beings with desires inevitably focus on the same things–a toy, a piece of land, the highest office, global prestige, or academic honor. The intensity of each rival’s desires increases simply because the other desires the same thing. In the process, the two rivals become more and more like each other in their actions and emotions, literal doubles, imitative of each other in what they want and the violence they are willing to use—until there is all-out war or a scapegoat is found on which to discharge the violence, a process which only hides the violence for awhile until it breaks out again. Every childhood quarrel, if you’ll think back to your siblings or cousins or playground friends, goes through this process—and so does every war in history. Imitative desire or jealousy leads to an offense which must be answered in the name of justice,often with additional blows or degrees of force for good measure to make certain justice is done, then reciprocation, revenge, again with added force in the name of justice. Meanwhile, the antagonists all adopt the same evil means, no matter who was most “right” at first or most self-righteously accuses the other of being evil.
For instance, by the end of World War II first the British and then the United States adopted high-level saturation bombing of civilian populations, though we had condemned this practice as evil and barbaric when the Germans used it earlier. Such imitative escalation culminated in the killing of hundreds of thousands at Hamburg and Dresden, and then at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in wholesale destruction that LDS apostle J. Reuben Clark called the “crowning savagery of the war.”6
This mechanism of imitative rivalry and escalating violence seems inevitable. Yet Girard’s study led him to a remarkable conclusion: There is one and only one successful way to stop it, and that is through the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. Girard, who was agnostic, came to believe the Bible is the truest book in the world, in fact divine. It alone reveals, rather than suppressing in rituals or scapegoats, the violence inherent in all humans—and it gives a solution: It shows God struggling against the universal violence mechanism though his chosen people and his divine son. God fails to make much headway throughout the Old Testament, much of which therefore is a record of human violence, even by the chosen people, and of human attempts to blame their violence on God. However, in the story of Joseph extending mercy and forgiveness to his brothers who sold him into Egypt, in the suffering servant passages (such as Isa. 53), and in other breakthroughs of the voice of God to prophets, and culminating in the life, teachings, and death of Christ, we have gradually been given the answer, which is simple to say but not at all simple to really believe and apply.7
The answer is contained in the Sermon on the Mount, which teaches the ethical solution; in Christ’s maledictions against the Pharisees (Matt. 23:13-29), which required the Jews to recognize the violence in themselves—that they have always killed the prophets who bring the message of peace and will kill him also; and supremely and finally in Christ’s death. Christ does not die as a traditional, guilty scapegoat, who hides the sins and violence of the community. Rather, Christ insists on being recognized as an innocent victim, a sacrifice whose perfect forgiving love clearly reveals the cost of our violence and the only way to stop it. He lived out his teachings and sealed his testimony with the divine authority of his perfectly innocent blood.
The teachings are crystal clear: “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” (Matt. 5:44-45); “Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36); “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39); “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:21).
The Book of Mormon reinforces, as Hugh Nibley has pointed out, the crucial understanding that conflict, including war, occurs only when both sides have sinned.8 When either side is willing to obey Christ’s commands, to lay down their weapons or angry words and stop fighting or competing, even it they thus sacrifice their lives, as Christ did, they stop the violence. And they sometimes even convert their enemies, as the great pacifist martyrs, the people of Ammon did
Modern prophets have reinforced this answer. LDS president Spencer W. Kimball chose June 1976, during the height of the United States’s self-congratulatory celebration of its bicentennial, to remind us all, Americans, including Mormons, of the violence in ourselves:
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.9
He then called on everyone of us to do the only thing that has ever brought peace: “to carry the Gospel to our enemies, that they will no longer be our enemies.” President Kimball, of course, did not mean simply to send missionaries to countries like Russia or China, but to proclaim in all we say and do the gospel, the Good News that healed the Samoan convert Charlotte and I taught–that God loves us all unconditionally and expects us to do the same. We are to take the gospel to our enemies by acting like Christians, by working for and showing consistent mercy.
Christ taught, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7, my emphasis). I understand that to mean not only that our giving mercy will make it possible for God to give us mercy but that extending mercy is the only hope we have for moving our enemies to give us mercy rather than responding to our violence with retribution until we have continuing and escalating war.
