Contention in Christianity and Politics

As a follower of Christ, and as an avid supporter of Proposition 8, I have heard some arguments from both sides that have troubled me, and that have caused me to reflect on my actions and sentiments.

A certain popular Book of Mormon scripture is quoted sometimes by members of my own faith to either justify passivity or to promote tolerance on the subject of homosexuality and homosexual “marriage”.  Yet, this same scripture and the entire concept of tolerance, which tends to accompany the scripture, is used as a plea to accept homosexual “marriage” and homosexual activity as a societal norm – it just never sits right in my heart.  Usually, I recognize that unsettling feeling as God telling me to look into the statement, and either find the error in my thinking or the error of the opposition’s argument.

The scripture that is sometimes quoted by LDS people is found in the book of 1st Nephi in the Book of Mormon:

3 Nephi 11:29 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.

According to the Book of Mormon, these are words spoken from the mouth of Christ during His visit to the Americas shortly after His resurrection in Jerusalem and His ascension from that location.  If the Book of Mormon is true, and these truly are the words of a resurrected Christ, then they would supersede any doctrinal errors made by man (including God’s Prophets).  I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, and accept these words as Christ’s words.

Still, something whispers inside me and tells me that this scripture isn’t being used correctly.  I couldn’t use the cliché that “contention is of the devil” as an easy out to surrender my position and wash my hands of the moral and political battle being waged.  I couldn’t bear to use it as an excuse to metaphorically drop my weapons of war and embrace the opposing argument.

In 2008, my church leaders asked its members to support Proposition 8 efforts with both “means” and “efforts”.  Additionally, The Family: A Proclamation To The World was drawn up and was read in 1995 by the Prophet/Church President to the congregation of 10 million LDS church members and to the world.  The proclamation was presented as official church doctrine.  I also consider scriptures that talk about God and the Holy Spirit being present in times of conflict and turmoil – ensuring that righteousness prevails and that victory is granted to the just army.

Another scripture in the Book of Mormon says

Mosiah 29:21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous aking save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

If you think scriptures weren’t created for our modern use, and that we’re much more sophisticated than ancient people (or even think that Joseph Smith was a fraud and wrote the whole Book of Mormon by himself), read Mosiah chapter 29 in light of what is now happening to US sodomy law, constitutional amendments for traditional marriage, etc. – I expect that your opinion may change – at least about the potential application of the scriptures.  The entire chapter is dedicated to explaining the concept of the evils of legislation from the bench, its potential implications, and its intrusions on liberty.  So what in the world is this “contention is of the devil” talk all about?  Maybe it’s being quoted out of context – or maybe many of us just don’t understand the word “contention”.

The best that I could gather from my own etymological research is that “con-tend” in its original sense meant to force something into compliance.  It’s a stretching or pulling something into a desired shape.  It would be forcing someone to comply to a certain doctrine or law – most likely against their will.  In scriptural application, it would be taking away free will and forcing obedience or change (see Pearl of Great Price: Moses 4:3).

I have concluded that contention comes about as a result of anger, rebellion or misunderstanding.  When a perfect law is given from God, when people understand the law, and when people obey the law out of understanding and personal desire, there is no contention.  When contention is present, it is because the truth is hidden, a law is willfully disobeyed to the detriment of others or because a law is forcefully obeyed in a way that hurts the obedient person.

In context, in 3rd Nephi chapter 11, Jesus is talking to this ancient people who were apparently arguing over the true method of baptism.  The Christians of ancient America (people who believed the prophets who testified of Christ) had ecclesiastic leaders who were divided on the methods of baptism.  The first thing that He said after announcing His presence was “3 Nephi 11:22  On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you.”  He continues to explain in detail how to baptize properly.

In verse 28, He says,

And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

So, likely, ecclesiastical leaders had been preaching different modes of baptism and were trying to force one another to comply with “their” own mode of baptism.  Christ dispels any erroneous views about baptism and establishes His law.  Once Christ’s perfect law is clarified to the people in this scripture, and Christ has told the people that no disputes should exist among them concerning the matter (or that they should be unified in this truth), He presents the words that so many members of the LDS church have quoted in order to end arguing:

3 Nephi 11:29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of acontention is not of me, but is of the bdevil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Now that the law is clear concerning baptism, Jesus leaves it up to the agency (or free will) of the individual to obey or to disobey.  He does not force everyone into the water against their will, but clarifies the truth and invites all to follow His laws.

Applying this scripture and reasoning to the Proposition 8 dispute is possible, but needs to be understood in context, and must be used in the same context as intended by the author.  The use of the scripture out of context ironically becomes a hypocritical statement claiming that arguing and anger is of the devil and that we must not force our own opinions on others.  In essence, this argument also asserts that nobody’s truth is the universal truth and we all ought to mind our own business.  It metaphorically asserts that like the people found in 3rd Nephi 11, we are also in this “pre-Christ visit” state – all supposing relative truth from our own unique perspectives.

LDS members who have a testimony of the Book of Mormon as the word of God and who have a testimony of the divine calling of modern prophets and presidents of the LDS church have been already given His universal truth and law.  It’s not an opinion – it’s fact.  It’s not our own approach and it’s not conditional upon our own perspectives – it’s God’s approach.  Laws of gravity and biology aren’t opinions either – they’re God’s laws that man benefits by understanding, observing, and utilizing.

Just like you cannot change these natural laws by burning science books, you cannot change God’s law of marriage by removing it from a state’s constitution.  It is a universal truth that, believe it or not, most religions and civilizations around the world acknowledge, agree with, and embrace.  It’s not just the Mormons’ law – it’s everyone’s law: Christian and non-Christian, godless and God-fearing.  As such, it’s not open to dispute.  Teaching, defending, and standing by truth is not contentious.

Any disputes and contentions resulting from the proclamation of this law are coming from those people who have the truth given, and yet still live in ignorance of it.  Those who deny and hide truth or who try to force the world to comply to something other than truth – those are the people who are responsible for contention and for the spreading of evil.  Hiding truth by changing the wording of our written laws is deception.  Forcing society to accept something as a marriage that is not a marriage is a contentious act.  Redefining marriage to include homosexual relations constitutes both an offense and a severe detriment to society, and should be recognized as such.

So, is contention of the devil?  Yes, but most people who use the “contention is of the devil” scripture as an argument in this situation truly are using it erroneously and as a cliché.