Latter-day Saint Life

Why peacebuilding blesses our lives (even when it’s hard)

People with fist put together during support group session
A graduate from BYU-Hawaii’s intercultural peacebuilding program shares how becoming a peacemaker is the pathway to discipleship and building Zion.  
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“From this school,” prophesied President David O. McKay at the dedication of what is now BYU–Hawaii, “will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.”

This prophecy echoes throughout the campus and is held dear by the school’s teachers and students. And now more than ever, many Latter-day Saints hope to see this prophecy fulfilled since the world can very often feel like an unpeaceful place.

One unique way students and teachers at BYU–Hawaii are seeking to fulfill President McKay’s prophecy is through the school’s intercultural peacebuilding program. One recent graduate from the program is Abigail Harper, who is striving to answer President Russell M. Nelson’s call for all Latter-day Saints to become peacemakers by sharing simple but profound ways we can all build more peace.

According to Harper, everyone can benefit from the principles of peacebuilding, a field that studies all forms of conflict from interpersonal family feuds to global wars.

“Conflict is inevitable,” says Harper. “I believe that conflict is part of the plan of salvation…. Conflict has the potential to harm us a lot, but conflict also has the potential to be very constructive.”

Harper adds that if we take the opportunity to meaningfully endeavor to build peace, we can engage with conflict “in a way that builds us all up and sanctifies all of us to a higher, holier way rather than tearing one another down.”

It’s been almost six months since President Nelson delivered his general conference address titled “Peacemakers Needed.” But being a peacemaker can be hard, and at times our efforts may seem futile. How can we strive to create peace when we know that there will always continue to be conflict, when we know that there will be others around us who, consciously or not, thwart our efforts? The task is so daunting—is it even worth it?

According to Harper, the answer is absolutely. She shared a few reasons why.

Building Peace Requires Honesty with Ourselves

If we want to be peacemakers, one of the first things we can do is recognize our relationship with conflict and become more honest with ourselves. Harper says, “Ironically, when I started the program, I was very conflict-avoidant. I was very scared of it.” She thought, “I just don’t have conflict in my life.” But she—like all of us—does.

She eventually realized that she wasn’t seeing the conflict in her life because she wasn’t living authentically. “If someone had a different opinion than me, I would kind of shut down or not engage in the conflict…. I used to think that was the right thing to do.”

But even though we should follow the counsel to avoid contention, according to Harper, “God wants us to be our fuller selves, and we can do that in a way that works with other people….

“The more I started to really step into myself and step into living honestly, the more conflict I saw.”

Yet more conflict does not always lead to more contention; rather, by looking inward and purposefully engaging with the conflict in her life, Harper was presented with new opportunities to reach out to others and to be a peacemaker.

Building Peace Requires Us to See People as People

“Charity is the antidote to contention,” said President Nelson in his April 2023 general conference address.

“I think he got it spot on,” says Harper. “We teach in peacebuilding that you can either see people as objects or you can see people as people. We all have objects in our lives, and … we can think of people in the same way sometimes: Either they’re obstacles to us, or … we like to use them, or we never think or care about them.”

She continues, “We can also think about people as people, meaning we recognize that they have hopes, dreams, fears, and feelings that are just as valid … as ours are to us. And when we see people that way, even people we disagree with, probably especially people we disagree with, … then we can start to … work with them in a constructive way, and I think that is, in a way, the same thing as charity—the pure love of Christ—or seeing everyone as a child of God.”

Building Peace Requires Us to Rely on the Spirit

Developing the ability to see people, even when amid conflict, as people and as children of God is a gift of the Spirit. And that same Spirit can also help guide us in our next steps toward resolving conflict and establishing peace.

Harper offers this wisdom, “Every situation is different, every person is different, but … try and find the space in your heart and mind to truly see the person you’re in conflict with as a child of God…. Once you’re fully seeing them in that way, then it opens space for the Spirit to guide and direct you and tell you what to do.

“Often we’re seeing people from a fear mindset. We fear what they could do to us, or we fear the relationship, or whatever it is. And Christ repeatedly says, ‘Fear not, and trust me.’ So if we can set aside our fear and exercise some faith, that opens up our heart for the Spirit to guide and direct us and tell us how to go about it.”

Building Peace is Being a Disciple of Christ

Jesus Christ is our ultimate example of being a peacemaker. If we ever feel overwhelmed or face setbacks when trying to resolve conflict or create peace, we can look to His life for inspiration. For example, the Prince of Peace served and forgave others who did not reciprocate.

Harper observes, “Often when we first start trying to resolve a conflict in a good way, we expect results. I expect when I start to apologize and … try to make restitution and reconciliation, that the other person will reciprocate. And sometimes they do, but they don’t always. Everyone still has their agency.”

The key to building peace is to go into a situation with the correct expectations. If we expect the other person to change, then we will almost certainly be disappointed at times.

“Go into it with the intention,” counsels Harper, “of ‘I want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ regardless of what the outcomes are. And Jesus Christ asks me to forgive people, and Jesus Christ asks me to pray for my enemies.’”

Things may not go as you hope, but you can still find peace in the fact that you are endeavoring to be a disciple of Christ.

Building Peace is Building Zion

It’s easy to get discouraged when our efforts to create peace don’t go as planned or if it feels like there is a never-ending stream of conflict in our homes and communities. When faced with this discouragement, Harper observes, “I often hear members of the Church say something like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until Jesus comes,’ or ‘Everything will be fixed when Jesus comes.’”

But the Lord is also relying on us to help prepare the way.

Through researching the scriptures and the words of the prophets, Harper has learned that the Lord is going to come to a people who are prepared, to a Zion community. And Zion is a community of peace.

“God tells us over and over that we need to build Zion,” says Harper, "I’ve started to understand that we need to build Zion right now, and it feels really urgent…. Christ can’t come to us until we’re ready, so we need to get ourselves ready. Getting ourselves ready is caring for the hungry, the needy, the sick, the naked.”

Building Zion also includes working to prevent conflict and engaging in conflict constructively and in ways that uplift everyone involved. Building Zion is building peace.

So why is peacemaking worth the effort? Peacebuilding helps us be our true selves; it helps us constructively face the challenges that we face in mortality; it helps us develop the Christlike attribute of charity and a reliance on the Spirit; And most importantly, it is a crucial part of being a disciple of Christ and of preparing the earth for His return.

And, of course, peace is a blessing in and of itself. If we can help establish even a measure of peace in the world, we will also increase the world’s hope, joy, and receptivity to the influence of the Spirit. At the end of the day, being a peacemaker isn’t just about making our lives easier or even about following the Prophet’s counsel. It’s about following the Savior.

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