Chapter 5: The Blessings of Unity

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, (2011), 38–48


Unity and its synonyms—harmony, goodwill, peace, concord, mutual understanding—express a condition for which the human heart constantly yearns.1

Introduction

From October 1934 to April 1951, Presidents J. Reuben Clark Jr. and David O. McKay served together as counselors in the First Presidency, first to President Heber J. Grant and then to President George Albert Smith. Throughout this time, President Clark served as first counselor and President McKay served as second counselor.

On 9 April 1951, five days after President Smith’s death, Latter-day Saints met for general conference and sustained President David O. McKay as President of the Church. There they learned that President Clark, who had served faithfully as first counselor for almost 17 years, had been called to serve as second counselor. President Stephen L Richards had been called as first counselor.

the first presidency

President McKay with his counselors, President Stephen L Richards (left) and President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (right). President McKay said he wished Church members could have “glimpsed the unity of the First Presidency.”

Sensing that Church members would question this change, President McKay took time in general conference to explain the calling of his two counselors. He said that President Richards had been called as first counselor because he had served longer than President Clark in the apostleship. Emphasizing that this practice was not an “established policy,” President McKay simply said that “it seemed advisable” in the callings of Presidents Richards and Clark.

As President McKay continued with his address, he spoke of the unity he felt with his counselors: “We do not want any member in this Church, nor any man or woman listening in to harbor the thought for a moment that there has been any rift between the two counselors who sustained President Smith in the Quorum of the First Presidency, and President Grant for the years that we were together with that inspired leader. Neither should you feel that there is any demotion. President Clark is a wonderful servant. …

“You should understand further, that in the counselorship of the Quorum of the First Presidency these two men are coordinate in authority, in love, and confidence, in freedom to make suggestions, and recommendations, and in their responsibility not only to the Quorum but also to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the people generally.

“They are two great men. I love them both, and say God bless them, and give you the assurance that there will be harmony and love and confidence in the Quorum of the First Presidency as you have sustained them today.”2

Shortly after President McKay made this statement, President Clark spoke to the Saints, expressing his desire to work harmoniously with his fellow servants: “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines. I pledge to President McKay and to President Richards the full loyal devoted service to the tasks that may come to me to the full measure of my strength and my abilities, and so far as they will enable me to perform them, however inadequate I may be.”3

In a general conference three years later, President McKay again spoke of the unity he enjoyed with other Church leaders: “I wish that all within the sound of my voice at this moment, all who have any prejudice in their hearts, might have glimpsed the General Authorities in the House of the Lord last Thursday morning, when they met in fasting and prayer to prepare themselves spiritually for the responsibilities awaiting them in this great conference. You would have glimpsed the unity of the First Presidency and through this transmission of heart to heart, soul to soul, you would have known the love I bear for [my] two counselors, for their clear vision and sound judgment and their patience with their leader when necessary. You would have glimpsed the unity and love of these twelve men [the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles], of … the Seventy, … and the Presiding Bishopric. We pray that the love and unity in that meeting may extend to every stake presidency, mission presidency, every bishopric, every priesthood quorum and auxiliary throughout the Church. With such unity and love there is no power on earth which can stop the progress of this, the work of God.”4

Teachings of David O. McKay

The Lord desires unity among His followers.

“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:11, 20–21.)

Thus in one of the most sublime prayers ever offered among men, Jesus makes unity pre-eminent among his followers.

Unity and its synonyms—harmony, goodwill, peace, concord, mutual understanding—express a condition for which the human heart constantly yearns. Its opposites are discord, contention, strife, confusion. …

May the appeal of our Lord in his intercessory prayer for unity be realized in our homes, our wards and stakes, and in our support of the basic principles of freedom.5

Unity of purpose, with all working in harmony, is needed to accomplish God’s work. In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith about one year after the Church was organized, the Lord in a broad sense makes known why his great work, to be accomplished, has been restored for the benefit of mankind and to prepare the way for his second coming. Said he:

“And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9.)

Herein we learn of the great obligations placed upon this people to assist the Lord in bringing these things to pass among men. It requires unity and dedication to its purposes. Concerning this need, the Lord has given this warning:

“… Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matt. 12:25.)6

We must avoid attitudes and actions that lead to disunity.

One of the first conditions that will bring about disunity will be selfishness; another will be envy: “Brother So-and-so passed me by and said nothing to me about the matter.” “The bishopric chose Sister So-and-so to be organist, and she can’t play half as well as I.” “I’m not going to priesthood meeting any more because the bishopric appointed a certain man to act as adviser of the priests.” “The Sunday School chose So-and-so as a teacher.” … “The presidency of the stake has never recognized me, and I feel offended.” “The General Authorities do not always see eye to eye.” Oh! a hundred and one little things like that may come up—little things, insignificant in themselves when we compare them with the greater and more real things of life. And yet, I know from experience that the adversary can so magnify them that they become mountains in our lives, and we are offended, and our spirituality starves because we entertain those feelings.

