The scriptures warn that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.”11 However, we live in a world with differences of opinion and conflict. In our families, church classes, councils in the church, and interactions with our neighbors, we must avoid contention. What doctrines and principles teach us how to resolve conflict? In what ways can being “peaceable followers of Christ” help us deal with conflict as we also “stand as witnesses of God”?12
Sisters and brothers, I would like to share some personal thoughts and experiences about resolving conflicts and avoiding contention as we strive to live as peaceable followers of Jesus Christ and as we stand as his witnesses, according to the covenants we have made.
As I considered the topic of our discussion, I wondered if there is anyone I know who has lived a life without conflict and contention. Contention comes easily, even with those we truly love and desire the best for. It is difficult to always be on guard and to always remember who we are when those we love and are close to do things that we sincerely disagree with or things that provoke us.
Let me mention a few areas from which contention between people can arise:
Lack of communication, which leads to misunderstanding, wrong expectations, and undesirable conclusions, distrust, and suspicion.
Making rush judgments and assumptions about others, which leads to misrepresentation of other people’s intentions and to hurting other people’s feelings.
A competitive spirit driven by pride, which fuels dislike, feelings of anger, and isolation.
Differing cultural values, which often lead to distrust, suspicion, prejudice, and profiling of others.
Conflict and contention are not inevitable. What we do to prevent or escalate it is a choice we make. In the Book of Mormon, we read of a people who lived a peaceful and happy life together for many generations—after they were visited and taught by the resurrected Christ.
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.13
How did these people manage to live such a peaceful life for many generations? The people embraced the teachings of the Savior, which became the standard by which they governed all their relationships, with God and with each other.
As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have come to understand that if we, who are followers of Jesus Christ, adopt and emulate his life and teachings as our standard of personal living and the norm by which we relate to other people, we would eradicate conflict in our families and communities and also bring happiness and peace in all the land, as these Nephites did in their time.
May I share with you five of the principles we have been taught that can help us to avoid conflict and contention.
The Apostle Paul taught that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”14
And Christ has said, “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.”15
Faith is a principle of action and power, and whenever we work toward a worthy goal, we are exercising our faith.16 When we believe in Christ, we have hope in what we do; we exemplify his attributes in our lives; and for these things, he blesses us.
In the course of our labors, as we exercise patience, meekness, and humility, with purity of heart, our spirituality will grow and flourish. Our actions can then transcend all human barriers, including cultural, economic, and political associations.
I have seen this type of faith in a branch in Salt Lake City, known as the Swahili Branch, where most of the members are refugees from Swahili-speaking countries of East Africa.17 These members have been joined by volunteer citizens of this country, who have given of themselves, their resources, and their time to teach these brothers and sisters and their families a variety of skills—such as how to live and travel in the USA, where to find schools and jobs, how to prioritize the family, and the importance of teaching the gospel in the home. When these volunteers initially meet these refugee families, they communicate through an interpreter, as many of these brothers and sisters are not yet fluent in the English language. The helpers soon learn a few words of the tribal dialects spoken by the refugees, which increases trust between them and enhances the learning and the understanding. Eventually, their relationship becomes cordial. These devoted helpers teach and work with these brothers and sisters, with much faith and diligence, to first, enable them to become rooted in Christ, and second, to settle down so they no longer see themselves as strangers in this land. At ward gatherings, for example, they enjoy eating each other’s food. Recently, I was delighted to see a photo of some of these sisters on the cover page of the general conference issue of the Ensign and Liahona, as they sang in the stake choir at the women’s session of conference.18 You can imagine how far they have come, through much love and much diligence made possible by the infinite power of God.
Elder Richard G. Scott counsels us: “Reach out to those living in adverse circumstances. Be a true friend. This kind of enduring friendship is like asphalt that fills the potholes of life and makes the journey smoother and more pleasant. … Welcome into your home others who need to be strengthened by such an experience. … Recognize the good in others, not their stains. At times a stain needs appropriate attention to be cleansed, but always build on his or her virtues.”19
The Savior teaches us, “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.”20
If we do this, any prejudices and fears we may have had will melt away, as our knowledge and our love for those we live among increases.
