Maxwell Institute Podcast #134: Proclaim Peace with Patrick Mason and David Pulsipher
Joseph Stuart: Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Joseph Stuart. The Savior said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” But over the past year and a half, I have to admit that I have been afraid. How can we find peace in our societies and be peacemakers as individuals? Patrick Mason of Utah State University and David Pulsipher of BYU Idaho, have written about just these topics in their new book, in the Maxwell Institute’s living faith series, Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict. We hope you enjoy this episode. Well, maybe enjoy is the wrong word. We want you to consider what they say and its implications for Latter Day Saints and the communities they live in. If you please take a moment to review the Maxwell Institute Podcast or recommend it to a friend, it makes a big difference in who we are able to reach. You can also follow us on Instagram at @byumaxwell. David, Patrick, welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
David Pulsipher: Thank you for the invitation.
Patrick Mason: Great to be here.
Joseph Stuart: Alright so, both of you are scholars, you both are professors. So how did you come to the field of Peace and Conflict studies?
David Pulsipher: That’s a great question and I came about it in a rather roundabout way. I received my doctorate at the University of Minnesota, learned a lot about conflict, oppression, and in the midst of my studies I wanted to learn more about alternative theories about peace, about altruism, selflessness and when I began asking my faculty about that they didn’t know where to point me. So it really wasn’t until I started teaching, at what was then Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in teaching American History that I began to become fascinated first with the Civil Rights movement and in particular, the way it paralleled with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis in the Book of Mormon, and that’s kind of what got me launched. Realizing that there was the theories of love. There were the theories of peace, right there in front of me the whole time. And I just hadn’t seen them.
Joseph Stuart: Thanks, David. How about you, Patrick?
Patrick Mason: For me it actually started in a real way here on this campus, at BYU. As a freshman I took a history of civilization course. It was team taught by Wilford Griggs and Allen Keal, and the theme of this course was the pen and the sword. How humans, throughout history have sought for peace, but ended up oftentimes in violent conflict. And this was a brilliant, eye opening course for me in terms of, we were reading all kinds of stuff, and having just incredible discussions. So for me that was very informative as a freshman and I carried that with me as I went to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, and I went to study history, just like David did, but along the way I encountered and met these students completely serendipitously who were in the masters program in International Peace Studies. I didn’t know there was such a thing as peace studies, took me a while to figure out what that was, but I was so impressed with these students from all around the world, from all different religions and cultures who were there studying and dedicating their lives to peace. And I thought, I believe that too. And so I actually started to do some work, I actually took a leave from my doctoral program to get the masters degree in peace studies, and then David and I ran into each other and here we are.
Joseph Stuart: Well we’re certainly glad that you two met each other, a golden gopher and a golden domer, coming together. And I like to start with thinking about what the terms we will use mean. So David, what is peace? How are you all discussing that in this book?
David Pulsipher: Well, we’re discussing it in some specific ways that are different from the way we often use it in Latter Day Saint discourse. In Latter Day Saint conversations and Sunday School, as we read the scriptures and we look at the word peace, often what we think about is inner peace, finding peace with God, finding peace within ourselves. And that of course is a key and crucial element of peace. But we’re thinking about peace in particular in this book, in a more expansive way. We’re thinking about peace in terms of societal peace, largely. We deal a little bit with interpersonal peace as well, which is peace between individuals. But ultimately, we’re looking at what does our theology have to say about peace on a broad scale? And there, peace scholars define peace in kind of two broad terms. One is called negative peace, which is the absence of direct conflict or what most people think of when they think of violence, people hitting each other, yelling at each other. Armies invading other countries. The absence of that is what scholars call negative peace. But we’re also very interested in the concept of positive peace. Which is the absence of structural violence and cultural violence which are at a deeper level, which I guess we can talk about a little bit later on. But the absence of that or the presence of a society that is just and equitable and has the basic foundations for the best human flourishing, that’s what we call positive peace, or in Latter Day Saint speak we call it Zion. And those are the definitions we are dealing with most often in the book.
Joseph Stuart: Marvelous, thank you. Patrick, how would you define violence as you and David are using it in the book?
