I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

How do Aaronic Priesthood holders hold the keys to the “gospel of repentance,” as stated in Doctrine and Covenants 13?

Darrel B. Harker, recently released bishop of the Sherwood Park Second Ward, Edmonton Alberta Bonnie Doon Stake. I was asked this question some time ago by the members of an Aaronic Priesthood class I taught, and I was stumped. After some study, I felt better able to answer.

One of the principles I learned was that when Priesthood keys are turned they open “spiritual doors” for our Heavenly Father’s children. I also learned that since the bishop is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward (see D&C 107:13–15), he holds the keys to repentance for the people of his ward. As a judge in Israel (see D&C 107:72–74), a bishop helps those who have committed serious sins to repent. He decides what action, if any, they must take to fully repent, and he also offers support to help them put their lives in order so that they can again be worthy to receive the blessings of the gospel.

When John the Baptist gave the Aaronic Priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (which keys have subsequently been given to others), he also gave them the right to help others repent so they can come unto Christ and enjoy the blessings of the Atonement. Today, each bishop holds these keys to open the “spiritual door” of repentance for the members of his ward.

Several months after I had taught that Aaronic Priesthood class, I again had the opportunity to meet with them. I admitted that the answer I had previously given was incomplete and that because of their question I had learned a principle I might not have learned otherwise. I explained how a bishop exercises the key to the gospel of repentance as he works with members who need his help to repent.

As we discussed the matter, I wondered how I could make this principle relevant to the young men in the quorum—none of whom were bishops. As I thought about how to do so, I realized that the office of bishop is not the only office of the Aaronic Priesthood that can open a “spiritual door” that will put members in a position where they can go through the steps of repentance.

The repentance that leads to salvation cannot occur until we look to the Savior and accept his atonement. Aaronic Priesthood ordinances are designed to put us on the path to effectual repentance by turning our thoughts and hearts to Christ.

In biblical times, the sacrificial ordinances performed by Aaronic Priesthood holders were done in a way that helped the children of Israel appreciate their Savior and his atonement—to which they must look for a remission of their sins. John the Baptist, an Aaronic Priesthood holder, spent his ministry helping to prepare the Church members of his day to accept Christ as their Savior and come unto Him—the only way they could truly receive the “gospel of repentance.”

For the same reasons, latter-day Aaronic Priesthood holders prepare, administer, and pass the sacrament, and baptize. Both of these ordinances help ward members to repent. Baptism, the first ordinance necessary for salvation, can be performed by those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood office of priest. It is an essential step for all who accept the atonement of Christ and the cleansing from sin it offers. Through baptism, we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and covenant to serve the Lord and keep his commandments.

The sacrament, another important ordinance in which we review our baptismal covenants, is administered by the Aaronic Priesthood. The sacrament plays an important part in our salvation because it symbolizes our acceptance of the Atonement and our partaking of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. As young men prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament each week, they help others to repent and come unto Christ.

In addition to participating in these ordinances, many Aaronic Priesthood holders have the opportunity to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.” (D&C 20:59.) Such teaching strengthens members and helps bring souls to Christ.

Both former-day and latter-day Aaronic Priesthood holders have exercised the keys of the gospel of repentance as they have participated in ordinances that turn repentant hearts and souls to Christ and his atonement. Indeed, all the duties of Aaronic Priesthood holders help to open a “spiritual door” by which we can come unto the Lord, repent of our sins, and enjoy the blessings of “the gospel of repentance.”

I am confused about the Lord’s counsel to “turn the other cheek.” If a person is abused, taunted, or persecuted, must he or she simply endure it without complaint? When and how should we defend ourselves?

LaRae Clarke, associate dean of student life, Ricks College. The idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was part of the Mosaic law. (See Lev. 24:19–20.) However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples that he had come to fulfill the law of Moses and to replace retaliation with understanding, love, and the ability to distinguish between sin and sinner—to denounce and even hate sin, but to love and forgive the sinner.

He said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:38–39; see also 3 Ne. 12:38–39.)

At least one Jewish sect adopted a philosophy similar to the one Jesus advocated. For the hasidim, a sect founded in Poland in the eighteenth century, “the recommended form of behavior for the hasid was to always be among those who do not return an insult,” all the while remaining as if they were “deaf and dumb” to their persecutors’ taunts. (A History of the Jewish People, ed. H. H. Ben-Sasson, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976, pp. 551–52.)

In Matthew 18:21–22, we read that Peter asked Jesus, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”

And Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”

In the context of Jesus’ teachings, it would appear that “seventy times seven” means as often as one is sinned against. Because he taught his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and forgive others, it is clear that Jesus was opposed to retaliation.

