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Gospel Q&A: How Can I Defend the Truth Without Being Contentious?

Gospel Q&A: How Can I Defend the Truth Without Being Contentious?

Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “How can I defend the truth without being contentious?”

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered? Send us an email at calledtoshare@ldsdaily.com or leave it in the comments below.

Gospel principles can sometimes seem to contradict one another. We are counseled to both get an education and to stay out of debt while also not putting off marriage or children, but to have the mother stay home with those children, if possible. These things can seem impossible to honor all at the same time, but because we have the counsel, we strive to do our best in all of these areas which ultimately leads to wise outcomes.

Being counseled to stand for truth and righteousness and defend the gospel while simultaneously avoiding contention can feel similarly impossible, but striving to do both honors the first and second great commandments:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22:37-39).

Don’t Avoid It

It can be tempting, in an effort to avoid all contention, to simply let slide false teachings we encounter. There may be times that this is appropriate, but Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has made it clear that this is not always the right solution.

“Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them.”

It may feel futile to defend what is being publicly mocked and scorned. To that, Elder Holland counseled:

“You may wonder if it is worth it to take a courageous moral stand in high school or to go on a mission only to have your most cherished beliefs reviled or to strive against much in society that sometimes ridicules a life of religious devotion. Yes, it is worth it, because the alternative is to have our houses left unto us desolate—desolate individuals, desolate families, desolate neighborhoods, and desolate nations.”

I imagine that Abinadi wondered how fruitful his teaching would be among the people of King Noah after already being kicked out of the city. He knew he wouldn’t be received well which is why he disguised himself before reentering the city, but he felt God calling him to preach His word, and he would be obedient.

And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings (Mosiah 12:1).

Abinadi went because he was obedient to the Lord’s call, but he may never have known in this life (unless through the Spirit) that Alma the elder, a priest in King Noah’s court, was listening and receiving his message. Taking a courageous stand to speak the truth doesn’t depend on if the right person is in the audience listening. What matters is that we are obedient to the voice of the Spirit directing us to speak.

It seems that Abinadi believed few, if any at all, were heeding his words:

But I must fulfill the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. And again, because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad (Mosiah 13:4).

Still, he soldiered on.

But I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved (Mosiah 13:9).

He said and did what he was called by God to do.

The Spirit can give us similar whisperings if we have the faith and courage to speak the truth.

Contention is Not of the Lord

When Jesus arrived among the Nephites, one of the first things he taught them was,

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.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away (3 Nephi 11:29-30).

President Dallin H. Oaks phrased it, “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”

So, back to our original dilemma. How do we stand up strongly in defense of truth without becoming contentious? How do we disagree without being disagreeable?

First, Remember the Real Person on the Other End of the Screen

Many of these debates become contentious because they are being held over social media. Most of us are not, as Nephi declared, “mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). Obviously, the written word can be very powerful (the Scriptures are a perfect example), but sometimes in a written discussion, it can be easy to fall into contention because we assume intent based on word choice that a tone of voice might have dispelled. If our declaration of truth has devolved into name-calling or dismissing the other person with broad-stroke stereotyping, we won’t be communicating with the Spirit and no hearts will be softened.

William Howard Taft summed it up, “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

Re-read your discussion thread. Read it to a spouse or friend. Does it sound harsh? Could it be misconstrued? Does it sound contentious? Does it convey the message intended? Better yet, can you have this discussion face-to-face or at least over the phone?

When it comes to teaching or discussing truth, it is worth it to take the time to get it right.

When it comes to opinion (not necessarily rooted in truth, just opinion), allow other people the space to hold a different opinion and let it go.

Second, Remember that Defending the Truth is More than Discussing It

Our intention to live in and defend the truth should not be limited to the words we speak or the beliefs we hold. Defending what we believe in means voting according to our conscience. It means donating to causes and organizations we support and whose platforms we agree with. It means donating time and other resources. It means our actions support the tenets we purport to believe. If we limit our title of liberty to the “What’s on your mind?” field for status updates, perhaps it is time to reconsider our realm of influence.

Third, Remember That There is ALWAYS a Kind Way to Say What You Need to Say

Everyone has heard someone say something blunt and rude and follow it with, “What? I’m just being honest!” Honesty is not a justification for meanness. We can be honest and kind, and this isn’t even one of those gospel principle paradoxes discussed earlier. We can simply choose to say what needs to be said in a kind, loving, sincere way. If we are resorting to rudeness, meanness, or bluntness to get our meaning across, we are missing the key to Christ-like communication. Honesty and kindness are not mutually exclusive.

And finally,  Rely on the Spirit

When we need to speak, the Spirit will drive us to it. Have the courage to respond. If it’s not the Spirit, but ego or pride instead, check yourself and seek for peace.

Standing for truth and righteousness while avoiding contention may seem like opposing principles, but so do justice and mercy appear to be opposing principles—and yet all are principles of God.

God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is Truth (John 14:6). Surely He has provided a way for us to live with both.

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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