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A City on a Hill

Brothers and sisters, aloha.

It is an unbelievable experience to stand up here today in front of you. I use that word unbelievable on purpose. The most common reaction from friends and family members when I called to tell them I was asked to speak at a campus devotional was laughter. When I was a student here at BYU-Hawaii, don't think I was known for my nose-to-the-grindstone commitment to academic achievement. So have mercy on me today, because trust me, if I can end up standing in the CAC and speaking at a devotional, so can you.

I chose the title "A City on a Hill" for my remarks to you today. This is a powerful metaphor, and it has inspired many of the Lord's followers throughout history. Many communities have tried to fulfill this vision with varying degrees of success. This phrase, as many of you know, comes from the Savior's famous Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, the Savior outlined the qualities of the people who would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The opening lines of the sermon, known as the Beatitudes, bless those who show characteristics that were not highly thought of in that day. The poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the persecuted, and peacemakers: all are promised great blessings and a place in the Savior's Kingdom. In addition, these followers of the Savior were to serve as an example to the world. In Matthew 5:14-16, the Savior tells his disciples that "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." The Savior then commanded his followers to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

One of the blessings promised by the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount should resonate with us as a BYU-Hawaii community. Matthew 5:9 reads, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

One of our key goals as a university is to "[Prepare] men and women with the intercultural and leadership skills necessary to promote world peace and international brotherhood, to address world problems, and to be a righteous influence in families, professions, civic responsibilities, social affiliations, and the Church." We are in a unique position at BYU-Hawaii to become peacemakers, and in doing so set an example both within the Church and throughout the world. No other university, including Church-sponsored educational institutions, has a prophetic mandate to promote world peace. Despite the many peace studies programs at major universities, I could find no other university that had promoting world peace as a goal for its entire organization. As students, employees, and alumni of BYU-Hawaii, it is our responsibility to become a city on a hill, an example of peace for others to follow. It is my strong belief that if we are going to serve as an example to the world, if we are going to become a city on a hill, it will be because we strive to accomplish this mission of becoming peacemakers.

As a BYU-Hawaii graduate myself (not too long ago, I like to think), I realize that for many of you, establishing world peace is probably next to the last thing on your mind. And I understand that it is not just the time-consuming reality of work, church callings, research papers, reading assignments, classes, and other commitments that puts world peace low on your priority list. Peace is an elusive concept. Achieving peace seems a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. It is a goal, you might think, more suited to current world leaders and beauty pageant contestants. To make this problem worse, we live in a world that is without peace. In every corner of the world, conflict rages. Many of these are familiar to us through daily news headlines. Many we have never heard of. Some of us hail from nations rebuilding their communities and institutions after years of violence and conflict. Some of us have been touched by the effects of war on our families and loved ones.

In times of war we often feel it is impossible, impractical, or even wrong to proclaim peace. Many of us feel that war is a necessary prelude to peace. And yet we know of no time in our history that has been free of war and bloodshed. Despite our long history of warfare and conflict, we have been unable to achieve peace. We have never seen, so far, the "war to end all wars."
The good news, of course, is that peace can be achieved, both as individuals and collectively, through adherence to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a 2003 conference talk entitled "Blessed are the Peacemakers," Elder Russell M. Nelson reminded us that despite the "long history of hostility upon the earth...Peace is possible," and is a goal that all should strive towards. Elder Nelson encouraged us further to follow the path of peace as a Church and as individuals: He said, "As a Church, we must 'renounce war and proclaim peace.' As individuals, we should follow after the things which make for peace... Peaceful, even prosperous, living can come to those who abide His precepts and follow his pathway to peace. I declare this to the world."

Where do the obstacles to peace originate? During our mortal lives, we are subject to the temptations of the adversary, who lures us towards contention and selfishness. Satan works constantly to sow contention between people and nations by convincing us to give in to the natural man. James 4:1 reads "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" We have all experienced the welling of anger in the deepest places in our soul when we receive offense or injury, or in reaction to the offense or injury of our loved ones. In the aftermath of a perceived injury or abuse, both as individuals and nations, our natural reaction is to seek revenge or justice, which often leads to feelings of anger and even violence. However, we are commanded by the Lord to rise above the natural man and yield to the Spirit. In Mosiah 3:9, King Benjamin states that "the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a Saint through the atonement of Christ."

We are commanded to forsake contention in favor of peace. When the Savior addressed the people on the American continent, he proclaimed: "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, 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 Nephi 11:29) Doctrine and Covenants 98:16 commands us to "renounce war and proclaim peace."
How do we as Saints react to war and violent conflict? I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that nearly all Latter-day Saints, like most people on earth, "renounce war and proclaim peace." Few among us, thankfully, seek after war and conflict, especially those who have seen first-hand its horrible effect on people and societies.

Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, are quickest to renounce war and proclaim peace when it is someone else who has been injured or offended. We often look disapprovingly at nations or individuals that descend into violent conflict but then rationalize our own failings at peacemaking. The Savior had this tendency of ours in mind when he recited the parable of the mote and the beam. "And why beholdest though the mote that is in thy brother's eye; but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7: 3-5) The Lord requires us to perfect ourselves before we can become a righteous example to others.

Modern prophets as well as the scriptures counsel us as to how we as Latter-day Saints ought to react when tempted with feelings of anger and retribution. Doctrine and Covenants 105: 39-40 commands us to "lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth; And make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good." In a 1976 First Presidency message, President Spencer W. Kimball denounced our lack of faith when threatened by our enemies: "And so often it seems to be with people, having such a firm grasp on the things of the world - that which is telestial - that no amount of urging and no degree of emergency can persuade them to let go in favor of that which is celestial...We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel- ships, planes, missiles, fortifications- and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-Kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism; perverting the Savior's teaching: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven.'" President Kimball continued on to counsel us to "leave off the worship of modern day idols and reliance on the 'arm of the flesh.'" When threatened, is our first reaction to trust in the power of the Almighty God or to trust in our own strength? Do we live and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ or do we assemble ourselves on a battlefield to deal a crushing defeat to our enemies? If our first reaction is to return violence with violence, which Master do we serve?

War, far from being merely "politics by other means," is the result of entire nations, peoples, and communities overcome with the spirit of contention to the point where unspeakable acts of violence upon their fellow man are justified. This cycle of violence often drags societies on a self-destructive, downward spiral of hatred. Observing his own people, the Nephites, the prophet Moroni lamented that "For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually." (Moroni 9:5) Throughout history, many people and nations have reached the point where they can no longer remember the origin of their anger and hatred towards one another. Their hatred for their enemies becomes a cancerous part of their own self identity.
Once this awful threshold has been crossed, how can we achieve peace? I believe that it takes people committed to stepping forward and saying "enough." The strength, faith and courage required to do this can only come through reliance on the Spirit and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Book of Mormon, Alma chapters 23 and 24 tell the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, an elect group of Lamanites who were converted to God and "came to a knowledge of the truth." Their history of war and aggression became an offensive reminder to them of their former state. They chose a new name, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, to distinguish them from their unconverted Lamanite brethren. Soon after their conversion, the Lamanites in the lands around them came against the Nephites and the Anti-Nephi Lehies in battle. Ammon and the other Nephite missionaries warned the Anti-Nephi-Lehies that the Lamanites were coming to destroy them, and suggested they prepare to defend themselves. Alma 24:6 records their reaction in the face of the approaching Lamanite army: "Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not." Instead, the Anti-Nephi Lehies buried their weapons and swore an oath before God never to use them again. Alma chapter 24:19, reads: "And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace." The Anti-Nephi-Lehies paid the ultimate price for their decision. They were killed by the advancing Lamanite army in the very act of praising God. And yet when the Lamanites realized that their converted brothers refused to fight and kill any longer, their guilt drove many of them to put an end to the killing and to embrace the message of truth. Alma plainly gives us the moral to this story in the final verse of chapter 24: "And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people."

Of course, in times of war and conflict, Latter-day Saints throughout the world will be called upon to serve their nations. The Church has made it clear that we are required to honor and obey the laws of the land. This will force many of us into theatres of conflict and many more of us will be affected by the absence of those who have been called to fight. During World War II, Latter-day Saints faced one another on the battlefields of Western Europe. Many Church members, including apostles and prophets, have distinguished themselves through service in their country's armed forces. But serving with distinction in the fighting forces of our nations, and supporting those who do so, does not mean dehumanizing our enemies as inherently evil or fundamentally different from ourselves. In 1 Nephi 17:35, we are reminded that "Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one. He that is righteous is favored of God." In Doctrine and Covenants 38:16, the Lord tells Joseph Smith that "all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons." We are all God's children, and the only thing that we can do to win His favor is to keep His commandments. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we are required to love and forgive one another.
This, of course, is not easy. Our ability to forgive our enemies is one of the most difficult commandments that the Savior has given to us. But it is a commandment nonetheless. In Doctrine and Covenants 64:10, the Lord commands that "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." We are commanded to love our enemies. These commandments from the Lord come to us without qualifications. We are not commanded to forgive all men unless they treat us poorly. We are not commanded to love our enemies until they attack us. We are commanded, without qualification, to love our enemies and forgive all men.

In October 1946 General Conference, following the end of World War II, President George F. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related the following experience: "A few years ago...I had a remarkable dream. I have seldom mentioned it to other people. I dreamed a group of my own associates found ourselves in a courtyard where, around the outer edge of it, were German soldiers-and Fuhrer Adolph Hitler was there with this group, and they seemed to be sharpening their swords and cleaning their guns, and making preparations for a slaughter of some kind, or an execution. We knew not what, but evidently we were their objects. But presently a circle formed and this Fuhrer and his men were all within the circle, and my group and I were circled on the outside; and he was sitting on the inside of the circle with his back to the outside, and when we walked around and I got directly opposite to him, I stepped inside the circle and walked across to where he was sitting, and spoke to him in a manner something like this: "I am your brother. You are my brother. In our heavenly home we lived together in love and peace. Why can we not so live together here on earth?" And it seemed to me that I felt in myself, welling up in my soul, a love for that man, and I could feel that he was having the same experience, and presently he arose, and we embraced each other and kissed each other, a kiss of affection...I think the Lord gave me that dream. Why should I dream of this man, one of the greatest enemies of mankind, and one of the wickedest, but that the Lord should teach me to love my enemies, and I must love the wicked as well as the good?" Remember, Elder Richards made these remarks not one full year after the end of hostilities in World War II. Present in his audience were, undoubtedly, servicemen and women who had been injured, even maimed for life. Widows and children of the slain may have been included among those who heard his words that day. Forgiveness and peace are not easy messages. But they are the message of the Savior nonetheless.

What are some of the ways that we can become peacemakers?
First, we must confirm our individual commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Inward manifestation of this commitment includes obedience to the Lord's commandments, and striving daily to strengthen our testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Outward manifestation of our commitment to living the gospel includes serving others in our wards and reaching out beyond our own comfort zone to serve in our communities. This requires viewing one another as brothers and sisters of the divisions the world creates. In the BYU-Hawaii group on the website Facebook, one of our students posed the question "What does it mean to have the most diverse school representing over 70 different countries?" Another student responded, "It means that there is no room for prejudice, racism, or narrow mindedness." Imagine if we could take that simple and powerful lesson with us from this place and apply it globally, in every community that we become a part of.

We are in a place where we can see and experience the fruits of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ preached to the ends of the earth. In the dedication of the Aloha Center, President Marion G. Romney called BYU-Hawaii "a living laboratory in which individuals who share the teachings of the Master Teacher have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another. For what can be done here interculturally in a small way is what mankind must do on a large scale if we are ever to have real brotherhood on earth." As students, you must recognize the hand of the Lord in bringing you to this place, and to live worthily in order to help fulfill the mission of this university. I realize that this is a heavy burden. Maybe this is why the Lord decided to place us here, in Hawaii, to sweeten the deal a bit. Make no mistake, you are part of this living laboratory. You are not standing outside of it, looking in. By virtue of your presence here, the Lord has big plans for you. Be worthy, in every way, of the blessings He has in store for you.
Second, we must erase the artificial divisions that exist between us. We must see one another as the Lord sees us. While our cultural, national, and regional identities are important, emphasizing our identities as Latter-day Saints can overcome the temptation to focus on our differences at the expense of our one similarity-that we are sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven and brothers and sisters here on this earth. The artificial divisions that we create are irrelevant to the Lord. When they become irrelevant to us, we move closer to becoming that city on a hill.

Third, we must search for practical ways to bridge these worldly divides. I will use two examples from this campus to illustrate what I mean. In 1987, the citizens of Fiji were torn by political strife. A military coup had brought ethnic tensions between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians to a violent head. Here at BYU-Hawaii, representatives of both the Fijian and Indo-Fijian community worked together to set an example of unity to their brothers and sisters at home. Fijian Club members, along with associated faculty and community members, met informally in the days immediately following the coup and decided that they would not succumb to the bitter strife that engulfed their nation, but would, in the words one participant, "use Christ as our guide" and stand united in faith. The next meeting of the Fijian Club was a forum that proclaimed their commitment to the Christian principles of love and brotherhood in the face of political turmoil. They had become a city on a hill.

Second story: In 2006, tensions between India and Pakistan made global headlines. The two countries, both with nuclear arsenals, appeared to be at the brink of war. During the height of this escalating conflict, BYU-Hawaii students from India and Pakistan created a library display that highlighted their shared cultural heritage. Photographs, beautiful clothing, and other items laid side by side bore testimony that the commitment of these students and their advisors to the gospel of Jesus Christ could overcome the political differences that divided their homelands. Here at BYU-Hawaii, these students decided to do something to communicate their commitment to peace. They too had become a city on a hill. These are just two examples of the kinds of actions referred to in Mosiah 15:14-16 "And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!"

In September of 1955, President David O. McKay broke ground for the Church College of Hawaii, a two year junior college here on the rural northeastern side of Oahu. It happened not 500 yards from where we sit today. The Laie of 1955 was a very different place than it is now. Fifty-two years ago, news from Oahu's North Shore was reported in the "Neighbor Islands" sections of the Honolulu newspapers. Our university began in modest circumstances. There were 153 students enrolled for the first quarter at CCH, and classes were held in converted World War II surplus buildings. The students were from Hawaii and the mainland United States. None of them were what the school considered "international." Despite these humble beginnings, President David O. McKay prophesied a grand future. He declared that "from this school...will go forth men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally." This statement might have been seen as wildly optimistic had it not come from a prophet of God.

My brothers and sisters, we can be a city on a hill. It is the prophetic destiny of this unique institution. This is a place ordained of God to accomplish that most difficult of all tasks, to establish peace internationally. You are a part of it. Let us commit ourselves to Christ, join arm in arm with our brothers and sisters, and fulfill the mission of this place. The Lord's promises to such peacemakers are great. Elder Russell M. Nelson has told us what it means to succeed as peacemakers. He said, "Ours an age of unparalleled peace and progress. Barbarism of the past would be buried. War with its horrors would be relegated to the realm of maudlin memory. Aims of nations would be mutually supportive. Peacemakers could lead in the art of arbitration, give relief to the needy, and bring hope to those who fear. Of such patriots, future generations would shout praises, and our Eternal God would pass judgments of glory." Brothers and sisters, let our feet be beautiful upon the mountains. Let us be peacemakers, and in so doing be a city on the hill, for the world to see, to marvel at, and to do likewise, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.