Communication has never been better on this planet and never worse. “There are . . . so many kinds of voices in the world” (1 Corinthians 14:10), such a clatter of discord and insinuation, on the airwaves and in the blogosphere, that “in the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often [say] to myself: . . . Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS-H 1:10).
It was a cold Tuesday afternoon in January 1977. I was in the mission home on North Temple in Salt Lake City—the old Lafayette School—getting ready to go on a two-year mission to Ohio. I was sitting near the back of the assembly room and in walked Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. One thing I remember about his talk is that he quoted, verbatim, without looking at his Bible, these verses:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15–20.)
I wrote in my journal that night:
He spoke to us for about 45 minutes about apostles and prophets. I know [by] the Spirit of God that he is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could hear it, see it, feel it and it was confirmed to me.
Elder McConkie taught me, memorably, to judge thorns and thistles as they really are.
When I hear strident voices, I ask myself, What kind of fruit is hanging on their limbs? What kind of spiritual children do they beget? What are they really after? Are their motives as selfless as they claim? Would I let them babysit my kids?
May I offer a few tests that have helped me navigate the choppy waters of dissidence?
1. What do their words taste like? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance . . . if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:22, 25, 26). If their words don’t taste like the fruit of the Spirit, I have to ask myself, “doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:11).
2. Are they argumentative, belittling, accusing, contentious, or resistant? “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. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29–30).
3. Are they respectful or disrespectful? Do their words unify or isolate? Do they connect people or do they cut them off? Are they inclusive or exclusive?
4. Are they manipulative? political (in the worst sense)? aspiring? egotistical? overbearing?
5. Is he or she a man or woman of God? “And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he [or she] be a man [or woman] of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14).
I welcome an open, respectful conversation on any topic. I love the truth, but I also know that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
I trust God. I know His voice. I trust voices that echo His. If a voice does not edify, build up, encourage, give hope, or bring peace, it is not of God (see D&C 50:23).
I was once having a tense discussion with a minister of another faith. In the midst of our conversation, I quoted a few verses that I had gratefully memorized:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. (Moroni 7:12–13.)
The minister paused, looked at me and said, “That was a good scripture!” Quite a compliment to the Book of Mormon from an ardent opponent. It still makes me smile.
I believe there’s hope for everybody. Nevertheless, taste the fruit before swallowing.