—Mosiah 3:2, RE
You’ve heard the term, “Identity Politics,” haven’t you? It generally refers to the conformity of someone’s political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which that person identifies. It also applies to those politicians who lump people together, based on such groupings, and attempt to pander to group priorities.
This exercise in grouping and labeling completely dominates the political landscape during every election cycle. Politicians and their handlers calculate every statement, every speech, every appearance, to appeal to some specific group or another, presuming people only vote based on their group identity. Blacks vote a certain way. Gun nuts vote in a block. The poor vote for whoever promises them free stuff. And don’t forget to mention God frequently, so you can capture those Jesus freaks in the Midwest and South. Or that’s how the story goes, anyhow.
Humans, by nature, like to divide, categorize, compare and group; it is how we understand and interpret our world. Shared identity and common experience bind us together with others who understand our journey and struggles. Savvy institutions of all types use this “need to belong” as a marketing tool and a means of controlling behavior. The LDS church, for instance, capitalizes on the “us against the world” dynamic, combined with the “pioneer forefathers” shared history to forge a common identity among adherents. This is why LDS teenagers drag handcarts around the wilderness in costumes every summer.
The issue of identity politics has likely existed as long as politics in general. James Madison focused on it in Federalist Number Ten, where he wrestled with the question of “faction.” The problem he discussed was how to prevent any particular faction from dominating government and forcing through laws that served their interests while harming others. This is a very real threat in any free society, as any who manage to aggregate power or a majority vote will end up in charge and act in their own self interest. Madison anticipated this threat as our Constitution came into being, and argued for a constitutional solution to the problem.
He addressed two approaches to prevent damage from faction: either remove the causes of faction, or limit the possible effects. Ultimately, he concluded freedom itself is the cause of faction and must not be removed. Therefore, he proposed a republican form of government as a way of tempering faction’s effects. Elected representatives, he reasoned, would provide a layer of insulation between the control inherent in a majority of the populace, and the actual laws to be made. His solution isn’t perfect, however, and has become less so, as elected representatives have become increasingly immoral, corrupt, and unfit for office. Faction is now the name of the game, and identity politics continue unabated.
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So what’s the point of all this?
Those who have made a covenant with God must also grapple with the issue of identity. In the current assignment to write and adopt a single statement of priniciples, factions yet divide us and prevent the unity required for Zion. Writing yet another document is not the solution, because the document is not the problem. So let’s consider the issues of faction, division and identity. Fortunately, the Lord has a much better solution than even James Madison could offer.
A New Name
As it turns out, God places high importance on identity. Throughout history, those who enter into a relationship with God invariably receive a new identity as a result, often accompanied by a new name.
- Shem became Melchizedek
- Abram became Abraham
- Jacob became Israel
- Enos was called Blessed
An excellent group illustration comes from King Benjamin’s sermon at the temple. As his life came to an end, Benjamin commanded his son to gather all the people to the temple so Benjamin could address them one last time, to give them a new identity. He told his son, Mosiah:
For on the morrow I shall proclaim unto this my people out of mine own mouth that thou art a king and a ruler over this people, whom the Lord our God hath given us. And moreover I shall give this people a name that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem. And this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord. And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out except it be through transgression. (Mosiah 1:2 RE)During his sermon, which was given him by an angel, Benjamin taught his people of Jesus Christ with such power that they all fell to the earth, overcome by God’s spirit. With changed hearts and exceeding joy, they entered into a covenant to do God’s will and keep His commandments. Said Benjamin:
And now because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you, for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head, ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free; there is no other name given whereby salvation cometh. Therefore I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
And now it shall come to pass that whosoever shall not take upon them the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore he findeth himself on the left hand of God. And I would that ye should remember also that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out except it be through transgression; therefore take heed that ye do not transgress that the name be not blotted out of your hearts. I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called and also the name by which he shall call you. (Mosiah 3:2-3 RE)Note that Benjamin asked them to retain this new identity written in their hearts because it is the only name by which Christ will call His children; it is the only name by which they can be saved. All other names, groups, factions, associations and identities are subordinate to the name of Jesus Christ. And this is as it should be. God does not practice identity politics.
And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness, and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female and he remembereth the heathen, and all are alike unto God, both Jew and gentile. (2 Nephi 11:17)This brings us now to the Book of Mormon period we mislabel as “the Nephite Zion.” We mislabel it because there were NO Nephites in that blessed assembly.
