Today’s guest post is from Andrew Ainsworth. I find it significant that Christ’s ultimate prayer in Gethsemane was for unity, and that unity is the ultimate goal of Eastern religions as well (they even take unity to the metaphysical level, viewing the ultimate unity as having our individual souls cease to be independent entities and to merge with the whole of existence).
One thing I’ve thought a lot about over the years is what we should unite around. Christ prayed that we would be one with God, and one with Him, and one with each other. So one could say that we are to unite around “God’s will,” whatever that may be. However, because we all have different perspectives, we inevitably disagree about what “God’s will” is. As a result, the mechanics or methodology of how to achieve that desired “oneness” has proved elusive to Christendom and the world at large. Which brings me back to my original question: If we are to unite, what are we to unite around?
From an LDS perspective, it seems the fact that God allowed there to be a “war in Heaven” demonstrates that God does value some principles above even the principle of unity, and that those principles are what we are to unite around. It seems at least one of the principles that God values above unity is the agency to believe and say and do what one feels is right. Thus, unity is the goal, but God values the principle of agency above even the principle of unity, and therefore will not sacrifice or infringe upon our agency to achieve that desired unity.
We may not agree with each others’ views or actions, but we can be united in our belief that each of us has that agency. As an earthly example, that is precisely the sort of unity—the unity in our right to disagree with one another—that unites the United States. Which also goes to show how much disagreement can be tolerated amongst a “United” people.
I’m also cognizant that calls for “unity” are often employed by those in power who wish to quash any dissent and discourage people from exercising their agency. Earthly rulers have long been fond of calling for unity whenever their policies become unpopular. Those in power cry for unity on the assumption that unity must mean accepting whatever they hand us and keeping our mouths shut. This sort of cynical attempt to use a call for unity as a tool of manipulation and control is something I think we need to look out for as well. “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” was the desire of Hitler and all other totalitarians before and after him. It was the desire of Lucifer according to LDS scripture. Tyrants want us to unite around the principle of their authority, rather than uniting around the inviolable principle of our individual agency. In their view, unity means keeping our mouths shut, rather than being united in our right to voice our disagreement with one another.
I’ve often heard apologists, and general authorities, cite the goal of unity to excuse the persistence of church policies that seemed obviously un-Christian (e.g., the priesthood ban against blacks), or to discourage members from publicly voicing their disagreement with such church policies, on the theory that unity (which they seem to define as a lack of dissent) is a more important principle than, say, not treating black people like they are the inferior creations of a racist God who is, as it turns out, a respecter of persons. When apologists make this argument to defend the persistence of that un-Christian policy, it has always seemed odd to me that they assume God would prefer having his children be united in sharing gross misconceptions about His character handed down to them by those in Authority, rather than tolerating some honest disagreement amongst His children in His church in the hopes that those in power might come to a more perfect understanding of who He really is. To be honest, this has caused me to question whether the GAs’ concept of “unity” is in harmony with the Lord’s, or whether it more closely resembles that of Lucifer and other would-be tyrants. In saying that, I don’t ascribe any Satanic influence or motivation to the GAs. But it is possible for all of us to forget godly principles, especially agency, when we are desiring to influence others and to control an institution.
A church can choose to unite around any number of principles. Christians unite around Christ. Catholics take it a step further by uniting around Christ and the Pope. Similarly, Mormons unite around Christ, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and a belief in living prophets, coupled with an expectation that you support, or at least refrain from publicly disagreeing with, their teachings and policies. A belief in Christ makes you a Christian, but you’re required to believe in Joseph Smith and his “Restoration” to become a Mormon or go to the temple. And you must also accept the fact that you cannot publicly disagree with Church leaders’ teachings or policies without having it cost you your membership—all in the name of “unity.”
Are we united around the right things? If not, what are the right things to unite around?