Satan seeks to sow contention everywhere, including the Church. The person with a contentious spirit is usually thinking primarily of himself. And when we yield to such a spirit we separate ourselves further from the Spirit of God. “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,” said the Lord, “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 Ne. 11:29).
Sometimes contentions arise because we disagree with what a leader is trying to do. I recall one couple who were very upset at their bishop. They came to me, their stake president, and said the bishop had asked their son to be his assistant—but that the bishop had asked him to get his haircut before he was presented to the quorum. Their son had come home angry. He had just had a haircut a few days before and felt no need to have it shorter. As the mother and father complained to me, they referred to how much more serious it would be if he were smoking or drinking. But getting a hair cut seemed so trivial! Why would the bishop insist on that?
After listening to what they had to say, I asked them if they felt they really loved their son. They looked surprised at my question, but quickly assured me this was the reason they were here. I then told them that if he were my son I would go home and tell him how grateful I was that the bishop had such great love and respect for him. It was a great compliment to be chosen to be an assistant. Undoubtedly the bishop felt he must have leadership ability and the ability to be an example to all the other priests in the ward. I would explain to him how the Lord loves an obedient servant and that many times our obedience has to rest upon faith.
I told this wonderful couple that they needed to strengthen that bishop in the eyes of their son in every way possible; to do otherwise would only bring them unhappiness. Failure to support the bishop would communicate to their son that the bishop was not called of God, that we may follow our leaders only when we choose. The danger of this approach would be that they would be teaching their son that he was a law unto himself, ever sitting as a judge over the words and actions of those called to guide him. There would come a day, I said, when something much more critical than a haircut would arise to test their son. How he—and they—responded to this smaller test would help determine his response to the greater ones.
As we chatted, the contention in the room melted away. Through the Spirit we were all reminded that contention is of the devil and can bring only destructive results.
Sometimes we create contention in the Church by being insensitive to other people’s feelings. While serving as a missionary I was called to work in the mission home. Each morning it was my duty to teach a class in theology to all the missionaries there. One morning an elderly sister, just arrived in the mission, joined us for the class. During the discussion she objected to a concept I was teaching and even wanted to argue about her point. I was able to quickly prove her wrong. Then the Spirit of the Lord touched my soul and I noticed the hurt expression on her face. A question rushed through my mind: “What right did I have to be a missionary when I was so insensitive and unthoughtful to one of my sisters?”
At the end of the class I hurried to the mission library. For 1 1/2 hours I searched to find something to agree with what this sister had said. Finally I found a statement that supported her view. Delighted with my find, I now faced the challenge of my life. I had embarrassed her in front of all the missionaries; I now needed to repent in front of all the missionaries.
As we knelt at the breakfast table I asked President Banker if I could take a few minutes before prayer was offered. I then turned to this dear sister, apologized for what I had just learned a great lesson; if we let pride stop us from doing what is right, we can miss some of life’s greatest joys.
That morning the prayer seemed to be more pure. Life was exciting, and I was extremely happy. After breakfast this sister came to me and thanked me again. Repentance had followed contention, and peace of mind was the result.
When we learn to overcome contention, in our lives we bring ourselves closer to Christ. Contention destroys relationships between family members, and thwarts the smooth progress of the Church. But as we learn the gospel, repent of our mistakes, and live in obedience to the counsel of our living prophets, we can overcome contention and begin again to progress back to God. When we, through the Atonement and self-mastery, rise above the natural man, we will be able to begin to live eternal laws. And thus will come eternal blessings.