Making Peace: Personal Essays
The Prince of Peace
[p.223]As we meet tonight, on Easter Eve, it is the anniversary of the second night Christ’s body lay in the tomb, just before he rose on Easter morning. In this hour I want us to think together of Christ’s dead body in the tomb, to soberly consider what led to his death and what resulted. I ask you to pray for me, to extend your faith and love to me, so that my heart will be opened to you and yours to me.
Over fifty years ago I had an experience that became a touchstone for my spiritual life. My father and I were working on our farm in southern Idaho, in June,driving out early in the morning to use our Caterpillar tractor and twenty-four-foot rod weeders to till the half of our land that was lying fallow. We passed our largest field of grain, the one closest to town and lowest in the valley so it ripened first. It was just coming into the boot, as we called it, when you could begin to see what kinds of heads it would form, how many kernels, and thus how good the crop would be. As often happened, my father stopped the truck and we walked out to look at the wheat.
The wheat was about waist high for me, only eight years old, and we walked through it, plucking heads and examining them, me imitating my father. Then something happened that had not happened before. My father knelt in the wheat and asked me to kneel with him. He prayed for the crop and dedicated it to the Lord, consecrated it. He asked the Lord to withhold the wind and hail and fire so that we could harvest that crop, which would be our full year’s income and could be lost in a week—or a day or an hour, if conditions were bad—and he promised that he would use all the means from that crop in God’s service. I felt something I’d never felt before. I felt a fearful presence that [p.224]burned deep into my bones, like fire—and yet was peaceful, comforting.
I don’t remember if I was fully aware of it then, but as I thought about that experience over the years, refelt it, I became more and more convinced that what I felt was the presence of the Savior, a personal, confirming presence. I came to judge whether something was from the Savior by its resonance with that feeling, on that early morning looking at my father’s face as he prayed. That is, I considered whether something made me feel the same as I felt then—and later when I remembered that experience. I probably have not described the event with total accuracy, but I cannot forget the feeling. And I continue to measure all ideas, actions, and expressions, both those of others and my own, by whether they are in harmony with that touchstone.
By the time I was eighteen, ten years after that experience in the wheat field, I was living in Salt Lake City and courting Charlotte. We joined the Salt Lake Oratorical Choir, which existed mainly to perform Handel’s Messiah each Christmas in the Tabernacle. Some of you will be surprised that I made the choir, because there actually were try-outs. They let Charlotte in because she was a fine alto, trained in the East High School A’Capella Choir under Louise Bowman, and I think they let me in because they wanted to promote romance—wanted me to come with Charlotte to all the rehearsals. We sang that wonderful chorus, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: … Wonderful, Counsellor.” Wonderful thing to sing. You remember those amazing, difficult passages on the word “born” for each part, even us tenors, passages that I tried valiantly to manage—usually two notes behind: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
I felt again that feeling, that touchstone from my boyhood, when I sang that song, and I knew that there was something right about those names for Christ, something consistent with what I’d felt in that wheat field. I felt that he was indeed the Prince of Peace. I didn’t know, really, what that meant. I heard people talk about the gospel of [p.225]peace. I read scriptures about God speaking peace to our souls and remembered Oliver Cowdrey’s experience when God spoke peace to his mind. I thought I knew what that felt like.
When we sang, at the beginning of the program tonight, “Jesus, the very thought of thee, with sweetness fills my breast,” I felt the sweetness I had experienced back in 1953 with Charlotte in the Tabernacle. At that time, under Lowell Bennion at the University of Utah LDS institute, I was beginning to study the Book of Mormon in detail. He taught me, for the first time, to understand the Atonement. As I read and reread the Book of Mormon, I felt increasingly that what the preface said was true, that it was entirely a witness—to Jew and gentile—that Jesus is the Christ. I came to the point where I could turn to almost any page and read a few verses and immediately feel the spirit of Christ—even to the point of tears. I knew, by that earlier touchstone, that the Book of Mormon was from Christ and was true.
But there was a problem with the idea that Christ was the Prince of Peace. I became aware of it as I read that passage in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” That for me raised a question: “What kind of peace, if not `worldly’ peace, is Christ the Prince of?” I heard people say that such peace had nothing to do with wars between nations, including the Korean War going on then, which I felt was a righteous war and was ready to fight in.
About that same time Marion D. Hanks was called to be a member of the First Council of Seventy. He was a young man, only thirty, and Charlotte and I had known him as a seminary teacher and popular youth speaker in the Salt Lake City area. We listened to him carefully in his first general conferences, before we were called, right after our marriage, as missionaries to Samoa, and in one of those addresses he talked about peace and mercy and told a story about two Latter-day Saint families who lived near each other. Some offence was committed by one against the other and for years they were alienated from each other. No one remembered any longer what the original offence was, but there was continuing animosity, until finally the one who had first been offended went to the other and apologized, and the families were [p.226]reconciled.
