The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looks on war with the greatest abhorrence, and the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ tell us that we should sue for peace, forgive those who wrong us, and love our enemies. Nevertheless, there are occassions when even God commands His people to go to war, and prophets have foretold wars and rumors of wars throughout all time, particularly before the Savior comes again. Throughout the Bible and the Book of Mormon God’s people have been commanded to fight to preserve their “religion, and freedom, and [their] peace, [their] wives, and [their] children” (Alma 46:12). Additionally, the Church proclaims, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12), and military service falls under this principle. However, “if Latter-day Saints must go to war, they should go in a spirit of truth and righteousness, with a desire to do good. They should go with love in their hearts for all God’s children, including those on the opposing side. Then, if they are required to shed another’s blood, their action will not be counted as a sin” (True to the Faith, 2004, 183–184).
Russell M. Nelson said of the subject, “During the Second World War, when members of the Church were forced to fight on opposing sides, the First Presidency affirmed that ‘the state is responsible for the civil control of its citizens or subjects, for their political welfare, and for the carrying forward of political policies, domestic and foreign. . . . But the Church itself, as such, has no responsibility for these policies, [other] than urging its members fully to render . . . loyalty to their country'” (“Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” Ensign, Nov 2002, 39).
Despite the necessity that sometimes arises for countries to go to war with one another, the Savior’s teachings still command His followers to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16). Several Church leaders have given counsel on how to obey both the commandment to “renounce war and proclaim peace” as well as to be subject to governments which may require their citizens to go to war. President Gordon B. Hinckley said of the Church and war, “First, let it be understood that we have no quarrel with the Muslim people or with those of any other faith. We recognize and teach that all the people of the earth are of the family of God. And as He is our Father, so are we brothers and sisters with family obligations one to another” (“War and Peace,” Ensign, 2003, 78). The gospel of Jesus Christ clearly teaches that all members of the human race are children of the same Heavenly Father and that we should love one another and recognize in each other our brothers and sisters. Why should we not, then, try every possible way to establish peace?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks points out, though, that “peace is more than the absence of war” and “can only come through the gospel of Jesus Christ” (“World Peace,” Ensign, May 1990, 71). He explains, “Gospel peace is the opposite of any conflict, armed or unarmed. It is the opposite of national or ethnic hostilities, of civil or family strife.”
President David O. McKay said, during World War II, “Peace will come and be maintained only through the triumph of the principles of peace, and by the consequent subjection of the enemies of peace, which are hatred, envy, ill-gotten gain, the exercise of unrighteous dominion of men. Yielding to these evils brings misery to the individual, unhappiness to the home, war among nations” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1953, p. 280).
“Peace is the product of righteousness,” Elder Oaks further declares. “We cannot have peace among nations without achieving general righteousness among the people who comprise them” (“World Peace,” Ensign, May 1990, 71).
Elder John A. Widtsoe elaborates: “The only way to build a peaceful community is to build men and women who are lovers and makers of peace. Each individual, by that doctrine of Christ and His Church, holds in his own hands the peace of the world.
“That makes me reponsible for the peace of the world, and makes you individually responsible for the peace of the world. The responsibility cannot be shifted to someone else” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, p. 113).
These teachings put into persepective how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can cope with going to war for their own countries. A sad consequence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being an international church is that its members sometimes find themselves on opposing sides of an international conflict. These people do not delight in the shedding of blood of their fellowmen, but, as President Hinckley declared, are at times “justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression” (“War and Peace,” Ensign, 2003, 78). There are many moving stories, from all sides of recent and past conflicts, of Saints who have gone to war and have brought the gospel and love of their fellowman with them:
LDS chaplains in World War II speak of their experiences serving in the military and how they saw the works of God manifest despite the horrible conditions of war.
German LDS Saints speak of their experiences and faith during and after World War II, as they lived in Eastern Germany and had limited access to Church headquarters.
LDS servicemen and -women speak of the love they have received for the people whose countries they are at war with in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they have been able to serve them.
General Roland R. Wright pilots his “Mormon Mustang” in three different wars, serving his country and his religion.
These amazing people, like countless others, know for themselves the truth Elder Oaks taught, “What can one person do to promote world peace? The answer is simple: keep God’s commandments and serve his children” (“World Peace,” Ensign, May 1990, 71). In times of war, when their countries and lives have been tortured by hate, strong Christians have been able to live this truth.
Elder Nelson declared, “Jesus taught people how to live with one another. He declared the two great commandments: first, to ‘love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,’ (Matt. 22:37) and the second, to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matt. 22:39).
“Then He added, ‘Love your enemies, [and] bless them that curse you’ (Matt. 5:44)” (“Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” Ensign, Nov 2002, 39).
Though war is a reality of our world in its current state, the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us how to “renounce war and proclaim peace.” We can do this in whatever situation we are in, even if we are part of the battle, by loving those around us, by serving our fellowmen, and by forgiving and loving our enemies.