Wait, what? No Nephites whatsoever?
Yes, that’s correct. We’ll get there. But first, let’s note what happened. It started with the people’s conversion to the Lord, which eliminated factions from the start:
And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them and every man did deal justly one with another and they had all things common among them. Therefore, there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:1 RE)Having given up their desire to contend, they also gave up the factions and identities of rich and poor, bond and free, with all equally partaking of the heavenly gift, regardless of former identity. The absence of contention allowed such love to dwell among the people, they even laid down their ethnic and lineage identities:
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people, and there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness, and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites or any manner of -ites, but they were in one the children of Christ and heirs to the kingdom of God. (4 Nephi 1:3 RE)And there you have it. There were no Nephites in the “Nephite Zion.” Nor were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites. They valued their identity as children of Christ far above their previous, divisive labels.
We should here note that when this society collapsed, it did so under the weight of divisions, factions and labels. It started with economic division of rich and poor factions, followed by many churches causing religious divisions, and finally the full reclaiming of ancestral enmity by re-application of the labels Nephite, Lamanite, and others. Having thus divided into factions, and re-embraced identities other than “children of Christ,” the people again had something over which they could contend, and ultimately fight to the deaths of millions, in a war of extinction.
It all came down to identity; and because of identity, it all came tumbling down. The moment any of them recognized “my people” vs. “your people” the seeds of destruction took root.
Faction or Covenant?
Those who entered into the covenant offered by the Lord last September received a new identity. Said the Lord:
Hear therefore my words: Repent and bring forth fruit showing repentance, and I will establish my covenant with you and claim you as mine.
Then by my law and my word they will be mine and I will be with and lead my people onward through the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, the Record of Heaven, the peaceable things of immortal glory, even the Holy Ghost which will abide with them, and you will be children of the Most High God, fellow servants and numbered with the congregation of the just. Therefore rejoice!
All you who have turned from your wicked ways and repented of your evil doings, of lying and deceiving, and of all whoredoms, and of secret abominations, idolatries, murders, priestcrafts, envying, and strife, and from all wickedness and abominations, and have come unto me, and been baptized in my name, and have received a remission of your sins, and received the Holy Ghost, are now numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.
And you shall be called the children of the Most High God, and I will preserve you against the harvest.
The Lord asks us to be one in our new identity and rejoice together, rather than valuing our old, Babylonian unbeliefs, sins, cares and longings inherent in the factions that used to identify us. Here are some of His statements:
Rejoice in me, and rejoice with your brethren and sisters who are mine also. Be one.
Flee from the cares and longings that belong to Babylon, obtain a new heart, for you have all been wounded. In me you will find peace and through me will come Zion, a place of peace and safety.
I have given to you the means to understand the conditions you must abide. I came and lived in the world to be the light of the world. I have sent others who have testified of me and taught you. I have sent my light into the world. Let not your hearts remain divided from one another and divided from me.
Be of one heart, and regard one another with charity.
Study to learn how to respect your brothers and sisters and to come together by precept, reason and persuasion rather than sharply disputing and wrongly condemning each other, causing anger. Take care how you invoke my name. Mankind has been controlled by the adversary through anger and jealously which has led to bloodshed and the misery of many souls. Even strong disagreements should not provoke anger nor to invoke my name in vain as if I had part in your every dispute.Abide in the Covenant
The Lord not only asks us to relinquish our old disputes and factions and come together in our new identity as His children, but He also asks us to eliminate division completely. He then commands us to “abide” in the covenant:
Receive my covenant and abide in it, not as in the former time when jarring, jealousy, contention and backbiting caused anger, broke hearts and hardened the souls of those claiming to be my saints.To “abide” means to dwell, tarry, and continue permanently; to remain and continue.
It is not enough to receive my covenant, but you must also abide it. And all who abide it, whether on this land or any other land, will be mine and I will watch over them and protect them in the day of harvest, and gather them in as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. I will number you among the remnant of Jacob, no longer outcasts, and you will inherit the promises of Israel. You shall be my people and I will be your God and the sword will not devour you.Along with obeying ALL Christ’s words, abiding in the covenant also means abiding in the new identity given us by Christ, and preferring it above all others.