I felt the spirit of my boyhood touchstone again. I felt that little action of apology was one of the things peace is about, the ability to be reconciled, even when you’re not in the wrong: to extend mercy through some courageous act beyond what justice required. I felt that this was the spirit of the Prince of Peace.
However, my own choices during that time would seem to deny what I had learned. I believed that this concept had to do with personal interactions, nothing beyond that. I’d grown up as an American patriot. I believed World War II was a righteous war. I would have fought in it had I been old enough. When the Korean War came I volunteered for the Air Force college training program, and after our mission to Samoa was sent to MIT for a year’s training in meteorology. I then served two years as an Air Force weather officer for a tactical fighter bomber squadron at George Air Force Base in the Mojave desert. Two or three times in the early 1960s the squadron was alerted for Vietnam. But they didn’t go into combat until after I had left the service for graduate work at Stanford University.
At Stanford I had access, through the graduate library, to news and commentary from the international press that began to counter my vision of American righteousness and its use of power. In 1964 quite suddenly I experienced a dramatic paradigm shift, a kind of sea change in my soul. You remember the famous Tonkin Gulf incident, in which it was claimed that North Vietnamese gun boats had fired on an American destroyer. President Lyndon Johnson used that claim as an excuse to bomb Hanoi and to obtain Congressional approval for essentially unlimited power to escalate the war. The sources I had access to convinced me that this incident was a fabrication by the U.S. government, which in fact was later revealed to be the case.
I had grown up believing, connected to my belief that the Constitution was divinely inspired, that U.S. presidents did not lie. When I became convinced that President Johnson had lied, with complicity from his advisors and without significant opposition from Congress, but with such dire results for our country, I crossed some line in my soul. As I thought about it, and consulted the same touchstone I have mentioned, I became convinced that I had crossed to a proper place, to [p.227]a conviction that the Prince of Peace had to do with peace between nations more than with loyalty to one nation. Since then I’ve been trying to understand more fully what that means, what the costs of discipleship to such a Prince might be.
I was reminded often of that quest last weekend. A colleague, Bruce Young, and I went to Atlanta to a Shakespeare conference. Before the meetings we visited the Martin Luther King birthplace and nearby King Center, saw the memorial, the building, the grave, the beautiful setting there—and the center for training in nonviolent action. I had occasion to think about what it meant for a Christian minister to be committed to the Prince of Peace—and to thus be able to find new means of social change that I think saved our country from violent revolution, and to pay with his life. On Palm Sunday we began the day by going to Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where both Martin Luther King and his father had regularly preached.
Palm Sunday is the day, remember, when Christ came into Jerusalem for the last time. He came nonviolently and ended that week with his death. He came confrontively, not passively. This is one of the things that I’ve been learning in recent years, that what he taught was pacifist but does not mean passivity. It means something like Martin Luther King’s “nonviolent direct action.” That is clearly what Christ engaged in that last week of his life. Let me remind you of what happened early in that week, after the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.
It is a little bit surprising to look at the record again, because it is a record of dramatic confrontation, compared to what we usually think of when we think of Christ. You remember, for instance, that he cleanses the temple, drives out the money changers. Then he tells some violent parables: the one of the landowner who planted a vineyard, hedged it, let it out to the husbandmen, went to another country, and then sent his servants to receive the harvest:
The husbandmen took his servants and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is [p.228]the heir; come let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him. When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? (Matt. 21:35-40)
The normal human reaction, of course, is to think of retaliation: In answer to his question, “They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their season.” But Christ doesn’t say, “You’re right, the Lord of the universe will take revenge.” That kind of God is what Christ had come to tell them he was not. Often he had reminded his disciples, “They said of old time, `Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy,’ but I say unto you.”
So, to the chief priests, Christ is direct, unsparing:
Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall it shall grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and pharisees had heard these parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet (Matt. 21:42- 46).
From this point on, the chief priests and Pharisees plot how to take Christ’s life, but he continues to rebuke them, to expose their basic violence and lack of mercy:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel …. Woe unto you … because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, And say, if we had been in the days of our father, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the proph-[p.229]ets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your fathers (Matt. 23:13-16; 23-31).
Strong language. Is this the Prince of Peace? I think so. After speaking this violently to religious leaders, he would go nonviolently to his death. Nor would he be a scapegoat, which is what he knew they wanted him to be. Throughout the Old Testament, as he so pointedly reminded them, they had killed the prophets and truthtellers, thinking they could focus their collective national iniquity on one person rather than face their sins individually. He declared his complete innocence. As an innocent victim, he would end the violence by refusing to participate in it, thus stopping the cycles of retaliation.
