Verbal Violence in defense of the Church — is it wrong or not?

February 1, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 10:45 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I was following links and Clark’s blog and came across this post where he made mention of his dislike for the tone of some of the writers over at FARMS. He cited this article on this subject from Sunstone. Indeed, it does seem that some FARMS reviewers have taken aggressive – even verbally violent approaches to this war of ideologies. I have mixed feelings on the subject of appropriate approaches to combating attacks on the Church or its doctrines. Since I like to use the scriptures as my primary knowledge base, I decided to dig into them to see if they support or condemn vitriolic approaches to fighting for the gospel.

The case against using verbal violence to fight verbal violence –

This one is easy. Jesus taught in the Book of Mormon that “Contention is of the devil”. In the New Testament he taught that when attacked we should “turn the other cheek”. In modern times he has taught “if men shall smite you…bear it patiently and revile not against them”. These all seem like pretty straight forward commandments on how to deal with violence against us – and one could assume that includes written attacks.

The case for using verbal violence to fight verbal violence –

The same D&C passage cited above goes on to explain that if the Saints are continually attacked they may eventually fight back and “thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified.” (Verse 31) Apologists could make a claim that after 170+ years of constant attacks against the church that “eventual” day came long ago.

The Nephites regularly defended themselves against their attackers and Mormon explained:

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)

Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.(Alma 48:14)

The Book of Mormon further explained that defending oneself in one’s own land is acceptable to God:

But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands. (3Nep. 3:21)

A case could be made for the men at FARMS doing just that – defending themselves on their own doctrinal territory against aggressive invaders (accusers) who attacked from without with the hope of bringing the church to destruction.

Just too good at their job?

Reading the Sunstone article I couldn’t help get the feeling that the real complaint was that men like Brothers Peterson and Midgley were so aggressive in their defense of the Church that it was overwhelming their opponents. It reminded me of the complaints BYU football used to get for running up the score on the hapless WAC opponents they faced. This may not be the case, but that was the sense I got.

This is not without scriptural precedent either. I get the feeling that brother Midgley is somewhat of a Teancum character – brash, aggressive, and perhaps a bit overzealous when it comes to looking for a fight. (I have no idea if this is true, but tales of direct confrontations in book stores, etc. make him sound that way.) The Nephites warriors often were better fighters than their opponents too:

But behold he met with a disappointment by being repulsed by Teancum and his men, for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites. (Alma 51:31)

I’m sure the Lamanites would have preferred opponents who acted more like the people of Ammon. Instead they got hardened, butt-kicking, and semi-crazy warriors like Teancum as opponents. The Lamanites complained about their opponents too:

And if it so be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not. (Alma 54:22)

There is no mention of hardcore warriors like Teancum and friends being considered anything but heroes by the mighty man of God, Captain Moroni, or by Mormon.

What does God think of the “violence”

Perhaps the final test is found in D&C 98:

And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. (Verse 33)

As I’ve written before, God doesn’t seem to care about death and violence as much as we want to think. All he cares about is the souls of men. If this verbal violence between some FARMS men and enemies of the church doesn’t damage their own souls and helps shield the souls of others, it seems entirely possible that the Lord does not disapprove of such defensive “contention”.

There’s nothing like working for a Church owned University with support from the brethren to give you the feeling that the Lord really has commanded you to fight manfully against those who would do verbal (and other) violence to the Church…

What do you think? Are men like Brother Peterson and Brother Midgely going too far? Or are they just modern day Teancums doing the dirty warrior work for the people of God?


  1. I tend to think that any intellectual discussion that digresses to bombastic, vitriolic and/or personal attacks are no longer valid. Violence was employed by the Nephites to prevent violence against their loved ones and their lands. Verbal violence, as you say, does nothing to prevent harm or further attacks. It simply exacerbates already tenuous relations, fills people with negative emotions and pride, and encourages further aggression.

    There is no way to win such a conflict. If civil discourse is the medium of exchange, there is a high likelihood that a spirit of understanding and empathy may prevail (though disagreements likely remain). However, this is not the desired end of many. 

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 2, 2005 @ 10:20 am

  2. I absolutely agree that civil and respectful discussions are the only desirable exchanges — just as peace is always more desirable than war. The question is how should we (and more specifically FARMS) defend ourselves against vicious and violent verbal attacks. There is no question that individual shouting matches are wrong and counter-productive, but what about these more official (and less obviously personal) venues? Can they agressively, defend the faith, even if it comes off as a bit rough and tough — even bordering on disdainful?

    The published FARMS reviews don?t obviously fall into the category that you described ? ?bombastic, vitriolic and/or personal attacks?. The primary question still unanswered for me is whether the tone of some of the more aggressive FARMS reviews is, in fact, inappropriate.

    The complaints in the Sunstone article seem to be that some reviewers at FARMS:
    1. Fight back at all
    2. Seem very aggressive and passionate in their defense
    3. Seem to enjoy the battle
    4. Make fun of enemies of the church

    I have read lots of the FARMS reviews and would concur that all these things happen. I just am not at all sure that any of that is undesirable or wrong.

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 2, 2005 @ 11:21 am

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    Comment by Anonymous — February 2, 2005 @ 1:36 pm