I would rather submit to the decision of the group than insist that my view be followed. For me, harmony between brethren is more important than getting what I think best to be followed. I believe harmony can lead to much greater things than can merely enforcement of even a correct view. I know how difficult it is to have a correct view, because of how often I have been corrected by the Lord. Sometimes I am humiliated by my foolishness when the Lord reproves me. Humiliation can lead to humility, but my experience is that the humiliation is accompanied by shame, whereas humility can proceed with a clear conscience. My experience with others leads me to conclude that if we can have one heart first, eventually we can likewise come to have one mind. But if we insist on having one mind at the outset, we may never obtain one heart together” (Epigraph from the Restoration Edition of the scriptures).
The word “epigraph” has profound meaning. The fact one has been placed in the beginning of one of the Restoration volumes of scripture is something we should take notice of. As I read its definition, I am both inspired and rebuked by its many implications it has for me personally and for the group at hand aspiring to be of one heart and eventually, one mind.
- An inscription, as on a statue or building.
- A motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme.
- An inscription cut or impressed on stone, metal, or other permanent material, as distinguished from a writing in manuscript, etc.; specifically, in archaeology, a terse inscription on a building, tomb, monument, or statue, denoting its use or appropriation, and sometimes incorporated in its scheme of ornamentation.
- A superscription or title at the beginning of a book, a treatise, or a part of a book.
- In lit., a citation from some author, or a sentence framed for the purpose, placed at the commencement of a work or of one of its separate divisions; a motto.
- Any inscription set upon a building; especially, one which has to do with the building itself, its founding or dedication.
- A citation from some author, or a sentence framed for the purpose, placed at the beginning of a work or of its separate divisions; a motto.
- an inscription, especially one on a building etc. (American Heritage Dictionary, my emphasis added).
For a people having been commanded to build a “house,” the definition of this word should carry additional meaning, thus “setting forth a theme” and a “motto” for both the scriptures and for those claiming to believe in them.
Relegating something so important as to have been added to our new canon, to only one event or process, rather than adopting it as the inscription on OUR house, would be, in my view, a mistake. The spirit of this Epigraph, along with the definition from the Lord on “mutual agreement” can and should form the basis of everything we try to accomplish together.
A Theme of the Book of Mormon
Perhaps the most important message from the Book of Mormon is the continual warning to avoid the spirit of contention. That record is a warning, after all, from two civilizations that ended in civil war and ultimately self-destruction.
For the very small group that left with Lehi, it was the attitudes of Laman and Lemuel that formed the basis of arguments eventually used to justify war among nations.
And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceeding sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts. And now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful, they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying, We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work. And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart. Yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years. And our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things save it were death. And it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy. And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people, for they keep the statutes and the judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people. And our father hath judged them and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his word; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us (1 Nephi 5:17 RE).
Untold bloodshed came from this original set of arguments. I can only assume that Laman and Lemuel were at some point sincere and that they believed they were in the right. Surely they believed their arguments were more logical and reasonable than Nephi and Lehi’s who were not relying on any science or “logic” whatsoever in their decisions. A pillar of fire dad, are you serious? That’s why we’re leaving our wealth and our home to go into the wilderness!? I’m sure they felt like victims to the majority when their father and mother and brothers all decided to flee.
Their dispute and their desire for disputing fueled the contention of future generations. We see the same story played out today in Israel from the seed of Ishmael, or you could say “In Palestine from the seed of Isaac.”
Another example from the Book of Mormon that offers us a cautionary tale comes from the story of the Kingmen. Before being known as Kingmen, someone among them came up with the idea that the law should be changed… just slightly. This person’s idea was shared with others. I’m guessing it could have began as a very reasonable argument believed to be inspired by God. (Many people attribute their “good” ideas — or the idea they can’t get out of their mind — as inspired by God). Eventually some portion of the people agreed with the idea and it led to a larger debate. In Alma we find the account:
…For behold, there were a part of the people who desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered. But behold, Parhoron would not alter, nor suffer the law to be altered; therefore, he did not hearken to those who had sent in their voices with their petitions concerning the altering of the law. Therefore, those who were desirous that the law should be altered were angry with him and desired that he should no longer be chief judge over the land. Therefore, there arose a warm dispute concerning the matter, but not unto bloodshed (Alma 23:1 RE, my emphasis added).