As we thought about that on Palm Sunday at Ebeneezer Baptist Church, we were reminded that that day was the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death on 4 April 1968. We thought about his life, what he stood for. And thus we recovered some of the hope of the 1960s that some of you remember—and some of the hopelessness. Then we went to the Martin Luther King Chapel at the college he attended, Morris Brown, which is part of Atlanta University, and saw the huge statue of him there, at least twelve feet high and surrounded by plaques listing his many honors. We gathered with about 2,000 Easter worshippers, all of us black but about ten, and each of us was given a small palm branch to carry, made of a coconut palm leaf.
They made us visitors feel welcome, had us stand for everyone to see, and then we got hugs from four or five people around us. The young mother sitting next to me with a little child on her lap dropped her baby’s bottle and it rolled down the aisle. And Bruce Young, who is a new father and very adept at this, scooted down and retrieved it and felt right at home.
There was some lively music there that you will probably not hear in a Mormon chapel, at least for a while. Then a traditional song we Mormons could relate to. “The Holy City” was sung by the leader of the choir, just the way I’d always heard it in Mormon meetings: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your voice and sing. Hosanna, in the highest, hosanna to our King.” We drove quickly afterwards to an LDS stake [p.230]center in time to watch general conference on television. We had the opposite experience there in one sense—two black families among maybe five hundred people. I thought of the gains we have made as a church and people since 1978, and the ways we have still got to go, all of us, to fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream.
During that session of conference, Elder Howard W. Hunter spoke on the theme, “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee,” interspersing his talk with words from that song. He said: “Surely life would be more peaceful, surely marriages and families would be stronger. Certainly neighborhoods and nations would be safer and kinder and more constructive, if more of the gospel of Jesus Christ could fill our breasts. How deeply, gratefully and adoringly do our lives reflect on his life. How central to our lives do we know him to be.” I felt the recognizable spirit of the Prince of Peace as I listened to a modern apostle bear his witness concerning the Savior.
Between sessions of conference we went to the Carter Center, there in Atlanta, and visited the Carter Library and Museum. We went through the exhibits about President Jimmy Carter’s life. I was particularly interested, thinking about peace and the struggle for it, in seeing exhibits about his efforts to control of the nuclear arms race. In one exhibit was a letter I had remembered reading, long ago, from Robert Milliken and other distinguished atomic scientists, written July 17, 1945. This was after the bomb had been invented by them, before it was used on Japan, and they wrote to President Harry S. Truman, asking him not to use it. They reminded the president how they had developed the bomb to counter a possible development of atomic weapons by Germany, but now there was no need to drop it and great danger: “The nation which sets the precedent of such massive destruction of innocence may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.”
I watched a video and saw exhibits about the Camp David accords that President Carter had worked long and ultimately successfully to bring about in September 1978, achieving finally a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. He talked on that video about the various times, during that period of weeks that the two leaders struggled there together to come to an accord, when one and then the other would [p.231]pack up to leave. When Anwar Sadat did that, just as he was leaving, Carter met with him and said, “This is a matter of personal trust between us. I’m asking you because of your trust in me to stay.” And Sadat did stay and of course eventually paid with his life.
President Carter talked about doing the same with Menachem Begin, who was also at one point leaving in a huff. Carter arranged to take to him a picture he had been able to get of Begin’s grandchildren. Carter had learned their names and he talked with Begin about each grandchild by name, about the kind of world they would live in if he wasn’t willing to make some concessions.
One of the things Begin said during those two weeks is that “peace is infinitely harder to make than war.” That is true. I feel the spirit of the Prince of Peace when I say that—and I felt it when I watched a video of a devout Baptist, President Carter, talking about his commitment to peace. This past week I have been thinking a lot about Christ and what he stood for. I’d like to share with you some of the scriptures I’ve looked at as I tried to retrace our knowledge of him from the pre-existence to the second coming.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Christian minister killed by the Nazis, coined a phrase that sounds right to me. Christ he called “the man for others.” I think the appropriateness of that phrase began in the preexistence, when, as modern scripture in the Book of Moses records, Christ offered himself for us, with some knowledge of what it might entail in suffering in this life, so that a plan that did not try to violate agency could be made available. His plan, even before his incarnation, was non-violent. We sometimes forget that the main reason Satan’s plan would not work was that it was a plan of violence, a plan of force, which claimed it would “save” everyone through coercion. Christ, the Prince of Peace, chose the more difficult option—but the only one that could actually save us—and thus chose the cost he had to pay.
Mormons understand the “Lord God” who is acting and speaking in the Old Testament to be Christ, Jehovah. This poses some problems when we also think of him as the “Prince of Peace,” because of course for many the Old Testament God seems to be a God of violence. Most of the arguments I’ve heard within the church and in Christianity in [p.232]general that claim pacifism is not a viable choice for Christians reason that it could not be an option since God is himself not a pacifist. The God of the Hebrews commits acts of violence—which, by definition, cannot be wrong. I think that may be the one major impediment to thoughtful people who might otherwise fully accept Christ as the Prince of Peace. But if we look carefully at the Old Testament that idea, that God himself is violent, can be rejected.