Patrick Mason: Well, like David said a lot of aspects of violence are pretty apparent to people. People know it when they see it. And so certainly we are concerned with direct violence, and the need to alleviate or eliminate that. But as David said, there are these two other categories that the scholars have developed called structural violence and cultural violence and they are equally important to consider. Structural violence happens when the structures of our societies are arranged in such a way as to limit people’s abilities for thriving, or for progress, or that harm them in various ways. So we can think about unjust laws, we can think about unjust economic arrangements, so certainly for instance in the United States, Jim Crow laws, that discriminated against African Americans purely on the basis of their race. These are clear examples of structural violence. A partide in South Africa, we can think of lots of other examples. Cultural violence comes when it’s not just in the structures of our societies, but in the kinds of attitudes, opinions, and perspectives that people develop that justify or give license to either direct or structural violence. There is a great peace scholar named Johan Galtun that said when one man beats his wife, that’s clearly a case of direct violence. When a million men beat their wives because of misogyny, because of sexism, then you’ve got cultural violence. So cultural violence are the kinds of cultural ideas that are oftentimes around inequality or the one group is superior to another that justify, or make people think that violence is somehow okay. That other kinds of violence are okay. So we believe that the restored gospel is equally concerned with all of these forms of violence. Because they all reinforce one another, they all feed one another. What we want to do, and what the restored gospel does, is introduce these aspects of positive peace or Zion that help address and to stop the downward spiral of these different kinds of violence and to reverse the cycle so that we get an upward spiral towards peace and towards Zion.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I like that both of your definitions really include questions of scale. It’s not just individual peace, or individuals refraining from violence, but it’s all of us as a society, as a community working together, as David said, and as we’ll discuss later, to the building up of Zion. You show the restoration scripture emphasizes the communal and social aspects of building and keeping peace, as well as the individual need for peace. Could you give an example of what a communal or social striving for peace looks like?
David Pulsipher: Well I think that we see that over and over again in scripture, we see it in the Book of Mormon, especially 4th Nephi is the great example of the communal expression of peace. Where every man did deal justly with one another, where they eliminate all forms of distinction between one another in terms of racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Where they begin to share their resources with one another in ways that provide for the greatest human flourishing. But we also see that it’s not just in kind of ancient texts, we also see it in the restoration’s history. The entire project of Zion, outlined in almost every single section of the Doctrine and Covenants to one degree or another, is ultimately about a communal effort to create a society in which people are not at war with one another, and that’s negative peace, and are also engaging in this project of creating the ideal society, a place where the ultimate forms of human flourishing can occur. So I think as Latter Day Saints we naturally have these terms of negative peace and positive peace, especially positive peace in the form of Zion. It’s just something that is there at the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not merely trying to be another sectarian group, another religious organization. We’re literally trying to build a society to which Christ can return, and that will have all the aspects of positive peace that we hoped to achieve.
Joseph Stuart: Thank you for that. Your first chapter begins with Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, what do you take away from his letter to the Saints, especially concerning persuasion?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, so before we launched specifically into questions of violence and peace, we really wanted to establish the kind of theological basis for thinking about this. And sometimes, I think, we think that power is bad, right? Oftentimes power takes on a negative connotation. But in fact, power itself is neutral and can be used for either good or bad purposes, and God has power, right? So we wanted to think about what are the ways in which the universe is structured, what are the lessons that we draw from this. And for us, one of the most brilliant and insightful texts ever, about the nature of God’s character, about the nature of God’s power, comes from Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail. And, you know, think about the context here, where the Latter Day Saints, this is easily the low point of Joseph Smith’s life. I mean, the Saints have been driven from their homes. He very narrowly averts execution, and doesn’t know exactly what’s happening. The Latter Day Saints are refugees, being taken in by the people of Quincy, Illinois. And Joseph has a lot of big questions. And part of the answer that comes to him in this beautiful letter that we have now canonized parts of as sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants is where God teaches a very powerful lesson about the nature of power. And this is a passage that’s familiar to all Latter Day Saints, where it says, “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; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” You know, oftentimes, at least as I grew up and I heard this scripture a lot, I oftentimes heard it specifically in the context of the priesthood that we exercise within the church, like the Aaronic of the Melchizedek priesthood. And we oftentime how we ought to be nice to each other. Now that’s very important, we ought to be. But I think one of the singular insights that comes from this verse is not only that no power or influence ought to be maintained this way, but no power or influence can be maintained this way. And within the Latter Day Saint tradition, we understand priesthood to not just to be a collection of priests here on earth, but we understand priesthood to be the very power of God. And so what this verse indicates, is that God himself, the power that the universe is predicated upon, cannot be maintained except through persuasion, and through kindness, and through love. So yes, certainly power can be and has been exercised with the opposite of all that, with hate, with coercion, with manipulation. Certainly power can be exercised that way, but it can’t be maintained. It can’t be maintained over the long run because we are all independent intelligences. We are eternal beings, co-eternal with God. And so the only forces that can maintain their influence over us in the long run, are based on persuasion, they’re based on our willingness to go along with them. And so this singular insight that Joseph Smith has through revelation while sitting in this dank prison cell, we think in a lot of ways it absolutely unlocks the character and power of the way that the universe is organized.
