New Book of Mormon podcast is out to prove peace isn’t boring

“Proclaim Peace” hopes to rebrand peacemaking from naive to necessary with practical tips from experts.

(Utah State University | MWEG) Peace scholar Patrick Mason, left, and MWEG's Jennifer Walker Thomas have launched a new podcast using the Book of Mormon to teach fellow Latter-day Saints peace building.

School board meetings turn violent. Political polarization fractures families. Death threats frighten election workers.

Wherever one looks, conflict and contempt seem to be infecting society’s connective tissue.

Into this world comes a new podcast dedicated to the high ideals, along with the nuts and bolts, of peacemaking.

Proclaim Peace” represents a joint effort by the nonpartisan Mormon Women for Ethical Government and Faith Matters, a group dedicated to “an expansive, radiant approach” to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Part toolkit/training camp and part classroom, the podcast features two hosts: peace scholar and author Patrick Mason, and Jennifer Walker Thomas, co-executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. Their first two episodes, released Tuesday, included a conversation on resolving family conflict with Latter-day Saint therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and a discussion regarding the root causes of society’s conflicts with MWEG’s other co-executive director, Emma Petty Addams.

Both installments include frequent references to the Book of Mormon. Mason and Thomas said listeners can expect more anchoring in Latter-day Saints’ foundational scripture and the life of Jesus in future shows.

The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with Mason and Thomas about the origins and aims of “Proclaim Peace,” plus how the hosts define peace. The following has been edited for length and clarity:

What was the impetus behind ‘Proclaim Peace’?

(Mormon Women for Ethical Government) Logo for "Proclaim Peace," a new podcast by MWEG and Faith Matters. The show will draw on stories from the Book of Mormon and the life and ministry of Jesus.

Thomas • One of the things that MWEG has realized is that we can’t legislate peace. We can create systems that are productive of peace, but if people themselves don’t desire them and want them, then we’re not going to get very far. As an organization, we really wanted to highlight over the course of the year church President Russell M. Nelson’s call for members of our faith to be peacemakers. We also have a pretty significant following increasingly of people outside of our faith across the nation, and we wanted to represent members of our faith as peacemakers.

How do you plan to incorporate the Book of Mormon in your conversations?

Thomas • This is not a typical podcast where we go through verse by verse. But one of the things that struck both Patrick and I is that the text serves as a great narrative about situations in which peace breaks down and in which it thrives. So we’re hoping the podcast will bridge scripture and practical application.

Mason • We’ll kind of keep up with the pace of the church’s Sunday school manual “Come, Follow Me,” with the idea of covering the entire Book of Mormon throughout the year. But we’re not corresponding week to week with the outline by the church.

‘Peace’ means something different to everyone. How are you going to unpack the term and whom are you going to unpack it with?

Mason • The very first question that we ask each of our guests is: “How do you define peace?” We recognize that there are so many different ways into this conversation — all the way from inner peace to global conflict. The virtue of a yearlong project is that we will have the space to be able to hit on each of those.

We want to talk with people with not only scholarly expertise, but who have been out in the field and who have working insights on how to translate principles into practice.

Thomas • We’re hopeful that while the Book of Mormon is a text that we’re using to enter into these conversations, you don’t need Book of Mormon literacy to be able to participate in or get something from them.

I look at peace and, just as Patrick said, there are not only so many different ways to achieve it, but there are lots of different misconceptions about what it is. We want to be pretty straightforward about that and let people know about some of the obstacles to peace that we actually confuse with peace itself.

A perfect example is there’s a very big difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking, and between conflict and contention. Pretending that conflict doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you get to peace. So conflict is absolutely necessary. Contention is not.

We also want listeners to leave with tangible skills and practical ways they can apply those skills in their lives.

What is the reaction you typically get from other Latter-day Saints when you bring up the topic of peace?

