This year the college football rivalry game between the Brigham Young University Cougars and the University of Utah Utes promises to be one of the greatest of all time. The Utes are hoping to become the 1st team from a non-BCS conference to break into a BCS bowl for a 2nd time. With Utah sitting a #7 in the BCS standings, a win over BYU this week will make this dream a reality. In 2004, they became the first team from a non-BCS conference to get a BCS invite and easily beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl driving home the point that mid-major conferences could compete with the “all-powerful” BCS teams. BYU had high hopes coming into this season of completing “The Quest” with a perfect record and finally getting their first BCS bid. There was even some talk when BYU was 6–0 that they might be contenders for the BCS national championship game — potentially bringing home their 1st national championship since 1984. This dream came crashing down when the Cougars were walloped by TCU in mid-season 32–7. However, BYU bounced back with 4 wins and currently sits at #14 in the BCS standings with an outside shot of still getting a BCS bid with a win over Utah. Given this background, this week’s game is oozing with intensity for one of the oldest and most heated college football rivalries (though most of the country is still more interested in the Texas Tech/Oklahoma game.)
As a graduate of BYU, I am excited about this game and very partial to BYU being victorious. However, even with all this passion, there is one aspect that essentially ruins all the hype for me — the reference of this match-up as “The Holy War."
This term refers to the fact that Brigham Young, one of the early leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the man who led the Mormon pioneers out west, established both universities. The University of Utah went on to become a public institution while BYU remained privately owned and run by the LDS church. Clearly this title is meant to convey the friendly feelings of rivalry between many Latter-day Saints, who are heavily concentrated in the Utah region, that their school of choice is more “holy." The fact that the University of Utah is on the government dole and perpetuated through the aggressive use of force whereas BYU is completely voluntary, in and of itself, should be reason enough for all lovers of liberty to side with BYU — but I digress.
What is most concerning about referring to this game as “The Holy War” is that so many Latter-day Saints find this title endearing. Surely the Lord does not look lightly upon a people, who are exhorted to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:16), to be so light-hearted in their words and deeds. There is nothing holy about the waging of war.
Yes we are taught that “for this purpose have I [the Lord] established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80) and many of those “wise men” were direct participants in the Revolutionary War. However, these individuals were not waging the war — they were only using the force of arms to defend their rights from the aggressors. General George Washington would never have referred to war as holy. Since war is the ultimate act of government, his famous quote “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master” surely indicates there is nothing sacred about this wanton shedding of blood. In fact, in his farewell address he makes it abundantly clear that the “religion and morality enjoin” that we should “cultivate peace and harmony with all” (peace being the exact opposite of war). He goes on to state that “participation in the quarrels and wars … without adequate inducement or justification” (i.e. defense of rights) is one of a “variety of evils." No, George Washington would never have approved of referring to war as divine.
In the Book of Mormon we are told “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17). Yes, this Moroni was a captain of an army that participated in much war. However, we are told that these wars were brought upon them due to their abominations (Alma 50:21). Since we are later told directly by Christ himself that “a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (3 Nephi 14:17–18). Moroni, just as the Founders, only participated in these wars to defend “their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage” (Alma 43:48). Moroni was not a man who would approve of the exaltation of bloodshed (Alma 48:11).
In modern times, we’ve have President J. Reuben Clark, the man that served the longest time in the highest leadership quorum of the Church, who repeatedly spoke out against the warfare state. The majority of his book “Stand Fast By Our Constitution” is dedicated to speaking out against the unholiness of the wars in modern times. He even goes so far as to call participation in World War II, the sacred cow of all those who are deceived into supporting the warfare state, an “apostasy from peace” (pg. 75). As believers in the necessity of a Restoration, we should not hold his use of the word “apostasy” lightly.
Those who claim that these men lived in different times, their teachings are antiquated, and the modern world requires us to engage in continual warfare around the world are deceived. Though circumstances in the world may change, principles are everlasting. President Clark taught the following principle regarding foreign relations. “In human affairs no nation can say that all it practices and believes is right, and that all others have that differs from what it has is wrong. Men inflict an unholy tragedy when they proceed on that basis. No man, no society, no people, no nation is wholly right in human affairs; and none is wholly wrong. A fundamental principle of the operation of human society is to live and let live” (Stand Fast By Our Constitution, pg. 74; emphasis mine). Important note, this was written in 1947 — immediately after the fall of Nazi Germany and during the rise of Communist Russia. If this “fundamental principle” applied to these two governments, it is sure applicable in today’s world. Its application prevents using our government to spread democracy and ridding the world of all evil dictators.
Without question, governments in other lands are violating the rights of individuals. Government is likewise violating individual rights at home. The individual who is willing to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) by protecting their rights may be commended for acquiring the Christ-like attribute of love. However, it is the opposite of Christ-like to force someone else to lay down their life or support this cause with their own private property. “Conservatives," who repeatedly point out that government redistribution of wealth is not charity, fail to realize that this same principle applies to government warfare as well. Furthermore, when individuals do fight for the rights of others, they make certain they are not responsible for the killing of innocent civilians or then they become the very evil which they are fighting against.
We, as a whole, are under condemnation for the making of war holy. Isaiah prophesied that the active, temple-attending Saints in the last days would have “hands full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). How many of us Latter-day Saints glorify and support the shedding of innocent blood caused by aggressive war? President Spencer W. Kimball, in his immortal talk “The False Gods We Worship," stated, “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord." Do we worship the god of war or the Prince of Peace? We are taught that the shedding of innocent blood is more abominable than all unchaste acts (Alma 39:3–5). Are we at least as faithful in standing against the taking of innocent life, both within and outside of the womb, as we are in standing against all other immoralities in our society? One cannot be pro-life and pro-war at the same time.
We must stop all deification of aggressive war and the taking of the Lord’s name in vain by claiming that He supports it. We must “renounce war and proclaim peace."