As I sat listening to a talk in our Ward’s recent Mother’s day Sacrament meeting, I was presented with a major jolt to my pride that took me back a bit. You see, I have spent years researching and reading works on free-market economics, the philosophy of liberty and related scriptures. As a result have amassed a nice little mental library of understanding, about which I was probably feeling a lot more proud than I should. Don’t get me wrong, I value every understanding I have reached in this way and would not trade them for any source of artificial comfort or complacency that may be possible in the absence thereof. But during this process I have examined most recently the question of how to accomplish liberty as a lasting societal condition, and have concluded that ultimately the answer lies in applying the core principle of agency in our homes and with how we raise our children.
Having come to this conclusion through all of this reading and thought (and hopefully some spiritual guidance too) my ears naturally perked up when the speaker, a young Mother with her first child, said that she had prayed for guidance about what to teach regarding Motherhood. She said that the answer she received was that we should raise our children with respect to their agency, teaching them correct principles to govern themselves. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of how politically or philosophically educated in traditional ways she is (which may be a great deal) but the idea that she had effectively found a shortcut through a simple, sincere prayer to reach what took me years to determine to be the best solution for liberty was a very humbling realization.
So I got to thinking… do we sometimes let the “uniqueness” that comes from our understanding of (and willingness to fully apply) the political implications of agency become a source of division and pride when it shouldn’t be? Does it give us a reason to dismiss or discredit others too readily, simply because they don’t share our understandings on this matter or because we presume that they won’t eventually? If they have the gift of the Holy Ghost, then they have a direct channel to the best guide for correct solutions even in the absence of a full understanding of the problems.
I don’t want my statements here to be construed as placing a premium on a lack of understanding, or downplaying our duty to be learning and progressing mentally. I consider all of that to be part of our test in mortality, and that doing so makes us better tools in the Lord’s work… as long as it doesn’t become a source of bitterness or divisiveness. This can negate our ability to bring those talents to bear in a productive way.
One of the major lessons of the Book of Mormon is that of the effects of pride, and there is a particular manifestation of pride that we find recurring throughout the pages of it’s history. This is the dynamic of group or faction identification. Identifying strongly with a group label, a personality or a position of authority stemming from a collective undertaking can entrench someone in defensiveness and cause them to cling to ideas they might not otherwise when faced with perceived opposition. Even identification as church members can lead to this dynamic, as many of us liberty advocates have observed, in the dynamics of this Presidential election and church members’ choice of a candidate.
People are much more likely to hold to, instead of abandon, a misguided idea or justify a bad course of action when they perceive an attack (either literal, or rhetorical) from an individual or group identified as the “enemy.” President Kimball identified this dynamic in his address “The False Gods We Worship” when he said;
“When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God”
President Benson also described this sort of pride in our dealings with others in his famous address “Beware of Pride” when he said;
“Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them. The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. “
Apart from putting us on guard against our own sense of enmity as liberty-lovers (an indulgence of which I am abundantly guilty myself)… this realization can help us strategically in our approach to teaching others about freedom. It’s so easy to find the rhetorical ammunition to take a self-righteous approach toward other members regarding the issue of liberty. The quotations from church leaders seem so clear and obvious, and are so plentiful, that it’s easy to skip past the question of how we are presenting them and whether this is likely to have the desired results.
Exposing people to the statements of a prophet or general authority should always be considered a good thing… so what I’m referring to here is more about the packaging than the content. Here are some questions I’d humbly recommend we ask ourselves when presenting liberty from a gospel point of view;
- Are we presenting information in a way that implies others are deficient from a gospel point of view if they don’t agree?
- Are we trying to shortcut the “persuasion and long-suffering” methods that D&C 121 would advise, and instead trying to impose an authoritative spiritual obligation for them to agree?
- Are our methods going to awake in them a sense of opposition to us stemming from political identifications which will be an obstacle to their being open to the truth?
- Are we radiating a spirit of opposition and group-identification that will feed the same dynamic in the mind of our listener?
- Are we presenting the message in a way that would require people to accept a measure of enmity toward their family or ward members, by believing that those people are deficient in the gospel for disagreeing with what we are presenting?
While I most certainly believe that liberty is an undeniable implication of the gospel, and critical to the gospel plan, I also think that experience and the scriptures can teach us a lot about the best way to approach that goal. I’d suggest that if we find elements of the above in our tactics that they will largely be obstacles to helping someone’s understanding at least in the short-term. If we find these elements, they may also represent manifestations of pride which we should make a focus of self-examination.