Distinction, contention and strife

From the September 2008 First Presidency message, we read what President Eyring has to say about unity: “The Spirit puts the testimony of truth in our hearts, which unifies those who share that testimony. The Spirit of God never generates contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29). This Spirit never generates the feelings of distinction between people which lead to strife.”

I was deeply impressed when I first read that last sentence. I was also struck by the contrast in definitions of the word distinction. I usually view distinction in a positive manner, as in one who receives honors for outstanding work done in an academic or professional environment. In this case, it appears that distinction is an undesirable thing in that it causes inequality and contention.

But wait! Could it be that it is not distinction itself which is the bad thing, but some undesirable feelings that can be associated with the word? Yes, I believe that is what is meant in this case. In other words, distinction can be both good and bad, depending upon the feelings it produces. I would like to point out some ways in which we are a distinct people, hopefully all for the good.

We are a peculiar people

The Latter-day Saints are a peculiar people. The Lord said so himself. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” Of course one could argue that this declaration from the Old Testament was referring to the house of Israel and I won’t disagree.

In First Peter 2:9 we read, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Peculiar here means chosen of the Lord. So obviously the Lord uses distinction when referring to those who he has called to follow Him and minister to others.

And yet, we read in Acts 10:34-35 that the Lord is no respecter of persons. “…in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” So from this I surmise that we can all be chosen. Anyone can be a part of the peculiar Kingdom of God. It seems that it is a mutual choice. He calls us and we choose him. That’s what makes the distinction here.

We are not a weird people

So what happens when we are called out of the world and choose to follow the Lord? The distinction between us and the rest of the world becomes obvious and clear, or at least it should be if we are trying to follow the Savior as we should. And therein lies the problem. We become a peculiar and distinctive people. Yes, we are called strange, weird, unusual and different.

President Hinckley made an effort in his media interviews and conference addresses to point out that we are not a weird people. His 1995 interview with Mike Wallace was a culmination of a life-long effort for him to change the way the world views us. I very much appreciate what President Hinckley has done. I do not feel weird or different in a bad way because I am LDS.

And yet, I do feel peculiar. Why? Although they used to be the norm, my views on morality, marriage and family are becoming more and more distinctive from the rest of the world. In particular, my advocacy for defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman has come under fire from those who claim that such views are bigoted, hateful and divisive.

Distinctive views on marriage

So what do I do with this statement from President Eyring that teaches the importance of harmony by avoiding contention and strife caused by feelings of distinction? I feel strongly about this issue and feel the need to stand up and make my views known. I am not alone. Most, although not all LDS churchgoers feel as I do about marriage even if they do not speak out.

The proposed amendment to the constitution of the state of California, where I was born and have lived all my life, will, in the view of those opposed to it, deny them their civil rights. My distinctive views have become a cause for strife. As I write about this issue in an effort to persuade others to understand my point of view, contention becomes a part of the dialog.

So again, how do I reconcile what is happening as I write about the definition of marriage and what President Eyring has said, that the spirit of the Lord never generates feelings of distinction between people which leads to strife? Is it my distinctive stance on marriage that is the cause of the strife? Those opposed would have me abandon my position as being wrong and intolerant.

We should seek distinction

I believe that we should seek distinction or honor from the Lord. By that I mean that we should strive to live our lives in accordance with the will of the Lord and thus receive his approbation. Does the Lord bless and favor those who seek to obey his commandments? Of course he does. But he is no respecter of persons, meaning that anyone can seek and obtain those same blessings.

Although we do not strive for appointment or advancement in the Lord’s church, we do seek to excel in doing our duty in helping to accomplish the Lord’s purposes here on the earth. I feel that it is an admirable character trait to be zealous in advocating and promoting something that the Lord has made clear through his prophets is both important and deserving of our best efforts.

As we seek to do the will of the Lord, and in particular to follow the counsel of the prophet in this issue of defending marriage, we are obviously drawing a distinction between us and those who do not believe as we do. There are many besides the LDS people who feel just as strongly about this issue, but it seems that it is the Mormons who are taking it to the door of the people.

Distinction without contention

We are not out to contend with others about this issue. We simply want to know if they are aware and how they would vote if the election were held today. Later in the campaign we will probably go door to door again in an effort to persuade. And finally, we will most likely be asked to visit our neighbors once again in the final days before the election to get out the vote.

Will some be angered by our efforts? Of course they will. Will some want to argue with us and tell us that we are wrong and should not be doing this? It has already happened all across the state. We do not contend in that we do not argue in a manner that causes feelings of distinction. By that I mean we focus on the importance of the definition of marriage and not civil rights.

We are not out to take away the civil rights of anyone. If you have studied the issue you know that same-sex domestic partners in California are guaranteed by law all the same rights as a married couple (Family Code 297.5). Yes, we are making a distinction that marriage is only between a man and a woman and are making an effort to get that added to the state constitution.

Summary and conclusion

You may be tired of reading about this issue by now. I am fairly certain that we will be reading a lot more about it in the weeks to come. I only write about it because when I began this blog, I felt a desire to comment on issues that are signs of the times and a part of the Latter-day events. Yes, the definition of marriage as a social event is one of the signs of the times of the last days.

I have concluded that there is no conflict between what President Eyring is trying to teach us about unity and harmony in his First Presidency message. I agree that we should avoid feelings of distinction from economic or educational accomplishments, class envy, pride or superiority that would stand in the way of unity and harmony, especially among members of the church.

We can be distinctive as a people by seeking to adhere to the standards the Lord has set for us. One of those standards is in the definition of marriage. The Lord established and defined for us what marriage is when he brought Adam and Eve together. Therefore, let no man divide asunder or change this definition. Marriage is sacred because it has been defined by the Lord for us.