Renounce War: An Invitation to Conscientiously Object & Witness

by Ron Madson

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares…and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” ((Isaiah 2:4))

“And lift up an Ensign of Peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth” ((Doctrine & Covenants 105:39))

Henry Thoreau was placed in prison for his refusal to pay a tax in protest of the Mexican-American War. His good friend Emerson came to visit him and asked ‘Henry what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau replied” “Emerson, the better question is what are you doing out there?” ((Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Arthur Samuel Jones, Thoreau’s Incarceration [As Told by His Jailer], p. 15 .This exchange was supposed to have taken place on July 23 or 24, 1846, in the Concord, Massachusetts, jail where Thoreau was placed for nonpayment of poll taxes.))

In 1963 another man sat in a Birmingham Jail writing letters. We assume that Martin Luther King like Henry Thoreau both lost their freedom by being jailed. But sometimes those whom we have physically confined or separated from society in any manner because of matters of conscience against one’s government are truly free while those that are not willing to renounce the evils of one’s government are the ones still wearing their chains.

When it comes to matters of conscience, prison bars can also be a metaphor for the divide between two types of laws. Those who conscientiously object to the law of their government are obeying what they believe to be a higher, natural, universal, inalienable law which exists independent of government, while those placing them in jail are responding to laws created by government fiat and which require the force of the state for their very existence. ((An example showing the essence of Natural Laws as compared to Positive/government created laws can be illustrated as follows: It is a god given, inalienable, natural law for a human being to travel and live where they choose and crossing a river to live on the other side is not in and of itself a crime against nature. However, when governments decide that there is a line that defines a boundary between countries, and if a person who lives on the other side of that line crosses over that man made line entering another nation without permission then by virtue of that law he is entering “illegally” which must be criminalized and enforced through punishment. This is known in legal terms as “positive law” rather than “natural” law.)) There exist common sense reasons for laws to order society. But as Martin Luther King said: “there comes a time when silence is betrayal” when one’s government demands of us complicity in its acts of evil upon humanity.

The purpose of this submission is to persuade each of us individually as Latter-day Saints to free ourselves from any self-imposed chains that bind us from living our highest Christian and Latter-day Saint values and covenants as it pertains to peace and war decisions. As Latter-day Saints, our Lord has repeatedly extended to us an invitation to become Peacemakers by taking upon ourselves “the Way” ((“The Way” was/is a term used by the first Christians that referred to their belief that Jesus’s very life and words were to be emulated no matter how radical “The Way” was to the world in which they lived.)) — His words, His example, and the freedom that comes to us by following and trusting in Him alone — even unto the cross, if necessary. It is my belief that once we finally decide to take a leap of faith by fully embracing His “Way” and His “Immutable Peace Covenant” found in Section 98, that we will naturally awaken to the necessity of “Renouncing” all wars — unless and until we receive direct, personal revelation to the contrary (Mormon 7:4). It is also my belief that our Latter-day Saints religious doctrine and belief is completely, if not identically, compatible with establishing individually and collectively, as a faith, a policy of Conscientious Objection to all wars. For the reasons discussed at the end of this submission, it should be evident that once we adopt a policy of Conscientiously Objecting to all wars, we will fulfill both the highest laws/values of our faith as well as the laws of our host government (the United States and virtually all other nations with few exceptions). Moreover, I believe that once we boldly and without reservation “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace,” the spirit of that act of faith will further inspire us to creatively find peaceful alternatives to perpetual war that has become an integral part of American foreign policy in our generation. When that finally happens we will begin to fulfill our destiny as Covenant Peace Makers and is so doing become a “Light unto all nations.” ((Isaiah 49:6))

History of Christian Conscientious Objection

Historian Will Durant informs us that “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.” ((“Lessons from the History of Civilization” page 81 by Will & Ariel Durant, Simon & Schuster, 1968.)) All eleven volumes in Will & Ariel Durant’s “History of Civilization,” the last which ends appropriately with Napoleon at Waterloo, tediously chronicles cycles of violence that continue generationally, with very rare exceptions, ((King Ashoka was known as “terror” but after a miraculous spiritual rebirth he went to his enemies and begged forgiveness and then he flooded his enemy with charitable relief. Unprecedented Peace ensued for over 200 years between his country (India) and all the neighboring countries.)) as each side engage in mimetic “justified” violence upon those not of their tribe/nation — all with their God’s approbation. ((My father, who served in Patton’s infantry during WWII observed that the German soldiers wore a Christian cross on their belt buckles during WWII.))

Israel was not an exception to the tribalism that believed that God sanctioned all sorts of genocide, brutality and even the torture of their enemies. Over two millennia God’s covenant people had created, as expressed through their historical narratives, a warrior God who hated Israel’s enemies and was locked in perpetual violence with their neighbors. This was what the Lord meant by taking His name in vain: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” ((Ann Lamott)) In spite of this world’s seemingly unbridled violence, even among His covenant people, prophets and holy men heard the voice of God and spoke of a Messiah that would come. They taught that when He came in the flesh “the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do.” ((2 Nephi 32:5)) Then if we had the faith to live by His words and example that His Kingdom would come.

Jesus came saying “it is written of old” such and such and “it has been said of old” such and such, but here I am to show you what I and my father are really like and how the Kingdom of God can be on the earth: “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you” (Matthew 5:38,39, Luke 6:27-28); “resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39); “Put you sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52); and “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).

His life was the message. Refusing the Zealot option and prophesying of its futility, ((Luke 19:44 — 70 A.D. the prophecies of Christ fulfilled as the armed rebellion of the Zealots is crushed, people slaughtered and temple destroyed.)) Jesus’s very entrance into Jerusalem from the eastern gate on a donkey exemplified a new Kingdom in juxtaposition to the imperial procession of Pontius Pilate from the West gate holding the keys to the political and financial power of the Pax Romano buttressed by its war chariots. ((“The Holy Week” by Josh Madson of the Mormon Worker:

Even in his last breath Jesus showed us the way as he blessed and forgave his enemies. He demonstrated that a Son of God refuses to engage in any form of retributive violence. He then invites us to “Come follow Him” even unto the cross.

The words and example of Christ left such an indelible imprint on his disciples that for three centuries the early Christians, many of whom knew and heard Jesus first hand, were known for their rejection of all forms of violence. Specifically, they renounced all forms of state sponsored militarism, and there are scant records of any Christians serving in any nation’s army. The first Christian conscientiously objected to all wars and the use of violence.

While it has been debated to what degree the early Christians practiced pacifism, there is no doubt that the early church fathers interpreted the words and example of Christ to support the following church policies: “a military commander must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God” (Hippolytus of Rome Canon XVI: On Professions); “decline military command…die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it” (Tatian’s Address to the Greeks 11); “but how will a Christian man war, nay how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?…the Lord in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” (Tertullian, On Idolatry Chapter 19, Concerning Military Service). “We do not arm ourselves against any nation. We do not learn the art of war because, through Jesus Christ, we have become the children of peace.” (Origen).

In the ancient Roman Empire, many Christians refused to serve in the imperial armies or if already in the military they chose to resign, finding it was in conflict with their baptismal vows and the teachings of and example of Jesus. The first Bishop of Rome, St. Hippolytus had made renunciation of killing as a precondition of baptism: “A solider under authority shall not kill a man. If he is ordered to, he shall not carry out the Order.” One poignant example of primal Christianity in action was that of the recorded trial of a Roman Centurion, Marcellus that occurred as late as 298 A.D. Marcellus the Centurion, after some years of army service, found he could no longer continue in military obedience. One day in 298 A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, Marcellus’s unit in northern Africa was celebrating the pagan emperor’s birthday with a party. Suddenly Marcellus rose before the banqueters and cast off his military insignia, and cried out: “I serve Jesus Christ the eternal King. I will no longer serve your emperors.”

Marcellus was immediately arrested for breach of discipline. At his trial, he admitted that he had done that of which he was accused. He declared that “it is not right for a Christian man, who serves the Lord Christ, to serve in the armies of the world.” Found guilty, he was immediately beheaded. According to the testimonies, he died in great peace of mind, asking God to bless the judge who had condemned him.

For the first Christians Jesus was the center of their allegiance and the empire was at its margins. Following Jesus and the prophet Isaiah’s warnings they refused to confederate with Egypt ((Isaiah 19 — Egypt representing the pre-eminent economic and military power at any time on the earth. Isaiah prophesied to King Hezekiah that if he and Israel would not trust in the military power of Egypt’s war chariots but the Lord alone, that the Lord would fight their battles and preserve them.)) but rather chose to rely solely on their faith in their Lord, Jesus Christ. Therefore, these Christians became an affront to the empires of this world when they, through both words and deeds, were constantly calling it to repentance. But in just one generation during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Christianity was seduced by the desire to be accepted by the powers of this world to the point that they subjugated their beliefs to the state — now all soldiers were required to be Christians.

“In 416 A.D. an order was decreed with the result that pagans were not admitted to the army. All the soldiers had become Christians; or, in the other words, all the Christians had, with few exceptions, denied Christ.” —Tolstoy ((The Law of Love and the Law of Violence, p. 65 by Leo Tolstoy))

Where Christians had placed their allegiance to Christ above all earthly powers, now with the Constantine shift ((Constantine Shift is a term used by Anabaptist and Post-Christendom theologians to describe the political and theological aspects of the 4th Century process of Constantine’s legalization of Christianity. The term was popularized by Mennonite theologian John Yoder. Clapp, Rodney (1996). A Peculiar People, Intervarsity Press. Page 23 . “What might be called the Constantine Shift began around the year 200 and took more than two hundred years to grow and unfold to bloom.”)) complete, Christians now pledged their allegiance to their host nation so that now they believed it was now their duty to support and justify the wars of their host nation rather than condemn the Pax Romano.

Then it was only a matter of time when those that were legal inheritors of Saint Peter’s chief seat issued edicts stating that it was the duty of Christians to fight when called upon by their nation to free the “Holy” lands from the heathen Muslims, and that those that did so were not only absolved from sin but that their sacrifice would be honored. ((War Indulgences issued by those considered the inerrant voice of God were also historically shown to be necessary for the morale of those crusading Christian soldiers: “Fighting the Heathen, 878” issued by inerrant Pope John VIII:

“Those who have recently died in war fighting in the defense of the church of God and for the preservation of the Christian religion and of the state, or those who may in the future fall in the same cause, may obtain indulgence of their sins. We confidently reply that those who out of love of the Christian religion, shall die in battle fighting bravely against pagans or unbelievers, shall receive eternal life.”

The Christian soldier now was not only forgiven his sins, but he was promised paradise for his state service in slaying unbelievers. In 1095 Pope Urban II at the Council of Claremont inspired the first Crusade to free the Holy Lands from pagans:

“All who die in battle against the pagan, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant through the power of God with which I am invested.”))

