The Faith of Abraham

Jesus is our Great Exemplar, the one who invites us, “Follow thou me.” We are counseled to consider how Jesus would act if he were in our shoes, and to model our lives after his. Some inspiring scriptural passages describe the potential we have to become like him.

The Lectures on Faith emphasize that we must become like Jesus:

Let us ask—Where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or, in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain without much difficulty what all others must be in order to be saved. We think that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings who are unlike each other cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved; and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude, as to the answer of this question, there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this, that he is the prototype or standard of salvation; or, in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved? the answer would be—because he is a just and holy being; and if he were anything different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change, in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitute salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him. (Lectures on Faith 7:9)

However, because of his unique parentage and role, we often perceive a distinction, for better and worse, between “mere mortals” and Jesus. This can make it difficult for us to understand how we can become precisely like Jesus Christ (in fact, in some of my discussions with Church members, some have denied that we can become precisely like him because of his role as unique Savior).

However, in revelation received after the Lectures on Faith, we are told: “Abraham … hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne… Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham … and ye shall be saved.” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:29,32)

Here we have another prototype, and this time one without the “barriers” of a unique role as Redeemer or a virgin birth. This is a prototype that we may not have quite as hard a time relating to, and may not be as uncomfortable comparing ourselves to, as to the sinless Christ.

Yet for me, the example of Abraham is more challenging than the example of Christ. Clearly, my life cannot compare to the sinless life of Christ, but I can envision myself progressing in his footsteps, developing compassion, power in faith to heal, the gift of teaching by the Spirit, and so forth, even to the sacrificing of my own life for others. I have a much harder time imagining myself in the shoes of Abraham: asked by my God to kill my own child.

I don’t know whether this is merely a deficiency of faith on my part. Could I develop the faith to accept such a command? If Alma is correct that the beginning of faith is the desire to believe, I doubt I could. I’m not sure I desire to worship a being who would command me to kill my innocent child. Is this something that we should desire? If I am not able to develop this desire and faith, it seems that it is impossible for me to receive the blessings of Abraham.

Neal A. Maxwell has often taught that the only thing we can give to God is our will. Does this require that we give up our own notions of right and wrong in order to conform to the instructions of our God? Are we required literally to lose ourselves in order to gain eternal life? If so, this is not only a step beyond the edge of the light into the dark, but into an abyss that terrifies me.

16 comments for “The Faith of Abraham

  1. “I can envision myself progressing in his footsteps, developing compassion, power in faith to heal, the gift of teaching by the Spirit, and so forth, even to the sacrificing of my own life for others. I have a much harder time imagining myself in the shoes of Abraham: asked by my God to kill my own child.”

    It’s the same thing.

    Joseph Smith taught that whoever you are, whether you are Abraham or Jehovah himself, you will eventually be asked to sacrifice whatever is most dear to you. Expect it.

    I also suspect that the true test of Abraham’s resolve was not so much the sacrifice of his son, but the uncertainty surrounding a demand from a God whom he hed trusted, suddenly requiring the kind of pagan bloodletting over which Abraham’s father had officiated. It’s when the Lord says “forget what I said before about killing — slit Laban’s throat while he’s defenseless” or “forget what I said before about chastity — practice plural marriage” that your commitment to your covenants gets the real test.

  2. Chris,

    Again, you’ve come up with a really thought-provoking post! This issue has actually come up indirectly on some earlier posts here at T&S, and I’m glad to see it addressed in its own post.

    I would take the position that, yes, when the Lord says he demands the sacrifice of all things (The Lectures on Faith indicate such a sacrifice *precedes* and *enables* one’s having perfect faith), He means all things, and the last and greatest sacrifice would be our own reason. Put another way, it is relatively easy to follow God when His commands “make sense”. It is much more difficult to do so when we *don’t* understand the “why”—when in fact God’s actions or commandments conflict with our very understanding of right and wrong and the nature of the universe. When I suggested in an earlier post a while back that God might permit Brigham Young to get “Adam-God” wrong, or permit Joseph Smith to misapply the principle of plural marriage (I don’t know that he did, just arguing hypothetically here), etc., for the very reason of testing our faith to see if we really will follow Him no matter what, even at the sacrifice of Reason itself, it prompted some pretty strong responses from some here at T&S, which didn’t surprise me.

