I was recently told this quote by Winston Churchill:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Now, that’s a cool quote. When I first heard it I really liked it. There are a couple ideas that it communicates very effectively. One is to be crystal clear in what you are saying. Another is to be very forceful; even heavy-handed. The latter idea is the focus of this article. There are times when such force is needed. But the more I think about that quote, the more I think; that’s not how God usually works. He does have a “loud” or “forceful” voice (just ask Laman and Lemuel), but He rarely uses it. Rather, the Lord is not in the earthquake or in the terrible wind, but in the still, small voice.
The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all…Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, “Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:10.)
That may be how God communicates to Man, but are we to emulate that? If we are trying to become like our Father in Heaven, then the answer must be yes. We have been commanded as much:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
This is how Christ instructs us to influence others. Obviously, the above verses are directed to Priesthood holders, but I would suggest that the principles taught here are generally applicable.
We are to persuade. To be kind and gentle. To be long-suffering. These are the traits that should characterize our efforts to teach and correct others. This makes a lot of sense–when someone tries to be argumentative with me, my immediate reaction is not to sit back and consider the merits of their argument, as noble as that would be. Instead my gut reaction is to immediately begin thinking of counter-arguments (Exercise for the reader: examine in your conversation at what point you begin building your counter-argument). I have to force myself to stop and think about what they are saying and what merit it has. Joseph Smith put it this way:
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 240).
I am NOT saying that we should not take a stand, or be bold in our stance. What I am saying is that Christ seems to have an opinion on how we take a stance–how we try to influence others. Alma taught his sons to be bold, but not overbearing (Alma 38:12).
In Elder Richard G. Scott’s Talk, “I Have Given You an Example“, he discussed how his grandmother had used ” just the right amount of courage and respect to help our father recognize the importance of his driving us to the church for our meetings. In every appropriate way, she helped us to feel a need for the gospel in our lives.”
Both Grandmother Whittle and Jeanene loved me enough to share their conviction that the ordinances of the gospel and serving Father in Heaven would bless my life. Neither of them coerced me or made me feel bad about the person I was. They simply loved me and loved Father in Heaven. Both knew He could do more with my life than I could on my own. Each courageously helped me in loving ways to find the path of greatest happiness.
Elder Jeffrey R Holland in the same General Conference emphasized the need for us to defend our faith, but to do so with courtesy and compassion. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently sent a letter to congregations across the United States about the Same-sex Marriage debate. The letter emphasized the need to uphold and encourage God’s standard of chastity, and also that all sides needed to show civility and respect.
A powerful lesson about teaching is contained in an object lesson that President Packer used when he was a mission president. He would present a beautiful 3 layer cake and ask who wanted some. An elder would be selected and invited forward:
“I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.“Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’“The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it?”
I learned something about this a few weeks ago from the deacons in my ward. One of the boys their age is a Catholic. He is very friendly and has attended a number of youth activities. Recently, while they were on the bus to school, this boy began asking some questions to learn about the differences between Catholicism and Mormonism, and a friendly conversation ensued. However, another young boy joined in the conversation, quoting scripture to the catholic boy to prove why Catholicism was wrong. He kept insisting that this boy ask more questions in order to be proven wrong again. What began as a very positive experience quickly turned sour.
How long will it be before this catholic boy asks any questions again? How has his perception of what Mormons are like changed from that experience?
Again, I don’t want anyone to think that they should avoid gospel discussion, or wait until the absolutely perfect moment (a stalling technique that Satan thoroughly loves to use). But I do think we have been and are being counseled to be considerate and careful. To think about what we are saying and how we can approach an individual in the best way possible.
In a CES devotional in 2012, Elder Holland counseled us on defending Zion and attacking Babylon and its evils:
“I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time.”
When teaching the gospel, counseling or correcting others, I believe it has been made pretty clear that we do need to have the “love unfeigned” spoken of earlier. Christ taught the Nephites and Lamanites:
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.
And we see this all the time. We see republicans vs. democrats; liberals vs. conservatives; Pro-choice vs. Pro-life; SSM vs. traditional marriage. Some of these issues and stances are really important, and some less so. Regardless of the issue; when both sides are simply yelling at each other or basking in the glow of their own rhetoric the end result is often more contention, which is just fine with Satan.