Papal endorsement of state sponsored wars were supported by church apologist who articulated various “just war” doctrines while Popes issued war indulgences. However, in stark contrast, there were those resilient faiths and orders, such as the Anabaptists and their progeny, that have continued to this day to renounce all forms for violence — despite the whole world being perpetually engaged in “just” wars through the darkness of centuries that followed.

An Old Covenant With A New People

In this dispensation the Lord chose to mediate through a young prophet, Joseph Smith, a vision of what His Kingdom was and now could be. Many were drawn to a faith where the direct voice of God was being mediated to mankind once again through the Prophet.

One so gathered was the first Bishop, Edward Partridge. The Lord revealed why he was qualified for that sacred Priesthood trust: “And this because his heart is pure before me, for he is like unto Nathaneal of old, in whom there is no guile.” (D&C 41:11). Bishop Partridge’s pureness of heart would be tested in an acute manner just two and half years later. In July of 1833, Edward Partridge, who had been called with others to Jackson County, Missouri to establish Zion, was attacked by an angry and violent mob, who did not share the same vision of Zion. Bishop Partridge in his own words recounts how he and George Simpson were taken from their homes by an armed mob to the public square in Independence and tarred and feathered. They had reason to believe they would be put to death. Confronted with such unprovoked hostility Bishop Partridge recorded the following:

“I told them that the Saints had suffered persecution in all ages of the world; that I had done nothing which ought to offend anyone; that if they abused me, they would abuse an innocent person; that I was willing to suffer for the sake of Christ…

Until I had spoken, I knew not what they intended to do with me, whether to kill me, or whip me, or what else I knew not. I bore my abuse with so much resignation and meekness, that it appeared to astound the multitude, who permitted me to retire in silence, many looking very solemn, their sympathies having been touched as I thought; and as for myself, I was so filled with the Spirit and love of God, that I had no hatred towards my persecutors or anyone else.” ((History of the Church Vol. 1, pg. 391))

Bishop Partridge, drawing upon his understanding of the gospel of Christ when it came to conflict, chose to follow the example of Jesus and the early Christian martyrs. His meekness was so remarkable that it “astounded his persecutors.” Is it possible to turn away the rage of even the darkest minds and hearts with the spirit of Christ and charity towards our enemies? Historically the answer seems to be sometimes yes, sometimes no, but the Edward Partridge’s of this world chose to transcend this world no matter the consequences. Despite all the tribulations of the early saints, a new hope had emerged. Seeking to restore all things, the saints had gathered to what they had faith would become a literal Zion. However, just three days after Bishop Partridge had turned away their persecutors, a second mob assembled bearing weapons of war and demanding the Saints leave Missouri. The persecutions continued unabated as the Saints were driven from their homes with threats of continued violence. Remarkably, there was little resistance on the part of the saints: “Here let me remark, that up to this time the Mormons had not so much as lifted a finger, even in their own defence (sic), so tenacious were they for the precepts of the gospel, — ‘turn the other cheek’” ((“A Brief History of the Church” by John Corrill, page 19))

Surely God would have instructions for his covenant people on how to deal with their first real encounter with enemies. But the church now had a prophet who had repeatedly pierced the veil and received direct messages as to what would be required of the saints both generally, and in the particular. We had as did the early Christians the same words and example of Christ through the Bible, but through the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord would also, in his mercy, speak in our language, which meant, in my opinion, more than just the English language but in a gentile formulaic, even legalistically statutory manner. Many of these direct revelations became what we now call the Doctrine and Covenants. In the midst of these gross injustices inflicted upon the saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith received two revelations, the first on August 2, 1833 (Section 97) and then the second just four days later on August 6, 1833– what is now known as Section 98. Section 98 was given as direct counsel to the saints as to how to deal with both personal and national enemies. However, prior to the saints being given the law set forth in Section 98, they received preparatory revelations for this new covenant.

The Latter Day Covenant of Peace

Seeing the calamities that would come upon all creation before His return where “peace shall be taken from the earth” (D&C 1:34) and where the “wicked shall slay the wicked” the Lord instructed his people to: “gather to Zion” (D&C 45:69); “stand in holy places” (D&C 87:80); “take the Holy Spirit to be their guide” (D.C. 45:57); “do not kill” (D&C 42: 18,19); do not “trust in the arm of the flesh” (D.C. 1:19); and “if your brethren desire to escape their enemies, let them repent of all their sins.” (D.C. 54:3). In summation, when we encounter enemies we are to avoid conflict by gathering, repenting, seeking the spirit, refraining from killing others (no qualifications), remaining in Holy places and having faith that God will fight our enemies.

Section 97 was given on August 2, 1833 at a time when the saints had entered into an agreement to withdraw from Jackson County to avoid further persecution. The Lord promised his Saints that they would escape the “vengeance” and “scourge” that will “vex all people” if “she observes to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her” (D&C 97:25). The consequence of not observing what the Lord commands was made equally clear:

“but if she observe not to do whatsoever I command her, I will visit her according to all her works with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire” (D&C 97:26).

Just four days after this admonition, the Lord then gives his law as to how to respond to conflict with both personal and national enemies.

Section 98 —The Law
A commandment to “Renounce War”

The Lord’s admonitions in the Doctrine and Covenants pertaining to conflict converge unambiguously into Section 98. Moreover, Section 98 is not a mere recommendation, but is given and recorded under a “seal and testament” as an “immutable covenant.” The language is concise and almost statutory.

The Lord tells us that we should not be afraid of our enemies, and that he will prove us in all things whether we will abide in His covenant, even unto death. And if we do not abide in his covenant we will not be worthy of Him. Therefore, “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace.” (D&C 98: 14-16). This commandment to Renounce War is the summun bonum of this covenant. There is no qualifying or equivocation as to this direct commandment: We are to “Renounce” war. What does it mean to “renounce”? The definition of Renounce is informative:

Renounce: to say by formal declaration that you no longer own, support, believe in or have a connection with something; 2. to formally and publicly give up a right or claim to something; 3. to disown or turn away from something; 4. to voluntarily leave a position

Synonyms: abandon, disown, abdicate, forsake, deny, disavow, leave, quit, disclaim, waive, abjure, forswear, relinquish

To “renounce” something is to make a formal, public declaration that you will disown and turn away completely from something — “abandon, forswear, quit, and turn away.”

‘Renounce” must mean much more than simply saying that war is not nice and we prefer peace to war. Or worse, proclaim that we are peace loving, and like Jesus we believe in peace, while openly responding to an invitation to march to war. No!
To renounce means to declare an emphatic “NO! I renounce not only war generally but specifically any contemporary war my nation is involved in.” It means that you/we/ I unequivocally reject a war policy that involves any form of retribution—and especially when it involves pre-emptive acts of aggression. It must be a clear, unambiguous rejection of war as an option for resolving conflicts that would sound like this:

“I/we hereby publicly declare that I/we will no longer support war as a means to resolve conflicts. I/we publicly and without reservation abandon and turn away from war because I/we no longer believe in war as being consistent with my values, beliefs and religious training.”

To “Renounce War” is perfectly parallel and consistent with a person or religion publicly declaring their Conscientious Objection to wars without reservation. The definition of Conscientious Objection and how to do so will be addressed at the end of this submission, but what is clear is that we are commanded to “renounce war” if we choose to live the Lord’s immutable peace covenant found in Section 98. The Lord’s commandment to “Renounce War” is as unambiguous as the declarative statements that the Lord Jesus made during His mortal ministry which compelled the first Christians to conscientiously object to all wars. The commandment to “Renounce War” should be for us Latter-day Saints an invitation to enter a covenant to rule out “war” as an option. However, in His wisdom He further provided a formula in Section 98 for dealing with enemies on both a personal level as well as a nation to nation level — especially for those of us that need rules. Speaking in our language, these rules, if followed strictly, would effectively result in the same practical complete abandonment of war as an option — particularly if we choose to forgive seven times seventy and/or follow the highest law offered in Section 98 by turning over the conflict to God and relying exclusively on His power to save. ((Isaiah chapters 30-33:—The Lord invites King Hezekiah to trust in Him alone and not the chariots of Egypt. “Egypt” type representing the most dominant economic and military power at any given time in the world.))

The D&C 98 Firewalls to Conflict/War

Section 98 can be partitioned into five distinct categories: The first ten verses are an invitation to keep the law of God even while being subject to governments, which allegiance is conditioned upon one’s government allowing the free exercise of faith in keeping the law of God (see also D&C 134:2); the next five verses (11-15) lay out an invitation to live by this covenant of peace; the next seven verses (16-22) are the promises or curses that we choose based on obedience or failure to heed these warning; the next eleven verses (23-33) is the law as to personal enemies encountered by us and our families; and finally the last 14 verses (34-48) deal specifically with conflicts between nations.

Only verses 23 through 48 will be addressed here.

The Law as to personal enemies

The Lord instructs us as to our duty in responding to enemies on a personal level – “Now, I speak unto you concerning your families” (verse 23). Here is his Law:

“If men will smite you, your families once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded” (verse 23).

The lesser, Mosaic law of vengeance would require retribution, but the Lord is inviting us to live a higher law, and with obedience to that law comes a reward and blessings. But note that in the next verse He gives us an insight as to the fallen nature of the lesser law:

“But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you.” (verse 24).

In practical terms, this means that if an enemy kills or harms one of our own and in our wrath and anger, or even out of our sense of injustice, we retaliate by harming even our enemy, then the Lord looks upon the acts of both parties as being equally justly deserved — including those who did not give the first offense. By our very nature in seeking revenge/justice, we are declaring to the Lord that we are in fact fulfilling His words: “It is by the wicked that the wicked are punished.” (Mormon 4:5) and “the wicked shall slay the wicked” (D&C 63:33). This model does not fit Hollywood’s version of the avenging hero that hunts down and destroys the “bad” guys who get what they deserve in the end. But the Lord’s ways are not are ways and neither are His thoughts our thoughts—they are higher and we are invited to transcend the world and not engage in its’ cycles of vengeance.

Then in verse 25 through 28 we are invited to “bear patiently” a second and even a third attack by our enemy, and then warn our enemy to come no more against us for which we will be blessed a “hundredfold.” Then if your enemy “smites” you the next time, then and only then, if they have escaped the Lord’s vengeance, will the Lord “deliver thine enemy into thy hands.” But, remarkably now the Lord invites us to go beyond justification in defending ourselves on the fourth assault by choosing to spare our enemy.

“…I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.” (D&C 98: 29,30).

Thus, if we chose to live this highest law then our children and posterity will be blessed unto the “third and fourth generation” — perhaps becoming a catalyst for a generational, if not a millennial peace.