    It seems pretty clear that God does *not* always explain His actions and/or His commandments. In fact, He sometimes deliberately expresses Himself in ways that clearly violate His hearer’s sense of reason. Examples:

    Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (there seems to have been no explanation given to Abraham until after his obedience);

    the raising of the brazen serpent in the wilderness (which was technically idolatry, and of all things, a serpent, the very image of Satan!);

    polygamy (a whole host of problems there);

    the Savior’s “eat my flesh and drink my blood” sermon (He never explained at the time that he meant the sacrament, so even his apostles were troubled);

    restrictions on blacks and the priesthood (lots of issues there);

    the command to Adam to sacrifice animals (poor Adam! raised in the Garden in peace and gentleness, he’s then told to take harmless animals, kill them, cut them to pieces, and burn them! I see great emotion on his part when he replys, “I know not, save the Lord has commanded me!” etc.

    It appears that God actually puts issues before us, once we progress to a certain level, that *deliberately* challange or understanding in dramatic, nay–terrifying ways. God demands total obedience, and He will deliberately make it difficult! For me, Joseph Smith’s statement that God will test our faith and deliberately “pull our heart strings”, and that if we cannot take it we are unfit for the kingdom of heaven, takes on a profound meaning in this context.

    When Joseph first revealed plural marriage to the Twelve, Brigham Young and Heber Kimball reportedly walked outside following the meeting, and upon seeing a funeral hearse pass by, Brigham said that he would gladly trade places with the dead man in the coffin than live “the Principle.” Orson Pratt went home after that same meeting and, upon arrival at the front door, passed through his home without greeting his wife and family, walked through the back door, and vomited. He asked for his name to be removed from the membership rolls, suffered a complete nervous breakdown, and nearly died from exposure after his family and the Brethren found him, after a feverish search, wandering like a madman in the woods. He asked for his membership back, returned to the Twelve, and accepted plural marriage. I think, too, of George C. Scott’s emotional portrayal of Abraham in the movie “The Bible” as not too far off the mark with regards to Abraham’s repsonse to the command to sacrifice Isaac. Is your terror at the (seeming) abyss you refer to, Chris, an understandable reaction? Sure it is. I haven’t felt terror (not yet), but certainly great trepidation and uneasiness. Is it possible that God realizes there is positive growth for us, even essential growth, in the *emotional* struggle we must endure when He puts such situations before us? I suspect so.

    Finally, here’s another frightening thought: As the average church member, thanks to the Internet, etc., faces more and more information about Church history that is difficult to grasp, and as science seems to present more data that seems to contradict long held LDS truths, is it possible that this presages a much more general demand on the Lord’s part for greater faith from the membership, in ways we have have not seen or expected in our lifetimes? Is this the “cleansing of the inner vessel”, which must precede the tremendous challenges we will face prior to the Lord’s return? Is the Lord preparing us, even now, so we will have the faith to endure far greater challenges (and receive far greater blessings) ahead?

    This is what sort of terrifies me, because I realize the Lord is giving all of us, including myself, the opportunity to progress a lot farther and faster, and a lot sooner, than I had ever planned for, and I can either work out my exaltation, or damn myself to hell. Abraham, my great example, hero, and father, chose the better part, in spite of his preconceptions, emotions, reason, and experience. Now, in the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom, all is clear to him, and his happiness and rest know no end. I hope I can have that kind of Faith—and I realize that I MUST have that Faith, even NOW.

    (I have to leave for a few hours, but I am REALLY looking forward to how others address this post; I think it’s a real humdinger!)

  3. Gary Cooper: Nice post: Where can I learn more about O. Pratt’s reaction to D&C 132?

  4. Take what Gary Cooper said, through in the classic Woodruff quote of “God will not allow the prophet to go astray” (paraphrasing), and then add just a dash of the overly discussed we-shouldn’t-be-like-robots-in-this-Church-but-rather-make-our-own-decisions-through-careful-prayer-and-pondering… We have a real mess here.

    We have to deal with this all the time on the small scale. You know, the bishop doing something totally whacked out… And your reaction? Do you follow? Do you ignore? Do you leave? etc, etc.