Mason • Nobody’s against peace. So the conversation is what do we mean by that? Again, it comes back to differences in definition or an application. Often in these conversations people within our faith know the scriptures really well. They can very quickly point to examples in the scriptures where it looks like God has commanded or even done violence. They’ll often have questions about that.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrick Mason speaks while recording the 100th episode of the "Mormon Land" podcast on October 4, 2019. The Utah State University professor has written and taught about peace and peace building from a Latter-day Saint perspective.

I don’t want to overstate this, but I do find a generational divide in these conversations. Especially younger Latter-day Saints — college students and others — they’re hungry for these kinds of principles. They see a world that’s just full of conflict. And they’re tired of it. This is not the world they want to live in. They want tools, and they are thrilled when they find these tools and principles within their own religion.

What are some of those tools?

Thomas • Understanding different conflict styles is a big one. Managing anger is another. Also, good information and reliable sourcing allow advocates to know that they are on solid ground and to then use their conflict management skills in order to persuade and negotiate.

Mason • One of the things that both Jen and I feel really passionately about is centering Jesus. That resonates, especially now in a church where President Nelson has asked us to focus on the name of the church, focus on the centrality of Christ. And so when we can bring these things up and anchor them in a conversation about Jesus and his work in the world, those are really powerful conversations.

Thomas • MWEG has gained a witness of these concepts in the real world. The organization is grounded in peacemaking. This is the secret sauce to our success and our work. And as we have trained women to move into political conflict with skills of peacemaking, we have been in meetings that have been transformed. We’ve been in relationships that have been transformed. We’ve developed a reputation for being able to solve problems without bringing a lot of conflict to the table.

We get a lot of pushback from people who say, “Yes, I want peace.” But they truly believe for some reason that the way we’re going to get to peace is through dominance. They think that peacemaking sounds like it’s going to be ineffective, and it’s not going to work. What we are here to tell people is that the last few years have told us the exact opposite. Even in this highly contentious environment, peacemaking is the path to accomplishing the things that matter to all of us, and it is productive for bringing about real and tangible results.

We want to help anybody who’s willing to listen to the podcast hear lots of different people who have rich experience with peace building and who can testify, “Hey, I’ve seen this work and here’s how you can access it.”

Mason • There’s often a sense that peace is boring and ineffective, right? That it’s naive. We want to push back against that and make the case that, in today’s world, there is no more urgent, practical or realistic set of principles and tools than peacemaking.

Thomas • And tethering it to Jesus. We have not ever had a conversation in the political sphere where people have not been deeply receptive to that, and where it has often changed how people think about Christians.

Can you give any specific examples?

Thomas • We have gone to meet with legislators with women from both the left and the right who are constituents. Those conversations have started out aggressively from the perspective of the people representing the legislators. And we have watched as our women, who have been trained in peacemaking, turned those conversations around and ended up in a really productive place, where those legislators who started off combatively now want to work with these women and hear about their perspectives.

These were specifically conversations around the Electoral Count Reform Act, which sounds really boring but is a really important piece of legislation that MWEG helped get passed.

Who’s your primary audience?

Mason • Gov. Spencer Cox in Utah is speaking a lot these days about the exhausted majority. People out there are just exhausted by the polarization, by the contention, by the rancor that they see at every level in their communities and their wards [congregations]. And so for anybody who wants to find a better way, this might be a little bit of light in the darkness.

Finally, how do you each define peace?

Thomas • I find the greatest peace when I’m working with people who are aligned with the Prince of Peace and are working for him to create a space in which people can thrive. And that might be my ward or my family or an organization, or even the big wide world. It’s in the act of doing something good.

Mason • I think peace is a noun and a verb in the sense that there is a kind of state of being in harmony and having a sense of unity with the people around us and the circumstances we find ourselves in. But it’s also an active engagement. And, for me, it’s recognizing and embracing the diversity of the human experience and then engaging in conflict in a way that affirms human dignity and that is constructive and is going to move nonviolently toward allowing everybody to pursue their own best ends.