But, beyond that, Jesus set forth a procedure for dealing with abuse, taunting, and persecution:

“If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matt. 18:15.)

As a mission president’s wife, I saw this procedure help solve several serious problems between missionary companions. Missionaries sometimes told my husband about how their companions annoyed them. The problem could be how one dressed, brushed his teeth, or made his bed. It might be about her personal cleanliness, cooking, speech habits, or table manners. Though many of the issues they struggled over were of little importance, their actions and sharp words could cut deeply.

Usually, when my husband spoke to the missionary who was offended, he would ask, “Have you discussed this problem with your companion?”

More often than not, the missionary’s answer was, “No. I cannot talk with my companion; he will not listen to me.”

My husband encouraged the companions to sit down together and try to resolve the problem in a loving manner. “You can say almost anything to anyone without offense if you’ll keep your voice low and remember to smile,” he said. “In any event, do not retaliate.”

Most times, the missionaries’ talk helped their relationship, and they were able to solve their own problems without my husband’s intervention.

What if talking about the problem with the person involved doesn’t solve it? What do we do then? We may need to seek help. And the Lord has outlined the way to do so in the next verse of Matthew 18: “If [the persecutor] will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matt 18:16.)

In my employment at Ricks College, I have dealt with students who have been the targets of abuse, taunting, and persecution. One young woman came to see me to tell me that her roommates had violated the college’s code of honor. She had tried to persuade them to cease, and they had taunted her and called her a “Molly Mormon” because she would not participate in their questionable activities.

When talking with them failed, she reported the infraction to the head resident, who also tried to persuade the girls to desist from their wrongdoing.

After repeated violations, the case was referred to me. The offending girls admitted their violations and discussed the problem with me, their bishop, and their parents. They agreed that there would be no recurrence of the problem and that they would attend church and family home evening and participate in apartment prayer. If necessary, I might also have asked them to obtain counseling through the Ricks College counseling service or through LDS Social Services. Thus, the young woman who came to me was able to defend herself, and the abuse she endured eventually gave way to love, peace, and harmony in their apartment.

The Lord’s counsel to “turn the other cheek” and, if necessary, to seek help, generally will work in dealing with insults, scorn, taunts, and verbal persecution. But what if persecution is physical or life-threatening? Must we simply endure it without complaints? Are we ever justified in defending ourselves?

We can find the answers to many of these questions in the Book of Mormon. Mormon wrote that the Lord told the Nephites who fought under Captain Moroni, “Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.” (Alma 43:47.) The Lord had also told them that “Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.” (Alma 43:46.)

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read similar counsel to the Saints who endured the persecution of mobs in Missouri. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “If men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded.”

The Lord continued: “If your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold.

“And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold;

“And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy. …

“If that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family. …

“If he shall come upon you or your children … I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands;

“And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness.” (D&C 98:23–30.)

Though there are clearly some cases in which we should defend ourselves and our families, particularly when our lives are endangered, the Lord wants us to do all we can to preserve peace. In fact, the Book of Mormon tells us that when the Nephites began to seek vengeance, the Nephite army began to lose battles and was eventually destroyed.

Even when disputes are solved peacefully, we may find it difficult to forgive those who have injured us. “We are all prone to brood on the evil done us,” says President Gordon B. Hinckley. “That brooding becomes a gnawing and destructive canker. Is there a virtue more in need of application in our time than the virtue of forgiving and forgetting?” he asks. (Be Thou An Example, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981, p. 49.)

We must constantly strive to forgive those who persecute us; in fact, the Lord says that we should not only forgive those who persecute us, but also love and pray for them. (See Matt. 5:44; see also Luke 6:27–28, 35; 3 Ne. 12:44.)

Learning to forgive and to endure persecution can actually strengthen us, as Elder Paul H. Dunn points out. “The way to deal with trouble,” he says, “is not just to bear it strongly, but to use it. Let us think of it as a problem to solve, let us use it as a hill to climb. It may seem difficult, it may be hard to endure. … But what would life be like if we never climbed any physical hills and never solved any mental and spiritual problems? No wonder the Savior told us to rejoice and be exceedingly glad in the presence of persecution!” (Meaningful Living, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968, p. 84.)

A true follower of Christ does not simply “turn the other cheek” unceasingly, but, when necessary, seeks reconciliation and solutions to problems peacefully, in genuine friendship. If we are unable to solve a particular problem ourselves, we may appeal to others to help us. Only when absolutely necessary should we defend ourselves by other than peaceful means.