- Recently a group of bright, faithful young Latter-day Saints wrote down some of the most pressing questions on their minds. One sister asked, “Why doesn’t the Church defend itself more actively when accusations are made against it?”
- To her inquiry I would say that one of mortality’s great tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized. In such moments, we may want to respond aggressively—to “put up our dukes.” But these are important opportunities to step back, pray, and follow the Savior’s example. Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world. And in Lehi’s dream, those coming to the Savior also endured “mocking and pointing … fingers.” “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” But when we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christlike, we invite others to feel His love and follow Him as well.
People that are against our beliefs is not new. Since the first vision of Joseph Smith, there have been people that have opposed the restoration of the gospel.
- Through the years we learn that challenges to our faith are not new, and they aren’t likely to disappear soon. But true disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.
- We can take advantage of such opportunities in many ways: a kind letter to the editor, a conversation with a friend, a comment on a blog, or a reassuring word to one who has made a disparaging comment. We can answer with love those who have been influenced by misinformation and prejudice—who are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” I assure you that to answer our accusers in this way is never weakness. It is Christian courage in action.
When we interact with people that oppose our beliefs, we need to always conduct ourselves in a Christlike manner. We should never conduct ourselves in a way that would offend the spirit.
- As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.
Contention is not a characteristic of a disciple of Christ.
- We must never become contentious when we are discussing our faith. As almost every missionary learns, Bible bashing always drives the Spirit away. The Savior has said, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” More regrettable than the Church being accused of not being Christian is when Church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way! May our conversations with others always be marked by the fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” To be meek, as defined in Webster’s dictionary, is “manifesting patience and longsuffering: enduring injury without resentment.” Meekness is not weakness. It is a badge of Christian courage. This is especially important in our interactions with members of other Christian denominations.
- Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.
Elder Hales points out that we need to conform with the doctrines of Christ because we are not the creator of those doctrines. God has set the rules for our life, we have agreed to those conditions, and we must find a way follow the Savior despite all the opposition this life gives us.
- We cannot change the doctrines of the restored gospel, even if teaching and obeying them makes us unpopular in the eyes of the world. Yet even as we feel to speak the word of God with boldness, we must pray to be filled with the Holy Ghost. We should never confuse boldness with Satan’s counterfeit: overbearance. True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride.
- As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication. Questions and criticisms give us an opportunity to reach out to others and demonstrate that they matter to our Heavenly Father and to us. Our aim should be to help them understand the truth, not defend our egos or score points in a theological debate. Our heartfelt testimonies are the most powerful answer we can give our accusers. And such testimonies can only be borne in love and meekness.
We need to remind ourselves that we are accomplishing a great work. We should not be distracted by the world and the contention that is so common among people that disagree withour beliefs.
- We have a great work to do, which will not be accomplished if we allow ourselves to stop and argue and be distracted. Instead we should muster Christian courage and move on.
Our ultimate challenge is to be in the world without becoming like the world.
- Evil will always be with us in this world. Part of mortality’s great test is to be in the world without becoming like the world.
Elder Hales ends with answering the question that started his talk.
- To my inquiring sister and all who seek to know how we should respond to our accusers, I reply, we love them. Whatever their race, creed, religion, or political persuasion, if we follow Christ and show forth His courage, we must love them. We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ. His way leads to the gate of baptism, the strait and narrow path of righteous living, and the temple of God. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Only through Him can we and all our brothers and sisters inherit the greatest gift we can receive—eternal life and eternal happiness. To help them, to be an example for them, is not for the weak. It is for the strong. It is for you and me, Latter-day Saints who pay the price of discipleship by answering our accusers with Christian courage.
Elder Hales outlines some great characteristics of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. We should be positive in all our interactions with people that support our religious freedom and also to those that oppose our religious beliefs. Contention between followers of Christ and those against our beliefs should always be positive and seek to invite the spirit. Although at times people make it hard to have patience and understanding of their religious views, we should always be respectful and conduct ourselves in the same way the Savior would have.