A Mormon Leader’s Promotion of Peace

In October 1946, a high-ranking leader of a large Christian church in America rose to the podium in a tabernacle, during a large conference in which were assembled 7,000 church members, with thousands more listening via radio transmission, and a million more receiving the messages in the weeks and months ahead. His message was scathing – a castigating rebuke of the use of atom bombs just over a year previous:

And the worst of this atomic bomb tragedy is not that not only did the people of the United States not rise up in protest against this savagery, not only did it not shock us to read of this wholesale destruction of men, women, and children, and cripples, but that it actually drew from the nation at large a general approval of this fiendish butchery. Thus we in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds. We do it not only shamelessly, but with a boast. God will not forgive us for this. If we are to avoid extermination, if the world is not to be wiped out, we must find some way to curb the fiendish ingenuity of men who have apparently no fear of God, man, or the devil, and who are willing to plot and plan and invent instrumentalities that will wipe out all the flesh of the earth. And, as one American citizen of one hundred thirty millions, as one in one billion population of the world, I protest with all of the energy I possess against this fiendish activity, and as an American citizen, I call upon our government and its agencies to see that these unholy experimentations are stopped, and that somehow we get into the minds of our war-minded general staff and its satellites, and into the general staffs of all the world, a proper respect for human life.1

This man was J. Reuben Clark, a counselor to the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and thus a member of the Church’s highest-ranking body. A lawyer by training and a diplomat and statesman by experience, Clark was an ardent advocate of peace. Seven years prior – one month after the outbreak of World War II – Clark said the following in another church conference:

Nothing is more unrighteous, more unholy, more un-Godly than man-declared mass slaughter of his fellowman for an unrighteous cause… The law declared at Sinai was “Thou shalt not kill,” and in the Garden of Gethsemane: “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” With these divine commands deep-embodied in our spiritual consciousness, we can look with no degree of allowance upon the sin of unholy war, and a war to make conquest or to keep conquest already made is such a war.2

In advocating for peace, Clark was thus anti-war. In 1947, fourteen years before Eisenhower nicknamed the Military-Industrial Complex and called America’s attention to it, Clark was pointing out to his Mormon audience its many evils:

Popular feeling is being flogged into a support of this plan [to wage more war]. The press, the movies, the radio, the rostrum, all are deliberately used to build this terrible aim in our hearts. Enormous sums are expended by the military in propaganda, to scare us civilians into a blind following of their insanity. Often this propagandizing is crudely done, at other times it is carried on with great craft and cunning. We are to be made so jittery with fear that we shall follow with eyes shut where they lead.3

He continued, noting that all of this is done “in the face of the divine command: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'”4 Many will no doubt recall the reception received by Ron Paul in a South Carolina debate when he suggested this very thing – an institutional adherence to the Golden Rule. The vociferous denigration of this moral principle by the audience was responded to by Clark in his day with the following rhetorical question: “Are we Christians? We act like pagans.”5 Unlike fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, who incessantly declares that he “will not apologize for America,” one of Clark’s biographers wrote:

[Clark] exempted no nation from the condemnation of having been a party to the introduction of “barbarous” methods of warfare. The world, he wrote, had “gone back a half a millennium in its conduct of international relations in time of war…” And then, lest his countrymen smugly blame this relapse on others, he added that “no nation has to bear a greater blame for this than our own.”6

Clark was a dedicated non-interventionist, and preached the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson on many occasions. Praising the “great doctrine of American neutrality,” he stated:

I am a confirmed isolationist, a political isolationist, first, I am sure, by political instinct, next, from experience, observation, and patriotism, and lastly, because, while isolated, we built the most powerful nation in the world, a nation that provided most of prosperity to all its citizens, . . . most of popular education, most of freedom, most of peace, most of blessing by example to other nations, . . . of any nation, past or present, on the face of this earth. I stand for the possession of, and exercise by our nation of a full, complete, and unimpaired sovereignty that will be consistent with our membership in the Society of Nations. In so declaring I have no diffidence, no apology, no shame. On the contrary, I have a great pride in the fact that I stand where the Revolutionary Fathers stood, who fought for, and gained our independence. . . . I am pro-Constitution, pro-Government, as it was established under the Constitution, pro-free institutions, as they have been developed under and through the Constitution, pro-liberty, pro-freedom, pro-full and complete independence and sovereignty, pro-local self-government, and pro-everything else that has made us the free country we had grown to be in the first 130 years of our national existence. It necessarily follows that I am anti-internationalist, anti-interventionist, anti-meddlesome-busybodiness in our international affairs. In the domestic field, I am anti-socialist, anti-Communist, anti-Welfare State. . . . As I proceed, some will say, “Oh, he is talking about the past; but this is a new world, new conditions, new problems,” and so on. To this I will content myself with answering – human nature does not change; in its basic elements it now is as it was at the dawn of history, as our present tragic plight shows. Even savages inflict no greater inhumanities than are going on in the world today. In the mad thrusting of ourselves, with a batch of curative political nostrums, into the turmoil and tragedy of today’s world, we are like a physician called in to treat a virulent case of smallpox, and whose treatment consists in getting into bed with his patient. That is not the way to cure smallpox.7

As the second world war broke out across Europe, Clark said, again in a large church conference, that America’s entrance “would be an appalling prostitution of our heritage.”8 His consistent excoriation of unjust, immoral warfare, both at the pulpit and in secular settings, was accompanied by a Christian-based promotion of persuasion and peace. For example, in 1944:

For America has a destiny – a destiny to conquer the world – not by force of arms, not by purchase and favor, for these conquests wash away, but by high purpose, by unselfish effort, by uplifting achievement, by a course of Christian living; a conquest that shall leave every nation free to move out to its own destiny; a conquest that shall bring, through the workings of our own example, the blessings of freedom and liberty to every people, without restraint or imposition or compulsion from us; a conquest that shall weld the whole earth together in one great brotherhood in a reign of mutual patience, forbearance, and charity, in a reign of peace to which we shall lead all others by the persuasion of our own righteous example.9

Footnotes: 1 In Conference Report, October 1946, 89. 2 Ray C. Hillam, ed., J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Diplomat and Statesman (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1973), 120. 3 “Slipping from Our Old Moorings,” in David H. Yarn, Jr., ed., J. Reuben Clark Selected Papers, vol. 5 (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1987), 161. 4 Ibid, 162. 5 Hillam, Clark, 204. 6 Ibid, 203. 7 Ibid, 22. 8 Ibid, 133. 9Ibid, 210. 10 Ibid, 120.In 1973, a new law school was founded at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah – one of the leading universities in America, which is owned by the LDS Church. It was named after J. Reuben Clark, Jr. At its founding, students then enrolled in the law school, along with their future counterparts, were counseled as follows: “Every time you hear or read the name of your school you can be reminded of the great man whose life you can emulate to your profit.” Clark’s biographer writes that “the avoidance of war… was one of J. Reuben Clark’s great political objectives…”10 To emulate such a man suggests, then, that Mormons should likewise be non-interventionist advocates of peace. In the scriptures used by members of the LDS Church, the following related commandment from God is found – one which in many ways serves as a fitting slogan of the life of J. Reuben Clark, Jr.: “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace…” Clark’s criticism of the government’s “fiendish butchery,” his support of a non-interventionist foreign policy, and his Christian-based advocacy of peace through persuasion is something every individual would do well to emulate, Mormon or not.