Hosea reports that Jehovah “has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land because there is no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God” (Hosea 4:1). This seems to connect accepting mercy with a proper knowledge of God, and if we read carefully the literary prophets, as they’re called, we find that they are constantly calling Israel to rise about a limited, violent concept of God, which even their prophets sometimes expressed, to a more merciful one.
What the Old Testament makes clear is that God is working with an inherently violent people, even though a “chosen people,” who even express that violence sometimes by blaming God for it; God, through his prophets, is trying to move the Hebrews to a higher understanding of what God wants of them. At one point God tells the prophet Ezekiel to no longer accept the saying that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (see Ezek. 18:1-4). In other words, he denies that revenge from the Lord goes on into future generations. What makes this so interesting is that the Lord is quoting a previous scripture: Before that time, people had accepted that understanding of God’s revengeful nature as the word of the Lord, spoken by his prophets. There’s no way to interpret that passage in Ezekiel I believe other than to see that God is working with a people whose understanding of God is incomplete, even wrong, and developing. Though they have claimed or received some kind of revelation, and have understood it violently, God is trying to lead them beyond that—and succeeds if they (and we) will listen to him.
During this time, when God was trying to move his chosen people beyond violence, according to Mormon scripture, God appeared to Enoch and showed him the earth’s inhabitants:
And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue [p.233]of the people, and he wept … . And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity … . and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how it is thou canst weep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood (Moses 7:28-29; 32-33).
Enoch is surprised because he had labored under the old conception of God as somehow absolute, in control of humans and thus not capable of that kind of human passion—actually weeping—concerning his chosen people when they exercised their agency and chose violence over the peace he was trying to teach them.
We also learn from the Old Testament something very specific about the Messiah’s non-violence, and Handel made it part of his great oratorio. We’re told at the beginning of the Isaiah 53, by our modern LDS headnotes, written we understand by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, that “Isaiah speaks messianically.” That is, that the person clearly represented here is the Savior:
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows; and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isa. 53:2-4).
We usually slip by that, but listen to it again: “Surely he hath born our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” In other words, we assume that Christ, in the Atonement, was stricken and afflicted by God, that God exercises that [p.234]kind of violence and demands that kind of retribution for our sins. But the passage here tells us we are wrong. It is our human projection on God to “esteem” or consider the Messiah to be “smitten of God,” afflicted by him. Isaiah goes on to emphasize the point:
But he was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (vv. 5-6, my emphasis).
Remember, we Latter-day Saints understand this passage is about the God of the Old Testament, who is Christ. He is not a God of violence:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth (vv. 7-8, my emphasis).
“Because he had done no violence; neither was any deceit in his mouth.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who publishes peace. I think that is what Christ gives as the Prince of Peace. He rejects the old concepts, even those that may have or seem to have come from prophets.
Now listen to this Messiah in the New Testament as he comes on earth to teach us directly what he and the father are like:
Ye have heard that it hath been said [and he’s quoting scripture here], An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also … . Ye have heard that it hath [p.235]been said, Thou shalt love they neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you, 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 (Matt. 5:38-39, 43-44, my emphasis).
We learned much together two weeks ago at the Mormon Peace Gathering in Las Vegas, in presentations, readings and discussions opposing the possible resumption of nuclear testing. In one of our readings, Walter Wink, a Protestant thinker, in his book, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa (New Society Publishers, 1986), which stirred important debate among Christians in that racially divided country, describes what he calls Jesus’s “third way” in the face of violence or oppression—“neither fight nor flight,” but non-violent direct action instead. He argues that the passage I have just read from the Sermon on the Mount has been misunderstood: Christ’s command to “resist not evil” is assumed to mean we should be passive in the face of evil. Wink points out that that is a bad translation. What it more accurately says is “Do not respond violently to violence.”
Wink examines the passage on the basis of research into the social and political conditions of the first century in Palestine, pointing out that the prescriptions here, such as “Whosoever will smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” “If any man will sue thee of the law and take away thy coat, let him have they cloak also,” and “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain,” are grounded in the customs and the attitudes and understandings of an oppressed people at that time and did not mean simple acceptance, rolling over and letting others oppress you. They were forms of pacifism, not passivism.
For instance, Wink points out that in that culture smiting a person on the right cheek was done only to humiliate inferiors and only with the back side of the right hand. The left hand could only be used for unclean tasks, and to actually strike a person, an inferior, directly with a fist would be to recognize them as an equal. So if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek, the left cheek. Now he can neither strike you with his fist nor backhand you with his left hand, which puts him in a remarkably difficult position: even your process of submission becomes a judgment on his violence.