Joseph Stuart: So, moving from Missouri and Liberty Jail, you then move to the Middle East in the Meridian of time where Jesus comes to a synagogue in the Gospel of Luke. And David, can you set the scene for us and then tell us what you and Patrick read from that event about the theology of peace?
David Pulsipher: First we probably need to recognize that we are borrowing here from a very influential scholar in this field named John Howard Yoder, who basically sets this up and we found his insight to be quite profound and it resonates well with restoration theology and restoration scripture, which is the idea that when Jesus comes to the synagogue and announces his messiahship, this is a very well known moment in his ministry, right? He stands up in a synagogue, he opens the scroll, and he reads from Isaiah. When he reads, we hear often as him declaring himself as the Great Spiritual Messiah, but what we sometimes miss is way in which in declaring himself to be the Spiritual Messiah, he is also declaring himself to be the temporal messiah, the messiah of this world and of this world’s institutions and organizations. He is declaring himself ultimately, as the King of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is at hand, and that’s not just a spiritual kingdom, it’s an actual kingdom and this is where John Howard Yoder does a wonderful reading of this. And as you listen to the words in that context, they take on a much deeper and ultimately, more comprehensive meaning than just I’m here to help people get past their spiritual challenges, we are here to actually also upend society and turn it into what we would call Zion. So when he stands and says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recover of sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And here, he is declaring a jubilee year according to the law of Moses in which all debts are forgiven, all slaves are freed. Society gets a kind of reboot in which everything is leveled and we begin again and all the distinctions that have been created over the 50 years prior, yet reset and those who have been in situations of oppression get relief. It’s an upside down kingdom as scholars of the New Testament have talked about. It turns everything kind of on its head and when Jesus says I’m here to bring good news to the poor, he means literally the poor and to the captive, not just to the poor in spirit or those captive by sin, he means those who are sitting in jails and people who need relief in their economic circumstances so this becomes much more, in many ways, radical text than we normally think of it and when you add this with all of the revelations to Joseph Smith, you realize, yeah the kingdom is more than just spiritual relief. It’s a reordering of society and that’s what Jesus was proclaiming.
Patrick Mason: Yeah, and a lot of New Testament scholars have shown how that’s exactly the way people would have heard it during Jesus’s time. If you remember, I think it’s in the Gospel of John where after he’s given a sermon that the people come and literally want to seize him and make him King. He flees because the kind of king or kingdom that they have in mind is not what he has in mind. At every moment, Jesus is sort of confounding their and our expectations, all the way up until his interview with Pilot. So Jesus is the King of the kingdom of God, but it is as David said, it’s a different kind of kingdom. It’s not predicated on the same kind of rules that earthy kingdoms have been set up by. And so his, not only his messianic ministry but also his prophetic ministry is supposed to help us rethink the way that we relate to one another. Yes, individually, yes interpersonally, but supposed to help us think about our politics, our economics and of course, the way that we do harm to one another. And so, just revisiting the New Testament, and then we see this again in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants in restoration scripture. It always, it challenges me to not become complacent in the kind of life that I live, the kinds of societies that we have created for ourselves.
Joseph Stuart: Now in discussing the Savior and his Atonement, you refer to it as a nonviolent atonement which sticks out to me because there’s a lot of blood, there’s swords, there’s carrying a cross, there’s all these symbols and physical manifestations of violence so, how can the Atonement be nonviolent in this capacity?