There is another element—fault-finding—associated with that spirit of envy. We find fault with a neighbor. We speak ill of each other. When that feeling comes, it is a good thing just to sing that simple little [Church] hymn, “Nay, Speak No Ill.”

“Nay, speak no ill; a kindly word
Can never leave a sting behind;
And, oh, to breathe each tale we’ve heard
Is far beneath a noble mind.
Full oft a better seed is sown
By choosing thus the kinder plan,
For, if but little good is known,
Still let us speak the best we can.
“Then speak no ill, but lenient be
To other’s failings as your own.
If you’re the first a fault to see,
Be not the first to make it known,
For life is but a passing day;
No lip may tell how brief its span;
Then, O the little time we stay,
Let’s speak of all the best we can.”

[Hymns, no. 233.]7

May we go forth with greater resolution to defend one another in righteous living, to defend the Church, not to speak against our neighbors, nor against authorities of the Church, local, stake, or general. Let us avoid evil speaking; let us avoid slander and gossip. These are poisons to the soul to those who indulge. Evil speaking injures the reviler more than the reviled.8

There are destructive termites of homes, as well as of houses, and some of these are backbiting, evil-speaking, faultfinding on the part either of parents or of children. Slander is poison to the soul. “Slanderers are like flies that pass all over a man’s good parts to light only on his sores.” In the ideal home, there is no slanderous gossip about … schoolteachers, about public officials, or Church officials. I am more grateful now, as years have come and gone, to my father, who with hands lifted said, “Now, no faultfinding about your teacher or anybody else.”9

Family unity makes the home a place of refuge and protection.

A child has the right to feel that in his home he has a place of refuge, a place of protection from the dangers and evils of the outside world. Family unity and integrity are necessary to supply this need.10

I can imagine few, if any, things more objectionable in the home than the absence of unity and harmony. On the other hand, I know that a home in which unity, mutual helpfulness, and love abide is just a bit of heaven on earth. I surmise that nearly all of you can testify to the sweetness of life in a home in which these virtues predominate. Most gratefully and humbly I cherish the remembrance that never once as a lad in the home of my youth did I ever see one instance of discord between father and mother, and that goodwill and mutual understanding has been the uniting bond that has held together a fortunate group of brothers and sisters. Unity, harmony, goodwill are virtues to be fostered and cherished in every home.11

Very frequently discords arise in the home because husbands desire to save their own dignity and have their own way, have their own wishes carried out. Wives desire the same. Some exercise their prerogative to have the last word. Husbands are sometimes even more eager to have it than wives. Each really is trying to save himself or herself, and instead of having harmony and peace in the home there arises discord. Instead of saving the life of harmony in the home, you lose it, merely because you are seeking to save your own selfish life, or have your own selfish way. Better to lose that desire. Say nothing, and in losing your desire and that feeling of enmity, of ruling, of governing, you say nothing, and you gain your life in the home.12

May God bless you all, and may he guide and help you that righteousness, harmony, and love for one another may dwell in each home.13

Unity in the Church leads to progress and spirituality.

The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to establish peace. The Living Christ is its head. Under him tens of thousands of men in the Church are divinely authorized to represent him in variously assigned positions. It is the duty of these representatives to manifest brotherly love, first toward one another, then toward all mankind; to seek unity, harmony, and peace in organizations within the Church, and then by precept and example extend these virtues throughout the world.14

In branches and wards of the Church, there is no virtue more conducive to progress and spirituality than the presence of this principle. When jealousy, backbiting, [and] evil-speaking supplant mutual confidence, unity, and harmony, the progress of the organization is stifled. …

Inner weakness is more dangerous and more fatal than outward opposition. The Church is little if at all injured by persecution and calumnies [or false charges] from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies; a greater hindrance to its progress comes from faultfinders, shirkers, commandment-breakers, and apostate cliques within.15

It is the principle of unity that has enabled the wards, stakes, branches, and missions of the Church to progress and to accomplish the purposes for which the Church was established. It could not have been done by dissension and hatred. There have been difficulties. Each member of the Church has his own ideas. Sometimes they are not the same as those of the bishopric, and not the same as those of the presidency of the stake, and not the same as the Presidency of the Church; but each has had to submerge his own ideas to the good of the whole, and in that united purpose we have achieved something that is wonderful.