    I think the hardest part of the sacrifice-your-son type of issues is knowing whether or not it’s God asking you. This may not have been the original issue with Abraham, but nowadays it’s not God coming to us directly, but rather the wacky bishop (or whoever – pick someone with some sort of stewardship over you).

  5. Bob, I think there’s some comfort in the fact that it’s the prophet (who is not allowed to lead us astray) that’s counciling us to “make-our-own-decisions-through-careful-prayer-and-pondering…”

  6. Kingsley,

    My sources on the Orson Pratt/polygamy episode are primarily from “Joseph Smith and the Restoration”, by Ivan J. Barrett, which was the standard text for LDS Institute Church History clases in the mid-80’s. In going back and checking this source this evening, I saw that I got part of the details askew. Evidently Orson was not present at the orginal meeting of the Twelve where polygamy was revealed, as he was away from Nauvoo. When he arrived in Nauvoo, unfortunately John C. Bennett got ahold of him first to tell him about plural marriage (in an obviously negative and hypocritical way), and this contributed to Orson’s temporary apostasy. The vomiting episode came after his conversation with Bennett, not the Twelve, though this latter info comes to me not from the book memtioned above, but from an old LDS Institute director who mentioned it in passing in class, so I count locate the definite source, though he had done the research himself.

  7. There is an important issue that needs to be addressed. As of late, I am inclined to call it the Crimson Tide principle. The gist of it is that one cannot and should not execute a critical order without a knowledge that the order is authentic. In the case of Nephi, or Abraham, I think we can be quite sure that each was in sufficient communion with the Spirit to have no doubt as to the authenticity of the instructions offered. With that kind of spiritual witness, it boils down to the kind of trust that little children place in their parents every day. It is wonderful, but not so unusual, really.

    Now, short of extreme exigency (and sometimes even then), no one has an obligation to obey a morally questionable order without a witness of the Spirit that it is right and proper. We might call this the A Few Good Men principle. Brigham Young put it this way:

    “Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

    What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” (JD 9:151)

    Now, on esoteric matters, clearly the Lord is often satisfied with approximations – for ye cannot bear all things now, etc. However, if the Spirit clearly witnesses of the weaknesses in a certain interpretation, it would be silly to believe contrary to your own witness. Perhaps keep your understanding to yourself pending further revelation, unless prompted by the Spirit to speak up, of course. D&C 107 outlines a full set of checks and balances on doctrine in the Church. They are there for a reason. Ultimately the Spirit rules over all other considerations. If the Spirit overwhelmingly confirms, by all means obey, even unto death. If the Spirit clearly vetoes, fight, resist, and defy unto the same. In the absence of such feeling, pray for a witness. Ultimately, faith without inspiration is not only dead, it is fatal.

  8. Bob Caswell,

    Yep, you’re correct that all these elements, taken as a whole, create a difficult time for the believer. I have now come to the conclusion God intended it this way. He is just plain *forcing* us, as individuals, to *not* live on “borrowed light”. But since I am imperfect, my ability to conduct myself at all times and places by the Holy Ghost is limited–and yet the Lord still expects nothing less. Why can’t the road to exaltation be a little easier!

    I still want to come back a little to Joseph Smith’s statement about God pulling at our “heartstrings”. Emotion is something we generally see as an *impediment* to revelation, something to be overcome and, to a certain extent, ignored in this context. Yet, God gave us these emotions, and He has to know how we react emotionally when he upsets the little applecarts of our minds with these “faith-testers”. Increasingly, I get the impression that, among other things, God seeks, when He places these “Abrahamic moments” before us, to *mold* and *shape* our emotions along more God-like lines.

    Think of your example—the wacky bishop. Now, if having to deal with such a bishop is your “Abrahamic test”, then think of how the emotional struggle this puts you through makes you, when YOU are called as a bishop, that much more sensitive *emotionally* to how others will react to you if YOU are “wacky”. My point here is that, in addition to teaching us from a *spiritual* point of view, these kinds of test teach us to *empathize*, in a powerful *emotional* way, with both God and our fellow man, that would not have been possible before hand.

