The final session of Sunday’s general conference included a very interesting talk by Elder Ballard in which he said the following:
“We need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism,” Elder Ballard said. “Let it be said that we truly believe — and truly live — the words of the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi: ‘(The Lord) inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God.'”
Eliminating racism and sexism are not controversial, and many Church talks over the years have emphasized these points. Elder Ballard’s was the second talk of this conference to discuss the evil of racism.
Eliminating nationalism, however, is not as common a subject. I did a search on lds.org, and there simply are not that many talks about nationalism.
Such a subject is controversial for many reasons. There are more latter-day Saints outside the U.S. than inside. Eliminating nationalism in the U.S. seems politically correct, especially in the days of the nationalist president Donald Trump, but what about eliminating Brazilian nationalism or Japanese nationalism or French nationalism?
Are the prophets saying that no latter-day Saints in these countries should have nationalist feelings? Should they not love their countries and have feelings of patriotism?
The first point is that we must separate nationalism from patriotism. I believe Elder Ballard has no problem with people feeling patriotism, and in fact latter-day Saints are among the most patriotic Americans, and I can report that Mormons are also patriotic towards their own countries in the many countries where I have traveled.
The issue, it seems to me, is when nationalism becomes “xenophobia” (fear or foreigners) or jingoism (an aggressive nationalism that includes military force). It seems to me that Elder Ballard’s concern is when nationalism turns into ill will towards other countries or cultures and results in only caring for insular concerns. The Gospel is about charity for all people regardless of nationality, skin color, etc. Elder Ballard is warning that nationalism may decrease love in the entire human family.
So, patriotism and national pride has its place. There is nothing wrong with rooting for people from your country in the Olympics or shedding a tear when your country’s flag is raised.
But there are times when national pride can become ugly. World history is filled with horrific nationalist wars. National pride can sometimes turn into ethnic pride. And the Church is making it clear that such nationalism is just as bad as racism and sexism.
I for one welcome this talk by Elder Ballard.
In researching this post I discovered the following from Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy from the June 1976 Ensign. Asked about the correct role of national pride and the attitude latter-day Saints should take, Elder Didier said the following:
It is natural for people to have national feelings as they live under the influence of the language, the culture, the history, and the customs and habits of a nation. It is also a fact that as people are converted to the gospel, their national feelings are gradually supplemented by what we are taught in the scriptures and particularly in this verse from the Psalms:
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
“The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.
“From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.
“He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.” (Ps. 33:12–15.)
When we speak of nationalism, or culture, there is in reality only one nation or one culture: the nation of God and the gospel culture, a vast amalgam of all the positive aspects of our cultures, histories, customs, and languages. The building of the kingdom of God is such an amalgam, and is the only place where these different values may and can coexist.
As an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ can do, we had the moving experience of seeing members from nations that fought against each other some thirty years ago gathered in area conferences in Munich, in Korea, and in other places. All of them were united under the same banner of the gospel.
In conclusion, I would say: keep your national heritage in your heart, be proud of it, cultivate these values in your families as long as they are building the kingdom of our Father in heaven. As soon as it comes out of these boundaries, it is used more to create differences among people than to bring them together. We are one nation; we have one eternal Father; we are brothers and sisters—different, but with the same eternal goal of helping to bring to pass the immortalityand eternal life of man.
The final word is given by our Lord as a commandment, not only as an objective: “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.)
Elder Didier’s comments from 1976 seem to be in complete alignment with Elder Ballard’s sentiments in 2017. To understand the correct LDS attitude toward nationalism, please re-read both statements again. Elders Ballard and Didier say it better than I ever could.