David Pulsipher: Yeah, that’s a great question and certainly, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is associated with all kinds of brutality and suffering. And for us, one of the distinctive insights that we have as latter-day saints is that Jesus’s atoning work for us occurs both on the cross but also in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was in a dialogue group with other Christian scholars and we were talking about our views of the Atonement and the latter-day saints, we shared our understanding of Gethsemane and for these other Christian scholars, they were blown away by this. These were New Testament experts, Biblical scholars, theologians. They had never thought about the role of Gathsemane and actually, they were deeply touched by this as we went to the passage in Luke and then we went to passages in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, it helped them more deeply appreciate the suffering and the atoning work of Jesus for us. And so I think we do have a distinctive insight on this as latter-day saints. But I think there’s a kind of categorical discussion between what happens in Gethsemane and what happens on the cross. If you think about it in Gethsemane, Jesus went there voluntarily. He tells us he could have stopped it at any time, but he went there voluntarily because of his immense and infinite love for each of us and there he voluntarily enters into our suffering, our pain, our sin as human beings. He does not go to the cross voluntarily in the sense that the cross was the ultimate symbol of the Roman empire’s brutality. The way that it ruled through force. Now, Jesus did choose to go to the cross. Actually, we have a lot of passages in the New Testament where he orients his ministry, he knows that’s where he’s going to end up. He is orienting himself to the cross. But nobody volunteers for the cross. Nobody raises their hand and says, yes I’d like to be crucified, thank you very much. It is the most devastating and tortuous death that the Roman empire could conceive of. They could have come up with a better one or worse one, they would have. And Jesus does this and in so doing, he unmasks the brutality that the Roman empire and every other empire has ever been built upon, that nobody deserves to be crucified but especially not the innocent one, not the Messiah, not the sinless one, not the innocent Lamb. And in allowing himself to be crucified, He unmasked, he exposed the brutality and violence of that system. And we say it’s a great and eternal sacrifice, but also the last sacrifice and that’s what Jesus intends. He intended for us to look at that and see what happens when we allow the logic of violence to play out in such a way that we will crucify our God. And so when we look at the cross, each one of us should say, no more, never again. This is where violence takes us. And so it’s on the cross that he reveals the brutality of Caesar and all the Caesars throughout history but also announces and initiates a new kind of kingdom and says, “Now a new kingdom I give you..” you know a new way of being. He wants his disciples to instantiate. So the cross both becomes a great prophetic no, but also a great messianic yes to a new kind of kingdom.
Patrick Mason: And I think one of the profound elements of that kingdom is a kingdom as we often talk about is of disciple leadership or in this case, a willingness to absorb the violence of the world instead of inflicting the violence. And in absorbing the violence, Jesus unlocks a new way of power and influence. This goes back to this idea that power and influence is maintained by persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, love unfeigned all of which is demonstrated by going to the cross. It’s Christ’s suffering that draws us to him. It’s his willingness to take all of this on our behalf and to absorb the violence of the world that gives him greater influence that Caesar ever could have imagined having. More than 2,000 years later and how many people are disciples or trying to recreate the world of Caesar. Caesar’s influence has long passed. Christ continues, His influence continues to endure and just simply spread. And so the power of the king comes not in the normal ways that kings exercise power or they lord over others. This is something that Christ is constantly reminding his disciples as he’s moving towards the cross. This is not the kind of kingdom calling down fire from heaven, sitting on the thrones, all the things you think of that are related to power and influence in this world are very different from the kingdom of God. I am going to show you real power, real influence. And the cross becomes the emblem or the ultimate example of that path. And when he says, “take up the cross and follow me”, as Elder Holland reminded us, that’s a symbol that everyone of us needs to pass through. It’s also a demonstration of the way to true, enduring influence in the world and in the universe.
Joseph Stuart: This is the Maxwell Institute Podcast we are discussing Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict by Patrick Mason and David Pulsipher. After discussing the Savior’s ministry in the gospel of Luke, you then turn to the Book of Mormon and Nephi slaying Laban. And I was stuck by the idea that you say that Nephi likely wrote his account decades after his encounter with Laban. Why do you think that’s significant?
