Donate to RNS

I need Mormon anger management

A Book of Mormon story reminds me to keep my anger in check even when (especially when?) I'm feeling righteous indignation, as I have this summer over women's ordination and same-sex marriage.

Anger managementYesterday my stake president offered up an impromptu talk about anger management, which frankly was one of the best homilies I’ve ever heard in church.

I’ve been aware of unresolved anger in my heart this summer, anger over some of the LDS Church’s decisions – such as excommunicating feminist Kate Kelly or Elder Nelson drawing an apparent line that suggests that faithful Mormons must oppose same-sex marriage.

It’s been a rough summer to be a Latter-day Saint.

In the talk, the SP told the story of one of his heroes from the Book of Mormon. But it’s not one of the usual suspects, like Nephi or Alma the Younger. It’s Pahoran, who is mostly famous for the way he responded to what the SP called the ancient equivalent of a nastygram.

In the story (Alma 59-61), a missive comes to Pahoran from Captain Moroni, a man of action who is justifiably incensed over government inaction and lack of support for the military.

Here Moroni is, risking his soldiers and his own life to defend his people, getting increasingly frustrated when the reinforcements he’s requested from Pahoran (the chief judge) never show. The Lamanites attack and many die. So Moroni writes Pahoran again, and this time he is really ticked (“great has been the slaughter among our people”).

And Moroni demands to know why. Why, he sputters, does Pahoran sit there on his throne in a “thoughtless stupor,” ignoring the very people who look to him for protection? Does Pahoran just think he can depend on the goodness of God to prevail, and do nothing useful to help the cause himself?

Moroni just might knock some sense into Pahoran the next time he’s in town, because oh, by the way? He’s on his way there, gathering an army of insurrectionists. He announces that he will seize what he needs by force from Pahoran if the judge and his cronies don’t “bestir” themselves ASAP.

Them’s fightin’ words.

But oddly, Pahoran does not receive them as such. Instead, he rejoices in the “greatness” of Moroni’s heart, in his passion and bravery. And he explains that the reason he didn’t answer the call earlier was not that he was basking in some life of ease, as accused, but because he’s been deposed.

Oops. The same marauders attacking the cities on the front lines have also put him out of a job. His is a government in exile now, a ragtag remnant that barely escaped the capital with their lives.

There’s a lot we can take from this story. For me personally, it’s a reminder that righteous indignation is important, but when I feel a rush of anger I don’t always have all of the facts or all sides of the story. I can be Moroni-esque in my passion for justice, which has its good points, but also its drawbacks.

This summer, as I’ve been praying about and for change in the church, I’ve been reminded time and again that there are beautiful children of God who oppose same-sex marriage, women’s ordination, and many of the other things I wholeheartedly support.

So I have to control my words when I am in Moroni’s shoes, when I’m pointing to what I perceive as injustice. But Pahoran’s response teaches me that I also have to guard my speech when I’m on the receiving end of other people’s fury.

Sometimes on this blog I get accused of all manner of things. One woman wrote me that I only blog to stir up trouble and dissent. A male reader thinks I am getting rich from my writing (a charge that can only be leveled by someone who is entirely ignorant of what it means to be a professional writer). And several times a month I get snarky comments from people who don’t think I’m a “real” Mormon because if I question leaders’ wisdom in some things then the zero-sum game of their faith insists that I have no testimony at all.

It’s tempting to lash out at these people – if they only had a clue how off-base they sometimes are. But “Mormon anger management” begins with me, with how I respond – or don’t respond — to people who disagree.

The Apostle Paul (or whoever penned Ephesians) once wrote that Christians are called to speak the truth in love. In my observation, just about everybody struggles with the second part of that statement.

Including me.