Wink analyzes the other seemingly passive suggestions by Christ in the same way: “Whosoever shall take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also” relates to the legal requirement that though you could take the outer garment (coat) from an inferior, as security for a loan, it has to be returned by sundown. If you are oppressed by someone taking that coat from you, what Christ is advising you to do is to give your inner garment (cloak) also, and to stand there until sundown naked, as a judgment to embarrass the person who would carry the oppression that far.
“Whosoever will compel you to go a mile, go with him twain”: The law required conquered peoples to help Roman soldiers carry their heavy packs a mile, but it was against the law, with strong penalties, to compel them to go further. So when an oppressed person said, “No, I’ll keep carrying,” after the first mile, they put the soldier in the position of begging them to to stop for fear he might be arrested. Wink comments:
Jesus in effect is sponsoring clowning. In so doing he shows himself to be thoroughly Jewish. A later saying of the Talmud runs, “If your neighbor calls you an ass, put a saddle on your back.” … Some … may object to the idea of discomfitting the soldier or embarrassing the creditor. But how can a people who are engaged in oppressive acts repent unless they are made uncomfortable with their actions? There is, admittedly, the danger of using nonviolence as a tactic of revenge and humiliation. There is also, at the opposite extreme, an equal danger of sentimentality and softness that confuses the uncompromising lover of Jesus with being nice. Loving confrontations can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin.
You see Wink’s point? There was a wonderful example of this kind of peaceful, non-violent direct action that isn’t passive last year at BYU. We had a rape on campus and an outpouring as you might expect of editorials and statements about how terrible that was. One editorial suggested a curfew for women, requiring them to have escorts after a certain time at night, provided by campus ward priesthood quorums. The student women’s group, VOICE, thought about this and composed a marvelous form of the nonviolent but confrontive undercutting of stereotype and oppression that Wink argues Christ is advising. They [p.237]posted around the campus and sent to various people and the press a statement announcing a curfew for men. All male student were to be indoors, unless accompanied by two or more females, after 10:00 p.m. If they had any trouble getting escorts, they could call their ward Relief Society president. Well, what did that bit of satire do? It made a powerful point. You can tell how powerful it was by the reaction of some in letters to the editors: the outrage that people “who weren’t to blame would be make to suffer,” which meant men, of course. But I know the statement made many people think a little bit about our tendency to blame or penalize the victim when women are attacked.
We tend to look for excuses for our violence, for evidence God might allow revenge. In the 98th section of the Doctrine of Covenants, there is a long passage, laying out what some people see as a justification for retaliation: God seems to be saying, If you’ve turned your cheek three times, without effect, I can understand your feeling and it is “justified” to use violence. But a more careful look reveals that God is not excusing violence at all but saying, even at that point, when you’ve been patient three times without response, “If thou will spare him, thou shall be rewarded for thy righteousness and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation” (v. 30). The basic message of that section is
Verily I say unto my friends, fear not and let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks … . Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy … . Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to their children (vv. 1, 14, 16).
Such advice about violence ends, “This is the law that I gave unto my ancients, that they should not go out into battle against any nation, kindred, tongue or people, save I the Lord commanded them [which, of course, has never happened in the history of our nation]. And if any nation, tongue or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation or tongue [which, [p.238]of course we have not done, either, in our wars of the past fifty years].”
Last Thursday night, when we came down to the San Francisco Bay area, which was our home for eight years in the 1960s and for which we have very tender feelings, we stayed with dear friends near Golden Gate Park. I sat up late reading, thinking about this sermon, and turned to remembering what that Thursday night was—something we Latter-day Saints don’t celebrate, don’t think about much, at least on that day. But maybe we should make our own celebration then. What is that Thursday before Easter? It is called Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar, maundy referring to the ancient ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on that day, the day of remembering the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when Christ washed his disciples’ feet.
Why might Latter-day Saints particularly want to celebrate then? We tend to resist celebrating Good Friday, because of our concern with the other costs of the Atonement than those paid on the cross and our resistance to the cross’s emphasis on the death. We ought to celebrate Thursday evening, because that time is something we have special understanding of from our modern scriptures. That is when the Atonement really reached its heart and Christ bled in the garden, not from violence from the outside, but in love for us and internal agony over our sins. Many of you are familiar with the crucial passage in Doctrine and Covenants, section 19, about that suffering. It is unique, because anything else we have about Christ’s atonement is told by others, witnesses or people who heard about what happened. But here we have Christ telling us himself what it was like to suffer the Atonement on that Thursday evening.
