not in Primary anymore

what’s wrong with a little contention?

Guest post by Angry Ally. She blogs here here.

I grew up most of my life with an emotionally abusive sister. There was nothing I could ever do right in her eyes. In my family, she was the “problem child.” She would throw fits, scream and shout, and verbally abuse everyone around her. But I was always her favorite target.

It was hard for me not to respond to this kind of treatment with more anger, yelling, and poison. Many times, I did. When I sought out help from my parents, they would always say “ignore her,” “be a peacemaker,” “don’t cause trouble.” This was because my parents were more interested in not having to deal with a fight, rather than correcting, or even acknowledging, my sister’s harmful behavior. I eventually moved out of the house and decided that I, as an adult, didn’t deserve this treatment and wouldn’t put up with it anymore. I wanted to stand up for myself. But yelling back just made me into even more of a bad guy in the eyes of my family.

Now, as a Mormon feminist, I’ve seen lots of opposition to our many causes. One of the main complaints of our critics is the “contention” we are causing. They say anything that causes contention is of Satan and does not belong in our Church – therefore, we as Mormon feminists, are wrong.

This is a horribly dismissive and generalizing statement. Beyond the rudeness and ignorance of it, though, I wonder about its origins.

As Christians, we are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells you to turn the other cheek, love your neighbor, and other rhetoric that essentially tells you to just suck it up. There was one time in the New Testament that Jesus was driven to anger: He freaks out when vendors are selling wares in the temple. In my experience, this story has always been glossed over. What we learn from it is that you shouldn’t disrespect sacred places. What we don’t learn from it is that maybe sometimes it is okay to stand up for ourselves and our convictions.

In an article I recently read, it states “Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like ‘lean not unto your own understanding’ or ‘trust and obey.’ People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness.” The same is true in LDS culture. I believe that from “learned helplessness,” we are also learning that it is a sin to stand up for yourself. This might stem from the belief that sinners will get their just rewards in the end, so we can just sit back passively and wait for it to happen. Wherever this attitude started, it has now evolved into a culture where making any sort of “contention” is wrong and a condemnable offense.

We idolize Joseph Smith for standing up for his beliefs, but also constantly emphasize the guidance he receives from Heavenly Father. In a moment of Joseph’s weakness in jail, he is given comfort directly from Heavenly Father.
We also never hear the stories of Joseph standing up for himself. Joseph illegally burned a printing press that was saying bad stuff about Mormons. We gloss over this occurrence, like others, because it is not “kosher.” Yet, despite the ethical implications of teaching about this event, from it we could also learn that anger that drives you to stand up for yourself is okay. We have many other heroes throughout history that teach us the same lesson: Joan of Arc, the Founding Fathers, suffragettes, equal rights activists of the 1960s, etc. Our popular heroes in Mormonism don’t stand up for themselves – they flee or they endure.

As Mormons, we live in a very homogeneous culture. And people like it that way. Members of the Church love to look around and see other people who look and act like them. It makes them feel safe and secure, as if they are part of a larger family. Others who do not fit into the homogeneity, such as those who identify as Mormon feminists, are further outcast because they are rocking the boat. We are told by our LDS peers to leave because we are causing contention. We are ruining their safe haven, and we threaten to disillusion themselves of their beliefs. It doesn’t matter that our actions could result in some very positive change. Acknowledging the need for that change is what our critics fight against. And so we are labeled as “contentious.”

I honestly have to wonder: what’s wrong with a little contention sometimes?

9 Responses to “what’s wrong with a little contention?”

  1. weedlord bonerhitler

    I have to add to your great thoughts that there are instances of contention in the Book of Mormon by the armload. They’re war scenes, with courageous men fighting to the death for their rights and values; and they are often used in our culture to create a hypermasculine standard for dudes and ultra-submissive standard for women. Maybe it’s just the fact that “Stripling Warriors” sticks in the head easier (it’s sort of racy, right?) than “Anti-Nephi-Lehi-ites”, so we hear more about those masculine men and not their forebears? I dunno, I honestly had to google the Anti-Nephi-Lehi-bros because I couldn’t remember their name.

    This isn’t to undermine your post at all; like Christ getting angry in the temple, there are plenty of rebukings and slaughterings and yellings happening in the scriptures. But we don’t discuss them in our culture and communities. And if we do, it’s the Stripling Warriors, those courageous little boys, or Ammon chopping off arms. Strong dudes. Blah. Great post.

  2. Johnny Be Good

    Jesus freaks out at the money changers? I’m not sure that is what happened because if it was an anger freak out, he would not have spared the doves (John 2:16). He took time to make a small whip, and went forth with purpose to cleanse His Father’s house. If it was freaking out, losing his temper, then people would be less inclined to come and be healed, heck, if it was freaking out then why would the people be exclaiming ‘Hosanna’ at him? (Matthew 21: 14-15) Sure, some people put up with people freaking out and throwing temper tantrums to avoid a fight, but have you seen anyone exclaiming and celebrating a freak out? What he did was with purpose, not some random freak out.

    Yeah, the message is to stand up for what you believe, for your convictions, but you do so in an ordered manner, not in anger.

    I don’t agree with your view that Book of Mormon/LDS heroes flee or endure, Captain Moroni certainly stood up for his ideals for one. Alma and Zeezrom, in the face of the believers being burned, stood up for their beliefs. The 2000 Stripling Warriors are another example. There are numerous examples.

    As for your question, there isn’t anything wrong with contention, so long as it isn’t shouting matches. Take Alma 2:5, they were disputing whether Amlici should be king or not. They were debating. It is that sort of ‘wonderful contention’ that is good, in which you can have an actual discussion, in which both sides can see where each side is coming from and talk to each other instead of past each other.

    The contention where you freak out and and have shouting matches and lose your temper is not the sort of contention which is good.

  3. C.

    Contention is one of those catchphrases that is supposed to shut people down when you don’t like what they are doing/saying – since being accused of being contentious implies the rest of the phrase “of the devil.” I got better at pushing back at people who called me contentious by saying that dialog is not contention, but it’s still thrown out at MoFems pretty regularly.

  4. Noah James

    Actually “turn the other cheek” was a sign of equality in Jewish culture from what I’ve read. It means we’re equal. The Jews always tried to make themselves seem to be more righteous than everyone else . Jesus was saying that the Jews were no better…so this only makes your argument stronger. Jesus was not a pusher or a pushover he was more of an equalizer.

  5. blizzyn

    It’s so interesting you bring up the example of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. I remember discussing this story in a BYU-I music ed class and the interpretation stuck with me. The prof suggested that though Jesus showed anger, it was still a deliberate act. He was in control and reacted that way for a specific purpose.

    For teachers, he used it as an example that there are times and places to speak and react strongly and even sharply, but we do so with wisdom and control for a specific purpose rather than out of a place of blinding emotion.

    In my life as a teacher (and a feminist) I’m never done learning there are times to speak softly and lovingly and times to lay down the law like it is. When people tell me I’m causing contention (and oh my gosh, find a new argument!) I usually try to reply in a loving and kind way because they probably don’t understand why that’s the worst argument in their toolbox. But there are definitely times to speak strongly with confidence and power to whip people into shape (horrible pun intended).

  6. Brittney

    I read 3 Nephi 11 yesterday. I liked Jesus’s explanation of his doctrine and thoughts regarding contention.


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