One of the challenges for me as I gradually prepare to return to the United States, after my eight years in China, is the animosity here. Too many people treat those who disagree with them on some issues as inherently bad people who deserve to be hated and cast out or silenced. When noted figures die, there can be rejoicing over the death if that person was on the unenlightened side of an issue or two. I’ve seen families divided in animosity over political or moral differences, where activists escalate issues into matters of absolute right and wrong, and feel obliged to denounce those who they think are wrong on some issue, as if their views are self-evident truth with no room for debate. If you disagree, you’re not just wrong or stupid, you’re an enemy.
In one unnecessary schism between people who once were close, I saw a reasonable plea for civility in dialog be overtly rejected with the explanation that appeals to civility are how oppressors secure their privilege, silence opposition, and stop “progress.” Sigh. It’s becoming a difficult country for people that are used to healthy debates on a wide variety of topics. Now the key skill seems to be avoiding conversations on any topic that might be important to someone lest a slip of the tongue or a sincerely expressed dissenting opinion result in outrage and hate. Too many seem to lack the power to imagine that those who disagree might not be demonic puppy slayers, but reasonable people who see things differently. This applies to social issues, politics, religion, and everything else.
Within the Church, it’s important for conservative members like myself to remember that those with different views on the Restoration, Joseph Smith, the scriptures, and so forth may not be apostates seeking to lure others onto the road to spiritual oblivion. In many cases, I’ve found that I was painfully wrong when I assumed bad intentions of someone with strongly different viewpoints or who did things that offended me. I am not saying that it’s wrong to defend core principles or to question bad decisions or seemingly errant doctrines, but rather that I’m learning that it’s often a mistake to consider those on the other side of an argument to be enemies. Seeing them as brothers and sisters with a reasonable but different (and possibly dead wrong) viewpoint seems like the more reasonable and charitable position, one that is not easy for me to live up to. But I want to overcome that.
If we are going to learn anything from the Book of Mormon, I suggest it should be the message that Christ emphasized right at the beginning of His ministry to the Nephite and Lamanite peoples of the ancient Americas, as recorded in 3 Nephi 11. Here the Savior addressed the issue of baptism, which had been a topic of contention among the Nephites. He explained the doctrine and practice of baptism, and then warned them against the spirit of contention that had been too common in their religious disputes:
 And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
 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.
 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
The Book of Mormon illustrates in many ways how the Adversary uses contention as a tool to achieve his ends, including contention among people who fashion themselves as righteous and orthodox. Seeing those who disagree with us as enemies and feeling anything close to hate or anger toward them may be falling into a trap meant to hurt us all. There are genuine enemies and people against whom we need protection, but too often, our treatment of others as enemies is unjustified and dangerous.
A beautiful story about changing one’s feelings toward apparent enemies comes from the October 2018 General Conference talk of M. Joseph Brough, “Lift Up Your Head and Rejoice“:
To help us travel and triumph over our hard times with such glimpses of eternity, may I suggest two things. We must face hard things, first, by forgiving others and, second, by giving ourselves to Heavenly Father.
Forgiving those who may have caused our hard thing and reconciling “[our]selves to the will of God” [2 Nephi 10:24] can be very difficult. It can hurt most when our hard thing is caused by a family member, a close friend, or even ourselves.
As a young bishop, I learned of forgiveness when my stake president, Bruce M. Cook, shared the following story. He explained:
“During the late 1970s, some associates and I started a business. Although we did nothing illegal, some poor decisions, combined with the challenging economic times, resulted in our failure.
“Some investors filed a lawsuit to recover their losses. Their attorney happened to be a counselor in my family’s bishopric. It was very difficult to sustain the man who seemed to be seeking to destroy me. I developed some real animosity toward him and considered him my enemy. After five years of legal battles, we lost everything we owned, including our home.
“In 2002, my wife and I learned that the stake presidency in which I served as a counselor was being reorganized. As we traveled on a short vacation prior to the release, she asked me whom I would choose as my counselors if I were called as the new stake president. I did not want to speak about it, but she persisted. Eventually, one name came to my mind. She then mentioned the name of the attorney we considered to have been at the center of our difficulties 20 years earlier. As she spoke, the Spirit confirmed that he should be the other counselor. Could I forgive the man?
“When Elder David E. Sorensen extended to me the call to serve as stake president, he gave me an hour to select counselors. Through tears, I indicated that the Lord had already provided that revelation. As I spoke the name of the man I had considered my enemy, the anger, animosity, and hate I had harbored disappeared. In that moment, I learned of the peace that comes with forgiveness through the Atonement of Christ.”
In other words, my stake president did “frankly forgive” him, like Nephi of old [1 Nephi 7:21]. I knew President Cook and his counselor as two righteous priesthood leaders who loved one another. I determined to be like them.
I love how the power of the Jesus Christ can help us overcome the natural man’s tendency to hate and treat adversaries or opponents as enemies. In some cases, that victory is a true miracle and of the greatest miracles that occur in this life. To love those and forgive those whom we think have wronged us or are dead wrong on a critical issue important to us is a blessing that brings peace and heals relationships. We need more of that in the world these days.