I think we could find ways that on each Maundy Thursday we might gather together, read this scripture and others, and have a unique celebration and sober remembrance. But we could also do it individually as I did last Thursday night. Let me read it to you again. Christ is speaking to Joseph Smith, in 1833, 1,800 years after the event—but still feeling it. Can you feel him feeling it? Listen to his language:
I God have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent. But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I, which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of [p.239]all, to tremble because of pain and to bleed at every pore and to suffer both body and spirit and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink—
Now, of course, if you end the passage right there, you have an incomplete sentence. Surely Christ wouldn’t speak in incomplete sentences, would he? But he does here. I think he does because, even in the midst of his revelation to Joseph Smith, he feels again the pain of the Atonement in the Garden. We must understand that pain emotionally, feel it in some way for ourselves, I believe, if we are to be moved with faith unto repentance. And if there’s any moment at which we can have the most direct access to that pain, it may be at the point of that dash at the end of verse 18. There Christ stops, and after a pause for himself—and us—to reflect, he begins again: “Nevertheless glory be to the Father and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men, wherefore, I command you again to repent.”
Of course, it’s on the basis of the collateral of his suffering, unconditional love for us, while we are still sinners, that he is able to make that command to repent. He is the only person who can offer at the same time the power to do so—what Amulek calls the “means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15, my emphasis). That’s what he’s done for us through the violence he was willing to take on himself. And part of what he was doing was preparing us, I think, to be moved sufficiently that we would not have to engage in violence, whatever our temptation is.
Christ has promised us that we could bring about such a condition of peace in Zion. When he comes again, it will be a time when there is a special situation on the earth: “It shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor, must needs flee unto Zion for safety. They shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another (D&C 45:22).
From the beginning to the end, from the preexistence to the second coming, Christ offers himself to us as the Prince of Peace. When I got home from Atlanta, thinking about Martin Luther King, I was motivated to read more about him. One book, Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind (Orbis, 1982), by John J. Ansbro, documents the proc-[p.240]ess by which Martin Luther King became convinced that part of his mission, to be consistent with this calling, was to oppose the war in Vietnam and all wars. He studied Gandhi and Reinhold Niebuhr, in theological school and on his own, and at first he was convinced that Niebuhr was right in his criticism of pacifism as being too self-righteous, too unrealistic about the world. But he became finally convinced by Gandhi and by the principles that he saw Christ as clearly teaching, with an additional understanding of what “resist not evil” means: not passivism, but as Wink suggests, active nonviolence.
In fact it is the apostle Paul who makes the requirement, “resist not evil,” meaningful. He teaches it this way: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). And of course nonviolent direct action is exactly that—not ignoring evil, but overcoming it with courageous good. It’s out of that kind of conviction that Martin Luther King spoke out at Riverside Church on
April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, against participation in the Vietnam war.
As a result, we have now learned, our government tried to undermine his work. Some of that evidence was presented in the newspapers while Bruce Young and I were in Atlanta last week, with headlines that read, “Discovery of Military Spying on Martin Luther King.” It wasn’t enough that our government did that kind of spying and maligned his character, tried to pin on him the label of communist and philanderer to undermine what he was doing, but there is some evidence of what I immediately suspected and have in my heart felt was possibly true all along, that in fact he was killed because of his opposition to that war in Vietnam, by those who were profiting in some way from that war.
What then, is the connection between the peace that we believe Christ calls us to in our individual relationships, and the violence between nations? I think many of you are aware that the First Presidency in 1981 made that connection clear. Their Christmas message that year addresses directly the question whether Christ is the Prince of Peace only as regards peace between individuals or peace within our own hearts, or does he really have anything to do with nations? The First [p.241]Presidency says he does:
To all who seek a resolution to conflict, be it a misunderstanding between individuals or an international difficulty among nations, we commend the council of the Prince of Peace, “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 you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” This principle of loving one another as Jesus Christ loves us will bring peace to the individual, to the home, and beyond, even to the nations and to the world.
That seems to me clear enough. But it is undermined by a mixed history that we have as Latter-day Saints, because that message has not come clearly and consistently from our prophets. In the nineteenth century it did. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor essentially renounced the wars of our nation, including the Civil War. And it was not really until 1898 that a dramatic change took place. The evidence is quite certain that the change came because of our need to accommodate, for survival, to America and it’s political system and values. Thomas Alexander has documented in his biography of Wilford Woodruff how that happened and how Wilford Woodruff was prepared by the Lord to make that dramatic change in his own thinking, a change that in fact, quite likely, did enable the church to survive. But at some cost. This is the way Alexander expresses the cost, when the First Presidency, quite to the surprise of most people, came out in support of the 1898 Spanish American War:
Moving in a direction evident at least since the 1887 Constitutional Convention, but nevertheless crossing an immense intellectual rubicon, Woodruff subordinated the idea of the kingdom of God to the idea of loyalty to the United States. In order to prove Latter-day Saint patriotism, he proposed to offer the ultimate sacrifice, the blood of Mormon youth to the nation. (p. 321)
That is not merely a metaphor. We don’t have exact figures but Mormons have averaged something like one percent of the American [p.242]population in the twentieth century, and thus, given our even higher than average degree of patriotic willingness to serve in the armed forces, Mormon youth have suffered at least one percent of the casualties—thousands of deaths. But we Mormons also killed many others—many thousands of Germans and Japanese and Koreans and Vietnamese and Iraqis. And that may be a greater burden for us to bear.