As I think of the future of this Church and of the welfare of the young men and women, as well as of the mothers and fathers, I feel impressed that there is no more important message to give than “to be one,” and avoid things that may cause a rift among members. I know that the adversary has no stronger weapon against any group of men or women in this Church than the weapon of thrusting in a wedge of disunity, doubt, and enmity. …

The challenge is before us; we cannot fail in the divine commitments given to us as a people. Unity of purpose, with all working in harmony within the structure of Church organization as revealed by the Lord, is to be our objective. Let each member, teacher, and leader feel the importance of the position that each one holds. All are important to the successful accomplishment of God’s work, which is our work.16

The greatest safeguard we have for unity and strength in the Church is found in the priesthood, by honoring and respecting it. Oh, my brethren—presidents of stakes, bishops of wards, and all who hold the priesthood—God bless you in your leadership, in your responsibility to guide, to bless, to comfort the people whom you have been appointed to preside over and to visit. Guide them to go to the Lord and seek inspiration so to live that they may rise above the low and the mean, and live in the spiritual realm.

Recognize those who preside over you and, when necessary, seek their advice.17

May the [organizations in] the Church be blessed with the spirit of unity and harmony. May there be banished from their hearts the spirit of enmity, backbiting, and evil speaking, and may they keep in their hearts the truth expressed by Jesus when he said, “… if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.)18

Let that spirit of unity and oneness for which our Lord and Savior prayed on the night of his betrayal, be characteristic of this his Church: Father, keep them one, as thou and I are one [see John 17:11].19

Commitment to gospel ideals is the surest way to unity.

A leading writer … [has expressed]: “The world has many good people in it today, more who are ready to believe than ever before, but these people possess no unifying ideals, no organic principles, no coherent view of life, no synthetic program of action. Society is coming to self-consciousness, and is beginning to take note of its troubles and needs, but it has no clear sense of direction, no organizing impulse, no all-inclusive ideals, no mighty impulsion. … Is there anything by which our nature can gain its unity; our race acknowledge its brotherhood, our humanity order its affairs as a whole?”

We answer, yes—such a uniting force, such an ideal is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. It explains man’s life and its purpose, and has within it the vital saving elements, noble ideals, and spiritual uplift for which the heart of man today is yearning.20

“Good tidings of great joy” [Luke 2:10]—The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that good tidings. The term “Gospel” means, literally, “good news,” and such is the news that emanates from above. … There have always been, in every dispensation, opportunities for men to receive that good news, and these prophets who were in tune with the Infinite and who heard first and directly that good news, have had imposed upon them the responsibility to convey that good news to others of their fellow-men, that they who are concerned with the things of the world might receive the glad message and be brought back into the environment of peace, harmony, and good will.21

Whether in the islands of the sea, in Japan, in Syria, in the Scandinavian countries, in England, Germany, France, Holland—wherever one meets a group of Latter-day Saints whose faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is unwavering, there one finds the spirit of oneness, the spirit of love, the spirit of willing sacrifice for the good of humanity. God bless the Latter-day Saints all over the world that they may continue in that same spirit.22

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • How are God the Father and Jesus Christ one? What are some specific ways in which we can be united as a Church? as families? as members of the community? (See pages 44–46.) What benefits can come through such unity?

  • What are some attitudes and actions that bring disharmony into our homes and wards? (See pages 42–46.) What can we do to increase harmony and unity? How can we apply President Clark’s statement (“In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how”) as we strive to increase unity in our homes and wards?

  • How might children be influenced when their parents speak unkindly of leaders and teachers? Why does evil speaking injure “the reviler more than the reviled”? (See page 43.)

  • In what ways can the gospel fulfill people’s yearning for unity and harmony? (See pages 46–47.) Why is unity required to bring to pass the Lord’s eternal purposes on earth?

Related Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 1:9–10; Mosiah 18:21; 3 Nephi 11:29–30; 4 Nephi 1:2, 15–17; D&C 38:23–27; 105:3–5; Moses 7:18

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 7.

  2.   2.

    See Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 150–51.

  3.   3.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 154.

  4.   4.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 132–33.

  5.   5.

    “Unity in the Home—the Church—the Nation,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1954, 77–78.

  6.   6.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 6.

  7.   7.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 7.

  8.   8.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 95–96.

  9.   9.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1953, 16.

  10.   10.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 144.

  11.   11.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 7.

  12.   12.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1954, 142.

  13.   13.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 137.

  14.   14.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 5.

  15.   15.

    “Unity in the Home—the Church—the Nation,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1954, 77.

  16.   16.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 5–6.

  17.   17.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 6.

  18.   18.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 87–88.

  19.   19.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1934, 91.

  20.   20.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1941, 108; paragraphing altered.

  21.   21.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1910, 106.

  22.   22.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1925, 11.