    One of the greatest obstacles each of us has to exaltation is the “natural man” way in which our emotions dictate how we respond to Gospel principles and experiences. God doesn’t seek for us to get rid of our emotions (He seeks disciples, not Vulcans), but rather He seeks to render those emotions God-Like. Abraham loved Isaac, but by forcing Abraham to choose his love for God over his love for his son, God helped Abraham to feel both kinds of love more strongly than ever before, because now Abraham understood God’s love for HIS son, Jesus, and how even the love of a father for a son must be subordinated to other, even more important concerns (the need to save all mankind).

    We could look at other examples, such as polygamy, where the instruction we’re supposed to get out of the test may not be so clear, but I’m not sure I’ve fully thought those examples through completely. Maybe others have and can share some insights here. I will say that, from a church-wide view, as opposed to individuals, we haven’t always passed these tests well. In the case of polygamy, I believe it was a true principle revealed to the prophets, but by the time of the Manifesto I think the Lord was compelled to take the test away, because too many of the saints, even the Brethren, were really messing up. Just look at how many men were marrying plural wives for time, but never marrying ANY of their wives for eternity! This is the *real* message of the unpublished revelation to John Taylor before his death, I think. The Lord wasn’t saying, “Never give up plural marriage!”, but just what He in fact said, “Obey and honor the New and Everlasting Covenant”. Too many priesthood holders wanted to have their cake and eat it too, entering into plural marriages, but not accepting the responsibilities of temple marriage. For those who did enter temple marriage, there were gross misunderstandings, associating the temple marriage covenants less with service to and love for God and our fellow man, and more with copulation, fathering children, and “we’re better than the Gentiles and we’re going to out-populate them.” Even many, many of the Brethren had the erroneous idea that temple marriage and plural marriage were synonomous, and that somehow multiple sealings were more important than the nature and responsibilities of the temple marriage covenant itself.

    I risk digressing here, so I’ll just say that gaining the faith of Abraham is *essential*, not just desirable; that the faster we progress in this life, the faster “Abrahamic tests” will come; that invariably, these tests involve sacrificing what is most precious to us, as Diogenes suggested in his thread, and that for many of us, that may mean sacrificing Reason itself; and that God is not only seeking our obedience, but also to mold our emotions, making us more Christ-like, overcoming the “natural man”, so that we can truly love and empathize with others as God does.

  9. Of course, safe harbor always lies in obedience to law. Inspired exceptions to law exist, but as always the exception proves the rule. The Lord’s house is a house of order, liberty under law. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

  10. Mark,

    Good points in both of last two threads. I like how you tie in the “child-like” aspect of obedience here, since that is exactly what the BoM contrasts with the “natural man”. I also like your point about the order of the Lord’s house. God will not test me by demanding I oppose His prophet. He could test me though, by having His prophet demand I do something that doesn;t make sense to me.

  11. When we argue that God is testing our faith when He commands us to do something that makes no sense to us, or that contravenes our understanding of morality, we assume away a crucial issue. We assume that we know with certainty that it is God who is speaking to us. God may well have spoken to Abraham in a manner which left no doubt that He was speaking and that He really wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. However, if I felt inspired to kill my son, or if a church leader asked me to kill my son, or to do something else that I considered repugnant, I would first want to be satisfied that this was indeed God’s will. The mere fact that the act is morally repugnant would be strong evidence to me that the source of this commandment was not God. Unless I could be absolutely certain that God was indeed revealing his will to me, my disobedience would not be evidence of a lack of faith in God on my part. It would be evidence of my belief that my church leader was nuts, or that I was hallucinating, or something similar. I know that church leaders sometimes say and do things which are not consistent with God’s will. I have both received and given uninspired advice and direction. I know that my track record telling the difference between promptings from God and promptings that originate elsewhere is spotty. In light of my experiences at seeing through the glass darkly, why would I ever assume that any direction to do something that violated my conscience was God’s will short of absolutely compelling evidence far stronger than anything I have ever experienced? And if I have absolute certainty that God wants me to do something, where is the test of faith? If I know for sure that God wants me to do X, common sense alone will dictate that I do it. That is not an act of faith, it is simple self interest.