The practice used to settle their dispute was the same used by any civilized free group of people — they took a vote to find the voice of the people:
And it came to pass that this matter of their contention was settled by the voice of the people. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came in favor of the Freemen; and Parhoron retained the judgment seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Parhoron and also among the people of liberty, who also put the Kingmen to silence, that they durst not oppose, but were obliged to maintain the cause of freedom (Alma 23:3 RE, my emphasis added).
By this sad experience we learn that even the smallest amount of contention or debate can eventually lead to terrible, violent outcomes. This was the unfortunate result for Moroni’s countrymen and when the voice of the people was disregarded by the minority Kingmen, all hope for a peaceful resolution to their conflict was gone. The die was now cast. They had destroyed the mechanism to resolve disputes peacefully.
Moroni expresses his lamentation in his epistle to Parhoran, who as you’ll recall was a righteous leader even though Moroni was concerned at the time of this letter to him, that he too had become wicked:
For were it not for the wickedness which first commenced at our head, we could have withstood our enemies, that they could have gained no power over us. Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves, yea, were it not for those Kingmen who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves, yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves — if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done, yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those Kingmen had over us, had they been true to the cause of our freedom and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves — yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done according to the fulfilling of his word. But behold, now the Lamanites are coming upon us and they are murdering our people with the sword, yea, our women and our children, taking possession of our lands, and also carrying them away captive, causing them that they should suffer all manner of afflictions, and this because of the great wickedness of those who are seeking for power and authority, yea, even those Kingmen (Alma 27 RE, my emphasis added).
The brother of Jared is an example from the Book of Mormon of someone emulating the spirit of the Epigraph. Although he knew what establishing a king would eventually lead to, the brother of Jared did not impose his more enlightened view on the majority. A friend of mine recently pointed out that the voice of the people may have only been achieved through a very small majority in this instance, recalling that nearly all the sons of the brother of Jared and of Jared (total of 34 children) turned down the opportunity to be king. Undoubtedly their unwillingness to be king was reflective of their views on the matter. This may have even been a contentious debate, but when the voice of the people spoke, in my view, it would have been more harmful for the brother of Jared and others still opposed, to go about forever contending against the outcome. Which they clearly could have done. And they would have been “right.” But such a combative, unruly spirit establishes an untenable precedent for settling any future debates, where some new dissenting voice clamors and preaches and imposes itself until finally the majority yields, only to make way for the next dissenting voice to mimic those same methods. To what end?
”We Must Do Better”
Disputes of any nature can prevent a group from becoming one heart. For those aspiring to be a part of the last days’ Zion, becoming one heart, we are instructed, is the essential first step to becoming one mind. “If we insist on having one mind at the outset, we may never obtain one heart together.” (Epigraph)
The Lord has rebuked our small group for our contention and for continuing to allow our disputes to keep us from becoming one heart. I’m personally saddened by the role I’ve played, thus causing the Lord himself to feel the need to correct us:
You have sought to recover the scriptures because you hope to obtain the covenant for my protective hand to be over you, but you cannot be Satan and be mine. If you take upon you my covenant, you must abide it as a people to gain what I promise. You think Satan will be bound a thousand years, and it will be so, but do not understand your own duty to bind that spirit within you so that you give no heed to accuse others. It is not enough to say you love God; you must also love your fellow man. Nor is it enough to say you love your fellow man while you, as Satan, divide, contend, and dispute against any person who labors on an errand seeking to do my will. How you proceed must be as noble as the cause you seek. You have become your own adversaries, and you cannot be Satan and also be mine. Repent, therefore, like Peter and end your unkind and untrue accusations against one another, and make peace. How shall there ever come a thousand years of peace if the people who are mine do not love one another? How shall Satan be bound if there are no people of one heart and one mind? (T&C 157:10, my emphasis added).