Wars between Nations

After providing the pattern for personal conflicts with enemies in the first 32 verses of Section 98, the Lord declares in the final fifteen verses His Law in regard to wars between nations. Parallel to our response to “personal enemies,” the Lord provides the same pattern wherein we are “justified” in engaging our enemies at a certain point, but are also invited to choose whether we are willing to live even a higher law. However, prior to setting forth the same pattern, the Lord provides us with commandments that act as firewalls to war:

Never take the war to your enemies

Like “unto mine ancients” we are command that we “should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.” (verse 33). This law is consistent with the Mormon’s admonitions and final warning to those of us that would read the Book of Mormon in the last days:

“And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them.” (Mormon 4:4)

“Know ye not that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.” (Mormon 7:4).

The first firewall is to never take the battle to anyone unless specifically commanded by God to do so — His call not ours.

Declarations of War (verses 33-38)

The next commandment is that if another nation proclaims war against His people, then His people are required to “lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation or tongue” (verse 34). Moreover, despite our enemy making their intentions for war clear by a declaration of war, we must, consistent with the law of witnesses, repeat the offering of peace a second and third time so that our enemies cannot mistake our peaceful intentions:

“And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord.”

Then once the evidence is presented before the Lord, the Lord then states that: “I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment.” (verse 36). In other words, the commandment would not come from man but directly from God, who unlike us sees and knows all. He would provide the revelation as to whether we can now justly engage in a conflict. With a direct command from God we are then “justified” in engaging the enemy.God directs and “justifies” conflict not us, and we must patiently continue to offer peace in the face of declarations of war even three times before even petitioning the Lord – and then awaiting His command.

Acts of War (verses 39-48)

Now that the Lord has established we are never to initiate/take the war to someone else, and we are not to react to threats/words or even proclamations of war, the Lord addresses what we must do when the words of our enemy advances to actual attacks upon us as a nation. In verse 39 the Lord states that when your “enemy has come upon thee for the first time” their declarations of war has now been confirmed by the deed. Now the Lord sets forth essentially the same “ensample” or pattern that He gave in resolving personal conflicts for which “justification” can be obtained:

“And again, verily, I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repents and comes unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven.

And so unto the second and third time, and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy.” (D&C 98; 39 & 40).

But what if an enemy does not repent but continues to come upon you? Then the admonition remains: “And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first, time, nevertheless, thou shalt forgive him” (Verse 41). This command continues unto the second and third assault. Then if our enemy attacks a fourth time:

“But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent… and if he do not this, I, the Lord will avenge thee of thine enemy a hundred-fold” (D&C 98:44,45)

Note that the Lord does not state that we are to take into our own hands the avenging of our enemies, even after the fourth unprovoked assault, but that we are to narrowly “bring these testimonies before the Lord” and that “the Lord will avenge” us of our enemies even a hundredfold thus fulfilling his promise in verse 37 that “I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles” to the third and fourth generations. This is the same promise of the Lord given through Isaiah to King Hezekiah that He, the Lord, will fight our battles if we trust in Him and do it His way and not trust in the “chariots of Egypt” (Isaiah 31: 1-3). This is the test. This is the invitation to have complete trust in the Lord. Is there any commandment that He gives us that he will not provide a way for us to obey if we trust in Him? This is the new covenant for the protection of His people in the last days. We are invited to move beyond justification to righteousness by forgiving our enemies and never “go out unto battles against any nation” unless we receive a direct commandment to do so. In the meantime, short of a direct revelation, we have a commandment through His words in Section 98 as to how we must respond. And what if we choose not to obey? Then we are cursed being left to our own resources. Thus relying on the arm of the flesh, we fall into the ancient pattern of retribution played out on this continent so futilely by those speaking from the dust pleading with us to “be more wise” (Mormon 9:31). Again, we are invited to not “trust in the arm of the flesh” (D&C 1:19) but to live by every word He has given us so abundantly and clearly through the Prophet Joseph Smith as codified in Section 98.

In summation, the Lord’s Peace covenant places upon those who accept it the following: First, whenever there is either a declaration or act of war we are required to “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace”—no exceptions; second, we then inquire as to whether our enemy chooses to repent and no longer harm us and if they do repent we are required to “forgive them (him),until seventy times seven”; third, we are to then bear one, two, three assaults before taking it before the Lord who tells us that “I, the Lord (not us – for vengeance is God’s and not ours) will avenge us; but of course, while we are then “according to his (our enemies) works justified” IF we then “wilt spare him (our enemy)” we shall be rewarded generationally unto the “third and fourth generation” having through a great act of faith broken the cycle of violence as occurred in 4th Nephi for generations. The choice is ours as to how high of law we will choose to live — His Kingdom Come now or later.

1833 through 1838—A Case Study

Section 98 issues a covenantal blessing and curse. If we abide by the principles of the covenants then we are promised that we will prevail against are enemies who will be “delivered into our hands.” (D&C 98:29), but if we as his people do not live up to the covenant of Section 98 then all we had or would endure at the hands of our enemies would be “meted out as a just measure..” (D&C 98: 24). So what happened between July of 1833 through the late fall of 1838? The saints were chased out of Jackson County, Missouri and relocated in the northern counties of Missouri. Because they did not retaliate to the threats and violence by leaving peacefully, they were seen for the most part as victims of unjust persecution and were welcomed by the citizens and leaders of these Northern Counties, and public opinion was turning in their favor. ((A number of Clay county leaders, including David Atchison, Alexander Doniphan, and Judge Cameron sympathized with the Mormons, who they believed had been unjustly persecuted. And as recorded in the Elder’s Journal “the saints here are at perfect peace with all the surrounding inhabitants” and many Missourians reached out to assist their Mormon neighbors with goods, land and employment. See “The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, by Stephen C. LeSueur pages 18-24.)) They were fulfilling the promises of D.C. 103:5-10 that they would prevail against their “enemies” if they would hearken unto the Lord’s words found in D& C 98. Their patience was being rewarded, but would their resolve endure?

After nearly five years of relative peace, there arose competition for land rights in the North-West Missouri Counties tied to the upcoming fall elections in 1838. Old fears and prejudices began to arise. Past grievances were publicly trotted out and the desire for retribution was fueled by hyperbolic rhetoric which coalesced in the formation of the Mormon Danites. This environment of fear and anger was further spurred on by the now infamous Salt Sermon given by Sidney Rigdon which was followed his speech on July 4th, 1838 ((“And that mob that comes on to disturb us, it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of blood is spilled…for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party of the other shall be utterly destroyed.” Part of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon.)) which conjoined religious with patriotic language to justify “exterminating” all that opposed their establishment of Zion. Even though many journals and reminiscences of the saints do not mention any specific trouble with non-Mormons prior to the Fourth of July orations, the contagion grew from some to many, including key leaders of the church, who began endorsing vengeance. Certain members notably John Corrill, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Thomas Marsh dissented to the rising tide of voices demanding complete allegiance to church leadership, including the call to exterminate anyone who opposed them—Mormon and non-Mormon alike. Members who counseled caution and peacemaking with their non-Mormon neighbors were threatened and silenced.

Then with reports of injustices done to certain Mormon settlements, the newly formed Mormon army moved from words to actions when they chose in mid-October to make pre-emptive attacks against the Daviess County towns of Gallatin, Grindstone Fork, Splawn’s Ridge and Milport — chasing out the non-Mormons, looting/stealing their belongings, taking it to the Bishop’s storehouse, and then burning their homes — this went on for at least two weeks in Daviess County. Most of the Mormon militia relished ((“It appeared to me also that the love of pillage grew upon them very fast” John Corrill “A Brief History” pg. 38 and the recorded words of future apostle Lyman Wight informing his men that they must pray that “God would damn them (Missourians) and give us power to kill them” Journals of Benjamin Johnson.)) in it but some were sickened. ((“I might say that there was almost a trial of my faith in my pity for our enemies. Among the women was one young married and apparently near her confinement and another with small children and no wagon and the snow already began to fall. So while others were doing the burning and plunder, my mission was of mercy”– Benjamin Johnson)) But the pillaging in Daviess county was not enough for the Mormon militia seeking to “defend” themselves. Led by Apostle David Patten they targeted the State Militia under the command of Captain Bogart that was encamped at Crooked River on the border between Caldwell and Ray County to the south. The Mormon army considered Bogart’s militia a mob, while they saw themselves as the protectors of Ray County from the Mormon army whom they had believed was now the aggressor. Shouting “God and Country” the Mormon militia attacked Bogart’s company. One in Bogart’s militia was killed, and another mutilated as he lay wounded and defenseless on the ground. Bogart’s Crooked River militia fled in terror. Upon hearing of these attacks, general public opinion swung abruptly against the Mormons. Governor Boggs ordered all available state militia in defense of the surrounding towns and counties, and then issued his infamous extermination order—in mimesis to Sidney Rigdon’s previously issued extermination threat. The conflict was now full blown as hundreds that had previously supported the Mormons were volunteering to defend themselves from what they now saw as a Mormon insurrection. ((“ I did not first approve of the vigilantes, but I finally believed they were right and I joined with them. I am convinced that history does not afford a deeper laid scheme of villainy than that which has just developed itself in regard to the course pursued by that sect.” Arthur Bradford to Major Bradford, 13 November 1838.)) More troubling was the reality that previously cooperative Generals Doniphan and Atchison no longer made any attempt to contact the Mormon leaders as they prepared for war. Mirroring the Mormon militia’s logic of pre-emptive war, and further based on hysteria induced testimony that the Mormons at Haun’s Mill were planning an invasion, a mob decided that they were justified in attacking the Mormons at Haun’s Mill. Legislator Charles Ashby, a participant in that slaughter told, the Missouri legislature: “We thought it best to attack them first. What we did was in our own self defense, and we had a right to do it.” ((Missouri Republican, 24 December 1838, speech by Charles Ashby))

Reacting to what was reported as Mormon aggressions, Governor Boggs marshaled the state militias who came in overwhelming force to Far West, where most of the Mormons were preparing for what they described as a final grand conflict where the power of the Lord would be manifest as they would subdue their enemies. However, seeing the futility of resistance, Joseph and the Mormon militia were persuaded to surrender, have their arms confiscated, and enter into an agreement that the Mormons would commence leaving Missouri altogether. Zion was lost and the Saints did not prevail against their “enemies.”

Remarkably very little if any reference was made by church leaders to the Lord’s ‘immutable” covenant found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 98 (published in 1835) during the build up, promotion, and final decision to attack these non-Mormon settlements. For all intents and purposes it was as if D&C 98 never existed. Rather they fell back into the vocabulary of the Old Testament, that is, the glorious prevailing over one’s enemies through armed conflict. Those who actually “renounced war” and made a plea for peace as admonished by D&C 98 were silenced, threatened and in some cases cut off from the church permanently for being traitors. Moreover, two apostles, senior apostle Thomas Marsh and Orson Hyde swore out affidavits condemning what they considered acts of aggression by the Mormons on Gallatin, Milport, and other small towns and then the charge on a state sanctioned militia at Crooked River. Marsh, in the words of Lorenzo Snow, was guilty of supporting the enemy: “He (Marsh) expresses unbounded charity for our enemies — said he did not think they intended us much harm— they were not naturally inclined to wickedness.” ((Quoted by Eliza Snow, Biography and Family record of Lorenzo Snow, Page 31 )) For this Thomas Marsh was threatened causing him and his and his family to flee for safety. He was then excommunicated in absentia.

Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Thomas Marsh and several others got it right from the beginning during the first war/conflict that our religious community was confronted with in 1838. They refused to retaliate against their “enemies” even if it cost, for some of them, their being marginalized or even cast out of their faith community. Other saints took longer to reach such clarity—most never did. As a voice from the dust, one Mormon militia member, Ebenezer Robinson, sought to tutor us from a lesson he and others learned through tribulation:

“Within the space of four months from the time the church made that threatening boast that if a mob come upon us again, we would carry the war to their own houses, and one party or another would be utterly destroyed, we found ourselves prisoners of war, our property confiscated, our leaders in close confinement, and the entire church required to leave or be exterminated. We admonish all Christian people to let this be a solemn warning to never suffer themselves to make a threatening boast of what they would do under certain circumstances, as we are not our own keepers, and we feel certain that the Lord will not help us fight any such battles.” ((“Items of Personal History.” The Return 2 (February 1890): 210))

Did the saints choose to ignore and, thereby, reject the admonitions of D&C 98 when faced with the first real test after it was given five years earlier? The words found in D&C 98 provide a irrefutable answer: “If” the saints follow the invitation given in D&C 98 then the Lord will “have delivered thine enemy into thine hands” (D&C 98:29), but “if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as just measure unto you.” (D&C 98:24). Despite the boisterous bragging about having their enemies delivered into their hands, the Mormons were fully delivered into the hands of their enemies as “being meted out as a just measure.”

In summation, the non-Mormons persecuted the saints in 1833 and then, even after receiving this “immutable” covenant with a promise of peace if followed, the Saints chose to ignore the words of the Lord and took matters into their own hands. Even if to a far lesser degree, when we chose to engage in the very evil we deplored we lost covenantal protection. As God’s covenant people we do not lose Zion because the power of the devil is greater then the Lord’s power, but we always forfeit Zion when we reject the words of the Lord. The saints were exiled and Joseph, with a few others, was sent to Liberty Jail. Joseph was the Lord’s chosen prophet in these latter-days when he received Section 97 and Section 98 of the Doctrine & Covenants. But he was also a “rough stone rolling,” as we all are, when he and the early saints gathered at Farr West chose to take matters in their own hands and either ignore and/or reject in both words and deeds the immutable peace covenant found in Section 98 by boasting that through force of arms imminent victory over their enemies was sure. ((“If the people let us alone, we will preach the gospel in peace. But if they come on us to molest us, we will establish our religion with the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood… from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I will be to this generation a 2nd Muhammad, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘the Al-Qur’an or the sword.’ So shall it be with us — ‘Joseph Smith or the sword!’ (See History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 167).” [emphasis in original])) We repeatedly learn from the Book of Mormon that being “led into captivity” is a curse that comes upon us when we have rejected His covenantal protection, but the Lord was merciful to His Prophet Joseph Smith — as he is to all of us — by continuing to speak to him in his deepest despair. There in Liberty Jail Joseph received further tutoring as to what constituted the proper exercise of the priesthood in the incomparable Section 121 — not just with those in the covenant but with all of God’s children.

To what extent have we “Renounced War” since 1838?

So that was then. Since 1838 did we learn our lesson from our history? When faced with conflict have we since applied it in response to conflicts domestic and abroad? More importantly, do we now seek to apply the principles of D&C 98 as a template when we are in the crucible of conflict? And more to the point, to what extent have we “Renounced War” individually and as a covenant people.

Since Johnson’s army retreated, we, as a faith community, have not been under the threat of violence as we were when we considered ourselves a separate body from our host nation. In the United States, like the saints in the primitive church, there came a time when we became increasingly, although reluctantly at times, linked to our nation and in so doing, our nation’s “enemies” have de facto become our enemies. Since statehood was granted, our nation has been engaged in numerous wars. However, D&C 98, perhaps anticipating this change, addresses God’s law and covenant to us regarding nation to nation wars as well as personal/community conflicts. So have we taught and applied this covenant in our generation? And more importantly, will we in the future?

Renouncing War & Conscientious Objection from Spanish American War to 9/11

Spanish-American War

In 1890 polygamy was abandoned, and then six years later Utah obtained statehood as the forty-fifth state of the United States of America. Prior to that time we had practiced “selective pacifism” in that we retained the right to participate or not participate in any given conflict. This form of pacifism is articulated in Mormon 7:4 wherein the Kingdom of God should only be subject to theocratic wars — those sanctioned directly by God. However, two years after statehood “the elimination of selective pacifism was abandoned following an internal conflict in the church over the participation in the Spanish-American War” ((“The Mormon Church and the Spanish-American War: An End to Selective Pacifism” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. D. Michael Quinn.)) Consequently, the Spanish American War of 1898 was the first major conflict in which large numbers of Mormons served in the U.S. Military:

“For many the first serious test of Mormon patriotism occurred with the outbreak of the Spanish American War. Although a few Mormons, notably Brigham Young, Jr. spoke out against the war, most Latter-day Saints, like other Americans, gave it their enthusiastic support. With official encouragement from church leaders, several hundred young Mormons enlisted. There were cheers and waving of flags as the young men marched through the streets of Salt Lake City before boarding their train to their destination. Mormons responded with general enthusiasm to demonstrate their national loyalty.” ((The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J. Arrington. Page 251))

World War I

The strong strains of pacifism that existed among Mormons in the nineteenth century increasingly waned after statehood, and then when the United States entered World War I, pacifism was not as popular as twenty-four thousand Mormons joined that great conflict: “The Saints had become Americans ‘lock, stock, and barrel.’” ((The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J. Arrington. Page 252)) Nevertheless, the issue of whether Mormons should or should not be considered Conscientious Objectors continued to be debated as many Latter-day Saints took that path of conscientious objector status during WWI. ((“500 More Little-Known Facts in Mormon History” (2004, Bonneville Books, Springville, Utah) by George W. Givens. On p. 229, Givens writes this peace about Conscientious Objection in 1919 in Mormon History: “The question of conscientious objection and Mormonism did not become an issue until the beginning of World War I due to a misunderstanding as to where the Church stood on pacifism. There were a total of 3,700 conscientious objectors (C.O.s) during that war, a number of them Latter-day Saints. Like others, the Saints were given an option of going to prison or performing ‘alternative service’ such as firefighting or counseling mental patients in hospitals. The issue became predominant when Fort Douglas became a prison in 1919 for the C.O.s who refused the alternative service. The policy of the [Mormon] Church is still not totally understood in spite of its clarification that we believe in being subject to our secular governments but may choose C.O. status as a matter of personal belief.”))

World War II

World War II was considered a just and noble war to save mankind from fascism. But even in that war there remained reservations before, during and especially after said war. It is a little known fact that there were Latter-day Saint conscientious objectors during World War II, some of which were assigned to alternative service classifications. ((Selective Service System Special Monograph No. 11 Conscientious Objection (Washington D.C.: G.P.O., 1950).)) At the conclusion of that great and terrible conflict, a call was made by the United States to establish compulsory and universal military training as well as create a “standing army” for our nation’s protection. Prophetically and wisely a letter was issued from our First Presidency dissenting to such a policy. In seventeen short paragraphs our First Presidency listed all the evils that they believed would result from such an endeavor. Paragraphs numbers #13 through #17 presciently speak from the dust as to what has in fact occurred as a result of our nation rejecting this warning:

“By creating an immense standing army, we shall create to our liberties and free institutions a threat foreseen and condemned by the founders of the Republic, and by the people of this country from that time till now. Great standing armies have always been the tools of ambitious dictators to the destruction of freedom. [14] By the creation of a great war machine, we shall invite and tempt the waging of war against foreign countries, upon little or no provocation; for the possession of great military power always breeds thirst for domination, for empire, and for a rule by might not right. [15] By building a huge armed establishment, we shall belie our protestations of peace and peaceful intent and force other nations to a like course of militarism, so placing upon the peoples of the earth crushing burdens of taxation that with their present tax load will hardly be bearable, and that will gravely threaten our social, economic, and governmental systems. [16] We shall make of the whole earth one great military camp whose separate armies, headed by war-minded officers, will never rest till they are at one another’s throats in what will be the most terrible contest the world has ever seen. [17] All the advantages for the protection of the country offered by a standing army may be obtained by the National Guard system which has proved so effective in the past and which is unattended by the evils of entire mobilization.” ((“Letter of the First Presidency” December 14, 1945))

The First Presidency then concluded their message with this statement: “What this country needs, and the world needs, is a will for peace, not war. God will help our efforts to bring this about.” — Signed by Presidents George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay. Surely, like Mormon at the end of the Book of Mormon, the First Presidency of our faith were fully aware of the horror of the World War they just witnessed — including the savagery of vengeance upon our enemies manifested in the relentless fire bombing of the cities in Germany and Japan even before the nuclear nightmare of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The words of President Clark articulated what in part might have spurred the First Presidency renouncing the United States movement towards compulsory military service and the build up of a standing army:

“Then as the crowning savagery of war, we Americans wiped out hundreds of thousands of civilian population with the atom bomb in Japan, few if any of the ordinary citizens being any more responsible for the war than were we…military men are now saying that the atom bomb was a mistake. It was more than that: it was a world tragedy…and the worst is not that not only did the people of the United States not rise up in protest of this savagery, not only did it not shock us to read of this wholesale destruction of men, women and children, and cripples, but that it actually drew from the nation at large a general approval of this fiendish butchery.” ((J. Reuben Clark, One Hundred and Seventeenth Semi-Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1946), p. 88.
37 May 12, 1969 First Presidency Statement))

Viet-Nam War

Viet Nam represented for many LDS an unjust war based on their understanding of our doctrine as it relates to war and peace issues. After two great World Wars and then the Korean War, it was increasingly assumed that American Latter-day Saints would support their nation when it was at war. While Church leaders consistently made general statements condemning war, they at the same time began to invoke the 12th Article of Faith as requiring us to “sustain” the “law” of one’s nation when conscripted:

“We make no statement on how this country can or should try to disengage itself from the present regrettable war in Vietnam; that is a problem … which must be solved by our governmental officials in whom we have complete confidence. We believe our young men should hold themselves in readiness to respond to the call of their government to serve in the armed forces when called upon… we believe in honoring, sustaining, and upholding the law” ((May 12, 1969 First Presidency Statement ))