  12. I sometimes wonder what would have happened, how God would have responded, if Abraham had respectfully refused to sacrifice Isaac. What if he had told God: “I am sorry… but from my own personal experiences in life, and due the way I feel about Isaac, I simply refuse to sacrifice him.”

    Would he have failed the test? Would God have punished Abraham or withheld blessings from him for refusing to do such a thing? Was this a test with two right answers?

    I suppose doctrinally the answer is that we must always obey God. But it seems strange to me that Abraham could argue with God over Sodom and Gomorrah and that we don’t have a record of a similar argument taking place between God and Abraham over the sacrifice of Isaac.

    It’s interesting to read thereafter that Sarah died. Jewish sources sometime suggest that Sarah died because she was so shocked and horrified at the possibility that her son could have been sacrificed — or that the adversary lied to Sarah and told her that in fact her son had been sacrificed — and that the shock this lie brought on to her caused her to die.

    It’s difficult to place this story in a modern context. If a man approaching the age of one hundred told us today that he was commanded to sacrifice his son, we would accuse him of senility or madness. We simply wouldn’t accept this kind of a scenario as plausible or acceptable. But we honor Abraham regularly over the pulpit for his devotion and obedience.

  13. The only way I can deal with the story of Abraham is to think it’s something like a Zen koan–something to beat your mind into submission with–because there’s no acceptable way to *explain* a God who behaves that way.

  14. From: “Deborah Laufer”
    Subject: spam: First Annual Symposium on Religious Violence and Peacemaking

    “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” xmlns:w = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:word” xmlns:st1 = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags”>

    Announcement and Invitation

    First Annual Symposium

    Religious Violence and Peacemaking

    Theme for 2004

    Holy Texts as Resources

    for Religious Behaviors

    Torah, New Testament, Quran:

    Duties of the Faithful

    On Violence and Peacemaking

    The Association for Conflict Resolution

    Washington, DC

    Sponsored by

    The ACR Section on Spirituality

    The First Annual Symposium on Religious Violence and Peacemaking, sponsored in 2004 by The Association for Conflict Resolution’s Spirituality Section, sets a goal of potentially great significance for theorists and practitioners of conflict prevention, management, resolution, and reconciliation. The Symposium for 2004 will be a forum for listening and dialogue towards understanding how authoritative religious texts contribute to conflict or peacemaking in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These three world religions have been selected not only because of their prominence in current international conflicts, but also because they share a historic reverence for religious texts from and upon which each religion’s believers obtain guidance for their duties to their God and others within and outside their religious communities.

    The general concept for The Symposium sounds beguilingly simple: arrange a meeting of competent spokespersons to represent each religion, charge each one to address his or her own religious textual tradition in a positive and non-polemical manner, compare the information presented, and gain insights into how at least these three religions’ texts contribute to their religious communities’ understandings and approaches to violence and peacemaking.

    Which Versions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

    According to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran, even when Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, were leading and teaching their followers, there were disagreements and misunderstandings. After the prophets died, their religious communities faced new situations and challenges and they turned to the treasured statements and deeds of their founders for guidance to preserve fidelity to their revelations. The sects continued to grow even to the present day and each sees itself as a central exponent of the true faith, if not its exclusive repository.

    The Symposium seeks representatives from major sects within each Book Religion, to the extent they can agree to participate within the strict guidelines described below. There is, however, insufficient space on the program to allow for every group to express its unique point of view regarding violence and peacemaking. Those groups who apply for participation on a “first come, first admitted” basis will be considered first.

    All three great religions have a diversity of viewpoints on the subjects of the Symposium. History is replete with examples where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim believers have used violence as a ready tool within their systems of theological ethics, at times also defining “peacemaking” as military pacification or even extermination. While there are fewer historical examples, these religions also have had sects and individual leaders who have worked for peace both within divided sects and in their relationships with persons unaffiliated or even opposed to their religious positions, including persons who have denied the central doctrines associated with their prophets.

    This diversity must be included on the Symposium’s panel of presenters to the extent possible so the members and guests of The Association for Conflict Resolution can understand and incorporate same in various programs and initiatives aimed towards conflict management, resolution, and reconciliation.

    Requirements for Participation in the Symposium

    Persons seeking to participate in the Symposium must submit a written petition to the Chairman that includes a statement of conformity to the following elements.