Is it possible that our contentions will prevent us from being a part of Zion or from creating Zion in this generation? If we think it’s not possible, then we are fools. We can and will fail, if we as a people, are prone to debate. As noble as one may believe a cause to be, and as “patiently” as that cause may be promoted, if that cause leads to debate and seeks to upend a majority decision, then in my view it is not from God. Satan wants us to argue with each other and sews the seeds that disrupt civility. Jesus chose to not dispute even though He could have every day of His life.
A Revelation From God Defining Mutual Agreement
Answer given to Denver Snuffer Jr., 29 November 2017, in response to a request to understand how the Lord defines “mutual agreement” as used in the Answer to Prayer for Covenant. Sustained as scripture through an online vote 12 May 2019.
Mutual agreement simply means WE choose to NOT dispute with one another. For those of us choosing to dispute, how can we justify ourselves when the Lord makes it so clear that it’s a choice we must make. It doesn’t mean that ALL will always agree or that we will ever achieve unanimity. It does mean, to me, that I have the power to not be froward and to not disrupt the harmony among my brethren, no matter how noble I believe my cause to be.
“Dispute” is also an interesting word the Lord chooses to use. It is defined as:
- To argue about; debate.
- To argue or debate with (someone).
- To question the truth or validity of; doubt.
… And He says we must not do it “as between one another.” Sobering and humbling.
What seems to be loud and clear from the Lord and his servant(s) is that we need to “stop our damn squabbling,” and that the Lord has bigger and better things for us to accomplish, if we can learn to be more humble and more meek and more patient and more kind and more precious to one another. Charity, not knowledge, it seems has more to do with the pathway to one heart than any other principle. We can love each other even if we disagree on important ideas and we can live in peace and harmony if we simply choose to not dispute among one another.
The more one contends with others the more he is taken captive by the spirit of contention. Everyone becomes subject to the spirit they submit to follow. Those who are prone to contention become more contentious as they listen to that spirit. Eventually they are overcome by that spirit, and it is a great work involving great effort to subdue and dismiss that spirit from the heart and mind of the victim. There are many who dispute the inspiration others have received. There are two concerns with the decision a good person makes to dispute with others: First, the Lord’s example is to refrain from disputing, as He did. When confronted, He would respond, but He did not go about picking a fight with others. He responded. The only exception was when He went up to Jerusalem to be slain. Then He went into the seat of Jewish power and authority to throw it down and provoke their decision to finally judge, reject, and crucify Him. He, and not they, controlled that timing. His provocation at that time was a deliberate act on His part because His “time had come,” and His sacrifice needed to be made. Second, the Lord has given the Doctrine of Christ in scripture. Just before the Doctrine of Christ, He says what His doctrine is not: Neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there hath hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the Devil, who is the father of contention; and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another, but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away (3 Nephi 5:8). And then He proceeds to declare His doctrine of Christ. The more contention and disputation there is with one another, the better the people become at contention. Rhetorical skills are polished. That spirit of contention can take possession, and when it does, one is hard-pressed to be a peacemaker with others. Christ said: And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 3:10–12). But peace should not be made at the cost of truth. Truth must be the only goal. Truth, however, belongs to God. Desires, appetites, and passions are prone to make people stray well beyond the bounds set by God. Therefore, when pride is gratified, one should question if truth is being advanced. When one’s ambition is served, he should question if he is in the Lord’s employ or his own. When someone insists upon control, one should question if he is like the Lord or, instead, like His adversary. When one uses any means for compelling others, one should wonder if he is mocking the God who makes the sun to shine and rain to fall on all His fallen children without compulsion. When one displays unrighteous dominion, he should question whether he is worthy of any dominion at all. Our tools must be limited to persuasion, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and pure knowledge, with all of them marshaled “without compulsory means” to persuade others to accept the truth. And if we fail to make the persuasive case, then the problem is not others, the problem is that we’ve yet to figure out how to be sufficiently knowledgeable so as to bring them aboard. See also MUTUAL AGREEMENT. (RE Glossary, Contention).