Several years ago a principle of an elementary school committed an act of theft that was deemed criminal in nature. He was released from his position, and his crime was front page news. Some parents were angry and demanded justice, for he must pay for what he had done. Others praised his great service over many years and felt the embarrassment from the publicity and the relinquishing of his job was punishment enough. Several letters to the editor from both sides filled the editorial page for several weeks. I personally felt one letter to the editor finally placed the situation in perspective:
"To those who have difficulty understanding why some have stood up for former principal . . . I say friendship is about forgiveness. Not one person I know who claims [him] as a friend has ever said that what he did was okay or that he should get away with it. When a person makes bad choices he/she faces harsh consequences . . . Some critics wonder why anyone has tried to defend [him]. What kind of friends would we be if we didn't? Friendship is about helping and supporting one another despite mistakes or ugly details. We protect [his] good name because we know of his good heart. He would do the same for us. . . . Yes, he has made terrible mistakes, but no one deserves to be publicly flogged over and over by people who have no right to judge. [He] has true friends, hundreds of them, who love and stand by him. Our community would be a dreadful place if friends only helped each other in fair weather. Imagine what kind of society would be ours if those who erred were tossed by the wayside and never shown mercy. Thank goodness friends can move beyond anger and forgive" (The Daily Herald, June 20, 2000, p. A6).
There are many similar types of situations in all corners of the globe where individuals are being subjugated to judgment and persecution by their fellow Latter-day Saints. Perhaps, as Latter-day Saints, we are falling into the same type of lifestyle that caused Alma to give up his judgment seat to teach the gospel. "For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes . . . they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure. . . . there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God" (Alma 4:8-9).
Joseph Smith taught, "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism'; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers. . . . It is a time-honored adage that love begats love. Let us pour forth love-show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; . . . I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins, and I have often covered up all the faults among you; . . . We should cultivate a meek, quiet and peaceful spirit" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316).
Someone once said that "anger blows out the lamp of the mind." Our own pride and prejudices cause us to act in anger towards others. We do not think appropriately when we are filled with contention. Satan "is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another" (3 Nephi 11:29).
The opposite is said of the Savior, the Prince of Peace. "Mark the perfect man . . . for the end of that man is peace" (Psalms37:37). Did not Isaiah record, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13)? The Spirit of the Lord can end "contentions and disputations among [us], and every man [will] deal justly one with another" (4 Nephi 1:2; see also 4 Nephi 1:15-18). "They helped every one his neighbour; and everyone said to his brother, Be of good courage" (Isaiah 41:6). Have we not covenanted to "bear one another's burdens . . . mourn with those that mourn . . . and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-9)? Are we not to deal honestly with each other? To treat each other with kindness?
The Lord will support those who love Him and desire to do His will, unlike our fallen sibling, Lucifer. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. . . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles" (Isaiah 40: 29-31). "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea I will help thee . . . Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing" (Isaiah 41:10-11).
The Atonement of Jesus Christ gives individuals the power and strength to forgive and eliminate contention, envy, and strife towards others. We must allow the Spirit to teach and mold us into becoming the spiritual beings we really are---acknowledging that we are all children of a loving Father in Heaven. It is a true understanding of the plan of salvation that humbly causes us to cry, "O how great is the nothingness of the children of men" (Helaman 12:7), "for without [Christ] ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). The atonement of the Savior makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins so that we can be clean.
The other side of the forgiveness principle is the requirement to forgive others. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14). We must learn to forgive each other and end unrighteous judgment if we hope to return and live in Father's presence again. It was President Spencer W. Kimball who said, "He who will not forgive others breaks down the bridge over which he himself must travel" (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 269).
But what if the others have no desire to repent? What of those who cause us tremendous pain? They are in the hands of the Lord and He will reward them for their works. Trust the Lord. His word and judgement is just and true. We often bind our thoughts to this earth, but at Latter-day Saints we know their is a life to come. We desire to be worthy of life with our Heavenly Parents, that is where our focus should be, not on the actions of others, and that is hard.to do sometimes when others cause us so much pain.
It is only through the faith and strength found within our own personal forgiveness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that in turn gives us the ability to be merciful and forgiving to others. "And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance" (Alma 22:14).
Perhaps if we had the humility of Elder J. Golden Kimball, the somewhat irreverent member of the Presidency of the Seventy who was also a very spiritual man who loved the Lord, we would recognize the need to focus on our own self-improvement and to be more patient and forgiving of others weaknesses.
He said, "I acknowledge that I am imperfect, and no one is more sorry than I am. I have made mistakes, but I have faith in God, and I know God will forgive a man who repents. I have no fancied notions; I have gotten rid of tradition and of a few false ideas that rested upon me. I do not expect to become a god right away. No, it will take a long time; I am too ignorant. I have been surprised that I was chosen [as a General Authority], but there will come another time of choosing, and I don't know whether I will be among the number then or not. You don't know either. Now I am speaking of myself; I am not criticizing others; I am talking about principles. I stand before you a transgressor, but I am trying to be saved, and that is all God asks me to do. I am a man of weakness; I am a man full of faults; but God knows I have given him the best effort there was in me" (The Golden Legacy: A Folk History of J. Golden Kimball, p. 49).
May each of us reexamine our own life and humbly strive to recognize our own need to repent and change our lives, and allow others the same forgiveness we desire for ourselves. May we treat each other with more kindness, respect, and civility. May we be a little more thoughtful, careful, and caring. May we revolutionize the world through love, friendship, and understanding. May we accept the love of our Heavenly Father in our life, allow our brothers and sisters the same, and in turn, become more like our Savior.