Modern prophets have reminded us not only of the answer to violence but also of that mechanism Girard analyzes, by which escalating violence is unleashed. Hear the First Presidency of the LDS church in 1942, at the beginning of World War II: “There is an eternal law that rules war and those who engage in it… . The Savior laid down a universal principle [all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword] upon which He placed no limitations as to time, place, cause, or people involved [whether righteous or wicked] … . This is a universal law, for force always begets force.”10 Remember when the United States bombed Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s capital city in 1986, killing perhaps forty people, many civilians. That action, we claimed, was justified based on evidence that Libyans had killed five Americans in terrorist bombings in Europe—which was probably a response to our siding with Israel in its occupation of Arab lands. Though our government bragged that our raid on Libya had stopped Libyan violence, in 1992 evidence came to light that the airliner downed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing more than 250 people, was destroyed by a Libyan bomb. Our leaders then began talking about how we might achieve a “just” revenge. We had already gone from five Americans killed to forty Libyans killed to 250 people randomly killed. Force had not settled anything but had begotten even greater force.
Why is it so hard for us to learn what Tom Sutherland, one of the American hostages finally freed in Beirut, understood? In an interview in December 1991 on National Public Radio, he was asked how he felt about the call by some other former hostages for revenge and about government efforts to glean from the hostages information about their captors that would help achieve that. He responded, “I disagree totally with those who want to punish hostage-takers. Revenge or retribution of any kind is wrong.” His wife, Jane, added, “We have prayed and worked for years for this resolution, an unconditional release. When people in the Middle East have been saying, `You’ve done this to me and I’ve done this to you,’ and this has been going on for thousands of years, it’s time to just break it and stop!” Amen.
Girard claims that, next to the Bible, the clearest revelations of the violence mechanism are in the writings of William Shakespeare and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Think of how often Shakespeare shows rivals becoming antagonists and then becoming more and more alike and more violent, from the twins in the Comedy of Errors to Iago and Othello to Hamlet and his uncle to the Trojans and Greeks in Troilus and Cressida. My own careful study of Sahkespeare convinces me Girard is right. Most of Shakespeare’s plays show that revenge, in the name of justice, is always tempting, seems morally justified to the avenger and the audience, and always escalates in self-righteous violence. The revengers become more like their targets, though each first saw that target as a thoroughly evil perpetuator of crime. In the end, in the name of righteous justice, the revenger inevitably loads the stage with corpses. And the violence does not stop at that point but merely continues into the next generation in cycles of reciprocal revenge.
Shakespeare also knew how hard it is even for rational and religious people to stop this cycle. He developed a dramatic device of shaming his audiences into a change of heart–what might be called the “bandwagon effect.” He portrays a wrong being one by some despicable character whom we in the audience love to hate and enjoy seeing get his comeuppance. As the victims and their friends begin to take revenge, say on the self-righteous prig Malvolio in Twelfth Night or the blood-thirsty Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, we cheer them on. We get on the bandwagon of “justified” revenge. However, a point comes when a sensitive, moral member of the audience feels that things have gone too far, that the revenge spirit has exceeded all possible justice, has perhaps inevitably done much more harm than good. We want to get off the bandwagon and wish we never had gotten on. Shakespeare’s drama moves us to feel, not just understand, what it is like to approve violence—and to be ashamed that we have approved it. That point comes in Twelfth Night when Malvolio is put in a dungeon by the jovial mob of tricksters and begins to go mad. It comes in The Merchant of Venice at least by the time Shylock is forced to become a Christian. It should come in Hamlet by the time Hamlet refuses to kill the king at his prayers—because then he realizes that if he does Claudius’s soul will go to heaven! Hamlet delays not out of mercy or indecision but in what Elizabethan audiences would recognize as a blasphemous desire to destroy Claudius’s soul as well as his life, by waiting to kill him when he is sinning. That was what the ghost of Hamlet’s father had said was the most horrible thing Claudius had done to him, killed him in his sins before he could repent. So Hamlet becomes like his uncle, just as evil, just as poisonous and dangerous and soul-destroying.
