By Sharon Lindbloom
There’s an article in the January 2006 issue about the fourth LDS prophet, Wilford Woodruff, titled Contending for the Faith. The tag line to this article is, “While contending for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, President Woodruff taught principles relevant for our lives today” (p.20).
I was surprised to find that the article promoted the idea that “contending” is a good thing. Of course, as a Christian I support Jude’s exhortation to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). But Mormonism typically shuns contention as being from the devil himself. The Book of Mormon says, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me [saith the Lord], but is of the devil, who is the father of contention…” (3 Nephi 11:29).
Some people might say that contention is argument accompanied by anger. However, LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson wrote an article for the Ensign titled The Canker of Contention (May 1989) in which he made the claim that conflicting ideas are “the beginning of contention.” This really sums up the usual Mormon-on-the-street understanding of the issue.
Typically, when I have a friendly encounter with a Mormon and we happen to reach a point where he feels at a disadvantage in the discussion, he does one of two things. He either drops the topic and proclaims his testimony of the truth of the Church or he says, “I feel a spirit of contention,” and refuses to continue the conversation. I once asked a Mormon “host” at the Orlando Temple Open House how he determined when a discussion became contentious. His answer: A conversation became contentious whenever someone disagreed with him.
My dictionary says “contend” is when someone “asserts something as a position in an argument.” Therefore, any disagreement—no matter how friendly or easy-going—would be contentious and, according to Mormonism, would be “of the devil.” Thus my surprise when I read the LDS praise for Mr. Woodruff ‘s public contention for the LDS faith.