Friday, March 30, 2012
I have no issue with the supposed purpose of the billboard, which is to encourage LDS members to read the quotes included and think about the issue of supporting war in light of LDS principles. But I have issue with the approach, and I have issue with its actual purpose hidden behind the ostensible one, which is to call people to repentance in support of a libertarian agenda.
There is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation. Appeals to Church authority and quotes are patent manipulation, particularly without background or explanation of the interpretation and how the author believes it fits in with doctrine as a whole, or without plenty of allowance for differing interpretations*. It consists of an attempt to force a person into a situation where they either agree with the presenter's tacit interpretation of the quotes (deduced from context, since the authors never actually state their agenda openly unless you click on external links,) ignoring all opposing peripheral quotes, or they seem to put themselves at odds with "the prophets."
This is deliberate.
It is a tactic I faced many, many times when trying to share the Gospel in an area of Germany populated with opinionated Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. They would often take a quote (or many) from the Bible and quote it at us, following it up with a "do you believe the Bible?" They create a false dichotomy. Either I accept their quotes AND their interpretation of the quotes, or I look like I'm fighting against the Bible, and am therefore not REALLY Christian at all.
This is manipulation, pure and simple. Declarations of innocence such as I've heard regarding this billboard are quite common in attempts to manipulate. Bible bashers, too, when called on what they were doing, would often respond with "I'm only sharing scripture. What is wrong with that?" You cannot divorce such manipulation from the context in which it is given, any more than you can divorce the seemingly innocent comment of an abuser from its barbed history.
Manipulators LOVE the tactic of demanding that their targets see only the parts of the context the manipulator wants them to see and ignore the rest.
At the time, my experiences with quote-slingers were frustrating, but now I'm grateful because it allows me to recognize it even in people I generally agree with. I find the tactic used in this movement extremely inappropriate, especially in people who, as the speech the banner quote is mined from says, should be focusing more on sharing the gospel, "to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies."
To me, that includes the idolatry of any political dogma, no matter how much scripture is mingled with the human philosophy in them. It includes persuasion by long-suffering, charity, and kindness over passionate speeches, judgmental phraseology, and excerpted, pre-supposed interpretations of scripture. It includes focusing on the good message of the gospel in the way that Spencer W. Kimball proclaims.
If this message truly were about promoting peace, about trying to get people to think, there are myriad ways it could have been done without inciting contentious discussion. It could have taken a positive approach, "Spencer W. Kimball encourages us to promote peace. Find out how at XYZ.com" "Reliance on God, not War, is the path to victory." "Become a people of peace. Find out how...." It could have not linked to propaganda sites.
But that's just it. None of those other ways would have drawn as much attention to the main political agenda lurking behind the billboard.
It doesn't just "publish peace." It publishes a particular brand of peace riding piggyback upon contention. Permissable. But not appropriate. Not in those who truly believe the things they are quoting.
*I have read the quotes on the site, and many other passages of scripture and LDS talks on war. I do not believe that the quotes mean precisely or only what the authors of the site and billboard believe they do. I do not support war in general. I believe strongly in conducting my personal behavior to rely on the Lord, rather than on personal defenses in times of conflict and contention. I also believe that there are times the Lord asks us to take up arms, sometimes in ways that are aggressive, or for the defense of others.
Of late, I have had personal experiences when I have been attacked that have tested that belief to its fullest, and taught me just how difficult it is to practice and truly understand. I think it is more important to apply these principles to myself in my life before applying them to situations, such as recent wars, that I really know nothing about.
It is easy to take such quotes and principles and use them as measuring sticks for others. That doesn't require that we really, personally, understand what we are promoting. It doesn't require personal examination and change. It is far more difficult to use such principles to measure my OWN behavior. And until I get a handle on them for myself, I don't feel it is appropriate to judge how others are doing. Maybe not even then. Especially not by using quotes from disciples of Christ as bludgeons on my fellow Saints.