But Hamlet also has a greater and more complex soul than Claudius, and he has a moment of turning back that is crucial to our understanding of the role of women in healing I mentioned earlier. Near the end of the play, Hamlet confronts Laertes, whose father he has killed and whose sister Ophelia, whom he supposedly loved, he has destroyed in his obsession with revenge. For the first time Hamlet sees, as he struggles with Laertes at Ophelias’s burial, exactly what he has himself become—a rash bloody revenger in the name of justice, ranting and wrestling in an open grave and trailing death and hell in his wake. As a result of this insight I believe, in the next scene Hamlet says to Horatio, “I have a [mis]giving, as would perhaps trouble a woman … . —the readiness is all … . let be” (Hamlet, 5.2.215-24). “Be” is exactly the right word. Hamlet here experiences what men have, to their injury, relegated to the feminine and accordingly devalued in Western culture—that is, mercy, compassion, patience, a willingness to be. As he earlier states clearly in his famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be” (3.1.57), he has struggled to determine whether it is nobler to “suffer / The slings and arrows of utrageous fortune,” that is, to patiently accept God’s world, to live in mercy (which is what, by direct grammatical parallel, Shakespeare is saying it means “to be”) or on the other hand “to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them,” that is, to take revenge in the spirit of justice and likely be justly killed—and thus not to be. The question whether to be or not to be is exactly the fundamental religious and moral question whether to live by “womanly” mercy or to die by “manly” revenge. Often, in Hamlet, men disclaim their tears as “women’s weapons” and take heart that after weeping “the woman will be out,” so then they can proceed with male honor to revenge.
In his speech about a “misgiving,” Hamlet, for a moment, lets the woman in him turn him back, but it is too late: The mechanism of violence he has unleashed by killing Polonius and threatening Claudius soon catches him up again into the revenge spirit in the bloody ending of the play.
Shakespeare knew that the only solution to the revenge mechanism did in fact lie with “the woman” in us—or literally women in Western culture, who have been left relatively free from the male cycles of violence and continuing war. For this reason Shakespeare’s great healers are almost all women, true to our Western cultural symbolization of healing qualities as feminine. In King Lear Cordelia heals her sinful, proud, rash father, Lear, though he cruelly casts her off, by persisting in unconditional love for him. And Shakespeare makes the only ultimate source of healing perfectly clear. At one point Cordelia says, “O dear father,/ It is thy business that I go about” (King Lear, 4.3.22-3), invoking clearly in the audience’s mind the young Christ in the temple. Later a gentleman says to Lear, as he runs away, “Thou hast one daughter/ Who redeems all nature from the general curse/ Which twain have brought her to” (4.4.53-55), which not only suggests the two evil sisters and Cordelia but also Adam and Even and Christ and therefore unmistakably shows Cordelia’s parallel to Christ as a healer. And Paulina, in The Winter’s Tale, is given a unique Christian name in a Greek setting, one that invokes directly the Pauline Christian way of salvation. Paulina heals a sinful, violent man until he can participate in a stunning resurrection onstage of his supposedly dead wife.
Shakespeare’s healers have much to teach us. Like Christ, they not only love but speak the truth in love. Cordelia refuses to play her father’s public game of getting his daughters to flatter him for their inheritances; she is thus able to reveal to him his fundamental sin of equating love with quantity and quid pro quo—that is, with justice in some form. Her sharp refusal unleashes storms of guilt and madness in Lear that are finally healed only by her persistent mercy. Likewise, Paulina’s tough accusations force the king in The Winter’s Tale, Leontes, to face the harm his violent jealousy has done and engage in a sixteen-year penance—until he is ready, and willing, to accept mercy. Shakespeare knew the final barrier to healing and peace: the shame that sinners feel because of the barbs of truth and justice. Lear, for instance, physically runs away from Cordelia’s efforts to save him from her sisters’ cruelty and his own madness because “a sovereign shame so elbows him: his own unkindness … these things sting his mind so venomously” (King Lear, 4.3.42-6). Only absolute mercy, eventually only the infinite mercy of Christ, has the power to break through the bands, the shame, of that sense of justice so we can be healed.
Clearly the art of healing involves helping someone through a painful process of both facing the truth and taking on new constructs, new ways of thinking and being. The 1991 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was Aung San Suu Kyi, the non-violent leader of Burma’s democratic opposition movement. Until recently under permanent house arrest, she once led a protest past kneeling soldiers aiming directly at her and was saved by a last-minute cease-fire. The military junta offered to let her leave the country if she would stay out of politics, but she refused. Remaining totally isolated, she apparently sells her belongings to pay bills. She has likened her dream, her vision of being a peacemaker, to a traditional Burmese poem: “Emerald cool we may be/ As water in cupped hands/ But oh that we might be/ As splinters of glass/ In cupped hands.”11
“Splinters of glass” sounds like an image of violence, but I believe it captures one crucial element of the non-violent healing process that leads to genuine peace. Martin Luther King was often accused of inciting violence, but his disciplined non-violent direct action cast a spotlight on racial violence and provoked our consciences toward healing racism enough to prevent a terrible civil war that could easily have exploded.
