Unity vs Contention

Several things have occurred lately to have me thinking on issues of unity versus contention.  I thought I’d share these thoughts as I’m beginning to put things together.

In 3 Nephi 27, we find the Nephites disputing over the name of the Church. Jesus has to come down, chastise them, and then tell them what to name the Church.  We often think that the name is uber-important, but perhaps it is less important than Jesus’ statement that a church bearing his name is acceptable, but only if it is following his teachings.

At the Kirtland Sunstone Symposium, John Hamer discussed that when the Church fragmented into various factions, one reason was over the Church name.  The name began as the Church of Jesus Christ. Around that time, a bunch of churches began naming themselves by that name. So the church changed its name to the Latter Day Saint Church.  This caused some to leave, believing that the Church must have Jesus’ name in its title. Because of such disputations, the Lord again had to reveal the name of his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We assume that it is named as such to distinguish us from the ancient saints, but perhaps it was just to distinguish us from other churches called the Church of Christ.

The point is, there is a pattern here.  Something as small and silly as the name of the church caused a serious contention.  People left the Church over it.

Are we so caught up in the little things, processes, procedures, or even doctrine, that we are willing to contend or quit?

Years ago, in another stake down south, I was with the stake president during a stake activity. I was stake clerk.  While we were talking, a member from an outlying branch came up and handed his temple recommend to the stake president. He told the president he could no longer sustain him, because the president had given the chapel cleaning job to another person. The president asked him to meet with him in his office after the activity. Then the president turned to me and said, “Gary, you know I don’t do any of the hiring. The Facility Management Group does all that.”

Imagine, a member willing to give up his temple recommend over a job!

There are instance in LDS history where a man left the church, because Joseph Smith misspelled his name in the revelation! Others contended over so many other things just as silly.

Today, we live in a time of much contention. We anger over church policy and doctrine that we disagree with. We anger over a decision the bishop made that we know we could have done better. We often seek to establish our own view and will, regardless of the consequences.

I recall hearing the story of a man, who in his younger years of marriage, lived in a ward where the bishop literally hated him.  Anytime there was an assignment to clean the toilets in the chapel, he was given the assignment. After a few years of quietly taking all of this, the bishop came up with a new one: building assessment. Years ago, when new buildings were built, the members would be assessed by their bishops to help pay for them. Normally, this was done according to a person’s income. However, in this instance, this man of modest means was assessed more than even the richest people in the ward. He went home and talked to his wife about it. They knew it was wrong, but prayerfully decided to follow their leader anyway.  They sold the television and other items to pay the assessment.

A few weeks passed. The bishop was released. Then this man was called in. Vaughn J. Featherstone was called as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. In his setting apart, he was told that he was accepted because of his actions in regards to the unrighteousness of the bishop. He had proven through this trial that he would be faithful and serve the Lord, regardless of whether he agreed or not.

I wonder how many of us miss out on great blessings and trust from the Lord, simply because we choose to stand up, be counted, and dispute the events.

Does this mean we shouldn’t occasionally speak our minds? Of course not. It means we need to seek unity first, and afterward seek to improve things. There is a time to discuss, and then there is a time to quietly and humbly step in line.

I’m thankful the Church leadership is giving more leeway for people to discuss hard things, such as women and homosexual issues.  That said, it is indeed sad when those things become more important than the true purposes of the gospel.  In such events, contentions arise and unity dismantled.

As I’ve written before on the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), we learn that the Godhead is “one God”, and we are to be one so that someday we may also be one with the Godhead. The process does not include political action. Instead, it focuses on Faith, Repentance, Baptism/Ordinances, Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End.  This is a continual process of growing. As we grow in faith and repent more, we make/renew covenants and receive more of an infusion of the Holy Ghost. We are ready to grow more in faith and repeat the steps. This cycle of growing is where the “enduring to the end” comes in. We must keep up the cycle of spiritual growth, or forever be on a plateau.

Our personal preferences, power grabs, and political beliefs, as important as they can be on a mortal level, can be distracting and even destructive when it comes to the greatest thing: unity of the Saints with the Godhead.

As I said. There is a time to speak out. But we need to also be humble enough to know when to humbly follow, in order to build unity among the saints. For me, I hate the divisions between conservative and liberal saints. Some claim the other group cannot be saintly because of differing stances. I believe that the contentions and disputations we maintain are what become perilous. In the eternal scheme, many of our favorite issues will be found to be as minor as the name of the Church, and that the disputations may lead to schisms and perhaps even its destruction.