Before Viet Nam very little was said by Church leaders in regard to one seeking Conscientious Objector status. However, as the truth of the causes and prosecution of this war were uncovered — such as when the Pentagon Papers were dramatically released, there was a growing consciousness of the realities of this conflict and the deliberate deceit involved in creating public support to enter this war. With ever increasing war protests there was also a growing minority of Latter-day Saints who joined in protesting our occupation of Viet Nam as an unjust and even immoral war effort. Consequently, a letter was circulated by the “Office of the First Presidency” stating that while membership alone did not make one a Conscientious Objector, that individual members could avail themselves on a personal basis for the exemption provided by law. The pertinent part of the letter being:

“Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not make one a conscientious objector….As the brethren understand, the existing law provides that men who have conscientious objection may be excused from combat service. There would seem to be no objection, therefore, to a man availing himself on a personal basis of the exemption provided by law.” ((“Office of the First Presidency” letter dated March 20, 1970 under signature of Joseph Anderson, Secretary to the First Presidency))

Revelations during ((Pentagon Papers were 7,000 pages of classified documents copied by Daniel Ellsberg and released to the public on June 13, 1971 and read into Congressional Record by an emotional Senator Mike Gravel shortly thereafter. ( and then subsequent to the Viet Nam war had a sobering affect on our nation for those that saw the deceit leading us into that war, and then the abhorrent evil and futility associated with that war. In a sobering parallel to the First Presidency Statement just months after the end of World War II where we renounced the creation of a compulsory draft and the buildup of a standing army, ((“Letter of the First Presidency” December 14, 1945)) we hear the voice of a prophet not only renounce the construction of the MX Missile system in Utah, but his words echo to this day renouncing war and inviting us to trust in the Lord and not our military might:

“We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:’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; 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 in 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. We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the “arm of flesh,’ for the Lord has said to all the world in our day, “I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:24) ((“The False Gods We Worship” by President Spencer W. Kimball, June Ensign 1976))

This statement by President Kimball is what “renouncing” war sounds like. With each passing year and the release of information by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act (an oxymoron given we have to wait 25 years after the fact), the words of our Prophet in 1976 have been vindicated in that our reliance on the “arm of the flesh” has been proven to be not only futile but placed us in a position of contributing to continuing unjustified and immoral warfare.

9/11 — A Chance to Create a Paradigm for Peace

Twenty-five years after President Kimball warned us about the idolatry of trusting in our “war chariots” and the “arm of the flesh” we, as a nation, were confronted with a dramatic attack on 9/11. As a nation that had during the decade previous to 9/11 dropped hundreds of bombs on civilian populations only to see those people increase in their hatred and desire for retribution, the question was “How would we, as a Christian nation respond differently, if at all?” And in particular, how would we as Latter-day Saints react? What doctrine and deeply held beliefs would govern/influence us?

We know how our U.S. government responded. On September 15, 2011, our United States Congress approved a resolution authorizing President Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against anyone associated with the terrorists attacks of September 11. The measure passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the house. This broad resolution to use force against “anyone associated” or believed to be associated with this attack was a precursor to the formulation of what was, shortly thereafter, called the “Bush Doctrine” which authorized the initiation of pre-emptive war: “…the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right to self-defense.” ((The Bush Doctrine delineated in a document, the National Security Strategy of the United States, published September 17, 2002. The full statement being: “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression.” This author might add that what the Bush Doctrine was trying to tell us was that “no country” should use pre-emption as a pretext for aggression other than the United States.))

What is remarkable and instructive is the lone, single dissenting voice in the House of Representatives and what caused that person to cast that vote. Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, tells us that it was the words of her clergy that prompted her conscience as her church leader prayed these few words: “as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.” She informed us that based on her “moral compass, her conscience and her God” she had no choice but to take a very unpopular stand—a stand that flooded her office with complaints and even death threats for which she had to be guarded 24 hours a day for several days. ((Congresswoman Barbara Lee speech 9/14/2001

Did we as Latter-day Saints hear the words of Christ and, in particular, our Peace Covenant found in Section 98 during this time? The answer is “yes”!

Elder Nelson in the fall conference of 2002 gave a conference address entitled “Blessed are the Peacemakers” ((“Blessed are the Peacemakers” Elder Russell Nelson, October 2002 LDS Semiannual General Conference.)) in which he proclaimed:

“Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does the Lord expect of us? As a Church, we must “renounce war and proclaim peace.”

The clarity of that single statement caused the national news media to conclude that the Mormon Church had issued a strong anti-war message referring to our “current hostilities” — which at the time was the invasion of Afghanistan and proposed invasion of Iraq:

“The Golden Rule’s prohibition of one interfering with the right of others was equally binding on all nations and associations and left no room for retaliatory reactions, Nelson said at the meeting Saturday.” ((CNN Reported: “The Mormon Church issued a strong anti-war message at is semiannual General conference clearly referring to current hostilities in the Middle East, advocating patience and negotiations” and “The Golden Rule’s prohibition of one interfering with the right of others was equally binding on all nations and associations and left no room for retaliatory reactions, Nelson said at the meeting Saturday.”))

The following spring, and just days after our invasion of Iraq, President Hinckley delivered his key note address in General Conference directly addressing our doctrine as to “War and Peace.” ((“War and Peace” President Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2003 LDS Semiannual General Conference)) President Hinckley referenced D&C 98 by stating: “Modern revelation states that we are to ‘renounce war and proclaim peace.’” (D&C 98:16). This isolated reference to D&C 98 was followed by two other subjunctive statements as to whether we would as a faith renounce our current wars: “We can renounce war and proclaim peace” and “This places us in the position of those who teach peace, who work for peace.”

Afghanistan invasions

Just days after 9/11 President Bush demanded that the nation of Afghanistan turn over Osama Bin Laden to the United States. The Afghan government said they would if the U.S. government shared their evidence that Osama Bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attacks. President Bush insisted that he did not have to share that evidence and if the Afghan government did not comply with our demands, then we would invade their country. The Afghan government warned the United States to not invade their country.
It should be mentioned that the Afghan government, responding to the requests of their clerics, sought to have Osama Bin Laden leave their country to avoid a conflict but before that occurred and just days after the demand was made by the United States to turn over Bin Laden, the United States of America invaded the sovereign nation of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Now almost 12 years later what has happened? Tens of thousands of Afghani men, women and children have lost their life in this war we started; over 3,000 American military have perished with innumerable life altering injuries. The war continues to this day. Drones drop bombs weekly on Afghanistan and Pakistani villages where a minimum of 45% of those killed are women and children and another large percentage are men that can not be identified as insurgents (in an Orwellian fashion we invade a country, knock down their doors, bomb their villages and then when anyone fights back we call them the “insurgents.”). We call the horror of 9/11 a national tragedy — in this region of the world where they are bombed weekly– they call it Tuesday. ((Top military and Executive branch members (The “Disposition Matrix”) meets Monday over lunch to decide who to drone bomb with Hellfire Missiles. The next day, “Tuesday”, when the Disposition Matrix bombing plans are executed constitutes another villages’ own personal 9/11.))

Iraq Invasion

Did the nation of Iraq have any connection with the 9/11 terrorist act? No. Did they have weapons of mass destruction? No. Had they invaded us first? No. Were they threatening to invade the United States? No. Then why did we invade their country? On March 20, 2003 the United States invaded Iraq with overwhelming force, bombing with “Shock and Awe.” Thanks to imbedded reporting we were not spared the details of the horror. ((“Generation Kill” by Evan Wright)) Ten years later hundreds of thousands civilians have been killed or maimed with the resultant immeasurable generational affects of warfare — not to mention the loss of human life of fathers, husbands/wives, sons/daughters of our very best sent to that nation for revenge and, of course, to depose an evil man. Then predictably as the “wicked seek to punish the wicked” mimetic rivalry sets in as we began to engage in our own calculated, premeditated torture ((“Don’t Torture in my name” by Joshua Madson, the Mormon Worker, the Third Edition. )) as well as the inflicting widespread death through unrelenting bombing, and even our own use of chemical weapons on civilians in Fallujah. ((We now know that our U.S. Military used napalm and phosphorus gas on the city of Fallujah resulting in continuing birth defects and then deliberately lied about its use. Thus, fulfilling the voice of warning that if we invaded a country that was not threatening us that we would become the very evil that we deplored — as prophetically foreshadowed by Congresswoman, Barbara Lee’s clergy.

The “moral” framework for both of these wars were summed up in the “Bush Doctrine.” The “Bush Doctrine” is simply giving our nation license to invade countries that have not attacked us, have no intention of doing so, but we take the offensive and invade them first “before” they have a chance to perhaps attack us. This was also called the “One percent doctrine” as articulated by chief war architect Vice-President Richard Cheney which meant that if “we” determined that there was even a 1% chance of being harmed by our enemy that we had the right to strike our enemy first to prevent them from harming us. ((The One Percent Doctrine as articulated by VP Richard Cheney: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”))

If ever there were two wars that had crossed over every doctrinal and ethical line of our Latter-day Saint religious beliefs it was these two wars of aggression. The Book of Mormon could not be clearer that the very moment we begin to take the war to our enemies and invade their lands that we will lose all covenantal protection and have become the very evil we deplore. ((Mormon 3: 9-17))

Even though the “Immutable Peace Covenant” found in Section 98 was received by Joseph Smith in 1833, and the most recent publication of the Doctrine and Covenants was completed in 1835, as indicated above, said Section was not read, mentioned or referred to as a check to the acts of aggression by either church leadership or the general membership of the church in regard to the 1838 Missouri wars. But what is our excuse? We have studied the Doctrine and Covenants every four years for decades, we have had ample opportunity to read and digest this Covenant — especially when faced with the crucible of conflict. And finally, we have had sermons such as that given by Elder Nelson and President Hinckley specifically referring to our obligation to “renounce war and proclaim peace.” So let’s objectively ask ourselves whether we have once again in our generation rejected in both words and deeds this Peace Covenant.

Have we rejected as a faith community this ‘immutable’ covenant in our generation?

If one were to argue that we have not rejected the doctrines found in Section 98 by submitting to our current nation’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have to honestly answer all of the following questions in the affirmative?

  • Did we as a faith specifically “renounce” the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq by “lifting a standard of peace” even if we believed that they were the perpetrators of the attack upon our nation?
  • Did we renounce those voices that called for vengeance and that promised retribution?
  • Did we accept either the nation of Afghanistan or Iraq’s own standard of peace when they claimed that they had not attacked us nor would they ever attack us in the future? (D&C 98:39,40 –forgive seven times seventy)
  • Did we consider what Section 98 requires of us even if we had imagined (actually fabricated) evidence showing some attack upon us by either of these nation? (D&C 98: 44,45 — four assaults even before allowed to take before the Lord)
  • And did we accept their “prayer’ for peace even “seventy times seven” as required in D&C 98: 40?
  • Did we sincerely consider living a higher law and turning the justice over to God?