Similarly the Mormon independent sector and non-Mormon press have been accused of opening wounds and inciting harsh and even violent antagonism through publishing information and opinions about people and issues we would rather not face. Indeed, when the September 1991 Sunstone appeared, detailing Elder Paul H. Dunn’s embellishments of his famous war and baseball stories, I was offended. I have known Elder Dunn for many years and respect and love him as a kind and generous man and a moderate and sane theologian, and I wondered if he couldn’t be spared all this. But as I read the extremely thorough and balanced package that the editors had put together, including Elder Dunn’s own interview with the press and essays by William A. Wilson and Richard Poll which placed the matter of “improving on stories” in a traditional effective storytelling context, I changed my mind. Thinking this through could be–and was for me–a painful yet healing process. It helped me be more careful and more forgiving. On October 26, 1991, shortly after the Sunstone issue, Elder Dunn published a letter of apology in the LDS Church News, and I realized again how healing a simple admission and apology can be. I have seen evidence that the healing has multiplied throughout the church as many who before were angry have responded to Elder Dunn with mercy and increased love.
Besides requiring sharp truth, healing requires change. Shakespeare knew well a Renaissance tradition of healing the soul as well as the body, based on helping people imagine new possibilities for themselves. Therapists urged patients to try on new constructs, inventing dramas for them to literally or imaginatively participate in. For instance, Andre Du Laurens, in 1599, published a book on “Melancholike Diseases” that tells of various ruses therapists used to cure patients’ delusions. One case tells of a man who was dying because he would not urinate for fear “all his towne would be drowned.”12 Rational arguments failed, but finally the physicians set a neighboring house on fire and had the town officials come in and plead with the man to urinate upon the fire, which he did–and thus was healed of his delusion. Other medical books of the time, which Shakespeare obviously knew, indicate this kind of therapeutic device was not only a common and accepted part of the healing tradition but that there was a theory to explain it. William Vaughan, in Approved Directions for Health, both Naturall and Artificiall (first published in 1604), clarifies the theory:
Wherein consists the cure of the spiritual maladies? … The Physitian … must invent and devise some spiritual pageant to fortify and help the imaginative facultie, which is corrupted and depraved; yea, he must endeavor to deceive and imprint another conceit, whether it be wise or foolish, in the Patients braine, thereby to put out all former phantasies.13
Shakespeare’s plays are full of such “spiritual pageants,” plays within plays that various healers design to help cure their patients’ souls. I think that Shakespeare saw his own plays themselves as spiritual pageants, designed to imprint new conceits upon the imaginations of audiences and thus cure their spiritual maladies. He was especially concerned about how to heal the spirit of revenge, the willingness to do harm in the name of justice, which I believe he saw as our chief human evil, the one that led to all the others, including sexism. I think he not only wanted us to see how Cordelia and Paulina heal sinful and violent men through telling them the truth and loving them unconditionally, even sacrificially; I think he wanted us, in Gloucester’s words, to “see it feelingly” (King Lear, 4.6.149), so that we would healed as well.
How then can we be healers? One way is to create and repeat stories, dramas of the imagination, that enable us to imagine new possibilities for ourselves. Levi Peterson, one of our finest Mormon storytellers, does this. Rather than preaching, he tells us stories that dramatize the consequences of believing in a harsh God as opposed to a God of tender mercy.
From such stories we can learn about imaginative mercy. Some years ago I saw the results of a failure to be imaginative. A bright young state department official, on a visit back to BYU, was telling me, with some pride, how he had been selected to be part of a two-hour session held before the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Iceland to plan strategies for Reagan to use. My friend related how the group discussed various bargaining gambits for Reagan to use to get some small advantage or even trick Gorbachev into a disadvantage. I finally asked my friend if anyone, during those two hours, had suggested a way our two nations might cooperate. Had anyone suggested a unilateral offer that might reduce tensions, some act of pure mercy in hopes of a similar response? With surprise and then remorse, he said no to both questions.
Rene Girard gives us a theory for what the scriptures and modern prophets say plainly: force, even “righteous,” justified force, almost always begets force; mercy at least sometimes begets mercy. Shakespeare dramatizes the consequences of revenge, of any kind of adversarial undertaking, even for “justice,” and shows us how to heal by telling the truth in love and by being inventive, creating new imaginative constructs, rather than being confrontive and adversarial. For instance, I thought, even before President Gordon B. Hinckley’s advice against them in the fall of 1991, that public prayers to Mother in Heaven tended to be taken—and perhaps offered—as political statements rather than as means of uniting believers in worship. But what a wonderful alternative, an imaginative new construct, that Carol Lynn Pearson reports a Relief Society president in California practices. She prays, sometimes even publicly, to Heavenly Father about Heavenly Mother, expressing love to her through him and asking for more knowledge about her. Certainly no one could be offended, and I believe her prayers will be answered. Such imaginative devices, developed through inspiration and the merciful spirit of peace, can help heal us and bring peace in this difficult time.
