[I had the pleasure of appearing on the Interpreter Radio Broadcast several weeks ago. I was on 1340 AM in the Salt Lake Area discussing the LDS stance on War. I will try to provide the link so you can listen to it. Meanwhile, these are my prepared notes for the broadcast. As you can tell, they don't have perfect format, but I think you'll find this fairly comprehensive.]
Early church history was a combination of spiritual rhetoric and practical application. Section 32 prophesied the American Civil War which would start a series of wars culminating in the Second Coming. Section 98 calls for Latter Day Saints to renounce war and proclaim peace.
They practical aspects include Zion’s camp and the Mormon War in 1837, both of which featured use of the militia. Nauvoo Legion was rather prominent, Joseph Smith a Lt. General. Though in that age being part of a militia was part of being a respectable leading citizen and wasn’t necessarily a sign of militarism. The relations with Native Americans in Utah territory shifted from religious to practical and often violent. (Zion as a Refuge, Mark McGee, Mormon Perspectives on War). They were called selectively pacifistic by historians like Micheal Quinn, geographic position combined with theology allowed them to remain somewhat aloof from secular military conflicts.
Civil War seen as a judgement of God upon the US, especially the action in Missouri which was particularly brutal. They raised a cavalry regiment to help protect the mail (and gain the lucrative contract associated with it.)
Key turning point was the Spanish American War in 1898. Brigham Young Jr. said there are other ways to show patriotism than throwing away sons for foreign wars. Church leaders such as George Q. Cannon and Wilford Woodruff emphasized the need to avoid a fracture with the US. They were the baby (newest) state and had a long fight with the federal government. Long term, this showed the integration of the church into good patriotic citizens. They raised several more units than the government asked. Bloggers like Gina Colvin don’t like this but the church often matched positions with American foreign policy.
In 1941 Clark wrote a rejected draft of a first presidency letter that rejected war, it was not the "Masters Way but the jungle laws of the beast.” (Quinn, Pacifist Prophet, in Mormon Perspectives on War.) In 1942 the first president issued a statement regarding war. Latter Day Saints should have peace in their hearts, they are subject to their countries and should serve patriotically. If they kill in the course of war it would not make them murderers. The church, probably under the urging of the “pacifist apostle” J Reuben Clark later clarified that conscientious objectors were allowed to defer.
Since that time the church has generally held the position that they should renounce war and proclaim peace, they should love their enemies and pray for peace, but under scriptures such as those describing Captain Moroni they are allowed to fight for liberty and family. President Hinckley exemplified this approach during the Iraq War using the same examples. Follow the Prince of Peace, but identify with Moroni’s Title of Liberty and other just items as validation for war.
There are significant minority voices in the church though. J Reuben Clark fought for the protection of conscientious objectors, strongly denounced war, and even called America’s firebombing of Dresden and use of atomic weapons as the “crowning savagery of war.” Ironically, in all 82 boxes of his personal records there is not one condemnation of Nazi war crimes except his criticism of the Nuremburg Trials. Many Latter Day Saints of the time were appalled at his conduct. They called his words the most seditious they had ever heard, and called him The Butchers’ Apostle. His opinions were largely subsumed by official First President statements above and he is largely a cause celeb among anti war members but has not affected doctrine to any significant degree. Russell Nelson also sounded clear anti war messages. He made news during the height of the build up to the Iraq War for his statements that seemed to condemn it. The church quickly contextualized his statements in the context of the renouncing war but supporting Just Causes displayed by Hinckley and the 1942 statement.
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