Thursday, January 10, 2008

Avoiding Contention as Mormon Missionaries

On my mission I heard my mission president M. Russell Ballard constantly tell us that missionaries should avoid contention at all costs. Merriam Webster defines it as the act of contending. Contending means to argue or debate. Other words synonymous with contention are dispute, conflict, and disagreement. No contention is a term that many of us have been taught since we were children. We hear it throughout our lives to not argue or contend with fellow church members, business associates, siblings, wives, or children. Some of us LDS even like to break up a verbal argument by chanting like in the seventh inning of a ballgame no contention, no contention, no contention with feet stomping.

Ed J. Pinegar says it is a serious problem on a mission: " Contention in the mission field—back biting and gossiping—probably ruins more days than anything else. We must learn to bridle our tongue, our passions; to speak kind and loving things; and to avoid contention. Contention is of the devil (see 3 Ne. 11:28–29)."

A. Lavar Thornock, the former head of religious studies at BYU-Hawii, tells us the reason for contention: "Contention is often the result of selfishness. The person with a contentious spirit is usually thinking primarily of himself. And when we give in to such a spirit we separate ourselves further from the Spirit of God. “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,” said the Lord, “but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another (3 Ne. 11:29).

How does the devil use contention as a tool to draw us away from the Lord? He knows that contention feeds the selfish feelings that surface, enlarging them—thus creating distance between our real selves and our ideal selves, between our actions and our beliefs. That gap makes us feel guilty, as happened to the young lady who had come to me. More contention is often the result of the guilt. Thus, contention can both result from and perpetuate selfishness. Its effect is to block out the divine powers within each of us."

General Contention

In 2004 Peggy Snow Cahill on the Speak Up for Truth Blog shared with us a few ideas why we should avoid contention among general Church members. Laurie Walker brings out some excellent points on her Young Single Adult Blog when she shared how she and a bunch of roommates at BYU used to have a Pretend Fight Day in their apartment every week. She told of how it soon got out of hand when she couldn't think of some made up insult to blurt out a roommate had failed a psychology test and humiliated the other girl. She said: "“Argument Day” didn’t stick around too long after that. I think everyone realized even though we were just pretending, it was still a dangerous toy to play with.

I grew up knowing how vitally important it is to treat others with kindness. It is a valuable key in helping to build up the kingdom of God. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Mormon Church, gave a beautiful talk titled “The Virtue of Kindness.” In the April 2005 General Conference he said:

“Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes. Kind words not only lift our spirits in the moment they are given, but they can linger with us over the years.”

There are five major areas of contention that missionaries encounter: contention with companions, contention with other missionaries, contention with members, contention with the mission president,and contention with the investigator. I can only touch on a few points about each. I will post about these in my next few posts in greater detail.

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