There are other practical means. We can all try to practice, even when others do not, the fundamental counsel of the scriptures for handling differences or perceived offenses: Go to thy brother or sister alone and talk it through, in prayer, in love, with a song, with apologies, with whatever it takes. This means we do not write to higher authority or go to the press with adversarial, escalating responses. We work it out, between each other and in a spirit of mercy. In church circles of all places we should be able to confront each other truthfully and kindly.
But we must be willing. Kenneth Godfrey, a fine Mormon historian and Seminaries and Institutes area supervisor in northernUtah, relates that when he was about five he would walk out each night to meet his father, who drove a school bus and had to park it a mile from their home, which was on a small farm. One night, just as Ken ran the last few yards to his father’s arms, a large high school senior came up out of hiding in the weeds near the road and started calling Ken’s father names. He had kicked the young man off the bus that evening for causing trouble, and now he was intent on revenge. He threatened Ken’s father, who first held him down and tried to talk quietly and quell his anger, but then let him up. Suddenly the boy, who was bigger than Ken’s father, hit him in the face. Ken remembers how terrified he was and then how amazed when his father simply stood and let himself be hit in the face again before the boy turned and ran away. He remembers his dad, with the blood drying on his face, taking him by the hand and walking home. He remembers hearing for a long time the gossip that spread through town about his father’s cowardice, and he remembers feeling ashamed for him. For years, as he passed the house where the boy lived after he married, he felt helpless rage, hoping that some day he could grow large and strong enough to avenge his father, but he never did.
When Ken was a high school senior himself, eating in a cafe with his date after a dance, the man who had hit his father long before came into the cafe drunk. He went to Ken’s booth and sat by him and began to cry. “Your father gave me the worst beating of my life twelve years ago,” he said, “and someday, when I am sober, I am going to be man enough to tell him how sorry I am for what I did and ask him to forgive me.” However, it was Ken’s father, ten years after that, when he was called as a patriarch and felt he could not function in his office until he had completely forgiven and been forgiven, who went to the man who had hit him, asked to be forgiven, and was reconciled.
Another fine Mormon historian told me about a similar healing person. A few years ago stake presidents were instructed to call in the editors and some writers for Sunstone and Dialogue and talk with them about their activities. Stake presidents responded in a variety of ways, some with threats and sanctions. The historian’s stake president called him on a Sunday afternoon and asked if he could visit. My friend, who himself had recently finished a term in the stake presidency, wondered if he was to receive a new call. The new stake president arrived, with his counselors–and asked him if they could give him a blessing. The stake president blessed my friend that he could continue to do his important work as a historian with integrity and skill and continue to be an asset to the church. And he has.
In the fall of 1990, shortly after attending our stake conference, I received a letter from a BYU faculty member who lives in my stake. He reminded me of the powerful spiritual presence that was in our Saturday evening session and then told of a particular impression that had come to him when he saw me there. He had felt simultaneously scolded and blessed: scolded because he had let his differences from me in doctrinal perception keep him from feeling and expressing the kind of gospel love we ought to have for each other; blessed to feel that love for me right then, along with a desire to express it and put other things in perspective. He reported to me that he first thought, “But Gene believes and teaches doctrines which I think have serious, even dangerous implications for those with tender or unsettled spiritual roots,” and then felt a quick response to that thought: “That is not the issue here. The issue is love. All people have doctrinal misperceptions that will someday need correcting.” He told of pondering that experience again and again and finally deciding to share it with me—”acknowledging my own inadequacies, and seeking to do what is right.” I say, God give us all the courage to be as honest and pure as this dear colleague and thus to make the church a place of healing and peace-making, not by ignoring differences or errors, but by loving and talking despite them.
Emma Lou Thayne, Mormon poet and essayist, is a constant laborer for peace who has written a book about healing and being healed.14 Ten years ago, in Exponent II, she shared an example of peacemaking despite religious differences that was experienced by her friend Jan Cook:
She and her husband were for three years in Africa, in “deepest Africa, where The Gods Must Be Crazy was filmed.” His work had taken them and their three small children there, and any meetings attended were in their own living room with only themselves as participants. By their third Christmas, Jan was very homesick. She confessed this to a good friend, a Mennonite; Jan told her how she missed her own people, their traditions, even snow. Her friend sympathized and invited her to go with her in a month to the Christmas services being held in the only Protestant church in the area, saying that there would be a reunion there of all the Mennonite missionaries on the continent.