Christ further instructed that we are not to stir men’s hearts up to anger, and I think that strikes at a key difference. What is the purpose? Whose glory are we interested in? Whose progression are we interested in?
Think of the two great commandments.
The first is to love God with all our hearts. The second to love our fellowman as ourselves. Both commandments are about loving others. President Monson taught that the two commandments are inextricably linked:
“We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all.”
Our love for our fellowman is what should be our motivation. Consider the example of Ammon and his brothers’ mission to the Lamanites. What was their motivation?
3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soulshould perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
Notably, this was the first recorded successful mission to the Lamanites. And boy, was it successful.
The scriptures are literally filled with examples of God’s love and mercy for His children (Do I really need to cite examples? How about the Atonement). It is absolutely true that along with the blessings mercies, teachings and warnings, God’s wrath can be kindled. He does have a loud voice, after all; and he does use it when needed. A great illustration of this is in Moses 7. I would recommend the entire chapter, but this should give you the basic idea:
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?…32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.…37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
Even as God was preparing the floods to cover the earth; His wrath was matched by his sorrow. God is not vengeful or spiteful. He is the perfect, loving father. He asks us to follow His commandments because that is what will bring us the greatest joy. His motivation in counsel and in correction is love for his children. It is because of His love that He offers counsel and correction. Our efforts should have similar motivations (Of course we won’t be perfect, but we can at least try). “Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing afterward an increase in love toward him whom thou hast reproved” (emphasis added).
As we make our stand for the gospel, we also need to help and encourage others to do the same, and to be patient with their attempts. Each of us has been given some measure of light and knowledge, and many of us are honestly trying to be true to that and to increase in their understanding of the gospel. In short: nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes. For example, I don’t think any of the young men on that school bus had ill intentions. I rather think they were trying to do what was right. And I think a lot of us are in the same position; trying our best to live the gospel, including sharing it and defending it. And we may take that opportunity and really mess it up.
That’s OK. Really, it is. The important thing is that we try our best to make the most of the opportunity.
Remember, Elder Holland said we would have lots of practice. The idea is that in doing so, we will get better. Our testimony will grow stronger, and our ability to effectively communicate that testimony to others will increase. But we need to also remember that others are also practicing.
I love the illustration Elder Zwick gave of this principle. He told of driving a truck with his wife and baby when the cabin filled with smoke due to an electrical failure. As he worked to get the vehicle pulled over and stopped, his wife lept from the truck with their baby in her arms.
“When our truck cab filled with smoke, my wife acted in the bravest manner she could imagine to protect our son. I too acted as a protector when I questioned her choice. Shockingly, it did not matter who was more right. What mattered was listening to each other and understanding the other’s perspective.The willingness to see through each other’s eyes will transform “corrupt communication” into “minister[ing] grace.” The Apostle Paul understood this, and on some level each of us can experience it too. It may not change or solve the problem, but the more important possibility may be whether ministering grace could change us.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way:
“Likewise, unremembered by some is the reality that in the kingdom we are each other’s clinical material; the Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a “student” rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.”
As the gospel spreads and the world shrinks, our ability to share the gospel has been dramatically increased. There are so many ways in which we can defend the faith, encourage others, teach gospel truths, and bear testimony. And we can be bold in doing so. I would encourage everyone to take part as we are continually counselled to do. As we do, please try to be considerate, careful, and patient. I believe we can do all those things even while being bold and courageous. It just takes some practice.
References and resources:
Boyd K. Packer, 1983, “The Candle of the Lord“
Richard G. Scott, 2014, “I Have Given You an Example“
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2014, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship“
Boyd K. Packer, (Teach Ye Diligently, rev. ed. , 270–71) (quoted in Teaching, No Greater Call)
Jeffrey R. Holland, 2012, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling“
Thomas S. Monson, 2014, “Love, The Essence of the Gospel“
W. Craig Zwick, 2014, “What Are You Thinking?“
Neal A. Maxwell, 1982, “A Brother Offended“