LDS First Presidency ‘devastated’ by Middle East violence

It is “not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” leaders say, “which is a gospel of peace.”

The governing leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “devastated,” President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors said Thursday, “by the recent eruption of violence and loss of life in the Middle East.”

Such violence “is abhorrent to us and is not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a gospel of peace,” Nelson and counselors Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, said in a news release. “At such times, our hearts ache for all victims of this atrocity.”

As “servants of God,” they said, “we affirm that he calls upon all of us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we pray for a peaceful resolution of all conflicts.”

The trio of Latter-day Saint leaders did not mention either side in the conflict, nor any particulars.

And that troubled at least one Utah rabbi.

“A statement devoid of the word ‘terror’ misses the mark, in my opinion,” Avremi Zippel, a Chabad Lubavitch leader, wrote on X (formerly Twitter), “especially from such a historically staunch ally of the Jewish people.”

Similar to Ukraine message

The lack of specifics mirrored a similar release the church issued in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“We are heartbroken and deeply concerned by the armed conflict now raging,” the First Presidency stated at the time. The church “has members in each of the affected areas and throughout the world. Our minds and hearts have been turned toward them and all our brothers and sisters.”

The Utah-based faith did not mention any “affected areas,” but the more than 17 million-member church does have adherents in Russia and Ukraine.

It also has members in Israel, as well as a Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center, and in the surrounding Arab nations, where it plans to build its first Middle Eastern temple, in Dubai.

In April, Nelson, who has been to Israel numerous times, including on a world tour in 2018, urged members to be “peacemakers.”

“One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people. The Savior made this clear in his sermons to followers in both hemispheres,” the now 99-year-old leader told his flock. “‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ [Christ] said. ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’”

And then, Nelson said, Jesus offered “the admonition that challenges each of us: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’”

The Latter-day Saint president went on to say that “contention is a choice. Peacemaking is a choice. You have your agency to choose contention or reconciliation. I urge you to choose to be a peacemaker, now and always.”

‘We are people of peace’

In 2001, the church was in the midst of its General Conference when then-President Gordon B. Hinckley got a note that the U.S. had just launched a missile attack on Afghanistan, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

“We do not know how long this conflict will last,” Hinckley told the hushed crowd. “We do not know what it will cost in lives and treasure. We do not know the manner in which it will be carried out.”

The popular Latter-day Saint prophet reiterated that his church valued their “Muslim neighbors across the world,” and he hoped “that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer.”

Hinckley asked “that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent.”

Rather, he said, “let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.”

Foreshadowing Nelson, Hinckley said, “We are people of peace. We are followers of the Christ, who was and is the Prince of Peace.”