Elders Ballard & Anderson Confront the Nationalist Plague

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Obtained through Creative Commons.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Obtained through Creative Commons.

LDS leaders decried the insidious nationalism championed by leaders like Putin, Trump, and Nigel Farage.

I love America.

I believe that my country is a land of opportunity and freedom, a place with one of the freest presses in the world, where aristocracy is decried, not celebrated, and where anyone, regardless of background, religion, or ethnicity, can become a fully accepted member of our national community. Although I haven’t done so, I have many family members who have served in the U.S. military – my dad is a recently retired Army lieutenant colonel who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq; I have a brother training to be an Air Force drone pilot; and my youngest brother is an Air Force officer attending medical school. I fully recognize that America is an exceptional place that must be defended and sacrificed for.

At the same time, I recognize that love of country can be transformed into something toxic and unseemly. Yes, we should cherish our nation, its Constitution, and ideals, and we should rush to defend it when threatened. However, if we are not careful, we run the risk of falling prey to an insidious force that, far from exalting our nation, could drive it to its ruin.

That force?

Nationalism.

Oftentimes people may confuse nationalism with a more constructive concept: patriotism. But these concepts are actually worlds apart. Patriotism is a love for one’s country and a desire to advance its interests in a principled manner. Nationalism, on the other hand, is an unhealthy worship of one’s homeland and a hatred for, or dismissiveness toward, all other countries. If patriotism is the pride that cheerleaders channel to motivate a football team’s victories, then nationalism is the irrational feeling of superiority and hatred that drives hoodlums to assault an opposing team’s fans after the game. To zoom back to a macro level: patriotism is fighting to protect one’s country from foreign invaders; nationalism is launching wars or aggressive economic bullying to subjugate other states and make them “lick your boots.”

Nationalism is a destructive force that is akin to that other infamous –ism: racism. It holds that the citizens of one nation are inherently superior to, and more human than, the citizens of other nations. It is the unholy force that dug the trenches of World War I, loaded the genocidal boxcars of World War II, and massacred minorities in the Balkans. It is the dark magic that Hitler used to cast the curse of Nazism, the pernicious inferno that Stalin kindled to encircle Europe in communism, and the hellish hypnosis that the Kim family employs to ensnare North Korea in despotism.

Nationalism is evil. Yet it seems to be gaining in strength.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cites his nationalist ideas about “Greater Russia” to justify invading and annexing Crimea, undermining the stability of eastern Ukraine, and violating the sovereignty of Georgia. The far-right German party Alternative fur Deutschland stoked nationalist sentiments to recently secure seats in the German parliament. Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party stirred up ugly nationalist resentments to severe Britain from the EU and weaken its commitment to liberal internationalism. And, closer to home, Donald Trump and his Machiavellian Svengalis, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, have unleashed their toxic nationalism to incite racial prejudice, spur religious intolerance, and demonize those who oppose their blatant disrespect for civil norms and our Constitution.

In the face of these brooding nationalist tempests, it was comforting to hear leaders of the LDS Church condemn this poisonous ideology during General Conference. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that we need to “eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism.” Later, Elder Neil L. Andersen, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, reiterated Ballard’s words on this subject. Though leaders in other faiths (*cough* Robert Jeffress *cough*) may stand by Trump & Co. in their nationalist prejudice, the Brethren are fighting back.

The world has witnessed the horrible consequences of nationalism before, and we should rush to combat these “evil fruits” as we see them propagating in our day. Hopefully, the admonitions of Mormon leaders this weekend in conference will inspire Latter-Day Saints, wherever they may be, to stand firm against the dark tides of nationalism.

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