    Positive Presentation of Their Sects’ Viewpoints. Representatives have a positive, expository task in this forum: to select the religious texts of greatest import for their own religious group’s present viewpoints on these subjects, and to offer these in form and content understandable to persons who are not believers.

    Teachings from the Prophets. Representatives selected for participation accept responsibility to restrict their comments on the subjects to texts of their choosing drawn from the most authoritative teachings or actions of their founding prophets. This restriction may pose some discomfort for some representatives of faiths where the teachings and actions of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, are cited as all within the single history of revelation. If this is the case, nevertheless, representatives are asked to present only the viewpoints of the prophet to whom they point as definitive for their religion. Jewish representatives will speak concerning the Hebrew texts and Moses; Christian representatives will speak concerning Greek texts and Jesus; and, Muslim representatives will speak concerning Arabic texts and Muhammad. This admittedly arbitrary linguistic fence is designed to forestall offensive polemics and debates. Since the purpose of the Symposium is positive exposition, it is counterproductive and disrespectful in this forum for a Jew to interpret Jesus or Muhammad, or for a Christian to interpret Moses or Muhammad, or for a Muslim to interpret Moses or Jesus. A time for respectful and reasonable discussion will be set aside after the main presentations so Symposium presenters and participants can discuss and question each other, based on religious texts presented or omitted not the status or priority of any prophet.

    Principal Presentations Drawn from Original Languages. Representatives are asked to present their viewpoints based on the Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic languages in which the teachings of their prophets are recorded. Since very few of the Symposium’s audience will understand these languages, however, all spokespersons are asked to eliminate unnecessary linguistic points distracting non-specialists from the substantive teachings related to violence and peacemaking. Any necessary discussions of terms, grammar or syntax are to be relegated to endnotes for persons who may wish to explore such matters at a later time. Discussions of historic disagreements within the sect or religion on the meaning or application of prophetic teachings or actions are naturally essential to understanding how and why the representative’s sect or religion has taken a particular ethical position.

    Respect for Other Sect Representatives Present. Representatives selected agree to refrain from disparaging or disrespectful remarks to any doctrinal or exegetical representations made by persons from groups within their religion with whom they have had long historical debates. The Symposium accepts that major textual disagreements exist, and always will, between the sects of these great religions. Introduction of historic polemics is forbidden and, if initiated, will result in a representative’s dismissal from continued participation; that is, in the loss of continued opportunity to present the positive position and insights for understanding sought by the Symposium.

    Bona fide Representational Status. Representatives will be invited to participate who have demonstrated leadership and respect within their religion and sect. Resumes must demonstrate positions of responsibility and reflect sustained religious teaching experience in the original languages of their faith. Submission of publications attesting to substantial religious leadership is required, particularly if related to the subjects of the Symposium. Finally, petitions must be supported by official communications from the leadership of principal organizations recommending the prospective representatives as suited and able to participate within the guidelines set forth above.

    Prayer for the Symposium. Persons who petition participation in the Symposium are asked to pray and to solicit prayers from their religious communities on behalf of the Symposium’s intentions to provide a unique opportunity for communication, listening, dialogue, understanding and, above all, progress for The Association for Conflict Resolution’s members and guests in contributing to truthful statements and positive uses regarding the religions, sects, and viewpoints, represented. Truth and healthy relationships are not “relative” (that is, mere subjective constructs of no consequence) or irrelevant. When hatred is reduced and lives are spared so individuals, families, and societies, can live without harm or without harming, this is valuable for all people, religious and irreligious.

    Subject Matter for Presentation

    The Symposium’s very terminology is related to specific concerns of The Association for Conflict Resolution and The Spirituality Section. As such, it is recognized that representatives who participate are being asked to restrict themselves to a rather narrow educational opportunity. Nevertheless, given the state of world affairs, it is hoped that the representatives will view this constricted framework as a valuable teaching moment for their faith to a large group of serious professionals working for a safer global environment.

    What is meant by “violence and peacemaking” so that prospective representatives can decide whether or not they desire to participate, and the degree to which their religious texts may speak to the Symposium?