13 thoughts on “Unity vs Contention

  1. Rame, well said. I think there is room for discussion and differences among Church members about many things, but the discussion must take place from the perspective of constructive involvement, rather than destructive attack. And unity means that when a person of authority makes a decision, it is your job to try to support that person as much as possible. When I was on the high council of my stake, there was one brother who disagreed with the stake president on several issues. During the high council meetings, he would always state his case very forcefully. Very often, the stake president would disagree with him and explain why. Then the councilmen would say, “Ok, I disagree but I support by stake presidency and I will do my best to support this policy.” I have heard it said that this same model sometimes takes place even among the apostles themselves. So the lesson is: we all have freedom to express our opinions in a positive, constructive manner, but once the decision is made by our leaders we should do the best we can to support them.

  2. This is a very important subject. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” Does this mean that ideally we are all supposed to believe the same things? Liberal and conservative members sometimes have starkly different approaches to the gospel and very different opinions about the way things should be. Does unity mean that those differences should disappear, and we should all agree? Or does unity mean that we set aside legitimate differences and cover them up or hide them so as not to disturb the peace?

    For example, some of your faithful friends at the Sunstone symposium don’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Even with that kind of belief, do you think it is possible to be completely united with the church? Could they simply refrain from expressing that belief in any context which might shake someone’s faith? Or is unity impossible without orthodox belief?

  3. Does unity require we all believe in the historicity of the First Vision or Book of Mormon? Or does unity require that we serve one another with love and charity, with faith in Christ and in his atonement? Personally, I think we over-focus on the “political” issues too much, instead of focusing on the principles and ordinances that exalt.
    As I stated, does it really matter what the church’s name is, if we are all united in following Christ? I just do not think so. I think there are too many distractors on both the conservative (6000 year old earth, no evolution) and the liberal (women’s rights, homosexual rights) that Satan places in our path to keep us from being united. As Jacob would warn us, we are “looking beyond the mark.”

    We can all agree on certain principles and ordinances of salvation. We agree on the importance of faith, repentance, ordinances, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, hope, charity, service, patience, meekness, humility, etc. If we were to focus more on the attributes of God, rather than the temporal issues that distract us from the real gospel, I believe the Lord would reveal more to us as a Church, provide us with greater miracles, and fill us fully with the Spirit.

    But as long as we are contending, we drive away the Spirit, and become unfit for the kingdom of God.

  4. Rameumptom, I agree.

    I think we get so caught up in our own opinions, we start to lose the ability to get along with anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as we do.

    We think that in order to love someone, they have to think like we think. So we treat them harshly, try to bully them into compliance, get angry when they don’t see things the way we do. By doing that, we miss out on the richness of human interaction, on everything that person could give us and we could give them. We cease to see them as people with valid experiences and nuanced perspective and see them as the Opposing Side.

    In reality, we should boil down our interactions to meekness, charity, and service. Otherwise, we objectify people and cut ourselves off from everything that makes relationships worthwhile.

    This doesn’t mean that ideological discussion or debate is bad, just that we should always keep the other person’s divine nature in mind. And, when the discussion is over, remember what the truly important things are.

  5. I think this was a very timely and necessary post, and I agree with SilverRain that we need to remember what is really important.

  6. I am doing some studies on the Priesthood ban and the Revelation. In studying Edward Kimball’s write up on his father’s seeking for the revelation, Pres Kimball had to struggle diligently between the tradition of the past, and what he hoped could happen.

    He did not rush things along, as one would do in a political issue. Instead, he spent years pondering, researching, and praying over the issue of blacks receiving the priesthood and temple blessings.

    He also desired the support of his presidency and the Twelve. He discussed it with them frequently as a group and as individuals in the months leading to the Revelation. He had Elder McConkie and others do research on it. He took note of comments by both GAs and others who were feeling the time was near for a revelation.

    While the Spirit began inspiring him more towards it as early as March 1978, he wanted to be sure. And he wanted to have the Presidency and 12 united in the witness. He asked the GAs to fast through their monthly meeting. Then he asked the 12 to remain behind. Ten of them were present. Elder Stapley was in the hospital, and Elder Peterson was in South America.

    All of the 12 were given an opportunity to speak. All spoke in favor of it. Then President Kimball gathered them in a prayer circle. Elder McConkie later said that as Pres Kimball prayed, the Lord took over and filled him with the words to say. He asked for a manifestation from the Lord to know if the time was right. At that moment, all of the apostles later expressed, that a conduit opened from heaven, and they had a Pentecostal event – much like the one in the Kirtland Temple dedication.

    They spoke of the unity they felt. And they were all united on it.

    Edward Kimball’s story of his father and the revelation is really amazing. You can find it here at BYU Studies.

    Now compare this to the contention that arises in the Church, when people demand their political changes to occur. More was accomplished by the supportive and faithful prayers and hopes of the saints than all of the divisive actions that actually hardened leaders against making a change.

    The delay allowed white members time to accept the revelation. It also was a catalyst to weed the tares from the wheat.