One of the main influences of the Holy Ghost is to help us find peace in this life and fill our hearts with love for ourselves and for others, through his guidance.
“By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”21
In a situation of developing conflict, the Holy Ghost may help us best when we deliberately think about the problem in advance. This counsel given to Oliver Cowdery may also apply to us:
“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.”22
We could therefore write down several possible actions to take that could help us avoid the contention. After pondering and deciding on the best action to take, we could humbly go to Heavenly Father in prayer to ask for his approval. He will send the Holy Ghost to provide a confirming witness and to guide us on actual things to do. To have the full benefit of that witness and guidance, we need to trust the Lord and his timing and be ready to do all that we can.
Prayer often goes together with fasting, especially when we are petitioning the Lord for a special blessing.
Prayer affirms our faith in our Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. It affirms our humility and our trust in the Savior’s atoning power to intervene on our behalf. In a letter to the Romans, Paul explained it this way: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. … And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God. … If God be for us, who can be against us?”23
The Lord also teaches us that when we are sincere and persistent in our prayers, we shall be answered.24
Who should we pray for?
Christ taught: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”25
A story told by President Howard W. Hunter when he was a bishop illustrates the workings of this principle. A member of his ward came to him to tell him there was a man in the congregation he did not like. President Hunter told the brother to go home and pray for this man morning and evening and then report back after two weeks. When the brother came back, he said that he had learned that the man had problems and needed help. He was going to help the man.26 Such experiences give us the hope to pray for those we have bad feelings against or those who have done wrong against us. Who knows? They probably need our help.
I wish to add here that most things that we fret about—what someone has said about us or done to us—do not contribute to their salvation or to ours. They are things of no consequence compared to what God has for all of us in his glorious realm. Our human exteriors may be different, but inside of us, we are the same. We feel bad when we are treated unfairly by others or when we are dismissed, not respected, or discriminated against. If thinking well of other people does not come easily to us, let us pray for this valuable gift. “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”27
If our thoughts are pure, the Spirit will confirm this reality to those we associate with. I have come to know that the Spirit of God does not lie.
Recently, I read an article in the Deseret News on prayer, by Kelsey Dallas, which I will summarize thus: She refers to prayer as a conflict resolution tool that couples can use to strengthen and establish peace in their marriages. Individual and joint prayer practices can lay the groundwork for relatively conflict-free companionships, especially when couples view God as a Deity who loves them and who can bless their relationship to be happy and successful. Such couples, as they pray daily, will call upon God to bless them to mind each other’s well-being.28
Suppose we have done our very best to live peacefully with our neighbors, but somehow conflicts arise. What shall we do?
Peter was interested in the answer to that question and asked: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”29
Following this pattern will enable us to resolve all disputes, find peace, and make many friends.
On this subject of forgiveness, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “We see the need for [forgiveness] in the homes of the people, where tiny molehills of misunderstanding are fanned into mountains of argument. We see it among neighbors, where insignificant differences lead to undying bitterness. We see it in business associates who quarrel and refuse to compromise and forgive when, in most instances, if there were a willingness to sit down together and speak quietly one to another, the matter could be resolved to the blessing of all. Rather, they spend their days nurturing grudges and planning retribution.”30
Many of us find it difficult to forgive those who have wronged us. We need to pray that we may be able to do so with the help of the Savior’s atoning power.
Those who have forgiven know the joy and freedom that attends forgiving. We are happier, less complaining, and pleasant to be around.
Speaking during the Sunday morning session of general conference two years ago, President Thomas S. Monson taught:
Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. …
May we begin now, this very day, to express love to all of God’s children, whether they be our family members, our friends, mere acquaintances, or total strangers. As we arise each morning, let us determine to respond with love and kindness to whatever might come our way.
President Monson also said,
We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot … love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. … We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.31
This truth, as taught by President Monson, is the perfect way to be at peace with other people, starting with our families. We start by acknowledging each other. Asking family members how they slept when they wake up in the morning brings a good spirit in the home.
