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19 June 2015

Mormon Bible Study: Should Christians Fight?

I am fortunate enough that I was born and raised in an excellent family. My parents will celebrate their 40th Anniversary next year, and they're just cute. Among the many things they worked hard to teach my siblings and me, they taught us not to hit. We don't hit; it's not nice. We don't solve our problems by fighting.

I grew up, and I married a martial artist. He believes that sometimes, we should fight.

I eventually came to a point where I was feeling significant internal conflict between these two ideas, and in that space where I struggled to know what was right, I turned to the scriptures to find out what they say about fighting. It wasn't what I expected.

First, the sixth Commandment:

Thou shalt not kill. -Exodus 20:13

I always thought that was pretty cut and dried. But right there, in the Old Testament, still in Moses's time, I started to notice some apparent conflict: The Lord gave this commandment, but then He also said:

Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.
-Deut. 2:24 (emphasis added)

And that was not the only time that He explicitly commanded Israel into battle - into killing. Now, we know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so I was confident that these things could be brought into harmony with each other. The beginning of that is to consider the meaning of the Hebrew word, ratsach, that was used in Exodus 20:13.

"Ratsach means 'to kill, murder, slay.' (Strong's Concordance, 266)" This same word is translated into various English words, the most frequent being, "slayer" (16 times), and "murderer" (14 times). From the ways that this word is used in other passages, it's pretty safe to say that this passage could have been rendered as, "Thou shalt not murder." This was a good beginning for settling the question of whether or not fighting is appropriate for a Christian.

Another place to look for guidance is the life of Christ. And when I do that, I notice that it's not all peace-love-joy. Christ frequently incurred the ire of people around Him, notably the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Sanhedrin, groups which included the priesthood leaders of the Jewish faith of the time.  Indeed, Christ warned the Apostles as He sent them out that they should expect serious trouble:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother...

Christ, Himself, did not shy away from conflict, occasionally including physical conflict.

Of course, the was not the only way that He solved problems. In fact, the scriptures give us a lot of insight into when, and perhaps more importantly, how conflict is to be conducted. As is usually the case, the Lord has very high standards for where our hearts should be when we find ourselves in a conflict situation. There are whole collections of scriptures that deal with our conduct with our fellow men, and it is clear that while fighting is a possibility, it's definitely not the only one, nor is it the first thing we should try. There also aren't any, "well, you were fighting, so we'll give you a pass" passages in scripture. In fact, we are commanded to love our enemies. Christ had high praise for peacemakers. He commands us to not only be slow to anger, but warns that anger may endanger our salvation. We do not solve all our problems by fighting, nor even most of them. However, though we can expect that, if we are obedient, the Lord will fight our battles, we can also expect to have a hand in our own deliverance:

Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.
-Alma 60:11

In fact, the Nephites considered self-defense to be a duty that they owed to God:

And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.
-Alma 43:46 (emphasis added)

But what about the martial arts, specifically? Does it matter what type of  self-defense we are learning? A concerned acquaintance recently shared an article with me that suggests that the Eastern martial arts are hopelessly contaminated by Buddhist and Zen philosophy and should be avoided by followers of Christ. At first glance, the concern is understandable, but I do not personally believe that all martial arts should be avoided simply because they grew up in non-Christian cultures. Brigham Young addressed the issue when he said:

Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. (Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, chapter 2)

Certainly, dealing with non-Christian traditions requires care and the spirit of discernment, but members of the Church who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost need not shrink away from truth found outside of our own heritage. The Holy Ghost's mission is to guide us to all truth! By this same logic, we could condemn the medical sciences as being hopelessly contaminated with secularism. It makes as much sense. But Brigham Young taught us that:

If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. (Teachings of the Presidents: Brigham Young, chapter 2) (emphasis added)

We know that the Lord speaks to all nations; it should not come as a surprise that some truth can be found in the traditions of all peoples. I know, now, from experience, that martial arts contain a great deal of truth and knowledge about how the human body works, and that the philosophies that have developed around the art I have personally studied also contain more than a little bit of truth about things that are spiritual in nature. This also should not be a big surprise, as the distinction between the physical and the spiritual is largely artificial.

So, yes, I think that there is solid justification for Christians to fight in certain situations -even a duty that they be prepared to do so- and the martial arts are one viable option for learning how to go about doing it.


Rozy Lass said...

Very good analysis, thanks for sharing.

Dorine said...

Nicely thought out. :)

Anne Chovies said...

I've always found it interesting what the preacher said about a time and a season for everything. I agree that the scriptures make it clear that there are times to receive reviling without returning it and times to stand up and not take it. The words of Zenos on prayer also add to what you've said here. Sometimes the Lord turns our enemies toward us (Alma 33:4) and sometimes he doesn't (Alma 33:10). I like what you've said about relying on the Spirit to know which is appropriate for whatever the situation. You can't go wrong if you follow the Spirit, even though that can sometimes require great faith and trust.


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