David Pulsipher: It’s important to remember that Nephi’s record is actually his second time writing this down. He’s been through it one time, it’s a way of trying to make sense of what’s happened. I think the second time through is not just so there’s kind of an escape clause for Martin Harris and his losing the 116 pages, I think there’s also something in there for Nephi. That Nephi is trying to understand and make sense of a life that has been full of conflict. And also a life in which he has been drawn to the work and drawn to God. And most of 2nd Nephi just relating and explaining the word of God as he has found it and searched it and tried to kind of inhabit it in his own life upon the plates of brass. And so you have this really interesting tension that I think comes because he’s writing later and trying to make sense of his life between the experience of wielding a sword, which is what he does in the case of Laban and in a very graphic way. A sword that he is clearly enamored with. He talks even years later of its exquisite workmanship and its precious steel. That’s a very kind of appealing path to him in some ways and of course he’s had a lot of conflict with his brothers and if you read it in terms of this conflict between this impulse and the impulse for the word, he carries both of those emblems back into the desert. He takes the word and he takes the sword, and we read kind of the rest of his story. He can see the tension between wanting to kind of slap his brothers around and say can you guys just get with the program, and then moments when he is approaching them with greater humility, a certain love unfeigned in the language of Doctrine and Covenants 121. In which he seems to have greater influence over his brothers in those moments and I think understanding that dynamic kind of comes to a head in 2nd Nephi 4. Where he realizes in the second accounting of his life, years after it, how his own temptation to be angry with his enemy, which the only enemies he has are his brothers, has been one of his great challenges in life. And yet, that wonderful line, “I know in whom I have trusted.” He turns more and more to the word over the course of his writing and you kind of watch this play out in his mind almost, as he writes this retrospective account of his life.
Joseph Stuart: Now I’m really interested in the idea too, that you discussed that conflict does not equal violence. Maybe this is just growing up in a family as the third of six kids, but often conflict did equal violence that way. But you also discuss two different kinds of conflict, so what do you mean by creative conflict and what do you mean by destructive conflict?
Patrick Mason: Yeah, so I’m the third child too so we’ll have to compare notes sometime.
David Pulsipher: I was the oldest child, so I was the one inflicting the conflict.
Patrick Mason: So that’s why you have come to peace later in life.
David Pulsipher: Yeah, it’s a sort of Atonement for my sins.
Joseph Stuart: Or a truce.
David Pulsipher: Yeah that’s right.
Patrick Mason: Well you know Latter Day Saints are wonderful at many things, one of the things we are wonderful at is conflict avoidance. We have internalized a reading of 3rd Nephi 11. Remember when the Savior comes to the people, one of the very first things He tells them is that contention is of the devil and that they should not contend with one another with anger. So this is a chapter that missionaries have read with investigators a lot. This is a chapter that we teach a lot in church. So we have internalized this. Unfortunately we have internalized the wrong lesson here. That what the Savior was specifically teaching was not that conflict is of the devil, but that the contention is of the devil. And in fact the Savior gives us the definition and what’s the distinction between conflict and contention. He says it’s because of the anger that we have with one another. So conflict is actually built into the very structures of the universe. If we go back to Genesis 1, the creation. The creation account, it’s all about conflict. The reason we have anything is there is a difference between land and water. There is a difference between night and day. There is a difference between male and female. So God creates difference, and God creates conflict. We actually can’t have anything without difference. Lehi teaches the same thing in 2 Nephi 2 in opposition in all things. So the conflict itself is baked into creation, and is actually you think about the relationship between these pairings, between these differences. That’s what brings beauty and goodness into the world. You know the way that a night and day, the boundary between them is a sunrise or a sunset. Some of the most beautiful things that we have to see. So there can be this kind of beautiful, creative tension between these opposites or between these differences. So there’s a way to engage conflict lovingly, productively, constructively. There’s a way to engage that conflict, that difference in anger and tension. Jealousy, with malice towards one another. The spirit of vengeance. That is what the Savior is warning us against. So actually one of the things that we really hope readers take away from this book is that again, conflict in and of itself is not bad, just like power in and of itself is not bad. It’s how we use these things, and the Savior is always inviting us to engage these things constructively, with love. Difference is inherent. Anybody in any relationship, whether a marriage relationship, a friendship, anything. There is tension there. How do we engage that tension? How do we engage that conflict? And in fact, there are some tools. And these tools are given to us in the scriptures. And so that’s what we try to do is life out these tools so that people in their own personal lives that then it does scale up to society, the same principles apply. So there is a way to engage conflict creatively, lovingly, constructively, not in the spirit of anger.
