Sarah Jane Weaver: What I have learned about the quality Church leaders exemplify, teach in a time defined by division

My job as a reporter affords me a unique view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through what I often refer to as the Church News window.

From this perspective, I have written about and watched senior Church leaders. They come to their service with unique strengths and abilities, each walking away from careers as leaders in medicine, law, education or business.

But they all have something in common too.

They are kind. They are very, very kind.

That kindness compels them to have conversations with strangers in airports or on planes when they are tired. It drives them to shake one more hand or smile at one more child. On a few occasions, it has guided their reactions when I have fallen short in my responsibilities to document their ministries as part of a living record of the Restoration.

They are leading the Church during a unique time in history — a time defined by divisiveness. Even inside the Church, we find ourselves disagreeing about our approaches to the global COVID-19 pandemic, politics and social issues.

A few months ago, hundreds of Church News readers wrote to me with strong and legitimate opinions about an article I had published.  As I read the differing thoughts from so many active, faithful Latter-day Saints, I was filled with one consuming conclusion: All were right. All represented virtues. All communicated a thoughtful, reasoned and powerful message about the issues intersecting with their lives and defining their perspectives.

I learned a simple lesson. Avoiding contention is most difficult when colliding opinions each contain truth.

It may be the reason we find ourselves as members of one Church surrounded by divisions.

Looking forward with prophetic vision, senior leaders gave us a blueprint for this time just a few months ago in April 2021 general conference.

Conflict, contention and general incivility abound in the world today, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“We are facing a kind of third world war that is not a fight to crush our enemies, but a conscription marshaling the children of God to care more about each other and to help heal the wounds we find in a conflicted world,” he said.

“The great depression we now face has less to do with the external loss of our savings and more to do with the internal loss of our self-confidence, with real deficits of faith, hope and charity all around us.” 

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified that God cares about all His children, even in hours of turmoil, confusion and chaos.

During his youth — another time the world was drowning in cynicism, bitterness, hatred and fear — the gospel message “transcended politics, history, grudges, grievances and personal agendas,” he said. “It is astonishing what we can learn when we look a little closer at our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation and exaltation, the plan of happiness, for His children.”

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said kindness is a fundamental, healing gospel principle that can heal hearts emotionally, spiritually and even physically.

We should remember the words of the Primary song “I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus”: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do.”

Latter-day Saint adults have the responsibility to be role models of kindness, inclusion and civility — “to teach Christlike behavior to the rising generation in what we say and how we act. It is especially important as we observe a marked societal shift towards division in politics, social class and nearly every other man-made distinction,” Elder Stevenson said.

Jesus Christ invites all to become like Him and to make His inn — or His Church — a refuge for all from life’s storms, taught Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Lord’s disciples come to His inn with imperfections, he said. “Yet, we all have something needed to contribute. Our journey to God is often found together. We belong as a united community.”

There are so many things to talk about right now — immunizations, masks, how politicians are doing or whether they are qualified to serve. There are so many things to care about right now —  political agendas, racial tensions, economic stresses and LGBTQ issues, to name just a few — that may look different for every family and circumstance. There are more than enough places to share our opinions — on social media, with our families and even at Church.

But we can be united in our belief in Jesus Christ and His Church and our resolve to follow His prophets.

“We have powerful forces that seek to draw us apart, dividing us from the unity that is our strength. These forces are relentless,” said President Dallin H. Oaks in Seattle, Washington, last week.

Then he gave us the answer. It is the ultimate kindness. “We are all children of God, and that is our most important characteristic. We need to unite in love.”

During general conference, President Russell M. Nelson shared the lessons he has learned during the pandemic.

One lesson reflects the kindness that has defined so much of his ministry.

“We need each other,” he said.