The scriptures make it clear that there are times and circumstances when nations are both justified and obligated to "fight for family, for liberty and against tyranny, threat and oppression," said President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Still, Church members are "people of peace" and followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Church leader said in his Sunday morning address.
"This places us in the position of those who long for peace, who teach peace, who work for peace, but who are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our governments," he said. "Furthermore, we are a freedom loving people, committed to the defense of liberty whenever it is in jeopardy."
President Hinckley began by commenting on James W. Cawley, a U.S. Marine staff sergeant and former full-time missionary who was killed recently during the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
"Like so many others, [Brother Cawley] had grown up in the Church, had played as a school boy, had passed the sacrament as a deacon, and had been found worthy to serve a mission to teach the gospel of peace to the people of Japan," President Hinckley said. "He returned home, served in the Marines, married, became a policeman and was then recalled to active military duty to which he responded without hesitation.
"His life, his mission, his military service, his death, seem to represent the contradictions of the peace of the gospel and the tides war."
President Hinckley acknowledged his comments on war and peace were a sensitive subject for his international audience, including "those not of of our religious faith." He noted that the world is divided over the present situation and feelings run strong and the Church's global reach includes members from most of the nations who have argued over the war in Iraq.
"Our people have had feelings. They have had concerns."
War is not new, he said. Weapons and capabilities may have changed, but conflict over the ages have been waged over essentially the same issues. The Book of Revelation speaks of the war in heaven where Satan and his angels were cast out. The prophet Isaiah spoke further on that great battle.
People are sometimes prone to glorify the great empires of the past, but there is a darker side to each of them, President Hinckley said. There is a grim and tragic overlay of brutal conquest, subjugation, repression and astronomical cost in life and treasure.
"I think our Father must have wept as He looked down upon His children through the centuries as they have squandered their divine birthright in ruthlessly destroying one another," he said.
History has recorded the rise of tyrants who have oppressed their own people and threatened the world.
"Such is adjudged to be the case presently, and consequently great and coalition forces with sophisticated and fearsome armaments have been engaged in battle," President Hinckley said.
Many Church members are involved in the current conflict, he said. There are also mothers and other innocent civilians "who cling to their children with fear and look heavenward with desperate pleadings as the earth shakes beneath their feet and deadly rockets scream through the dark sky."
Casualties in this "terrible conflict" will continue, as will public protest. The question, he said, has been asked, "Where does the Church stand in all of this?"
"First, let it be understood that we have no quarrel with the Muslim people or with those of any other faith," President Hinckley said. "We recognize and teach that all the people of the earth are of the family of God. And as He is our Father, so we are brothers and sisters with family obligations one to another.
"But as citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders. They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally. Those in the armed services are under obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign. When they joined the military service they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound, and to which they have dutifully responded."
President Hinckley then recited the Twelfth Article of Faith, stating: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." But modern revelation states we are to "renounce war and proclaim peace." (Doctrine and Covenants 98:16.)
"In a democracy we can renounce war and proclaim peace," President Hinckley said. "There is opportunity for dissent. Many are speaking and doing so emphatically. That is their privilege. That is their right, so long as they do so legally. However, we all must be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which, I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation."
President Hinckley cited the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites recorded in Alma 43. The Nephites were inspired "by a better cause," and were not fighting for power, but for their homes, liberties, their wives and children and the freedom to worship. Such writings, he said, indicate there are times when nations have an obligation to fight for such rights.
The Church leader said he believes God will not hold men and women in uniform as agents of their government responsible for carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do. "It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression."
President Hinckley said Church members should never become "party to words or works of evil" concerning fellow members in various nations on one side or the other.
"Political differences never justify hatred or ill will," he said. "I hope that the Lord's people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties.
"Let us pray for those who are called upon to bear arms by their respective governments, and plead for the protection of heaven upon them that they may return to their loved ones in safety. To our brothers and sisters in harm's way we say that we pray for you."
President Hinckley asked that the Lord's singular comfort will be felt by those who mourn.
"We call upon the Lord, whose strength is mighty and whose powers are infinite, to bring an end to the conflict, an end that will result in a better life for all concerned," he said.
Even in an evil world, the Lord's children can live worthily of His protection. He counseled members to proclaim Christ's salvation and teach the gospel.
"This life is but a chapter in the eternal plan of our Father," President Hinckley said. "It is full of conflict and seeming incongruities. Some die young. Some live to old age. We cannot explain it. But we accept it with the certain knowledge that through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord we shall all go on living, and this with the comforting assurance of His immeasurable love."