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How to seek peace in an age of conflict

Mountainous landscape and fjord at sunset, Norway
Mountainous landscape and fjord at sunset, Norway.
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In a world that often feels rife with conflict—in our streets, between nations, on the internet, even in our homes—people can be led to cry out, as Emma Lou Thayne did in the first line of her moving hymn, “Where can I turn for peace?”1 The ultimate answer, as embraced by Latter-day Saints around the world and articulated by Thayne, is simple—“He, only One.” He, of course, is Jesus Christ, the healer of both souls and societies. Most Latter-day Saints are personally familiar with the myriad ways by which he “answers privately” and “reaches [our] reaching.”2 We regularly testify of the ways that Christ heals our individual souls. But what about our societies? How does Jesus speak to the violence in our communities and between nations? How can he mend our broken and oppressive institutions? In short, how can the gospel of Jesus Christ help to heal our fallen world and provide answers in an age characterized by “wars and rumors of wars,” when “the love of men shall wax cold”?3

... Such peacebuilding is at the heart of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. On one level, this is an unremarkable statement. All Christians believe in the Savior’s teaching “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”4 And yet the peacebuilding potential of the Restoration, which began some two centuries ago when Joseph Smith had his first vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, remains generally obscure to both insiders and outsiders. Most peacebuilding professionals have not been introduced to the Restoration as a wellspring of peace principles. Likewise, most Latter-day Saints themselves are not accustomed to applying Restoration principles as effective strategies to mitigate violence and transform conflict. Yet the Restoration’s distinctive scriptures—the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price—feature rich veins of peace and nonviolent theology. These scriptures and their insights into the human condition are not just beneficial or relevant to Latter-day Saints. In the same way the Torah inspires people outside Judaism and the sutras speak to others besides Buddhists, the Restoration’s sacred texts contain wisdom that is applicable for a wider world.

At the heart of this wisdom are several core ideas: All humans are inherently divine and eternally interrelated. Enduring power can be achieved only through persuasion and love. Conflict is built into creation and can be constructively transformed for positive purposes. In rare instances violence may be justified, but only nonviolent responses based in love are truly sanctifying and efficacious in the long term. And “Zion”—the Restoration’s term for the beloved community of those who collectively follow the principles taught by Jesus Christ—is not simply an otherworldly aspiration but rather an achievable aim for this world if individuals and societies embrace love, equality, justice, and peace as a way of life.

Thus, for anyone with questions about how to seek peace in an age of conflict, the Restoration has distinctive insights to contribute. Latter-day Saints can add our heretofore little-known but nonetheless significant flame to those luminaries already enlightening the paths of greater peace and human flourishing. We can sing, along with the nonviolent civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”

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“There is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.”5 So said the people who heard the ancient prophet Enoch preach. In the Bible, Enoch is a relatively obscure character mentioned in only four verses in Genesis and one passing reference in the New Testament. Yet these spare details are tantalizing: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.”6 From this little nugget, Joseph Smith expanded the Enoch story into two sprawling chapters in his inspired revision of the Bible. As it turns out, Enoch, this “wild man” who pursued such a “strange” ministry, was a peacebuilder par excellence.

As with the later prophets Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah, Enoch’s call came out of nowhere. He heard a voice from heaven directing him to urge the people to renounce their ungodly ways. In particular, God was upset because the people’s “hearts [had] waxed hard,” they had departed from his commandments, and they had “devised murder.”7 God’s creation had fallen far afield from the peace and harmony that prevailed in the Garden of Eden, and needed repair.

Enoch’s world was not a happy one. Communities were embroiled in constant conflict; “wars and bloodshed” prevailed. Raising his eyes from earth to heaven, Enoch saw a vision of the devil laughing and God weeping because the people were “without affection, and . . . hate[d] their own blood.”8 The violence in their hearts had culminated in a seemingly never-ending cycle of aggression and revenge.

But Enoch broke the cycle. He saw what the rest of the people could not. He realized that it didn’t have to be this way. And so he went to work, preaching and persuading. Contrary to the militaristic culture that surrounded him, Enoch’s power came not from the sword but from the word. In fact, “so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him,” that his enemies were rendered powerless in their attempted attacks against him and his followers. Those who came to share Enoch’s vision of a better, holier way eventually created a community that God called “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”9 Enoch’s people understood that it isn’t enough to stem the tide of direct violence in their culture. They also had to create social and economic conditions that would allow all of God’s children to flourish and maximize their full potential.

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Zion didn’t arise overnight. More than three and a half centuries passed between Enoch’s call and when “God received [Zion] up into his own bosom.”10 Enoch built a people of peace patiently, steadily, and purposefully. Articulating a vision of hopeful possibility rooted in a deep conviction that God is on the side of love, peace, and justice, Enoch’s message sounded “strange” in a world consumed with violence.

The story of Enoch offers both a cautionary tale and a beacon of hope for modern readers. As Martin Luther King Jr. perceived on the eve of his assassination, “it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”11 The threats are manifest and multiple, ranging from weapons of mass destruction to ecological devastation and a new age of extinction.12 Like Enoch, we too might bring ourselves to see a different path and build a more peaceful world, even if at first glance the nonviolent principles upon which such a society can be built might seem “strange.”

1. Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 129.
2. Hymns, no 129.
3. Doctrine and Covenants 45:26–27; Matthew 24:6, 12; see Doctrine and Covenants 63:33; 87:1–2.
4. Matthew 5:9; 33 Nephi 12:9. Quotations from the Bible are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
5. Moses 6:38.
6. Genesis 5:24 (New Revised Standard Version).
7. Moses 6:27–28.
8. Moses 7:16, 33.
9. Moses 7:13, 18.
10. See Moses 7:68–69.
11. Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, ed. James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 195.
12. For a Latter-day Saint theology of creation, see George B. Handley, The Hope of Nature: Our Care for God’s Creation (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2020).

Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict

This book is a spiritual journey by two believing scholars of peace. In a world plagued by violence, Mason and Pulsipher believe, with President Russell M. Nelson, that "peace is possible" and that the "descendants of Abraham ... are in a pivotal position to emerge as peacemakers" ("Blessed Are the Peacemakers," Ensign, Nov. 2002). This book is an effort to lift up the Restoration's distinctive principles that invite us to renounce violence and proclaim Christ's good news of love and peace to a world that desperately needs it. Proclaim Peace seeks not to promote any particular ideology, but to invite readers, especially the rising generation, to reflect on the interpersonal, ethical, and social dimensions of Christian discipleship.

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