How Can I Be a Both a Defender of Truth and a Peacemaker?

Disciples of Jesus Christ have an obligation to tell the truth, even when others don’t want to hear it. Our promise to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) is a promise to speak up, to share our convictions with others, to say what we know is true even when it is unpopular.

Nephi was not afraid to speak up when his older brothers were out of line. They hated to hear it, and they particularly hated to hear it from their younger brother (2 Nephi 5:3). It may be that Nephi’s words were sometimes spoken in anger (2 Nephi 4:27). But as his father, Lehi, testified, by and large they were motivated by love. Nephi’s older brothers thought he was angry when his words caused them to feel badly. They misinterpreted their own feelings of guilt as anger coming from him (2 Nephi 1:26). “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard,” Nephi told them, “for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Nephi 16:2).

Lehi was familiar with the animosity that could be aroused by an unwelcome message. When he had tried to warn his neighbors in Jerusalem of the imminent destruction of their city, they mocked him, then became angry and tried to take his life (1 Nephi 1:18-20).

Years later, a prophet named Abinadi brought a similar message to the people of King Noah: “Except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage” (Mosiah 11:23). This was not a cruel or a demeaning message, but it was a stern one, a warning motivated by love.

It was not well received. “O king, what great evil hast thou done,” asked some of the people, “or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?” (Mosiah 12:13). King Noah’s priests asked Abinadi to explain a scripture about prophets bringing “good tidings” and “[publishing] peace” (Mosiah 12:21), a subtle critique of his unpleasant message.

Of course, like Lehi’s warning to the residents of Jerusalem, Abinadi’s warning was true. The people of King Noah really were in danger, and very soon they would wish they had listened to him. But not yet. “He has reviled the king,” shouted the priests. In response, King Noah condemned Abinadi to death.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said the Savior (Matthew 5:93 Nephi 12:9). Mormon called a group of believers “the peaceable followers of Christ,” because of their “peaceable walk with the children of men” (Moroni 7:3-4). The gospel really is a message of peace, and those who follow it strive to live in harmony with one another. But that doesn’t mean that they only say what other people want to hear, that they avoid any message which might be poorly received.

President Russell M. Nelson recently taught, “We don’t…have to agree with each other to love each other” (“NAACP Convention Remarks,” 21 July 2019). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has urged us: “Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them” (“The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” General Conference, April 2014, italics added). And President Dallin H. Oaks has recently spoken of the judgment calls we must make as we defend truth while living peaceably with others:

We must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love—keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way. This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process. Our walk demands that we not compromise on commandments but show forth a full measure of understanding and love…. In all of this we remember that God promises hope and ultimately joy and blessings for all who keep His commandments (“Two Great Commandments,” General Conference, October 2019).

Today, I will strive to defend the truth and to live peaceably with those around me. I will treat others with respect and dignity without compromising my own convictions. I will stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular, because of my commitment to truth and because of my love for other people.

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