Because the gospel is designed for internal application, I’ll use myself as a case study. I’m sure any politician looking at me would label me as white, American of English, Irish, French and Danish in extraction, middle class, college educated, Idaho resident, married, Christian, ex-LDS, return missionary, British car enthusiast, Mac user, blogger, business owner, alternative health practitioner, frequent flyer, pet owner, and dozens of other, possibly less-flattering, labels meant to categorize me and divide me from other people, so as to better appeal to my assumed biases.
And you know what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those labels or identities. I’m fine with them all, as far as they go, and freely admit they apply to me. But I’d trade away the whole lot of them in favor of “child of Christ.” And in fact I have. Though I may be all those things in that list, I hope to value my covenant identity above all others. Therefore, I’m wiling to lay down whatever history, biases, and prejudices that may come from my prior factions and labels, in favor of unity with Christ and his family. To the degree I put any other interest or identity above that one—that is the degree to which I do not abide in the covenant. Those other identities only bring “jarring, jealousy, contention and backbiting.”
And though I aspire to value my covenant identity above all others, I’m certainly not there yet. I’m trying every day to let go of my biases and seek to be of one heart with my fellow covenant holders. This does not require me to lose my individuality nor suppress my unique gifts. Unity does not require uniformity. It simply requires a shared common purpose and elimination of the desire to fight about it. Unique, God-given gifts and diversity of expression will yet exist, and be required, to establish Zion.
I still disagree with my brothers and sisters on some points, so I attempt to persuade kindly. If I cannot persuade, I am unwilling to contend. I have the Book of Mormon to inform me where the route of contention leads.
Among those who made the covenant, we can find every label under the sun, if we want to. We can divide ourselves as Jews and gentiles, black and white, bond and free, male and female, rich and poor, well known and unknown, teachers and learners, free spirits and rigid rule followers, and so on, ad nauseam. But the Lord has asked us to drop those factions, stop viewing and treating each other according to those Babylonian labels, and be “in one the children of Christ and heirs to the kingdom of God.”
This ideal is represented well in the epigraph to the newly released Teachings and Commandments (Volume 3 of the Restoration Edition Scriptures):
I would rather submit to the decision of the group than insist that my view be followed. For me harmony between brethren is more important than getting what I think best to be followed. I believe harmony can lead to much greater things than can merely enforcement of even a correct view. I know how difficult it is to have a correct view, because of how often I have been corrected by the Lord. Sometimes I am humiliated by my foolishness when the Lord reproves me. Humiliation can lead to humility, but my experience is that the humiliation is accompanied by shame, whereas humility can proceed with a clear conscience.
My experience with others leads me to conclude that if we can have one heart first, eventually we can likewise come to have one mind. But if we insist on having one mind at the outset, we may never obtain one heart together.
Said the Lord in the Answer and Covenant:—Denver Snuffer
For the sake of the promises to the Fathers will I labor with you as a people, and not because of you, for you have not yet become what you must be to live together in peace. If you will hearken to my words I will make you my people and my words will give you peace. Even a single soul who stirs up the hearts of others to anger can destroy the peace of all my people. Each of you must equally walk truly in my path, not only to profess, but also to do as you profess.One More Identity
I believe the new identity given us by the Lord actually reflects a prior identity we lost, or temporarily forgot, when we came to this earth. We find ourselves standing at the pinnacle of history, placed to not only see Zion established, but to actually participate in its establishment if we will choose to do so. It’s no mistake or coincidence that YOU are situated where you are. God did not send lead to do what He knew only iron could accomplish. You were most probably sent here with the specific mission to get this done so the world itself could be recovered from its lost and fallen state.
Do you believe that? I do.
I believe God knew exactly what would be required and who He could trust to get the work done. I believe we all have a common purpose here that far surpasses our temporary squabbles over the placement of words. There is yet an immense amount of work to be done, and we were sent here to do it. Shouldn’t we be about it? Time is short and the clock is ticking.
Like mules hitched to a common plow, we can pull together or we can kick against one another. But we can’t do both. As the old farmer saying goes, “You can’t pull if you’re kicking, and you can’t kick if you’re pulling.”
The trouble we face is amnesia. We have forgotten who we are and why we came. From our very birth here, we obtained labels that divide us into factions and prevent cooperation. Our Lord invites us to drop those labels; to remember; to recover our original and most important identity, to awaken, arise, and accomplish what He sent us here to do. He invites us to abide in His covenant, valuing it above all.
In the inspired words of Eliza R. Snow:
O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
I had learned to call thee Father,
Through thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.
—2 Nephi 11:16 RE