Longing for Peace

14 07 2014

By Greg Clark,
Integrated Communications

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

It would be easy to think the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City reflects battle, pain, and strife—and it does.

Even more, however, it tells of humankind’s yearning for peace.

To be sure, when Community of Christ leaders toured the site in May, they found many spectacles of warfare: tanks, trenches, and testimonies of tragedy. They also saw reflections of our desire for peace: red poppies depicting the Flanders Fields, where so many died in Belgium and France; 40-foot-tall carvings of Guardian Spirits, who symbolize protectors of peace; and the Great Frieze, a 488- by 48-foot sculpture that represents the end of the war and the creation of an era of peace.

Sadly, peace was short-lived. The war to end all wars didn’t. Since its first shots 100 years ago this month, wars have popped up across the world like mushrooms in a moist forest. Today people fight in Ukraine, and others needlessly die in places called Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and more.
All of this makes Christ’s mission—our mission—imperative.

“We have to learn about the causes of war to understand how to wage peace,” President Steve Veazey said during the tour. “We are to the best of our ability doing that.”

Many anniversaries are seen as celebrations. Not this one. No party hats, no cake, no reliving past glories. Rather, this centennial reminds of war’s horrific nature and humankind’s imperative to find different paths.

“For me, the claim as a peace church forces us to be aware and see the presence of non-peace in our midst, and it requires us to look into the ugly face of brokenness and conflict,” said Scott Murphy of the First Presidency.

“I was very supportive of coming here. It’s one thing to talk about peace around the table, but to see representations of [war] makes our work more critical.”

Apostle Susan Oxley echoed that sentiment: “I don’t think the church ever can be reconciled to war. We stand for looking for alternatives. War is alien to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His teachings are designed to solve conflict and encourage us to seek solutions.

“I support museums like this that don’t glorify war but present the horror of it.”

Historians cite many reasons for the start of World War I, which killed 9 million, wounded 21 million, and brought changes the world still feels today. Among the causes was widespread and fervent nationalism, still a force today.

World Church Historian Mark Scherer said that initially in World War I the church urged neutrality. “People were not supposed to join, but if drafted, to ‘do your duty.’ But there was a disconnect between the general church and the patriotic fervor most Americans held. With the enthusiasm of going ‘over there, over there,’ church members flocked to join.”

Not all members. F. Henry Edwards, an English citizen and future member of the First Presidency, was in England during the Great War. He was drafted but refused to fight, and he went to prison.

Over time, the church’s stance changed. Peter Judd described the shift in “RLDS Attitudes in World War I,” a 1975 article:

It appears evident that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints moved from a position of strict neutrality with respect to the war in 1914 to a position of unqualified support for the United States and Allied nations by 1918.

Today leaders from the church, the museum, and others are seeking peaceful paths and hoping to learn from history. Among them is US Army Colonel Robert Ewing, who leads the 79th Service Support Command. His group toured the museum at the same time as the church leaders.

“Our chaplain unit is having ministry team training,” he explained. “We want them to practice exercising their faith…with people like those represented [in museum exhibits].”

Presiding Evangelist David Brock, like many other church leaders on the tour, holds hope that humankind will learn from the causes and tragedy of World War I.

“In a strange way, being aware of the reality of how horrible and costly war is presents one of our greatest hopes.”

Apostle Andrew Bolton said every generation must learn the lesson of peace over war. “In answer to nationalism, we’re an international church. That’s one of the social forces that pushes our peace mission.”

Apostle Linda Booth noted the irony of the US entrance into the war. It was April 6, 1917—the church’s birthday. While church members were celebrating their heritage, the nation was entering a dark period.

“We learn from our experiences of the past, mistakes in relationships that caused people to determine war was more important than reconciliation,” she said.“Here we see the stark reality of millions killed and families changed because leadership couldn’t [turn away from war].”

But Booth also found hope in the tour.

“I’m walking behind a tour of high school students who will see the reality of what war does, and hopefully they will become advocates for peace.”



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