In short, did we apply the principles of Section 98 to our present conflicts or did we fall back into the same patterns used by the saints during the Missouri conflicts? It is undeniably true that in the Missouri conflicts the Mormons had been assaulted and terrorized by certain Missourians. However, it is also equally undeniable that there was no credible evidence that the citizens the Mormon Army attacked in Daviess County had ever harmed the Mormon settlements. In a haunting parallel, how many of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans or Iraqis who have lost their life since our invasion of their country, had prior to our invasion ever attacked our nation or any of us personally? Finally, did we consider thoughtfully and prayerfully as a faith community as to whether we were complying with the immutable covenant that the Lord gave us in Section 98?

So the “immutable” Covenant of Peace offered by our Lord in D&C 98 remains largely ignored in our generation once again. Just as we did in 1838 in Missouri, the voices of dissent to pre-emptive strikes in these current wars were condemned as not being loyal/patriotic; reports of grievances were once again exaggerated or fabricated, and in the end many innocent have and will perish on both sides of the conflict as we pursue these wars of aggression—nothing has changed since 1838 other then our cementing our allegiance with our host nation. Therefore, to the extent that we as a faith community have not renounced our nation’s current wars and applied the requirements set forth in D&C 98, I believe we have once again rejected this peace covenant.

And so even as we are under condemnation for treating lightly the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon “to do according to that which I (the Lord) have written,” (D&C 84: 54-58), are we as his covenant people once again rejecting His words found in the Doctrine and Covenants as it pertains to matters of war and peace?

In nation to nation wars, the “default” position of D&C 98 is that after we have exhausted every avenue of peace, we will await a revelation from God as to whether we are justified in taking up arms against another nation. In the meantime, we are commanded to “Renounce War(s) and Proclaim Peace.” This is consistent with Mormon, who at the end of the Book of Mormon counseled us: “Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.” (Mormon 7:4). Instead, we have adopted, since obtaining statehood in our nation, an inverted “default” position that says: “having no revelation to the contrary (and I include in that DC 98), we will pledge allegiance to any war our nations endorses.” Therefore, it could be argued that we have gone beyond just ignoring Section 98 to engaging in our own “Constantine shift.” (Constantine Shift is a term used by Anabaptist and Post-Christendom theologians to describe the political and theological aspects of the 4th Century process of Constantine’s legalization of Christianity. The term was popularized by Mennonite theologian John Yoder. Clapp, Rodney (1996). A Peculiar People, Intervarsity Press. Page 23 . “What might be called the Constantine Shift began around the year 200 and took more than two hundred years to grow and unfold to bloom.”))

How a Nation that calls itself “Christian” Could Have Responded?

War is a failure of moral imagination. And perhaps one of most unimaginative lies is that “there is no other way.” So let us imagine. Let’s start with an imaginary nation that really believes in the words of Jesus, the New Testament, and the life of Jesus to pattern after:

Imagine it is now Sunday, September 16th, 2001. It’s been five days since the devastating attacks of 9/11. Our nation and much of the world, including those we would later call our enemies, show their solidarity with us as we mourn over that horrific tragedy. Here the script changes. Instead of demanding revenge or justice or even duty to country over our religious values, Holy men of all faiths in our nation rise to the occasion and use the very words of their God to teach us how to transcend and overcome our enemies by returning good for evil. While giving comfort, they exhort us to not become the very evil we deplore. Demonstrating a mature discipleship, they teach us that we must begin to pray for our enemies and even search deep within ourselves for ways to do good to those that hate us.

Week after week, pulpits are used to teach us that we must not give into our fear and anger which leads inevitably to a desire for vengeance. They exhort us that the price of discipleship is great at such times, but the promises are sure if we will trust our God enough to follow the example of Christ and all his messengers of peace. They counsel us that if we chose to not ‘resist evil with evil,” then God will consecrate such faith and patience by pouring out a blessing upon our nation, and even soften the hearts of those nations and people who have been our adversaries.

What if all the spiritual leaders of our nation were actively renouncing any voice by any political leader or military commander seeking to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq? Could those political leaders — the Neocons and warmongers in high places who insisted on pre-emptive invasions — have succeeded in marshaling enough public support for such wars? Not if every spiritual leader and their adherents had denounced such wars. Our nation’s then “Decider in Chief,” who had told us during the Presidential debates that Jesus was his greatest hero, would have had to weigh the collective teachings of those entrusted to share the gospel of Christ each week as well as consider as to whether there was any popular support for commencing the works of death among men, women and children whose only crime was that of being civilians of another nation.

Our nation chooses to not invade Afghanistan nor Iraq.

Then let’s suppose we, as a nation, get carried away even further with a Christ-inspired model when it comes to our perceived enemies and we spend just a tenth of what we have squandered in these two wars on direct humanitarian relief to these benighted

countries we attacked. Instead of flooding them with bombs we flood them with humanitarian relief. We lift sanctions, we pour out upon them assistance to lift their nation. How would the narrative have changed? How many schools and hospitals might we have built and how many fewer Madrassahs would have sprung up teaching anti-American hatred for the next generation? We could have honored the sacrifice of those lost on 9/11 by building permanent bridges of peace and demonstrated to the world — that was at first united with us in mourning — how a predominantly Christian nation responds to enemies, and in the process perhaps destroyed irretrievably the narrative of our enemies leaving them increasingly isolated in their hatred and objectives even among their own people. ((“What would you do if you were the Israeli Prime Minister?” Mormon Worker Post, Ron Madson, January 2009 or “How to destroy your enemies with kindness and love.”

The pragmatist among us would say: “Well, even if we as LDS would have renounced these wars and refused to participate, we are a relatively small minority and another small sect conscientiously objecting would not have prevented the invasion and continued occupation of these countries.” Are we so sure? As explored in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference,” ((“The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference,” by Malcolm Gladwell, published by Little Brown in 2000.)) a critical mass that can change the course of history often makes itself manifest in just tiny, yet sufficient, “tipping point” of participants. But even if the collective dissent of our faith from top to bottom would not have prevented the invasions for the whole nation it surely would have made a difference for those in our own faith covenant.

What if the entire LDS faith community had Renounced War after 9/11?

So let’s narrow this script and rewrite history as to our Mormon faith community post 9/11. In addition to the words and example of Christ we find in the Bible we also have the Lord’s Immutable Peace Covenant that we are invited/commanded to follow in times of great conflict.

We are attacked on 9/11. How do we as Latter Day Saints in this alternative world respond if we accept Section 98 as binding covenant?

Step one: “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace”

Our first obligation under Section 98 is to “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace.” This means that we reflexively renounce “war” as an option after the first assault. We foreclose war as an option and immediately explore ways to promote peace

After 9/11, the voices from our pulpits, in this alternate reality, in unison turn instinctively to D&C Section 98 and raise the standard of peace and renounce commencing any wars. By “renounce” I do not mean they simply say that war is not nice and we prefer peace to war. Or worse, proclaim that we are peace loving, and like Jesus we believe in peace, while openly responding to an invitation to march to war. No!

To renounce means to declare an emphatic NO! It means one unequivocally rejects a war policy that involves retribution—and especially when it involves pre-emptive acts of aggression. There are no public relation statements saying that we are speaking generally and not as to the “current hostilities” (( “Message of Peace Misinterpreted” retrieved from the official LDS website Archives April 25, 2007. After the news media reported that Elder Nelson’s address in General Conference (“Blessed are the Peacemakers, October 2002) represented the LDS church’s opposition to wars of retaliation, i.e., the invasion of Afghanistan and then the planned invasion of Iraq, a public relations statement was issued from the LDS church stating that Elder Nelson’s address had been misinterpreted as to being applicable to our current hostilities and that “the Church itself, as such, has no responsibility for these policies, other then urging its’ members fully to render loyalty to their country.”)) — No, we are talking specifically about the invasion of Afghanistan and the planned invasion of Iraq.

Step two: “Did our enemy actually do this?”

Slowing down and verifying the mind and intent of your enemy (“as oft as they repent”) is an effort to sort out fact from fiction before acting. Because there have been “evil and designing men” that have drawn us into wars in the past (“Remember the Maine”;“Gulf of Tonkin; and now WMDs) based on deliberately fabricated false intelligence, we should at the minimum pause long enough to find out if we are being manipulated into a war based on false premises. What would have six months, a year or two in additional investigation into the credibility of the “evidence” that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 cost us? What about Afghanistan? The fact that their nations were or are led by people we consider tyrants or evil means what in reference to our Peace Covenant found in Section 98? Absolutely nothing. Slowing down to test the validity of the evidence between the attack on our nation on 9/11 and these two countries would cost us nothing, but we could have a vastly increased chance of discovering the truth by getting past the smoke and mirrors of those whose agenda it was to have us engage in immediate retribution. However, even if those two countries sponsored and perpetrated this attack, that still does not justify our declaring war on those nations for the next two reasons that follow.

Step three: Give our enemy a chance to repent…

In this alternate reality, let us assume that after slowing down and having several months—or as long as it takes — to verify the connection between Iraq and Afghanistan to the 9/11 attack that we discover that either or both of these countries had in fact trained and sent these Saudi Arabian citizens to attack the United States. Then what? If either or both of those nations inform us that they will not attack us again, or in our spiritual vernacular, they “repent” and will do it no more, then we are commanded by the Lord that we forgive our enemies every single time they seek forgiveness:

“39 And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy—
40 And so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven.”

Did not Iraq and Afghanistan tell us that they had no intention of harming us in the future? Of course they did. Therefore, the Peace Covenant of Section 98 requires us to forgive them and not seek retaliation even if we believe they attacked us in the first place. And how many times do we forgive them? “Seventy times seven which means we if our enemy, despite past offenses, chooses peace we must accept it.

Step four: “And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first time, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him.”

Then even if Iraq or Afghanistan had attacked us and were not repenting of that act, we are required to forgive them nonetheless. This requirement continues for the second and even third attack.

“42 And if he trespass against thee the second time, and repent not, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him. 43 And if he trespass against thee the third time, and repent not, thou shalt also forgive him.”

What evidence do we have of a second or third attack by Afghanistan and Iraq as nations against us? None.

Step five: “If the offenses/attacks/trespasses continue without repentance then we shall “bring these testimonies before the Lord”

Now the attacks/assaults continue unabated without repentance. What then are we commanded to do? We are told to “bring these testimonies before the Lord.” Then what are we to do? “We” are not told to do anything but trust in the Lord who uses the pronoun “I” and not the “we” when He says: “I the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred –fold.” (D&C 98: 45). “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” and not ours. (Romans 12:9)

Finally, if we can objectively say that we have honestly applied all of the above firewalls to escalating any conflict/war, then if we want to be “justified” in going to war because we have not chosen to live the highest law of “sparing” our enemy and trusting in the Lord alone (DC 98:30), then there is one more requirement:

“And again this is the law of my ancients, that they should not go unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue or people, save, I , the Lord, commanded them.” (D&C 98:33 and see Mormon 7:4).

