Hey everyone! So, I grew up in a small town where as a Latter-day Saint, I was very much-so part of a religious minority. Sometimes I worried that my non-Latter-day Saint friends might ask me a question or challenge my beliefs in some way, and I wouldn’t know how to respond. I was afraid I’d be embarrassed or that I wouldn’t be able to represent my faith adequately. Some of you might feel that same anxiety sometimes. So, today, I just wanted to toss around a few principles that I hope help you as these opportunities to share the gospel arise. Roll the new intro video.
Alright, so fielding questions about your faith can be daunting because people today are very concerned about being right. Everyone wants to be confident that everything on their list of beliefs is correct. And oftentimes, that leads to confrontation and arguments, debates, anger, and injured relationships as people who disagree defend their list of beliefs.
You’ve seen it in comments sections where civility melts away and is replaced with vitriol. The internet is full of heated head-to-head debates, preachers ambushing strangers on the street, sticking a camera in their face, and cross-examining them about their beliefs — as if publicly humiliating them is the best and most caring way to help them see things from their perspective.
What I want to do is give you an alternate route that might make talking about your faith a little easier. Instead of prioritizing being right, prioritize loving the other person. Don’t get me wrong — it is important to defend your beliefs as best you can. But the way you defend your beliefs is crucial and reveals something important about who you are to both other people, and to God.
In John 13, Christ said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you … By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples….” It’s good to defend truth, but not at the expense of discipleship. In other words, you can defend a correct principle in an unrighteous way. And when you do that, do you think the Holy Ghost is going to be there to touch the heart of the person you’re talking to? I don’t think so. Being a disciple of Christ is more important than being the smartest person in the room.
In 3 Nephi 11, Christ teaches the Nephites: “And there shall be no … disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. 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. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
When we defend truth with a spirit of contention and anger, we’re doing it wrong. Even if you win the argument, you lose. Doctrine and Covenants 121 adds: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or by anyone, I might add], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— 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 … Let thy bowels also be full of charity [or the pure love of Christ] towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God ….”
Now, Jesus was known for sometimes reproving with an extra dose of sharpness. But just because Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers does not mean that anything goes when you are defending your faith. Christ is the Eternal Judge of all mankind. By way of analogy, there are some things a judge is empowered to do and say in a courtroom that nobody else has the jurisdiction to do. For example, Christ taught, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you, it is required to forgive all men.” Things like vengeance and judgment belong to the Lord. Our role is different. If sharp reproval is needed, as per D&C 121, it has to be done under the influence of the Spirit of God, not under the influence of a spirit of self-righteous condescension or contention. Too often, people both outside and inside the Church use Christ as a shield to justify belittling others. We need to stop.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, being charitable towards others does not mean being a push-over or a people-pleaser. It doesn’t mean you need to let people walk all over you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t openly disagree with people. And it doesn’t mean you can’t be bold. Remember what Alma taught his son, Shiblon: “And now, as ye have begun to teach the word … see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom … Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love….”
Having charity isn’t about avoiding tough conversations — it’s about how you conduct yourself in the midst of those conversations, especially when the other person is not behaving charitably towards you. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches that “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;”
When you’re in comments sections on social media, are you easily provoked? Do you behave in an unseemly way? Are you unkind? If so, change. And that goes for me as well. We need to remember that the core of discipleship is not about scoring well on some divine theology quiz nor is it about correcting someone else’s quiz. It’s about love, mercy, and patience.
At some point, somebody is going to ask you a question that you don’t have an answer for. If your focus is on being right and winning the debate, it’s easy to become defensive and hostile. But if your focus is on discipleship and loving others, it’s a whole lot easier to just say, “That’s a good question, I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, but I’d be happy to study it out and get back to you.” There’s so much more that could be said on this subject, but we’ll end here. I hope these principles help you as you talk about faith and religion with your friends and family. Check out some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
- “The Virtue of Kindness” by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (April 2005): https://bit.ly/3H08gZc