Among people of the islands of the Pacific and in Africa (except in the cities), when you meet someone, you stop and greet them. You inquire after their families. In this way, you get to connect with the person and to establish a friendly rapport.
The Savior commands us to love all men:
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.32
I have found that love is a powerful tool in our hands. We are created to love and to be loved. But the spirit of love has been overtaken by worldly aspirations, such as the desire to be seen as being better than others, greed, lust, selfishness, pride, and other ungodly habits.
Our Savior Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. When he had been nailed on the cross, was experiencing extreme pain, and the soldiers were abusive to him, he prayed to the Father to forgive them, saying that they knew not what they were doing. What love! We need to have this kind of love in our hearts to live peacefully with other people.
As I grew up in a family of ten children, we sometimes disagreed with each other, but there were no prolonged hurtful feelings because our parents took care to instill a peaceful, loving environment in the home. When we grew up and each of us left home to settle down on our own, we continued working together cooperatively as we united in efforts to support our aging parents. This arrangement worked well until a few years ago when my father passed away.
The bond that held us together started to weaken. True to the patterns we read about in the Book of Mormon, groups started to form and faultfinding became a favorite pastime for some.
Being the oldest child of my parents, I listened to each one’s complaints and counseled with them individually over a number of years. But the situation continued to get worse. So, while preparing to go for our home leave last December, we decided we would try to bring peace between the various groups that had formed and called a family meeting.
To resolve the contention, everyone was given time to speak out their feelings without interruption. As each spoke, we realized that some of them had been hurting for a long time. They spoke earnestly as they addressed my husband, as if pleading with him to help. Next, my husband addressed each speaker, paraphrasing their complaints and asking if they agreed with the summary. Then he asked each one again, from the first speaker to the last one, what they were personally willing to do to bring peace, irrespective of what anyone else did.
Next, we discussed the responses using the wonderful scripture found in Philippians, which reads:
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.33
Concluding that family meeting, my husband thanked everyone for their openness and expressed hope that we would find peace in our lives by frequently referring to the wise counsel of the Apostle Paul. There was a spirit of great relief and peace at the end of the meeting. We observe that in the last four months since that meeting, we have not heard about any more contention, for which I am deeply grateful to the Lord.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in his address during the October 2014 general conference, counseled us, among other things, to follow after the things that make for peace as we live among other people; to practice civility when others have different opinions, to forgo contention and practice respect, and to be kind to those who choose not to keep the commandments of God. He emphasized that kindness is powerful.34
As much as we can, we should keep in touch with those we disagree with, especially family members. We let them know we love them by inviting them to family activities and finding good things to say about them. Given time, the Lord may soften their hearts. I believe that an important ingredient in the success of our family meeting is that we gave a special family gift to each of my siblings so that as they came to the meeting, no one was in any doubt about our feelings toward them.
When we have a troubled relationship, we need to ask ourselves these questions: What do I honestly desire for this relationship? What would I do if I were in their shoes? What am I willing to give up to establish peace?
This counsel from King Benjamin is helpful as it reminds us of the covenants we have made with God:
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember … his goodness … and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith. …
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God. …
And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.35
Let me summarize again the five principles we can apply to resolve conflict and contention in our associations:
First, faith in the Savior Jesus Christ is the beginning of a desire to trust the Lord in our circumstances, knowing that he will share our burdens and bring comfort to our souls.
Second, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ leads us to do those things that invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which can fill us with “hope and perfect love” toward all people and all things.36
Third, “diligence unto prayer” helps us to continue to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, to be filled with love, and to overcome the temptations of the adversary that may come through provocation to conflict.37
Fourth, filled with the love of God, we can not only forgive others but help to give them a vision and a better hope of what they can become.
Finally, filled with the love of God, we can transcend all barriers to peace, harmony, and unity with all people.
As I conclude my thoughts, I would urge each one of us to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ … and a love of God and of all men” and to heed the Savior’s counsel that contention is of the devil and should be done away with.38
May each one of us find love and peace wherever we are in the world that we may stand as true witnesses of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and through his atoning power be able to do all things.
This I leave with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.