Primary among the teachings of Christ were the “great” commandments: to love God and to love each other. While seemingly a simple concept, the second commandment has proved to be surprisingly difficult to follow.
Love of fellow man was a constant focus of Christ’s teachings. He taught, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). He even admonished us to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
What makes this commandment so difficult? I suspect that it is because we find it easiest to love those who are like us, but loving even our nearest family and friends can at times be a challenge.
A greater challenge is that we must live in a world of people who do not share our beliefs and values. The scriptures give us instruction about keeping the commandments while living among those of different beliefs and practices. Of particular note are teachings about contention.
An account in the Book of Mormon describes a dispute among the people as to the proper manner of baptism. Christ clarified how the ordinance was to be performed and then continued:
“There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be 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.” (3 Nephi 11:28, 29)
The Bible also teaches that we should “follow after the things (that) make for peace” (Romans 14:19) and “(speak) the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), “for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has spoken of the challenge of living with differences among the people with whom we work and live. He taught that even while we try to avoid contention, we need not compromise our commitment to our values or to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regarding public discourse, President Oaks offered the following counsel. “Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions.”
Further, he said, “When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.”
Noting the Savior’s teaching that contention is a tool of the devil, President Oaks commented on some of the current language and practices of politics: “Living with policy differences is essential to politics, but policy differences need not involve personal attacks that poison the process of government and punish participants.”
We need to eliminate negative, hateful communications and practice civility in expressing and listening to differences of opinion. While we may not be able to affect the national tone, we can practice greater civility and respect in our community. The ability to engage in civil discourse is one that can be learned – its basis is respect and a recognition that we are all different. And that we all have the right to be heard.
And while we must live with differences, it is most important to eliminate contention and practice respect for differences in our families and personal relationships. Only when we can truly love and respect those closest to us can we extend those attitudes toward others.
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.