Voting for Peace

Religion for Peace and Violence

In October 2002, Russell M. Nelson spoke these words:

Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does the Lord expect of us? As a Church, we must “renounce war and proclaim peace.” As individuals, we should “follow after the things which make for peace.”

I was a graduate student watching as the United States President was leading us to war on what was evident at the time, and confirmed beyond doubt in later years, bad or false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. I was motivated to work for peace and to understand how we might achieve peace. How should we respond to religiously justified violence?

In this period I went to a debate, moderated by a political science professor, between representatives of two politically active student groups. The topic was whether we should go to war to stop Saddam Hussein’s abuses of power, or whether we should stay out of Iraq. Mostly it wasn’t a very subtle debate, and while better informed than your average political discussion with friends, I didn’t get much out of it. Except for this. I submitted a question that the moderator selected for further debate. I asked, what ways might we peacefully intervene to resolve the problems? Neither side had anything to say to that. It was intervene militarily or stay out (or use coercive economic pressures, but both sides agreed that was failing). However, the moderating professor indicated pleasure in the question, and I went to talk with him afterward. He recommended a book to me: Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Terror in the Mind of God takes you into the thoughts of perpetrators and proponents of religious violence through interviews with proponents of a variety of violent ideologies and with some who perpetrated the acts. One thing stuck with me from reading this book: