BYU community applies President Nelson’s peacemaker invitation to political discourse

President Russell M. Nelson waves to the congregation during the 193rd Annual General Conference. During the conference, President Nelson spoke about becoming peacemakers in a time of great contention. (Kamree Laursen)

During the most recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson called on members to be peacemakers.

Members of the BYU community are discussing the talk in light of contentious political discourse in the past few years.

In his address to members and friends of the Church, President Nelson shared how common it is for individuals to belittle those who do not agree with them.

“Too many pundits, politicians, entertainers and other influencers throw insults constantly. I am greatly concerned that so many people seem to believe that it is completely acceptable to condemn, malign and vilify anyone who does not agree with them,” President Nelson said.

The American flag waves in the wind. Since 2016, the political environment in the United States has continued to become more hostile. (Ethan Porter)

This growing trend of disparaging, name-calling and attacking those outside of one’s own political party in the U.S. has continued to get worse since the 2016 election.

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted from June 27 to July 4, 2022, members of the Democratic and Republican Parties were asked to talk about members of the opposite party.

The results of the poll showed that Republicans and Democrats both had become more hostile in how they described members of the other political party.

Members of both parties called those in the other party “closed-minded, dishonest, immoral, unintelligent and lazy” with 53% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats saying four or more of these traits compared to 30% and 22% respectively in 2016.

Graphs show the results of the Pew Research Survey. Since 2016, both political parties have become more hostile towards one another. (Pew Research Center)

In his address, President Nelson said vilifying others with “pathetic and pithy barbs” will not bring about any meaningful change.

“Anger never persuades. Hostility builds no one. Contention never leads to inspired solutions,” President Nelson said.

Ethan Busby, an assistant professor of American politics at BYU, said disagreement between the two parties is not worrying, but it is when it is rooted in frustration and anger that it can become problematic.

“I’m not worried about disagreement and even not deep-seated disagreement, we don’t all have to pretend to agree, it’s when we get to the point where if you don’t get what you want you will burn it all down to the ground,”  Busby said.

According to Busby, social media has also played a role in driving contention and animosity between both parties because it creates a distorted picture of political opponents.

Jensen Lambert, a political science major at BYU, said such sentiments from politicians trying to be the most popular and viral figures on social media through outrage and contention.

“Media outlets like Fox News and MSNBC have found out that outrage sells so much better than facts,” Lambert said.

According to Lambert, the rise of Donald Trump and his eventual win in the 2016 election also played a big role in the rising contention between the two parties over the last six years.

“This idea of doubling-down rather than apologizing has kind of become the norm,” Lambert said.

Jensen Lambert shares how Donald Trump and Joe Biden both have used rhetoric in their presidencies to create contention between both parties. Over the last six years, these contentions have continued to get worse as members from both parties lash out at one another. (Ethan Porter)

Kelly Patterson, an American politics professor, believes that finding common ground over social media will help reduce the hostility between the two parties.

“People should not compartmentalize. To mistreat someone verbally is not okay just because it’s Twitter or Facebook and just because others are doing it. You have to find the commonality,” Patterson said.

According to President Nelson, learning how to overcome contention requires more strength than choosing to resolve disputes through confrontation and anger.

“Contention reinforces the false notion that confrontation is the way to resolve difference, but it never is. Contention is a choice. Peacemaking is a choice. I urge you to choose to be a peacemaker now and always,” President Nelson said.

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