In other words, even if you can honestly believe that all the pre-requisites in Section 98 are fulfilled, you must still receive personal revelation from the Lord himself before you “go unto battle against any nation.”

The words and life of Christ and His invitation to Come Follow Him is sufficient for us to lay down our weapons of war and reject the use of violence against violence. But the Lord speaks to us in our language, which in our western culture is a language of legalism, codes, rules, and formulas, which I consider the lesser law if we do not have the faith as the early Christians exhibited in the plain teachings of Jesus. Section 98 provides a formula, which if honestly followed, would have prevented us from engaging in these last two wars for: First, after “renouncing” war as a an option if both the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan had stated to us that they were not involved in 9/11 and/or that even if we did not believe them, they made it perfectly clear that they had no intentions of attacking us in the future, we would have been required under our own Peace Covenant to accept their offer of peace. Second, even if the 9/11 attack was sponsored by either or both of them, where are the second and third attacks/assaults? And then what revelations have we received wherein the Lord commanded us to bring a war to their nation? It does not exist.

Thus, in our imaginary world, where even if we ignore the words and example of Jesus, if we had used Section 98 as our guide, we would have been required under that Covenant of Peace to Renounce and, thereby, refuse to participate, because of our religious beliefs, in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no doubt that many of us individually did renounce those wars from the outset based on our religious faith. But in this imaginary world it is not just a few obscure voices but also those entrusted with the leadership stewardship of our faith on all levels.

Therefore, what if the President of the Church, the Apostles, our local church leadership all in unison had stridently and without reservation renounced our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? What would have happened in our faith community? How many latter-day saints would not have volunteered for military service after 9/11? The main body of our faith community would have heard the clarity of the denunciation and added to the chorus rejecting the call to endorse these wars. Believing parents would have discouraged children from enlisting. Section 98 would come alive to the believing saints and they would recognize the voice of the Lord in that immutable covenant. What difference would this make? As far as immediate effect, how many of the more than one hundred LDS soldiers who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have enlisted, or in the alternative claimed status as conscientious objectors? We will never know for sure, but at many of their funerals, friends and family testified that their desire to enlist and “serve their country” had been rooted in their religious faith. ((The virtue and sacrifice of those that have served in our military is not being challenged here but those who have taken upon themselves to manipulate our serviceman’s virtue in the support of unjust causes built upon intentional manipulation and even fabrication of false intelligence. We “honor” those who have sacrificed not by placing more victims upon our war altars but by demanding from those that send us in harm’s way the unvarnished truth. What about those injured physically and mentally? What about the lives of our “enemies” and the disproportionate number of their civilian population? Do they even count in the equation?

What if we were taught, consistent with our Peace Covenant that we were to take at face value another nation’s claim that they either a) had not attacked us (think Gulf of Tonkin) or b) they have no intention of attacking or harming us? At the minimum we would have slowed down and allowed ourselves to test the validity of what ultimately proved to be false intelligence that was deliberately fabricated by “evil and designing men.” Peace loving people and nations should be slow to war and find any alternative to violence.

What “if” instead of taking pride in being the first to engage the enemy, or for that matter to enlist, we were very wary of military service because since 1945 we had repeatedly referred to the “Statement by the First Presidency Regarding Universal Compulsory Military Training” ((“Statement by the First Presidency regarding Universal Compulsory Military Training,” December 1945.)) wherein a declaration was made listing all the evils that arise from ‘military training” and the presence of a standing army. Would we not have today a faith that saw, as did the first Disciples of Christ, military service and being the first to pick up the sword as something to be shunned rather than a source of pride? Consequently, a renouncing of our recent wars of aggression would have been a naturally reflex and a confirmation of the prophetic nature of our First Presidencies’ statement at the end of World War II.

Beyond the immediate or generational blessings that come from keeping our peace covenants, I believe there is a spiritual dynamic that goes beyond this sphere of existence. I believe that if we fully embraced the words of Christ in His revelations, then the heavens are opened for the ministering angels to pour out an even greater blessing as promised not only in Section 98, but in all our revelations. What is that blessing? Beyond peace and prosperity, there is the promise of further light and knowledge. There is the unsealing of the heavens as we receive even greater revelations and blessings, which I believe are sealed up until we actually live those revelations which we have been given. So what would happen if, as a people, whether speaking from the Chief Seats down to the smallest primary class, we were to teach the words of Christ with conviction, utterly renouncing all forms of retributive violence? I believe we would find our
voice. And I further believe the throngs of heavenly beings would join us. And who knows but that we could cause miracles to occur? And would not our united voices renouncing these wars give courage to other faith communities and like minded people? I believe there be enough collective push back that those who sought moral support for their war plans would have been frozen long enough to arrest what has proven to be so evil on so many levels? We will never know.

What is Preventing us from Renouncing All Wars?

We have been commanded to “Renounce War and Proclaim Peace.” So why would we not conscientiously object to any war that we consider unjust and inconsistent with our moral compass? Why would we even consider sustaining in any way the killing of other human beings under the cloak of our host nation when the Lord commanded us “Thou shalt not kill”? How we have arrived individually and/or as a church in having our highest spiritual values subjugated to obedience to one’s nation is a topic in and of itself, but what it is evident to me is that those of our faith that that speak of obedience to one’s government invariably cite the 12th Article thus marginalizing the words of Christ and the highest principles of Christianity found in our latter day Doctrine and Covenants.

It is my opinion that based on the totality of our doctrine, historical application, and just common moral sense that the 12th Article of Faith was never intended to require unqualified/unconditional obedience to our government or the laws of man. I do not believe that 12th Article of Faith justifies obeying one’s government when it demands us to support wars that cause the murder of innocent lives.

The 12th Article of Faith is a general statement recognizing that we are “subject” to worldly powers/government, but that we “sustain” the “law.” It is rare that sustaining the law of the land cannot be reconciled with our religious conscience. The 12th Article of faith can and should apply to our everyday civil duties–regulations, contracts, speed limit, criminal laws, and even taxation with representation. It is wise and virtuous to be civil and obedient to perhaps all civil laws.

However, there are times when one’s government and its’ laws demands of us to destroy the inalienable rights of life and liberties of others. When that occurs I believe we have the right, and even spiritual duty, to civilly disobey our government for the following reasons:

First, there are two basic school of legal thought as to what constitutes “law”— There is the “positive law’ model and the “natural law” model. Positive law asserts that there is no law except that which is mandated by the those who hold authority and can enforce it. Whether moral or not moral– it just is. By contrast Natural law recognizes that there are God given inalienable rights that all men are endowed with that stand independent and superior to any laws of men. Therefore, when “natural law” is irreconcilable with actual law, we are justified in civil disobedience to our government. These inalienable rights were articulated by Jefferson, Madison, and others in framing the founding documents of our nation.

Second, DC: 134: 1-7 and DC 98: 4-8 clearly and unmistakably defines and qualifies the “law” as those laws that allow its citizens freedom of conscience and which are founded on constitutional principles. In His words, no government or laws can expect to be sustained or “exist in peace” if it denies us of our inalienable rights of freedom of conscience. Therefore, the only laws we are required to “sustain” are those that do not violate our conscience and inalienable rights.

Third, both our nation and church history demonstrate that our inspired leaders have consistently applied a natural law approach when a conflict arises between the law of their government and natural law. The founding fathers of this nation rebelled against their government and the founding leaders of our faith deliberately chose to disobey the laws of their government when it conflicted with our moral values.

Fourth, the reality is that inspired and courageous men throughout recorded history such as Thomas More (“Man of All Seasons”), Gandhi and our own Helmuth Hubener have disobeyed their government and it’s laws as a matter of conscience. Like the Revolutionaries in 1776 these individuals, like thousands of others throughout history, have used their own conscience to independently determine whether it was God’s will to support their government.

Fifth, we are each endowed with the spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation to know when and for what reasons we must civilly disobey our government.

In summation, the 12th Article of Faith is a general rule qualified by Section 134 that allows us to conscientiously object to all laws that violate our conscience and/or inalienable rights.

We can be true to our Spiritual Values and Sustain the Law by Declaring Conscientious Objector Status

What about the 12th Article of Faith as it applies to us as citizens of the United States who are L.D.S.? That general rule states that we are required to “sustain” the “law” of the land. So is there a “law” that we must individually or as religion support our nation’s wars? Absolutely not — unless there is a national conscription, but even then we are not required to serve in the military if we qualify as Conscientious Objector. I am convinced that if we individually and as a faith adopt a policy of Conscientious Objection to all wars that we can thereby comply with BOTH the laws of our nation and the highest natural laws that I believe Christianity demands of us that choose be His disciples.

It is really that simple.

While the title “Conscientious Objector” seems so extreme and on the margins of society, in fact once we understand what it means to conscientiously object, how it is done, and what it is “not” we will find, in my opinion, that such a status by an individual and faith community/religion is not only practical but consistent with the faith values of nearly every religion — and in particular Latter-day Saints.

What does it mean to be a Conscientious Objector?

“A conscientious objector is a person who by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to war in any form.” However, it should be clarified

that Conscientious objection to war as a means to resolve disputes is not identical to pacifism. Conscientious objection status as defined in the seminal case of Gillette v. United States, decided by the United States Supreme Court made it perfectly clear that Conscientious Objection did not mean that one could not use force/violence in certain circumstances:

“A further word may be said to clarify our statutory holding. Apart from abstract theological reservations, two other sorts of reservations concerning use of force have been thought by lower courts not to defeat a conscientious objector claim. Willingness to use self-defense, in defense of home and family, or in defense against immediate acts of aggressive violence toward another persons in the community has not been regarded as inconsistent with a claim of conscientious objection.” ((Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971) United States Supreme Court.))

How is the above statement any different than the policy of the Nephite General Captain Moroni who would not fight unless in “defense of home and family.” We might say that Section 98 allows that the Lord could reveal to us that we must engage in a war. A direct command by God Himself is what is referred to as a “theocratic war.” That very issue came up in the United States Supreme court case of Sicurella v. United States, wherein it was held that the willingness to fight in “theocratic” wars does not disqualify someone from exemption as a conscientious objector. ((Sicurella v. United States, 348 U.S. 385, (1955)) This “theocratic” exception fits perfectly with the admonition of Mormon at the end of the Book of Mormon who renounces war when he invites us to “lay down our weapons of war…and take them not again, save it be God shall command you”? (Mormon 7:4).