It took some talking for Jan to persuade her husband, but there they were being swept genially to the front of the small chapel. It felt good, being in on Christmas in a church again. The minister gave a valuable sermon on Christ; the congregation sang familiar carols with great vitality. Then, at the very end of the meeting, a choir of Mennonite missionaries from all over Africa rose from their benches and made their way to stand just in front of Jan and her family. Without a word, they began singing. Without a leader, without music, without text, they sang, “Come, Come Ye Saints.” Every verse.
Disbelieving, totally taken by surprise, Jan and her husband drenched the fronts of their Sunday best with being carried home on Christmas … . When they finished, Jan’s friend said simply, “For you. Our gift.”
Jan’s Mennonite friend had sent to Salt Lake City for the music to the hymn that she knew Jan loved, had had it duplicated and distributed to every Mennonite missionary in Africa; they in turn had learned it very carefully to bring the spirit of Christ to their own reunion where foreigners to their faith would be waiting to hear.15
I believe that apostles are indeed special witnesses for Christ and for his healing, peace-making mercy. One of the men who served as an apostle during my boyhood, Elder George F. Richards, bore witness about mercy in a general conference right after World War II. Many who heard him had lost sons or husbands in the war, and all had suffered in various ways and still had reason to be bitter. I remember vividly the feelings of fear and hatred that the words “Jap” and “Nazi” evoked in me as a young teenager, conditioned by the propaganda movies and newsreels during and even after the war. Elder Richards chose this time to put aside his prepared manuscript and talk instead about “Love for Mankind.” He reviewed the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, “in life and in death, a voluntary gift for us, a manifestation of love that has no comparison.” He professed love for all who could hear him, “in the Church or out of the Church, … good or bad, whatever their condition of life,” and reminded his hearers that in the pre-existence we lived in love together and “ought to love one another just the same here.”16 Then he said, “The Lord has revealed to me, by dreams, something more than I ever understood or felt before.” He first told of a dream from forty years earlier, in which he stood in the presence of the Savior and felt such “love for him that I have not words to explain.” Then he told of a dream from just a few years previous, toward the end of the war, in which he and some of his associates were in a courtyard where German soldiers led by Adolf Hitler were preparing weapons to slaughter them. Then a circle was formed, with Hitler and his men on the inside facing inward. Elder Richards dreamed he stepped inside the circle, faced Hitler, and spoke to him “something like this”:
“I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live here on the earth?”
And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection.
Then the scene changed so that our group was within the circle, and he and his group were on the outside, and when he came around to where I was standing, he stepped inside the circle and embraced me again, with a kiss of affection.
I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me that I must love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?
Now, who is there in this wide world that I could not love under those conditions, if I could only continue to feel as I felt then?17
I must confess that that is a difficult lesson for me. I feel like the older brother in Jesus’ parable, who resented the returning prodigal. Hitler unleashed on our world the most extensive and penetrating horror we know about in human history, including a war that killed tens of millions and extermination camps of unimaginable degradation and suffering. I have read the diaries of those who suffered and have tried to write about them, to preserve the memory of their anguish. To think of a “kiss of affection” for Adolf Hitler brings me close to nausea.
Yet I want to believe Elder Richards, a humble apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to believe that even Hitler is my brother, that we once lived in love and peace and that through the power of mercy we can do so again. I want to believe that the very worst is redeemable, that anyone can be healed through mercy—because then I can be too.
4. Linda King Newell, “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share,” Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 111-50.
5. Rene Girard’s mainvideas can be reviewed at length in Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977) and Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965).
7. For a short and accessible summary of this conviction, see Girard’s “The Bible Is Not a Myth,” Literature and Belief 4 (1984): 3-12; this was a forum address given at BYU in the fall of 1983. For a thorough analysis of the Bible as a testament against violence, see Girard’s Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987).
8. Nibley develops this insight most thoroughly in chapter 12 (“Good People and Bad People”) of Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. and FARMS, 1988), esp. 342-46. See also his “If There Must Needs Be Offense,” Ensign 1 (July 1971): 54, and “Scriptural Perspectives on How to Survive the Calamities of the Last Days,” Brigham Young University Studies 25 (Winter 1985): 7-27.