I think it is possible that, as a people, we have been living a lower law in relation to the Prince of Peace, at least for a hundred years, though some individuals have lived the higher law. And the record bears that out in an interesting way. There has been an interesting moving back and forth among the prophets, on the one hand absolutely renouncing the war, including the second world war, and then justifying war in certain conditions. President David O. McKay, at the beginning of World War II, said in General Conference,
War is incompatible with Christ’s teachings:
War impels you to hate your enemies.
The Prince of Peace says, Love your enemies.
War says, Curse them that curse you.
The Prince of Peace says, Pray for them that curse you.
War says, Injure and kill them that hate you.
The risen Lord says, Do good to them that hate you.
… It is vain to attempt to reconcile war with true Christianity (Improvement Era, May 1942, 31).
President McKay then admitted, “In the face of all this, I shall seem inconsistent when I declare that I uphold our country in the gigantic task it has assumed in the present world conflict, and sustain the Church in its loyal support of government in its fight against dictatorship.” And he does seem inconsistent, because he must (and does) proceed with a paradox: that Latter-day Saints should, partly because in this real world we are forced to, support the government, even though that means to some extent denying the Prince of Peace. President McKay does, however, lay down some conditions for such war, conditions that can justify our nation’s defensive response to the aggression of Germany and Japan in World War II—but do not justify any of our military actions since then. He says war in never justified “in an attempt [p.243]to enforce a new order of government … however better the government … may be,” which is exactly what we were doing in Korea (after we crossed the 39th parallel), in Vietnam, in Grenada, in Angola, in Iraq.
There has been a similar equivocation over conscientious objection. At our Mormon Peace Gathering in Las Vegas, one of the participants was a Brother Boyd, who was one of perhaps only three conscientious objectors in World War II and who talked about being sent to a Quaker-run CO camp in California. He told of being aware that his situation was looked into while he was there by President J. Reuben Clark; he wasn’t sure why. We know from the research of Michael Quinn that J. Reuben Clark was in the process of becoming a pacifist, which occurred during that war. The reason he was checking on Brother Boyd was to make sure those young Mormons were okay, and in fact after the war he made certain that the Quakers were reimbursed for the cost of the Mormon COs. A statement from the First Presidency was sent to many young men in the 1960s, giving Mormons permission to follow legal procedures in applying for CO status, but on the other hand there is a statement from an LDS Church spokeman from 1981 that there is no place in the philosophy of Mormonism for conscientious objection.
So there is an interesting mix of responses, the kind of thing that I think you might expect in a time when generally we are living a lower law and God and Christ and the prophets are trying to bring us, as individuals, to a higher understanding. I think the chief expression of that higher understanding, one that we must look to again and again, is the remarkable editorial by President Spencer W. Kimball in the June 1976 Ensign, “The False Gods That We Worship,” which states about as clearly as I can imagine it being stated that the ethic of Christ is pacifist. His statement is a ringing indictment of Americans, including Mormons, for failing that ethic:
We are on the whole an idolatrous people, a condition most repugnant to the Lord. We are a war-like 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 [p.244]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 and thus in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit, the true patriotism perverting the Savior’s teaching, “Love your enemies.”
What does President Kimball suggest as an alternative to violence? Certainly not passivism—but nonviolent direct action, taking of the Gospel of the Prince of Peace to others, both through teaching it and, I believe, by acting mercifully, constructively, as Christ would, in all we do to others, including our foreign policy:
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us. Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him. Our assignment is affirmative, to forsake the things of the world as ends to themselves, to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith, to carry the gospel to our enemies that they might no longer be our enemies.
It is interesting to me how that sermon from 1976 has disappeared from Mormon consciousness. How many times have you heard this important and unique statement by a prophet quoted in a lesson manual or talk? I think that disappearance shows our ambivalence as a church in our struggle to live a higher law. But the call seems to be clear, and it has been reinforced consistently since then, I believe my statements of the First Presidency, such as the one opposing the MX, which in its language is clearly not merely an opposition to that particular form of the MX basing, but to missile systems themselves. But we haven’t listened. Our LDS Congressmen haven’t listened. Our Presidents of the United States, despite their lip service to us (claiming to appreciate Mormon leaders and values) have not paid attention.
