Eliminate nationalism?

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.

 

 

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “Eliminate nationalism?

  1. In my mind, this call to avoid nationalism mirrors the call we receive in a host of other contexts in which we are enjoined to keep our desires within proper bounds or limits.

    There is a place for healthy patriotism, just as there is a place for a healthy sex drive — within the bounds the Lord has set.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to look up the context/past statements.

    I particularly liked this bit:

    “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 immortality and eternal life of man.”

  3. Geoff, thanks for this post. My ears heard “nationalism” during the talk and I, too, was surprised to hear it. To be truthful, I was hoping for some more denunciations of our current political climate and was grateful that Elder Ballard at least, obliquely, mentioned it. I served in Belgium/France from 77-79 and Elder Didier taught at our conferences annually. My experience living in Belgium was surprisingly closer to my experience living in the States than when I lived in France. I’m not surprised at his comments that you discovered as Belgium has suffered the arrogance of both Germany and France throughout their history. I don’t mean to attach too much significance to it, but Belgium as a country started in 1830. Maybe that’s why I always thought of it as more modern, in every way, than France.

  4. I, too, thought the word nationalism unique, but didn’t think to explore further, so thanks for doing that, Geoff. When I clicked on your link to Didier’s quote, it so happens the 1976 Ensign issue, in celebrating America’s bicentennial, is a treatise on nationalism and its role in the lives of Latter-day Saints in their respective communities and countries. I commend the entire issue to all interested readers.

  5. There are dangers in all normal loyalties including loyalty to family that conceals abuse and crime, loyalty to city that overlooks civic corruption, loyalty to state that encourages unfair dealings (the way nuclear waste storage has been handled), and nationalism that favors the statement ‘my country right or wrong’. In the current NFL kerfluffle I have seen athletes citing loyalty to team as justifying actions. We can be safe if we set the Kingdom of God above all other loyalties.

  6. I agree with Pat and others. The issue is a subset of many similar principles that are essentially competitive. I’ve seen too many use the “Forever families, therefore universalism”, as though completely ignorant of “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

    The thing is that the ties that bind have no binding power without Christ.

    Still, I worry that the cultural bouquet enjoyed within the church will be increasingly difficult as the Western tradition becomes more anathema. It has been the West’s entanglement with Christianity that has engendered the current inter-cultural appreciation and sense of the brotherhood of mankind. If Christians do not fight against the forces that would destroy Western heritage, it is like standing by watching the branch you are sitting on being sawn off.

    Yes, the nation of God will abide, especially for the strongest and most spiritually mature. But the shelters created for those still in need of much nourishment will definitely suffer through such a transition. This scripture comes to mind: “Yea, except ye repent, your women shall have great cause to mourn in the day that they shall give suck; for ye shall attempt to flee and there shall be no place for refuge; yea, and wo unto them which are with child, for they shall be heavy and cannot flee; therefore, they shall be trodden down and shall be left to perish.”

  7. There are several ways to define nationalism: 1) the belief that nation states should be composed of people who share similar national characteristics (either ethnic, linguistic or ideological). 2) the idea that the nation-state is the supreme good in society, and that citizens owe it a loyalty above that which they give to other organizations – including familial, religious, cultural, social, and economic organizations.

    I think the first definition can be problematic, but the second one is where danger can lie for Latter-Day Saints. If we put our country and our politics above our loyalty to family and to God then we put ourselves into a dangerous spiritual territory.

  8. My first thought when I heard Elder Ballard include nationalism was to wonder how he defines it. As many have already noted there are a variety of uses for the word. This article does a good job of summarizing the etymology and uses of patriotism and nationalism (plus an interesting side note on quomodocunquizing clusterfist).

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/patriotism-vs-nationalism

    I would guess Elder Ballard is concerned about “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

    Is it possible to support an “America First” agenda without exalting America above all others, or placing primary emphasis on promotion of American culture and interests over other nations? I think it is but I am interested to learn what others think about how this would be accomplished.

  9. I am still scratching my head on Elder Ballard’s talk. Lumping Nationalism in with Racism and Sexism seem rather extreme. The writer here and many of the comments seems to believe that Love of Country should be reduced to parades and flyovers by the Blue Angels. Maybe a Flag Salute and a Veterans Day celebration. What happened here ? I’ve been a faithful member since 1984 and felt we as Saints loved America and wanted to preserve the America that was the Birth COuntry the Lord reserved for the Restoration of His Church. Why didn’t the Lord have the Restoration occur in England, Germany, South America, Africa or Asia ? America is extremely special then and now, and Yes it is a better country that the 75 other countries I have visited. Is this now sinful to say America is the best Country on the Earth ? How can we ask Soldiers to fight and die for America if we are saying it is not worth preserving and protecting as citizens ? To equate Nationalism with racism is wrong and this is the first talk in the entire time I have been a member that I wanted to shout out ! Are we not allowed to have borders ? Are we not allowed to have a single language ? Are we not allowed to celebrate our uniquely American Culture ? How is this creeping globalism invaded the Apostles ?

  10. @Lostcityranch

    My way of thinking about it is to remember that church leaders have to deal with a large portion of people in the church who are stockholm-syndrome-level-committed to modern idol-worship, and that God wants these people to have the greatest amount of blessings they are willing to receive. I used to struggle with feeling like the leaders didn’t care about people who think like me, but I’m to the point where I really am experiencing the inherent rewards of freely choosing to embrace truth, even when people want to ruin my life over it. And I have to say I feel like I’ve got the better end of the deal, if that makes sense.

    At least part of the power of the atonement will be to help Leftist-types be able to ‘forgive God’ for creating the Earth and all things, be able to ‘forgive God’ for allowing suffering and inequality (racism, sexism, nationalism), be able to ‘forgive God’ for being totally awesome-er than them in every way. If they never manage to actually be grateful, then at least they don’t have to be eternally angry. That’s not nothing in terms of benefiting their souls.

    Anyway, that’s my way of seeing it. When I consider the confusion and misery many Leftist globalists are wallowing in as the natural consequence of their bad beliefs, I can’t begrudge them some palliative care.

  11. Pure nationalism is no vice. It is not inherently aggressive toward or diminishing of others, but is advocative of one’s own nation. There have been misuses of nationalism as fuel to further a nefarious agenda, as with the National Socialist Party of Germany. However, nationalism per se drives the desire for sovereignty and self-determination that are necessary for the nation’s preservation. Nationalism has been the driving force for such rightfuI desires from the American revolution to the Polish Solidarity movement to the Brexit vote. I agree with Lostcityranch that equating nationalism with racism and sexism is wrong. In the American context our nationalism about our values as expressed in The Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, called a “glorious standard” by the prophet Joseph Smith, are rallying principles that men and women of all races and ethnicities can and should celebrate. Today’s attackers of nationhood include such odious supranational institutions as the EU and evil individuals such as George Soros. Our liberty to exercise our agency is inseparable from our national self-determination.

  12. Thanks Randall and Lucinda for some really insightful comments. I’ll get over it as I have to get back in the mood to teach Gospel Doctrine class !

  13. Pure nationalism is no vice. It is not inherently aggressive toward or denigrating of others, but is advocative of one’s own nation. There have been misuses of nationalism as fuel to further a nefarious agenda, as with the National Socialist Party of Germany. However, nationalism per se drives the desire for sovereignty and self-determination that are necessary for the nation’s preservation. Nationalism has been the driving force for such rightfuI desires from the American revolution to the Polish Solidarity movement to the Brexit vote. I agree with Lostcityranch that equating nationalism with racism and sexism is wrong. In the American context our nationalism about our values as expressed in The Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, called a “glorious standard” by the prophet Joseph Smith, are rallying principles that men and women of all races and ethnicities can and should celebrate. Today’s attackers of nationhood include such odious supranational institutions as the EU and evil individuals such as George Soros. Our liberty to exercise our agency is inseparable from our national self-determination.

  14. @LCR,
    My take is that the Brethren are being as wise as serpents in their use of language. One not only has to figure out what _connotation_ the brethren are using, but _where they are trying to take the discussion_. At General Conference, they are not just speaking to members anymore, they are speaking to the world.

    The Savior was always a couple of steps ahead of His listeners, both His followers and his opponents. I have a strong feeling that His modern mouthpieces are doing the same.

    The “big picture” meaning of words, the intent of the statement, and the “direction” of the conversation sometimes don’t unfold for years. The Proclamation on Families is a perfect example. It was “duh! That’s just toooo obvious” when it was issued. But in retrospect, it’s very good that we can point to something that concise that is a couple decades old in these topsy-turvy times.

    Like with the immigration issues and LGBT issues, I assume the Brethren are trying to get ahead of the discussion and get in position for future developments. And as Geoff B has often said, the political right in the church has to get in line with the Lord’s agenda, and it may be uncomforatble, just as the political left has to.

  15. Book, yeah, that Geoff B guy is pretty smart. 🙂

    But seriously, I think you are correct to point out that sometimes prophets say things the meaning of which are not obvious to us at first. Over time, the meaning becomes more clear.

    There are a lot of potential meanings to the word “nationalism.” When it comes to “nationalists vs. globalists,” for example, I am clear nationalist. I am in favor of getting the U.S. out of the UN. When it comes to “do I believe in saluting the flag, being polite during the anthem and during the pledge of allegiance, and do I believe that the United States is a special country?” Definitely. Now having said that, my first allegiance is to God and his prophets and to my family. I also have more loyalty to my state/local community than I do to the United States as a whole. That is very American, btw: the founding fathers had their primary loyalty to their states, not to the “nationalist” agenda of the United States. It is also obvious that the brethren are concerned about the world’s people more than they are individual borders. This explains the Church’s somewhat moderate stance on immigration.

    My advice to loyal Church members: find a way to become comfortable with the apostle’s stance on nationalism. I predict this issue will come up again in future talks.

  16. I went and reminded myself of the talk given by President Nelson where he distinguishes salvation as an individual matter and exaltation as a family matter. It comes to mind that a certain understanding of “nation” could be family spanning generations, and this is maybe why prohibition of “nationalism” feels contradictory to many faithful. But at present in the modern world “nations” are merely powerful political entities who fight against family formation and preservation. To be “nationalist” under this modern reality would be to fight against families, even when the nations themselves used to foster families. The ideas of the sexual revolution are the modern national tradition (some nations are further gone than others) and efforts to preserve previous national traditions that fostered families have totally collapsed.

    My feeling is that the church is hedging against this latter kind of “nationalism” because it is a deadly impostor. Whatever our ancestors thought of their nations is no longer relevant, or rather, faithfulness to the heritage they left us requires that we resist national pride based on a sober analysis of what our nations have actually become and we should be wary of those who would use loyalty to nation to subvert the cause of righteousness, most urgently the cause of family formation and preservation that is the fundamental building-block of any nation.

    Some still want to fight to save the symbol of the rainbow for God, but it would be silly to actually act as if that’s what was trying to be communicated by rainbow paraphernalia in our time and attach righteous significance to it. Nations are in the same situation as rainbows, there’s no getting around it.

    Still, pretty depressing, not exactly comforting.

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