Joseph Stuart: Now when you discuss love, it’s not just this sort of ethereal or airy sort of thing. You call it assertive love. What does it mean for love to be assertive?
David Pulsipher: It means that love is sometimes confrontational. It means that you’re not just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. You’re actually going out there and asserting one’s love into the situation. For me the greatest example of this aside from the obvious, ultimate example of Jesus Christ, is the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s, one of the things we often miss in their story. Artists have focused on them throwing their weapons away and that’s a wonderful moment, but in fact what happens next is extraordinary. They don’t sit in their homes cowering, waiting to be massacred by their enemies. They go out and meet them on the battlefield. This is a confrontational moment where they assert themselves, without weapons, in a spirit of prayer and clearly in the spirit of deep love for these people that they call their brethren. They basically place themselves as a shield almost between their community and their attackers. And as their attackers come in and begin to assault them and kill them, they’re touched by this expression of love. This expression of faith, and they end up protecting their families in the process. So when we talk about assertive love, we’re talking about love that’s active. It’s not passive, it’s going out and confronting evil, even aggression, as in this case, even something that was extraordinarily dangerous in which many of them lost their lives. And in the process, they transformed the conflict. They transform it from something that was initially very destructive into something that was ultimately beautiful and redeeming. As they themselves, those who lose their lives, Mormon says they go to God. And then all of these attackers who then throw down their weapons and come to God. Everybody was coming to God that day. At least all the movement that day. If anybody was going any direction, it was towards God. And they transform this into something horrific, but also something really beautiful in terms of transforming the conflict into a redemptive moment.
Joseph Stuart: When you’re saying that, I immediately think about divine violence in scripture. So not just restoration scripture, but also in the Bible. So, how do we think about events like the flood, or the walls of Jericho, or the poor guy who’s just trying to keep the Arc of the Covenant steady as it was moving. What do we do there in thinking about divine violence?
Patrick Mason: Yeah it’s a great question and one of the things we wanted to do in the book was not to avoid hard questions. We didn’t want to engage in the art of conflict avoidance. We wanted to take scripture holistically. Not just the parts that we inherently like. And so absolutely, any reader of scripture, whether it be biblical scripture or restoration scripture, you’ve got to take into account all these accounts of divine violence. Either where God seems to be doing the violence Himself, or directing other people to do it. A lot of biblical scholars have worked with this a long time to make sense of what’s going on in the Old and New Testaments. We focus especially our analysis on restoration scripture, and I actually think that restoration scripture distills this challenge or conundrum into it’s most potent form in 3rd Nephi 8 and 9. Where prior to Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the people, to the Lehites. There’s massive destruction. And in 3rd Nephi 9, I mean whole cities burned and buried and drowned. And in 3rd Nephi 9 the voice of Jesus says, “I did this. I did this. I did this.” I mean it takes the problem of divine violence and it just distills it to its absolute purest essence. And we have to grapple with it. And the way that we think about this, the way we think restoration scripture points us to, is in the Book of Mormon’s own theology. Where it makes a distinction between the condescended God, who is Jesus Christ in the flesh, that Jesus came as the Son of God, took on flesh and showed us how to live, “what manner of men ought ye to be, even as I am.” We are pointed to follow the works that you see me do. That you should do also 3rd Nephi 27. We are pointed to the example of the condescended God, that is the example for each of us as mortals, our limited perspective, our limited power, all the limitations that we have. Jesus points us to the way of nonviolence. Now God in His heaven, the ascended God, if we want to put it that way. God has a much greater perspective, He has a greater knowledge of the way things really are. He also has the power of resurrection, one of the reasons why there is a commandment, “thou shalt not kill” is we can’t make that right. God gives life, God takes life, God has the power to do this, and God promises resurrection for all of His children. And one of the things that restoration scripture shows is that God is in those moments, He does not distance Himself, even in those moments. And that God mourns, even in those moments of destruction. We see this most powerfully in Moses 7 with the God who weeps, but we see it in 3rd Nephi 9 as well. It’s the devil who laughs, God mourns even in the midst of this destruction. So ours is a God who destroys as well as creates, but whenever He talks about Himself, He talks about He is a God of light, and life, and love. Those seem to be the part of the job description that He really relishes. I think any reader of scripture has to grapple with this. We come up with our own framework of how to do this, other people have done it differently, but fundamentally we know that God is a God of love. God reveals Himself as a God of love, and Jesus in the flesh is a God who points us to a way of love and nonviolence as human beings.
