After King Benjamin announced to his people that his son, Mosiah, would be their new king, he promised them continued prosperity and peace if they would continue to keep the commandments of God. But he followed this promise with a stern warning:
O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.
For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul.Mosiah 2:32-33
It’s understandable that Benjamin would be concerned about contention during a transfer of government power, but he was also looking to the future. He wanted his people to prepare the rising generation to live in peace, so he counseled parents not to allow their children to “fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness” (Mosiah 4:14).
Benjamin’s message was simple: when you become contentious, you are following the devil, and you lose the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord.
When Jesus Christ visited the American continent following His death and resurrection, He gave the same warning: “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” (3 Nephi 11:29).
When Joseph Smith was fourteen years old, religion was a major topic in his community in upstate New York. He describes it as a time of “unusual excitement” (Joseph Smith—History 1:5). But rather than feeling enthused or inspired, Joseph felt disillusioned as he saw the way that members of the various churches treated people of other faiths.
For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.Joseph Smith—History 1:6
It was these misgivings which eventually led him to the grove of trees where he experienced the First Vision.
As President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, it is possible to candidly discuss differences of opinion without becoming combative or argumentative:
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
Today, I will beware of contention. When I disagree with others, I will express my point of view with clarity and without malice. I will collaborate effectively by seeing the people around me as my teammates, not my adversaries, and by finding common ground with them.