Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mormons and debating: What does the church really say?

This post was written for fellow Mormons, although anyone is welcome to read it if they choose.

I have sometimes heard Mormons claim that the church is against debating. Usually, they cite a scripture such as this one: "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 11:29) Other popular scriptures include the Lord saying that men "should not contend one with another" (2 Nephi 26:32) and should "cease to contend one with another" (D&C 136:23).

First, let me assure my fellow Mormons that I support these scriptures and the principles taught therein. But these scriptures do not mean that one should never contend or debate. As evidence of this, I submit a number of scriptures that make explicit exceptions. Here are a few of them:

"Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil." (D&C 18:20, emphasis added).

"Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord." (D&C 117:13, emphasis added).

"Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech." (D&C 112:5, emphasis added).

"But thus saith the Lord, even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children." (1 Nephi 21:25, emphasis added).

These explicit exceptions make clear that there are times when it is appropriate to contend, and there are circumstances when the Lord himself will do so.

Please don't misunderstand me. I generally do not support Bible-bashing, and I acknowledge that debates can sometimes get out of control. I do not think that debating is appropriate to all situations; and I am not trying to convince any fellow Mormons to enter debates, particularly when they don't want to.

But it is clear from the scriptures mentioned that there are times when debating is justified; and I will continue to engage in debate when I think it is interesting, politically wise, or otherwise important to do so.


  1. Jeff, I like what you've said here. In my opinion the key is to neither take, or give, offense when debating. The last thing we should ever do is get in a fight over the gospel. Did you read where, several months ago, a group of people were arrested in Ogden because they ended up in some kind of fight over saving seats in sacrament meeting? Talk about COMPLETELY missing the point. But to discuss subjects with people who have different opinions can be both beneficial and enlightening. The key is to keep a lid on it.

    1. Well said Karl. (These Utah Mormons!)


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