David Pulsipher: And ultimately, we have powerful statements in the Book of Mormon and elsewhere that vengeance is mine. And I will repay. And not to you, God can do it perfectly because He can remain ultimately connected and stays in that moment with His children in a way we aren’t capable of doing. And as we said, He can make it right in ways that we can’t. So there’s no license of divine violence when He says, “what manner of men ought ye to be, even as I am.” He’s not talking about that ascended character. He’s only talking about the condescended expression of God.
Joseph Stuart: Now in thinking about the positive peace of Zion, as you all have discussed, you close out the book by discussing what you call “Just Ward” theory. Which is the clever play on ideas of Christian ethics and theology of “Just War” when war is justified. So what do you all mean by “Just Ward” theory?
Patrick Mason: Well for us it’s the fact that peacebuilding always happens in community. But of course individuals can do it, but we know this is the same that we gather together in churches. There’s a kind of scaling that happens, there’s a kind of power that happens in a community that you simply just can’t get one on one. And so we absolutely believe…most of this book is scriptural theology. Most of it is laying out the kinds of principles that are very important all of which have application, but we do want to think about what does this mean for an average Latter Day Saint? And so certainly we encourage individuals to go out and be anxiously engaged. To assess whatever needs their communities have to feel the spirit of work upon them, in a sense of vocation, what am I called to do? What does God want me to do to make the world a better place, so go do that. But then we are also called into communities. And our wards, I think one of the great witnesses of the work to the world, that Latter Day Saints have, is the power of community. In a world, especially in North American-Europe, where community is just disintegrating before our very eyes, wards are the places where we learn to love, where we learn to forgive, whee we learn to show grace, where we also learn that strength in numbers, we can do more together than we can do apart. So already there is so much goodness that happens among the Latter Day Saints. Think about our humanitarian efforts, think about our efforts in terms of refugee assistance. Both at the general level, but at the local level. Think about the way that we take care of one another in all kinds. Wards are also places of conflict resolution. They can be a place that creates conflict, but it gives in practice in managing and hopefully transforming those conflicts. That’s actually one of the reasons why God puts us in wards and in congregations, I’m convinced. And we use the ward as a shorthand for all of the different structures of the church. I mean missions, think about the ways that missionaries go out and they give a certain number of hours towards community service. Think about if we were more intentional about this. Think about the ways, the powerful ways, that missionaries could have a transformative, in ways of alleviating suffering and doing the work of peacebuilding, in whatever communities they are called to. There are so many things. The BYU campuses are preparing, not just people to go out and have successful careers, but we hope that they’re making peace builders. Because that’s what it means to be a Christian. We hope, and this is what David is doing at BYU Idaho, this is what Chad Ford is doing at BYU Hawaii, this is what the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution is doing here at BYU Provo. All of these structures that we have in the church are helping us be better peacebuilders, helping us be better peacemakers that Christ calls us to be. So that’s what we mean by “Just Ward” theory is to think about the ways that we can mobilize the structures of the church to go out and do good and build peace.
Joseph Stuart: Now to close this out, following the injunction in Doctrine and Covenants section 88 to learn out of the best books, what are three of your best books. So, three from each of you, that you would recommend to the Maxwell Institute Podcast audience?