Publicly stating your Conscientious Objection

The local draft boards determine whether a person has a “sincerely held” belief that he/she is opposed to all wars. One significant factor for the draft board to weigh is whether that person has held that belief before the present war/conflict has commenced. In other words, the person did not just “get religion” as to conscientiously objecting to war because of the immediate inherent risk to them from that war.

If someone, to name a few, is Amish, Jehovah Witness or Seventh Day Adventist, it is already presumed that they have already have a well established “religious training and belief” system that they can point to in order to establish their conscientious objection. As LDS we have culturally adopted the opposite presumption, i.e., it is now assumed we will obey our nation and go to war, right or wrong, and be good obedient soldiers. Fortunately, addressing the issue of “religious training and belief,” the U.S. Supreme Court in Gillette v. United States, while recognizing that some faiths have well developed traditions, teachings, training and beliefs that sustain conscientious objection to “war in any form,” determined that one is required to qualify individually in order to obtain a Conscientious Objector status.

And, as is required in all conscientious objector requests, the person seeking that status must show that his/her claim as a conscientious objector is “truly held” as an opinion that has become settled over time through their verbal and written expressions— even in times of peace. So each of us individually make our own case everyday? For example, I discovered that my sixteen year old son has written on his Facebook wall that his heroes are Gandhi and Noble Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo. Then when he writes an English paper on “Catch 22” renouncing the lunacy of war he is building word by word his own case as a conscientious objector. So can each of us.

A Conscientious Objector public statement

To “Renounce” war is required by a Conscientious Objector. The following statement of one L.D.S. application to his draft board was submitted which is, in my opinion based on case law, consistent with the requirements for Conscientious Objector status:

“I am by reason of my religious training and belief, conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form except in the case that:

  1. My nation is a righteous nation
  2. My nation is fighting a strictly defensive war
  3. My nation has sued for peace repeatedly prior to entering in the war
  4. God revealed it is His will that my nation fight this war.” ((“War, Conscription, Conscience and Mormonism” edited by Gordon C. Thomasson (1972) Second Printing. Mormon Heritage Publication.))

The above is perfectly consistent with not only Section 98 of the Doctrine and Covenants but also the principles taught in the Book of Mormon (Mormon 7:4). But still the larger issue of this submission is what will we, as Latter-day Saints, be known for when it comes to matters of War and Peace?

It is my belief that and personal prophesy that: “A time will come when this world will look upon religions that required allegiance to one’s nation in time of war as barbaric as the religions that once required child sacrifice.” I also believe that to be His people is, like Abraham, to be ahead of our time in such profoundly moral matters.

“Renounce” War & Witness

When this whole world is embroiled in “wars and rumors of war” ((Matthew 24:6 & D&C 45:26)) and peace is taken from the earth, how will we be known by those who seek refuge from having to take up the sword? ((Section 45 Doctrine and Covenants speaks of “wars and rumors of war” and in verses 68 & 69: “And 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. And there 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.”)) Will we be known as the people that place as our highest value “good citizenship” to our respective nations by supporting every conflict that our nation sponsors whether that war is moral or not? Will we persist in believing that as long as we do our duty to our nation and follow the orders of those in authority that the “sins and blood of this generation” will not be on our hands? OR, will be known as a people that “Renounce” war as inconsistent with our beliefs and religious training? And when judged by the words and the example of Jesus, will we be known as Disciples of Christ who trust Him above all other earthly powers?

Choose the path of Renouncing war

There are two paths before us. One path is to continue to “sustain” and support our nation when it goes to war based on a belief that our highest duty is loyalty to our nation — until further revelation or change of policy; whereas, the second, alternative path, is to “renounce” all wars pre-emptively, and then only sustain a war if and when it meets with our spiritual criteria — including direct revelation from Him whom we owe our highest allegiance. The former is a default position of war, whereas the later is a default position of peace.

What do we lose if we choose to reject the default position of war in favor of the default position of peace? Absolutely nothing! Our respective nations would know that they have the burden of proving to us the spiritual merits of a particular war. They would not have the unquestioning loyalty they have come to expect. A war that is purely self defense would be evident, whereas any war in which our nation is required to marshal public support, strategize for weeks, and then engage in weeks or months of arming itself before invading the sovereign soil of a foreign nation that does not want to go to war with us should be renounced, or at least, in the minimum, looked upon with well earned distrust. Moreover, the formula provided in our Peace Covenant of Section 98 would by virtue of its fail safe formula require us to slow down and test the evidence and merits of any such endeavor against the template of that Covenant. And what would we have discovered had we slowed down before invading Iraq? The truth? Perhaps we would have had a chance to seek personal revelation after inquiring of the Lord? Perhaps the heavens would be silent and that alone would be our answer to return to His words in His “immutable covenant” of peace and not engage in war.

But as Disciples of Christ I believe our duty does not end at simply “renouncing” war — we also must stand as witnesses against the “blood and sins of our generation.”

Witness and Warning

With what we have witnessed in the last sixty years in American Foreign policy how can we continue to ignore the plain words of Section 98 and the Lord’s covenant of Peace that demands that we “renounce war”? No one in our faith community renounced war more than President Kimball when, on the heels of the Viet Nam conflict, he warned us that we have become a “warlike people,” engaged in “false patriotism” and that we have committed vast resources to weapons of war thus trusting in the our own power rather than trusting in God. ((“False Gods We Worship” by President Spencer W. Kimball, June 1976 Ensign)) His words echoed the voice of our First Presidency who right after World War II rejected our nation’s desire to create a standing army and trusting in our military arsenal. ((“Letter of the First Presidency” December 14, 1945 ))

Since hearing President Kimball warn us about become a warlike people and not trusting the Lord for our protection as well as the warning of our First Presidency telling us of the dangers of a standing army — now referred to as the “military industrial complex,” what has happened? We have seen our nation continue to spend more than the next ten countries in the world on its military; we have entered militarily into dozens of countries, (( including the wholesale invasion of two sovereign lands even thought those nations had never attacked us, and even if they had attacked us, they raised the standard of peace by stating they had no intention of attacking us—but we invaded them and have since killed tens of thousands of men, women and children whose crime was only being citizens of nations that we chose to invade. But the firewall of aggression has not stopped there: we have engaged in varying degrees of torture, including the continued incarceration of many whom we know to have committed no crime; and weekly we continue to fire Hellfire missiles from drones killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children whom we simply refer to as unfortunate collateral damage. Any further silence on such issues is a betrayal of our country.

Today is the day to exercise faith and courage in renouncing war—clearly and unequivocally. One might ask “what difference will it make if I stand up and renounce war?” Two stories told side by side arising during the Third Reich can be instructive as to how a small group can stand up to evil:

First, there is the well known story of Helmuth Hubener, who as a young 17 years old L.D.S., German youth spoke out against Hitler and the Third Reich. He with two even younger friends courageously distributed warnings about the evil being perpetuated by their own country. For this Helmuth was tried and executed. In the end he stood alone having been abandoned by all other voices—including those of his faith community. ((“When Truth was Treason: German Youth Against Hitler — The Story of the Helmuth Hubener Group.” by Blair Holmes and Alan Keele, First published 1995 by University Illinois Press.)) Helmuth joined the ranks of the first Christian martyrs who, though rejected in his generation, will be forever in our memories and in the final judgment stand vindicated.

But the second story that is less known is even more instructive of what can happen when even small groups of people stand together for each other and not leave sole dissenters standing alone. When all other voices, including the clergy at the highest levels of their faiths, had become silent to the rise and brutality of the Third Reich and even pledged their duty to support their nation at war, in early 1943, hundreds of German women did the unthinkable—they confronted machine gun wielding Gestapo agents and demanded the release of their Jewish husbands who were part of Hitler’s final roundup of Jews that were to be transported to Auschwitz. Even more remarkable, their Jewish husbands (approximately 1,700 in number) were released. This incident, now known as The Rosenstrasse Protest, was appropriately dubbed “The Day Hitler Blinked.” This story has, until recently, been largely ignored by Germans because the consensus has been and remains that the average German was powerless against their government and its anti-Semitic policies. Such thinking appears to be confirmed, as a practical matter, when focusing on individual martyrs such as Helmuth Hubener and the occasional principled monk, priest or clergyman who defied his government’s policies of war, torture and genocide. However, what set these acts of civil disobedience apart from the Rosenstrasse protest is that these latter individuals were abandoned by their own community, and in particular, and even their church leaders who had adopted a policy of advising adherents to their faith to support their respective governments at time of war— right or wrong. Then again, the Helmuth Hubeners of this world were responding to a higher authority and an audience unseen in this world.

One might say that if we publicly renounce war and witness against our nation’s militarism, which is antithetical to the gospel of Christ, then will we not lose a degree of public approbation if we are not willing to fight in our nation’s wars? We are now known as clean living, church attending, white shirt wearing, home teaching, taking cookies to the new neighbor, patriotic, hard working citizens of our communities and nation. All these things are nice, but if in the end our spiritual development never matures beyond the pharisaical narcissism of “personal” self-righteousness, then what do we have? What we have are members of a Church, but nothing remotely resembling The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of and demonstrated in his ministry. One graduates spiritually when one takes off his or her church training wheels and becomes a contributing member of Jesus’ Kingdom by doing as Jesus did — standing in the breach for the least among us, denouncing the evil done to others, giving voice to His words on behalf of the Samaritan, the sinners, the outcasts and yes, even one’s enemies. That is the price of admission to his Kingdom and the beginning of genuine discipleship, even if it means unpopularity within one’s religious community or national tribe.

I believe that we first need to decide individually where each of us stands as to these State sponsored wars. Then if we believe we must renounce these wars, decide whether we are willing to do so publicly— no matter how few join with us in the renouncement. For some of us, that personal decision was made a long time ago and it is, in the end, irrelevant as to whether others join in or whether it appears we “made a difference.” We are witnessing to an audience that is beyond this veil—whose approbation means everything in the final spiritual equation.

However, what if the next time we are asked to send our sons, daughters, husbands, to war that we exercise the same courage as the wives in Rosenstrasse did by defiantly protesting? What if this time hundreds, even thousands of mothers in our faith community, in moral outrage, say “NO MORE of our sons, our daughters, fathers or our husbands will be placed on your war altars”? Could we as a faith community have an impact? Would we compel our national leaders to ”blink”? Would our refusal to give the Mormon stamp of approval to the next promoted war at least cause some of our fellow citizens to pause before offering up any more of their own children to these false gods? In the words of Martin Luther King, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

A decade of relative silence in our faith community is enough. We must choose to obey the Lord’s Covenant of Peace and publicly renounce these wars in the most emphatic means. I believe it will make a difference. The invitation to become as the City of Enoch has always been there. When will the Lord come? He comes again when we are ready to receive His Kingdom and trust in Him alone and “learn war no more.”

“And 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. And there 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.” ((Doctrine & Covenants Section 45: 68,69))