Why followers of Christ must seek unity in divisive times of differing policies, politics and cultures

Amid a time of social distancing and isolation, civil unrest and political divides, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered timely and relevant messages to members during the 190th Semiannual General Conference.

“Life without God is a life filled with fear. Life with God is a life filled with peace,” President Russell M. Nelson declared during the women’s session.

Many general Church leaders offered counsel Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-4, on how members can be unified despite deep and contentious disputes in society and the world today.

During a time of anger and hatred in politics and policies, followers of Christ must learn to adhere to His “well-known but rarely practiced” teaching to “love your enemies,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, during the opening session. 

A family in Kenya participates in the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020.
A family in Kenya participates in the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“In a democratic government, we will always have differences over proposed candidates and policies. However, as followers of Christ we must forego the anger and hatred with which political choices are debated or denounced in many settings.”

Individuals learn to love his or her enemy or adversary by avoiding anger or hostility, increasing in the love of Christ, and by keeping the laws of his or her country. 

Loyalty to established law instead of temporary “allies,” or ideologies, is the best way to love enemies in seeking unity in diversity, President Oaks said.

“As I have lived for many years in different places in this nation, the Lord has taught me that it is possible to obey and seek to improve our nation’s laws and also to love our adversaries and our enemies. While not easy, it is possible with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gave this command to love and He promises His help as we seek to obey it.”

In his remarks, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said there is less contention and strife in society “when people love God with all their hearts and righteously strive to become like Him.”

This is a moment of particularly strong divisions, he noted. However, the Church “can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity,” he said.

Susana Gassant holds son Sainmavois, 1, as they watch the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from their home in West Valley City on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.
Susana Gassant holds son Sainmavois, 1, as they watch the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from their home in West Valley City on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Church culture comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although members and new converts often come from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, “we can be united in our love of and faith in Jesus Christ,” Elder Cook said.

Elder William K. Jackson noted that many of the world’s problems are a result of clashes between differing ideas and customs arising from culture. “But virtually all conflict and chaos would quickly fade if the world would only accept its original culture, the one we all possessed not so very long ago,” the General Authority Seventy said. The “greatest of all cultures” is founded on the Savior’s teachings and is available to everyone today.

“We can, indeed, all cherish the best of our individual earthly cultures and still be full participants in the oldest culture of them all — the original, the eternal culture that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Elder Jackson said.

Sister Michelle Craig of the Young Women general presidency quoted columnist David Brooks, who said, “Many of our society’s great problems flow from people not feeling seen and known.”

Jesus Christ, she continued, sees people deeply. “He sees individuals, their needs, and who they can become. Where others saw fishermen, sinners, or publicans, Jesus saw disciples; where others saw a man possessed by devils, Jesus looked past the outward distress, acknowledged him, and healed him.” 

Even amid individuals’ busy lives, they can follow the example of Jesus and see individuals — their needs, their faith, their struggle, and who they can become, Sister Craig said.

In offering a look at how to begin a thoughtful, deliberate and intentional pursuit of becoming more like the Savior, Elder Scott D. Whiting, a General Authority Seventy, said, “Truly, there is no other way to heal the wounds of broken relationships or of a fractured society than for each of us to more fully emulate the Prince of Peace.”

A family in India participates in the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020.
A family in India participates in the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Citing a meeting of the newly organized Relief Society on June 9, 1842, where the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “By union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God,” Sister Sharon Eubank of the Relief Society general presidency offered suggestions on how the women of the Church can increase unity in the world.

First, have mercy. “Let’s not judge each other or let our words bite. Let’s keep each other’s names safe and give the gift of mercy,” Sister Eubank said.

Second, “Make your boat swing.” In the sport of rowing, there is something called “swing,” which only happens when “all are rowing in such perfect unison that not a single action is out of sync.”

Such unity allows individuals to “be part of a collective force that changes the world for good.”

Third, unity takes work to create, but the Lord aids those efforts.

“I have full spiritual confidence that, as we seek ‘union of feeling,’ we will call down the power of God to make our efforts more whole,” she said.

A family listens to the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020.
A family listens to the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Heavenly Father’s “beloved daughters” have a crucial role in the establishment of Zion, a people who are “of one heart and one mind,” President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said during the women’s session.

“My experience has taught me that Heavenly Father’s daughters have a gift to allay contention and to promote righteousness with their love of God and with the love of God they engender in those they serve,” President Eyring said.

Faith in Jesus Christ and the full effects of His infinite Atonement will qualify the women of the Church — and those they love and serve — ”for the supernal gift to live in that sociality of a long-looked-for and promised Zion.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson called religion and the family crucial for flourishing, sustainable societies because they provide the virtues that undergird them: “Rooted in gospel principles, these virtues include integrity, responsibility and accountability, compassion, marriage and fidelity in marriage, respect for others and the property of others, service and the necessity and dignity of work, among others.”

Church members can contribute to the sustainability and success of the societies they live in, and their “most fundamental and enduring service will be to teach and live by the truths inherent in God’s great plan of redemption,” Elder Christofferson said.

Edvid Gassant and his sister Evelyn Gassant watch the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from their home in West Valley City on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.
Edvid Gassant and his sister Evelyn Gassant watch the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from their home in West Valley City on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued a call for people from every country around the world to unite in prayer. “No matter how you pray or to whom you pray, please exercise your faith — whatever your faith may be — and pray for your country and for your national leaders.” 

Today is “a major crossroads in history, and the nations of the earth are in desperate need of divine inspiration and guidance. This is not about politics or policy. This is about peace and the healing that can come to individual souls as well as to the soul of countries — their cities, towns, and villages — through the Prince of Peace and the source of all healing, the Lord Jesus Christ,” President Ballard said.  

Cameron Hancock, 12, and his family listen to a prayer while watching the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on television at their home in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Cameron Hancock, 12, and his family listen to a prayer while watching the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on television at their home in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News