The Gift of Tongues in Politics?

Some early members of the church practiced the gift of tongues in an unusual way. The ritual began when one person fell into a trance-like state and spoke in an unintelligible “language,” generated by mysterious impulses within the speaker. Another participant would claim to have felt the spirit give them translation of what was said. Both participants would then confirm the message.


The practice was too arbitrary and self-serving.

Joseph Smith and others became concerned and clarified the meaning of the gift of tongues by saying “...the gift of tongues by the power of the Holy Ghost in the Church, is for the benefit of the servants of God to preach to unbelievers, as on the day of Pentecost.”

We typically think of the gift of tongues as divine aid giving inspiration to missionaries teaching in a foreign language, but otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be much else we can do with it. This is an unfortunate oversight. The gift of tongues is an important part of understanding others, which may include church leaders, spouses, children, and those who share different views in matters of religion and politics.

This oversight occurs, in part, because we often approach words with little thought to nuance of meaning, intent, or both the user’s and speaker’s disjoint understanding.

This is especially true with highly abstract concepts such as “freedom”, “agency,” and “rights.” These words take on a wide range of meanings and values that often conflict between those who use these words, even on a regular basis. Intense conflict occurs when one person’s understanding or use doesn’t match another's. The result is often quarrels over “true” meanings that attempt to corner the definition in such a way that it renders an opponent’s ideas irrational. This creates division, but does little to improve understanding.

How can we understand?

First, recognize how blunt a tool language really is. Language is symbolic and always approximates a truth but never completely reproduces it. Talking about an elephant, especially to someone who has never seen one, will never be an elephant. Recognize that when we communicate, we do so seeing through the lense of personal and cultural experiences. To varying degrees, we all have different emotions and meanings attached to the same sets of words. Even within a group of English speakers, we all speak different languages.

Second, practice divine attributes and understanding that enable the Holy Ghost’s influence.

In the April 2014 General Conference, Elder W. Craig Zwick explained:

There exists today a great need for men and women to cultivate respect for each other across wide distances of belief and behavior and across deep canyons of conflicting agendas. It is impossible to know all that informs our minds and hearts or even to fully understand the context for the trials and choices we each face.

Nevertheless, what would happen to the “corrupt communication” Paul spoke about if our own position included empathy for another’s experience first?

What may seem to be the most absurd of political opinions is trying to address a real problem. Find that problem and “agree with thine adversary quickly” where the issue really exists.

President Ezra Taft Benson warned:

When pride has a hold on our hearts, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgment. The world shouts louder than the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

What we often fail to realize is our judgments are “men’s judgments.” In a recent interview, Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke of a member of the church who wrote to him explaining that she refused to have her son in their home and disowned him for being gay. Elder Oaks responded that she should do no such thing as a loving parent and needed to repent.

Like this mother, we all stumble in less than perfect attempts to follow Gospel teachings. A former Bishop of mine, John Barlow, warned that emotion and the Holy Ghost are very often confused as the same thing and we need to be vigilant against this confusion. We should understand worldliness includes emotions of our own fallen state which may be self-righteous, indignant, contemptuous, dogmatic, or xenophobic.

Party politics often creates a team identity that separates us into an “us vs them” mentality. We enjoy looking for evidence of the other’s corruptness and failings. Intergroup strife numbs us to the truth and social media is saturated with it. Sober up and drop the labels.

Another obstacle to the understanding might be the “that didn’t come from us” fallacy. Joseph Smith taught us to avoid this short-sighted approach to truth seeking when he said:

Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.


One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.

Can the other political side have a good idea? Yes, support them and give them credit.

We should also avoid the intuitive, but deceptive assumption that our understanding or feeling about a true principle is a complete understanding.

President Hugh B. Brown stated:

Every life revolves around certain fundamental core ideas...But while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead.

President Uchtdorf added:

We simply don’t know all things—we can’t see everything. What may seem contradictory now may be perfectly understandable as we search for and receive more trustworthy information. Because we see through a glass darkly, we have to trust the Lord, who sees all things clearly.
Our Heavenly Father knew how difficult it would be for us to sift through all the competing noise and discover truth during our mortality. He knew we would see only a portion of the truth, and He knew that Satan would try to deceive us. So He gave us the heavenly gift of the Holy Ghost to illuminate our minds, teach us, and testify to us of the truth.

Look to opposing opinions for truths that complete yours. Many are obstinate in their rational constructs of how the world works and what is right and wrong, but we often get closer to the truth when we bring conservative and liberal ideas together for a practical, working solution.

Practicing these divine attributes and understandings will displace our divisive and self-righteous natures. It takes time, but even small victories generate goodwill and understanding.

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