Patrick Mason: Well of course, all of the books in the Living Faith series, from the Maxwell Institute. That goes without saying. But if we want to go outside the family, there’s so many best books out there. So just three for me, one of the most transformative things I ever read, that actually in a lot of ways changed the entire course of my thinking or my life, was the autobiography of Malcolm X. And I read it as a teenager. I had no experience with the world that he was talking about, the kind of injustices that he had to face as a black man in 20th century America. And I don’t always agree with everything in that book, but it opened my eyes to a different kind of world. And his passion for justice, and his quest for truth absolutely resonated with me then, and now it’s a book I’ve assigned and taught lots of different times. On the other side of the coin actually has contemporary Martin Luther King, his book Why We Can’t Wait which documents the Civil Rights freedoms struggle in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. It contains his famous letter, From a Birmingham Jail, which I think is one of the great pieces of writing ever in the United States. And so that’s a hugely inspirational book. And then for me on the more explicitly religious side, actually both of those books are very religious, but then also for me Etrich Van Hoffer’s book, Discipleship, or sometimes it’s called the Cost of Discipleship. Especially his opening chapters he dives into an analysis and reading of the Sermon on the Mount. Which just bowled me over the first time I read it and every time ever since. Made me take seriously the teachings of Jesus. And I fall very very short, and so when I need a little juice I go to the Sermon on the Mount. When I need some extra juice to help me appreciate the prophetic power of the Sermon on the Mount I go back to Van Hoffer.
David Pulsipher: I’ve been transformed by so many different books over the course of my life. And I was thinking about this, I thought maybe it would be helpful to give at least a couple of really easy and accessible introductions to some theories, or people that we kind of owe a debt to in terms of this particular book. So I thought about a very small, but for me was a kind of transformational book about nonviolence called Jesus and Nonviolence a Third Way by a great Methodist theologian named Walter Wink. In which he lays out kind of some really just essential principles on how to see the life of Jesus in these very different ways. And the way He calls us to align with nonviolence. I used to have my students read that as well, and it’s a powerful, short punchy little book. Another one that I really love and in terms of seeing scripture in new ways and in new interpretations, again one that I think is quite accessible. It’s a book called Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus by a scholar, an evangelical theologian, named Preston Sprinkle. And I’ve actually gotten to know him personally, and he’s just a fascinating, interesting, and wonderful thinker who also writes in ways that are very conversational. He’s drawing on a lot of other scholars, ones we’ve mentioned here like John Howard Yoder, and others too for his analysis. But Yoder’s hard to read, so I rarely recommend Yoder because he can be quite challenging.
Patrick Mason: I like Yoder.
David Pulsipher: I love Yoder. Yoder just completely changed my way of reading the New Testament and maybe that’s the third book to recommend, The Politics of Jesus which is kind of a provocative title. He does a reading of Luke, in particular, which demonstrates the ways in which Jesus’ message is not just spiritual, but also socioeconomic and political. An engaging and transformational way of reading the New Testament.
Patrick Mason: I know we’re wrapping up here, but I hope listeners can get a sense that David and I, we have been deeply formed by reading books and insights from people outside the restoration tradition. They’ve helped us see things and understand things because frankly, a lot of these other traditions have been at it a lot longer than our tradition and our church has been. So we’ve learned a lot from them and they’ve helped us to go back and discover the beauty hiding in plain sight in our own restoration scripture. We want this book, and we want the restoration’s witness of peace, to work upon the latter-day saints. We also feel like the restoration has something to say to the rest of the world. So just like we’ve learned from fellow Christians and from Muslims, and from Hindus, and from secularists and from others about following the way of peace, we hope the Latter Day Saints join in that chorus and can be known as a people of peace. So that sometime on some podcast down the road, some Hindu scholar is going to say, “I read the Book of Mormon, and that helped me be a better peacemaker.”
David Pulsipher: If I can just add a second witness to that. I’ve discovered in my conversations with people of other faiths that when I share with them the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s they are just blown away by that story. They say, “that is remarkable. I know of nothing like that in any of the other sacred texts that I’ve studied and you need to get that out to the world.” So this is in part a chance to get that story, along with all the other extraordinarily rich resources within our own tradition, not just the Latter Day Saints, but yes to the broader world as well.
Joseph Stuart: Thank you Patrick. Thank you David, for stopping by the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
Patrick Mason: Our pleasure.
David Pulsipher: Thank you.
Joseph Stuart: Thank you for listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Could you do us a favor and recommend this show to others, review and rate the podcast in the Apple podcast or other podcast providers, or share the episode on social media? Thanks so much. And have a blessed week y’all.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)