Ezra Booth, an early convert to Joseph Smith and the Restored Church, became disillusioned after only a few months. He wrote letters to a newspaper that resulted in a public backlash against Joseph Smith and the missionaries he was sending to the surrounding area. In December 1831, Joseph Smith received direction from God to stop working on a translation of the Bible and try to undo some of the harm of the letters. Here are some of my thoughts about the instructions God gave them in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 61.
“Meet your enemies”
Joseph was commanded to meet his enemies in public and in private. We can meet our enemies – or those who disagree with a cause we support – by being open to discussion with them. No matter how important our cause or how dedicated we are, this is valuable. If we understand the position of those who disagree with us, we are better equipped to strengthen or adjust our own position to achieve better outcomes and convince more people to join us.
Of course, we should be wise in who we choose to engage with. We shouldn’t feed the trolls. The trick is learning to distinguish between the trolls and those open to discussion. Fortunately, in my experience the trolls reveal themselves early on. Holding back to my own troll-like tendencies and disengaging from those time-wasting conversations is the next challenge.
“Confound your enemies…their shame shall be made manifest”
Our cause cannot convince if we don’t speak up. To remain silent is to let our enemies define us. But I think the phrasing of the second part is vital. “Their shame shall be made manifest” is not a call to shame others. It is a statement that as we speak truth, error will be revealed. We do not need to help it along by calling people out, tricking them, embarrassing them, or seeking to ruin their life in some way. Clever memes aren’t going to win the day. Doxxing and bullying are bad regardless of who the target is. Truth will win the day as long as we speak it – and it will take time.
“Let them bring their strong reasons”
A conversation is not a lecture. Recognizing that our enemies are fully developed human beings – thinking, feeling people who have reasons for believing what they do – God tells us here to listen to those reasons. And not just in a condescending, “let them have their say” way. He says, “Let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.” We need to listen to and recognize the best reasons against our cause. Our own faith is only as strong as the strongest arguments against it we have acknowledged. If we refuse to hear and ponder “their strong reasons,” then we are simply closing our eyes to potential truth. One of my favorite thoughts on this comes from a forum – one I did not save a link to, so this is my attempted paraphrase – “If we come across evidence that conflicts with our interpretation of scripture, then it is our interpretation of scripture that must change.” The truth isn’t changing – our attempt to understand it is.
Words are an imprecise means of conveying ideas. We shouldn’t be surprised that we have, at times, failed to understand the ideas passed down to us from previous generations. I believe that there is an ultimate, universal truth out there. But I also believe it can be really, really hard to identify and communicate. I’m struggling to arrive at that truth and convey my understanding of it in a way that brings along as many people as possible.