    I’m very glad for the Revelation. When it occurred, I had been a member less than 3 years. I rejoiced in hearing it. I now know that God often waits for us to be ready, before revealing any major changes. Part of that readiness, is us showing maturity by supporting our leaders, even while we intensely pray for the changes we hope for. To run with our own agenda ahead of them is to risk disunity and contention.

    I understand that God takes the long and eternal view on things. Those faithful will receive all the blessings they were denied on earth. We are very remiss, if we choose fast political change over seeking unity first.

  7. “Elder Peterson was in South America.”

    I wonder if that whole experience would have happened had he been present. How much was he involved in the process?

    I imagine it can be quite difficult to get all 15 men to agree on something that major. Perhaps there was a reason it was just 13 men…

  8. I think Elder Petersen was also on board. Edward Kimball notes:

    “On May 25, Mark E. Petersen called President Kimball’s attention to an article that proposed the priesthood policy had begun with Brigham Young, not Joseph Smith, and he suggested that the President might wish to consider this factor.”

    Clearly, Elder Petersen would not have had a reason to give Pres Kimball such information, if he was steadfast on not having a change in the doctrine. I know Elder Petersen was a strong defender of the ban while it was in place. But I can’t imagine him not sustaining it, as did the rest of us, when it was presented in General Conference.

  9. Speaking on the unity felt that day in June 1978, Edward Kimball notes the following examples (of which all the apostles noted a unity):

    President Ezra Taft Benson recorded in his journal: “Following theprayer, we experienced the sweetest spirit of unity and conviction that I have ever experienced. . . . Our bosoms burned with the righteousness of the decision we had made.”167 He also said he “had never experienced anything of such spiritual magnitude and power.”168 Each who felt this powerful spiritual experience confirming the decision proposed by President Kimball perceived it as a revelation.
    Elder Howard W. Hunter said, “Following the prayer . . . comments were made about the feeling shared by all, that seldom, if ever, had there been greater unanimity in the council.” [/quote]

  10. Nate, I just want to add in my two sense regarding “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” Certainly, I think it’s clear we need to have a unity of faith. But whenever I see that scripture brought out strictly in terms of unity, I remind myself of the exact context it was given. Specifically, it’s with regards to what we’d call today the welfare program of the church.

    I do not believe we can be one with God if we chose to bless our lives with abundance of resources first, before being willing to bless the lives of our brothers and sisters in the gospel. If we esteem ourselves higher than others and if we take the abundance we receive and cloth ourselves in robes while allow righteous sons and daughters to be clothed in rags, we are definitely not one.

    This was the context of that verse, when the early members of the church were being told to impart of their substance one with another (freely).

  11. “He told the president he could no longer sustain him.” Thinking more about this subject, it seems to me that unity in the church can best be defined by whether or not we sustain people in callings.

    Unity might mistakenly be defined as equality or conformity, but this would be wrong. Unity deals primarily with the priesthood, and whether or not one sustains one’s leaders. There is nothing wrong with having strong objections or disagreements with priesthood leaders or other members. But there is a proper pattern in which to handle these objections while maintaining unity.

    If one has a concern or complaint, one can address it in councils, or bring it up with priesthood leaders in authority over them. The only reason to bring up a complaint ideally is to help sustain the leaders. You are genuinely concerned about your leader’s perspective. You feel you have an important perspective to offer. You don’t want to humiliate or prove them wrong: you want to help them be better and change. You may feel like there is genuine ecclesiastic abuse being perpetrated. We are always invited, “if there are any opposed, by the same sign.” Raising our hand in objection, or voicing our concerns in to our priesthood authority is not disunity. It is our right. The priesthood exists to resolve concerns, not to cover them up or bury them.

    If you disagree with the prophet’s council to support Prop 8 for example, you are entitled to go to your leaders and explain your concerns. These concerns should be passed on to higher authorities, who should value the perspectives of those “out in the field.”

    But once you have done your part to register your concerns with those in authority, there is nothing more you can do to help and sustain, or try to correct your leaders if you disagree with them. Going to the press, blogs, or complaining to fellow members or family would not be sustaining, but rather tearing them down. You seek to exercise some kind of control over a situation you have not been authorized to exercise any control over. Or you have a bad attitude about the situation.

    God calls the weak, the imperfect, as it says in the scriptures, and it is natural that there will be errors of all kinds. Having faith means to sustain in spite of errors, to set aside differences that are unresolvable in the spirit of unity. You can disagree strongly. But never do it outside the spirit of love and sustaining of those in authority over you. That is the order of the Priesthood.

  12. And thank you Chris for the perspective of unity regarding thinking ourselves better than the poor. That is another way of viewing it that also bears careful consideration.

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