We Believe In Saving Lives, Not Face

by Cory Bushman

And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are
the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
– Mosiah 15:16

On October 24, 1970 members of Brigham Young University’s student body, including the Student Body President and Executive Vice President, wrote, endorsed and distributed a pamphlet stating their views on war. In the pamphlet it says, “Wars begin in the minds of men. When 10,000 men decide to go to war, 10,000 wars are fought. When one man for peace, then one less war rages. Neither tradition nor strength of numbers provides legitimacy to individual military involvement. Each man weighing his knowledge, morals, conscience, and alternatives must choose his own right.” The pamphlet ends with this simple statement, “We believe in saving lives, not face.”

Nearly forty years later we find ourselves in a state of war, and due to the increased polarization of the United States government we find it no less easy to come to terms with the current situation. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is our responsibility to “search, ponder, and pray” and then decide weather or not we can contentiously support, or not support the militarization that is currently taking place. In February of 1855, President John Taylor stated, “We believe that all men are responsible to God for their religious acts, and therefore ought to have perfect freedom of conscience.” Later, President David O. McKay restated Taylor’s sentiments, “To deprive an intelligent human being of free agency is to commit the crime of the ages.” In Foundation of Religious Life, Brigham Young University’s freshman text for Religious Education in Church Institutions published in 1938, it reads, “The first question to decide is whether aggressive war is ever to be approved. And that question can not be left much longer solely to the old men in societies. Neither can such a question be left to the militaristic groups in society whose profession, livelihood, glory and emotional traditions center about war.” These teachings show the importance of individual and personal revelation, when used correctly, and not blind faith in government leadership.

Gordon C. Thomasson, editor of War, Conscription, Conscience, and Mormonism, advised, “The Book of Mormon is the epitome of just such dogmatic non-absolutism. As we shall see, it does not give a single easy answer to the question of participation in war. Instead it offers several precedents for understanding which an individual must study out in his heart, there after seeking the Lord in prayer to gain confirmation of his decision if it is right.” We must not take this counsel lightly, but sincerely consider what we believe and then put those beliefs into practice, despite the consequences of those beliefs. We should be willing to follow Apostle Roger Clawson’s proclamation, “I very much regret that the laws of my country should come in conflict with the laws of God, but whenever they do, I shall invariably choose the latter. If I did not so express myself, I should feel unworthy of the cause I represent.” Too often we assume that just because a person is in a position of “authority” that they will exercise “righteous dominion,” but history does not always support this assumption. History is loaded with dictators, oppressive kings, and inhumane authoritative figures who, as individuals we would not willingly support, even if the majority of those around us did. In President Ezra Taft Benson’s book An Enemy Hath Done This, he cites Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s powerful statement, “There is nothing more odious than the majority. It consists of a few powerful men who lead the way; of accommodating rascals and submissive weaklings; and a mass of men who trot after them without in the least knowing their own minds.”

In a case-study on LDS Conscientious Objectors during the Vietnam War we find individuals who, like Clawson, followed the dictates of their own conscience. One C.O. based his motivation on “the desire to serve fully both the God that I believe and the humanity that I love.” Another C.O. stated, “As a Christian, I cannot shrink from the claims of my conscience. I am responsible for my actions. I cannot kill.” Elder John A. Widtsoe in his October 1943 Conference address told the Saints that they were each individually responsible for the “peace of the world.” This proclamation holds true today. We are each responsible for the peace of the world. Melvin J. Ballard wrote explicitly, “I am sure as I am that I live that the reason for all the marvels of this age was to abolish poverty, to break down the barriers between peoples, to make men brothers, and to bring the world into a golden age, the age of peace, when all men would cease to learn war.”

In order to achieve the age of peace, we must be willing to search for truths and then follow the dictates of our own conscience. It is my sincere hope that we can be the kind of people who do not blindly forfeit our agency, but actively use our agency to promote peace. Individually and as a whole, we need to become a people who are more concerned with saving lives than saving face.