On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence….
When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries (“Loving Others and Living with Differences,” General Conference, October, 2014).
Much Dispute and Wonderful Contentions – Alma 2:2-5
2 Now this Amlici had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be a king over the people.
3 Now this was alarming to the people of the church, and also to all those who had not been drawn away after the persuasions of Amlici; for they knew that according to their law that such things must be established by the voice of the people.
4 Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would deprive them of their rights and privileges of the church; for it was his intent to destroy the church of God.
5 And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another.
One of our duties as citizens of a democratic nation is to vote. However, when there is an issue of importance or when we have serious concerns about a candidate on the ballot, we can and should participate much more extensively. Part of the democratic process is engaging with other people to explain our convictions and to persuade those who are undecided. Clearly, with the survival of the church at stake, this group of Nephites had a huge incentive to encourage their friends and neighbors to vote against Amlici.
When Mormon tells us that they engaged in “much dispute and wonderful contentions,” I’m not sure he’s fully endorsing their actions. The word “wonderful” in this context probably means “astounding” or “noteworthy,” not “excellent.” However, he is clearly emphasizing how much was at stake and how seriously they took the threat.
Last October, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught us about the balance between avoiding contention and making our voices heard:
Today, I will think about the issues I feel strongly about, and I will consider how I can engage more fully in the political process in support of worthy causes. I will also consider how I can express my convictions clearly while being respectful toward those who disagree with me.
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