    Violence. Naïve definitions of this term extend only to physical aggression such as the infliction of physical pain and death. Mature definitions include the widest range of harms inflicted through psychological, social, economic, institutional, or other means. The prophets of the Book Religions did teach and respond to situations which were violent in this broader sense, i.e., treatment of or by believers that may not have been only physical harm but perceived and real psychological or spiritual harms. So, while a prophet may not have given teaching on “institutional violence” or “harmful gender roles,” it must be left to the representatives themselves to determine the essence and forms of prophetic teaching within the sacred texts that may address such concepts.

    Peacemaking. The same principles apply to this potentially problematic gerund, if left unexplained. “Peace” or the “making of peace” had particular meaning for the prophets of these great religions, and subsequent understandings by later religious teachers also have expanded what may be understood today. Peace is not only the absence of warfare, for example, but can be considered a state of spiritual equilibrium, so to speak, between humankind and God. Nevertheless, since the prophets themselves did address relationships between their followers and God and each another, as well as with relationships with unbelievers or even evil spiritual entities, these religious texts are appropriate for discussion.

    Conclusory Remarks by Representatives

    The Symposium does not expect representatives merely to exposit their religions’ sacred texts then to sit down without applying them to the contemporary situation. Any responsible religious leader must be incapable of such an assignment on such fundamentally momentous subjects in today’s world. Accordingly, the persons selected to speak on behalf of their religions and sects are requested—by way of a concluding section in their presentations—to offer their thoughts, noting whether they speak for themselves or as representatives of their faiths, on the following themes.

    Religious obligations of members of their own religious sect regarding violence, as they define that concept

    Religious obligations of members of their own religious sect regarding peacemaking, as they define that concept

    Suggestions as to how persons outside their religion can assist the representatives’ abilities to lead within their own religious group to promote a reduction in violence

    Suggestions as to how persons outside their religion can assist the representatives’ abilities to lead within their own religious group to promote an increase in non-violent methods for conflict understanding, management, and reconciliation

    Deadlines, Submission of Presentations, and Documentation of Symposium Proceedings

    Persons petitioning for participation must complete all application processes by June 30 and will be notified of a decision by July 15.

    Persons accepted for participation must submit a draft of their presentation by August 15. Drafts that depart from the structure of the Symposium described above will result in a withdrawal of the invitation to participate, without appeal. Invited representatives who believe the described format is inappropriately restrictive are invited to offer reasons and suggested accommodations, which will be considered on their merits. The final decision of the Chair for such suggestions remains with the Chair, without appeal.

    Persons accepted for participation agree to abide within the time allotment given for the verbal presentation to the Symposium. If they elect to summarize or expand on the content submitted as the final draft in their presentation, they agree to stay within the boundaries of content submitted—refusing to engage in polemics or other disruptive verbiage.

    Persons accepting the invitation to participate automatically grant unrestricted rights of reproduction for their presentations to The Association for Conflict Resolution, and to all co-participants. Reproductions by any parties may be published at will, non-profit or for- profit notwithstanding, in any format, so long as the publications do not delete or elide any content, including endnotes.

    The Symposium may elect to digitally record the presentations and, if so, will make available at cost to the participants one copy each of the events and proceedings.


    At this time, no funding exists to pay for any expenses of persons selected to be representatives who, therefore, must assume all financial liabilities incurred as a result of participation.


    John D. Willis, PhD, Chairman

    RVP Symposium / ACR

    The Graduate School

    Sullivan University

    1301 Bardstown Road

    Louisville, Kentucky 40205

    800-844-1354, ext. 558




  15. Hm. Okay, we have this extremely memorable and important story about Abraham’s faith, shown by obedience to a commandment that seems unacceptable. Is that the main thing we should be thinking of, though, when we think about doing the works of Abraham? The D&C verses you link to do not mention this particular manifestation of faith. Abraham left his father to escape idolatry, obtained the blessings of the priesthood, held to his testimony even in the face of death at the hand of a false priest, paid tithes to Melchizedek, showed great magnanimity in conflicts with his neighbors . . . The promises the D&C passage refers to were made long before the journey to Mount Moriah. Of course it’s an important story, but I’m not sure it needs to be the main thing on our minds in thinking of Abraham as a role model. And I hope it doesn’t, because I too have a tough time relating to that story as a model. For now, anyway.

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