At times like this, when we think of all the wars that have been, of the millions who have lost their lives (55 million in World War II alone) and the millions more who have been profoundly affected by war, we may feel a mixture of emotions. We may feel gratitude for those who gave so much that we may be free, pride at their bravery and accomplishments and deep reverence for their sacrifices. We may feel horror at the sheer scale of the destruction, disgust at the barbarities that man can inflict upon his fellow man and sorrow at the waste of lives, futures and talent. While we commemorate those who gave so much and pay tribute to them we do not glorify war.
President Brigham Young said:
‘Of one thing I am sure; God never institutes war; God is not the author of confusion or of war; they are the results of the acts of the children of men. Confusion and war necessarily come as the results of the foolish acts and policy of men; but they do not come because God desires they should come.’
As members of the Church, we are against war. We do not believe that it is a righteous way of settling international disputes, We believe in peace. We follow the Saviour, who is the Prince of Peace. We look forward to that promised time foretold by the prophet Isaiah when
..’he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ (Isaiah 2:4)
However, the history of mankind, right back to the great conflict in the pre-mortal world has been scarred by war. The history of the world is a history of wars. President Gordon B Hinckley said:
‘I think our Father in Heaven must have wept as He has looked down upon His children through the centuries as they have squandered their divine birthright in ruthlessly destroying one another.’
So, if we are for peace and against war, are there any circumstances in which Latter-Day Saints are justified in participating in war? Yes, there are times when righteous people may take up arms. President David O McKay said:
“There are, however, two conditions which may justify a truly Christian man to enter-mind you, I say enter, not begin-a war: (1) An attempt to dominate and to deprive another of his free agency, and (2) Loyalty to his country. Possibly there is a third, viz., Defense of a weak nation that is being unjustly crushed by a strong, ruthless one.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1942)
We believe in peace and look forward to the reign of peace – but, as the Article of Faith says, we also “believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” so faithful, believing Latter-Day Saints have been, and may be in the future, required to fight in wars. President Hinckley said:
‘This places us in the position of those who long for peace, who teach peace, who work for peace, but who also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our governments. Furthermore, we are a freedom-loving people, committed to the defense of liberty wherever it is in jeopardy. I believe that God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do.’
So, our armed forces are justified in carrying out their loyal duties. During the Second World War the First Presidency issued this clarifying declaration:
“the state is responsible for the civil control of its citizens or subjects, for their political welfare, and for the carrying forward of political policies, domestic and foreign. … But the Church itself, as such, has no responsibility for these policies, [other] than urging its members fully to render … loyalty to their country.”[In James R. Clark, comp. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]
A Book of Mormon example of a loyal and righteous soldier and military leader is Captain Moroni.
And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery; (Alma 48:11).
Alma tells us that Moroni was “firm in the faith of Christ,” and his purpose in fighting was to “defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion” (Alma 48:13).
The Book of Mormon tells us in relation to a particular war between the Nephites and the Lamanites that
“the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for … power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. “And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God” (Alma 43:45–46).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
‘The prediction is that army will be against army: it may be that the Saints will have to beat their ploughs into swords, for it will not do for men to sit down patiently and see their children destroyed.’ (Nauvoo, 12 May 1844)
Meanwhile the nations continue to learn war and we know that before we get to that time of peace that there will be more dark days full of conflict.
President Howard W Hunter prophesied:
‘In this last dispensation there will be great tribulation. We know that there will be wars and rumours of wars and that the whole earth will be in commotion (see D&C 45:26). All dispensations have had their perilous times, but our day will include genuine peril. Evil men will flourish, but then evil men have very often flourished. Calamities will come and iniquity will abound. (Howard W Hunter, “An Anchor to the Souls of Men,” Ensign, Oct. 1993, 71)
We have recently seen in our own country and in other countries that differences of political opinion can lead to strong and harsh words, to deep feelings and even to violence. President Hinckley counselled:
Now, there is much that we can and must do in these perilous times. We can give our opinions on the merits of the situation as we see it, but never let us become a party to words or works of evil concerning our brothers and sisters in various nations on one side or the other. Political differences never justify hatred or ill will. I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties.
What are we to do during these dark days? Elder Gerritt W Gong at General Conference in April 2016 said:
‘In these days of motion and commotion, some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,” who guides “the future as he has the past.” In “perilous times,” we “remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.” ‘
Living, as we do, surrounded by evil and in a world where conflict may break out at any time, it is important to live our lives in such a way that we are worthy of our Heavenly Father’s protection. What does the Lord expect of us as Church members? Elder Nelson said:
‘As individuals, we should “follow after the things which make for peace.” We should be personal peacemakers. We should live peacefully—as couples, families, and neighbors. We should live by the Golden Rule. …We should bring divine love and revealed doctrines of restored religion to our neighbors and friends. We should serve them according to our abilities and opportunities. We should keep our principles on a high level and stand for the right. We should continue to gather scattered Israel from the four corners of the earth and offer the ordinances and covenants that seal families together forever. These blessings we are to bring to people of all nations.’
Black Bart was a professional thief whose very name struck fear as he terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line. From San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier.
Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed 29 different stagecoach crews. Amazingly, Bart did it all without firing a shot. Because a hood hid his face, no victim ever saw his face. He never took a hostage and was never trailed by a sheriff. Instead, Black Bart used fear to paralyze his victims. Fear was enough to overwhelm the toughest stagecoach guard. Though we live amongst wars and rumours of wars we should not be paralysed by fear.
President John Taylor said:
‘Some in speaking of war and troubles, will say are you not afraid? No, I am a servant of God, and this is enough, for Father is at the helm. It is for me to be as clay in the hands of the potter, to be pliable and walk in the light of the countenance of the Spirit of the Lord, and then no matter what comes. Let the lightnings flash and the earthquakes bellow, God is at the helm, and I feel like saying but little, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth and will continue his work until he has put all enemies under his feet.’ (May 1862)
Section 87 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Kirtland on Christmas Day in 1832. It is ‘ a revelation and prophecy on war’. It foretells the American Civil War and says that ‘the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.’ Was Joseph paralysed by this prophecy of war? Now let’s turn to Section 88. This was received on 27 and 28 December 1832, that is just 2 or 3 days after the revelation on war. It is designated as the “‘olive leaf’ … plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us. ”Verses 119 -120 call for a temple to be built in Kirtland:
119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
120 That your incomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the Most High.
Then in verse 127 the Lord instructs that the School of the Prophets should be established. For me, this tells us that the proper response to the calamities and tribulations that surround us or are to come is to turn with renewed vigour to the learning the word of the Lord and performing his work. As Section 87 verse 8 says:
Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.
President Benson defined these holy places as our temples, our homes, our chapels and our stakes. We must trust in the Lord and in his love for us. As President Hinckley said:
Even when the armaments of war ring out in deathly serenade and darkness and hatred reign in the hearts of some, there stands immovable, reassuring, comforting, and with great outreaching love the quiet figure of the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. We can proclaim with Paul:
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).