The call of the Prince of Peace is to see every individual as Christ and to do to that person what we would do to Christ. What is the message that our leaders are giving us now? Some of you remember Presi-[p.245]dent Hunter’s address at the April Conference in 1992, published in the May 1992 Ensign. Let me just, as we close, remind you of that. He spoke on the subject, “A More Excellent Way,” and quoted Joseph Smith: “If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends …. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.” Then President Hunter related a story told him by Vern Crawley, about when he’d been a boy working for his father in a used car lot, strong and young and full of zip and trying to care responsibly for the yard. One night he saw someone stealing something and went out to catch the thief. His father, who had been ill and had just started to come back to work occasionally, just then happened to come along. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “I see you’re a bit upset, can I handle this? He then walked over to the young would-be thief, put his arm around him, looked him in the eye for a moment and said, “Son, tell me why are you doing this? Why are you trying to steal that transmission?” Then Mr. Crawley started walking towards the office, still with his arm around the boy, asking questions about the young man’s car troubles as they walked. By the time they arrived at the office the father said, “Well, I think your clutch is gone and that’s causing your problem.”
In the meantime Vern was fuming. Who cares about his clutch, he thought, let’s call the police and get this over with. His father just kept talking: “Vern get him a clutch, get him a throw out bearing too, give him a pressure plate. That should take care of it.” The father handed all of the parts to the young man who had attempted robbery and said, “Take these, here’s the transmission too, you don’t have to steal young man, just ask for it. There’s a way out of every problem, people are willing to help.” President Hunter reports that Vern Crawley said he learned “an everlasting lesson in love that day.” The young man came back to the lot often and voluntarily, month by month, paid for all of the parts that had been given him, including the transmission. During those visits he asked Vern why his dad was the way he was and why he did what he did. And Vern told him about the gospel of the Prince of Peace, which the young man accepted and changed his life. Vern concluded, “It’s hard now to describe the feelings I had and what I went [p.246]through in that experience. I too was young. I had caught my crook. I was going to extract the utmost penalty, but my father taught me a different way.” And President Hunter ends, “A different way? A better way? A higher way? A more excellent way? Oh, how the world could benefit from such a magnificent lesson. As Moroni declares, ‘Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world … . In the gift of his son hath God prepared a more excellent way.'”
Perhaps we who wish to be peacemakers can learn from President Hunter, learn to speak in parables and tell stories more than speaking out in anger and accusation. That was one way Christ dealt with the problem of social change, and he was a remarkable social revolutionary in his time. Here are two such stories about recent events, parables if you will: A few weeks ago, on April 12, an exhibit of paintings opened at Vincent Catholic Church in Holladay, Utah. These fourteen abstract paintings on the “Stations of the Cross,” the main points in Christ’s journey to Calvary, were bequeathed to Emma Lou Thayne, one of our finest Mormon poets, by Paul Fini when he died of AIDS in 1985. The two had become friends in March 1983 at a writers and artists retreat when Emma Lou was working on her collection of peace poems later published as How Much for the Earth?.
Fini was trying to finish the paintings by Easter that year, as a promise to a friend who had recently died of AIDS. He and Emma Lou became friends and continued to correspond and visit, and she shared his successes in his paintings and his fears when he was himself diagnosed with AIDS. He never sold his paintings, which he saw as personal statements of his Catholic faith, and in 1990 they arrived by UPS on Emma Lou’s doorstep. She was moved again by them and began to seek ways to share them, aware that, in Utah, AIDS and abstract art and even Catholicism might be seen as too foreign. She wrote in her journal, “We are messengers of something,” and persisted, until now the fourteen paintings, mounted on cross-shaped easels, with explanatory text by Emma Lou, are being donated to the Utah AIDS Foundation for this exhibit and future ones across the country. “What I hope for,” Emma Lou says, “is to have the paintings understood and to have Paul understood.”
Also this month was the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of [p.247]the infamous bridge over the River Kwai, part of the “Death Railway” built through Thailand and Burma to supply Japanese troops—where malnutrition, disease, and brutal treatment cost the lives of 116,000 prisoners. This month, in a courtyard at a museum on the river bank, two 75-year-old men shook hands and sat talking for thirty minutes. One was Takashi Nagase, a former Japanese Army interpreter on the Railway, who has long been an activist for reconcilation among Pacific war veterans. The other was Eric Lomax, one of the British soldiers working on the railway whom Nagase once interrogated and who had recognized Nagase’s photograph in a newspaper article about his work and exchanged letters with him and agreed to meet at the River Kwai. The Japanese veteran spoke softly to the British one and bowed his head, then sat with him on the bench, tightly holding the other man’s hands in his and occasionally wiping his eyes as they talked. Nagase said the meeting freed him of fifty years of guilt and shame: “I apologized to him for what we did during the war,” Nagase said. “For me it is a very great sin and a crime against humanity. War makes human beings wild and savage. It makes them devils. The nations of the world must ban war forever.”
Banning war will not come easy or soon, but that is, I believe, what the Prince of Peace calls us to—peace “not as the world giveth” but in his own ways, some of which Martin Luther King and Walter Wink and Emma Lou Thayne and Takashi Nagase have shown us. Whatever way we find personally, may we remember the counsel of President Hunter: “If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.” And Moroni: “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world … . In the gift of his son hath God prepared a more excellent way.”
I bear witness of this to you in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. Amen.