War originated in our premortal existence when Lucifer sought to overthrow God and destroy the moral agency that God had given to man (Revelation 12:7–9; D&C 29:36; Moses 4:3). War in this world is a continuation of the war in heaven and usually involves agency or freedom. The Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon beheld in vision that “Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God . . . maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about. And we saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame” (D&C 76:28–30). James, the brother of the Lord, taught that fighting is pervasive among men because of their “lusts that war in [their] members.” He continued, “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not” (James 4:1–2).
War is fundamentally incompatible with the Prince of Peace, his gospel, and associated sacred things. Anciently the Lord prohibited King David from building a temple at Jerusalem because he “made great wars” and “shed much blood upon the earth” (1 Chronicles 22:8). In a revelation given through Joseph Smith on 6 August 1833, the Lord declared that the Saints were to “renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children” (D&C 98:16). He also articulated principles of what might be called a policy of “just war” or “defensive war.” He exhorted his covenant people to bear patiently the attacks inflicted upon them by their enemies and “not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people” unless the Lord commanded it (D&C 98:33). He also recapitulated the law of warfare that he gave to his “ancients” and reminded the Latter-day Saints that he justified the ancients in going out to battle only after a standard of peace had been offered three times to their enemies (D&C 98:32–36).
In all of this the Lord declared that such principles are “an ensample unto all people” and that he “would fight their battles, and their children’s battles,” unto the fourth generation if they would do as he taught (D&C 98:38, 37). The Lord also promised great rewards to those who follow his counsel and instructions regarding warfare, where readiness to forgive far outweighs readiness to go to war (D&C 98:24–26, 39–43).
Other scriptures teach that the Lord has used war for his purposes, including the protection of liberty and agency. When Captain Moroni inspired and rallied the Nephites to battle for the cause of freedom and family, he did so with the Lord’s approval (Alma 43:47). He rent his coat and lifted a banner of liberty and righteous action: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12). Certainly the Lord supported the American Revolutionary War. The power of God was with the colonists, while “the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle” (1 Nephi 13:18).
In this final dispensation it is understood that wars and rumors of wars are part of the signs of the times, incident to the end of the world and the second coming of Christ (Joseph Smith–Matthew 1:23–31). The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy, uttered in 1832, foretold increasing conflict and destruction from that time forward, until the Lord made “a full end of all nations” (D&C 87:6).
During the twentieth century, Church leaders spoke about the tragedy of war and condemned its use to further state policies at the expense of moral agency. At the outbreak of World War I, President Joseph F. Smith exhorted Church members serving in the armed forces to keep cruelty, hate, and murder out of their hearts, even during battle. Less than a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, the First Presidency’s Christmas message echoed similar sentiments, insisting that only adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ could bring peace to the world. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. of the First Presidency declared that “nothing is more unrighteous, more unholy, more ungodly than man-declared mass slaughter of his fellow man for an unrighteous cause” (in Cowan, 188). President Spencer W. Kimball was particularly emphatic in his denunciation of warlike tendencies among even the Lord’s covenant people:
“We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“‘That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:44–45).
“We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us . . . or he will fight our battles for us (Exod. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many)” (6).
At the same time, Church leaders have also mentioned the need for citizens to support the country to which they owe their allegiance, adding that leaders of warring nations are responsible and not individual citizens or soldiers. The First Presidency has promoted peace and relief of suffering from war in tangible ways. In 1915, for example, the First Presidency encouraged Church members to contribute to the Zion’s Emergency Fund to aid needy Church members in Europe. In the wake of World War II, the Church shipped food, clothing, and other supplies to war-torn countries outside the United States. War has deeply affected the Church around the world, including the curtailing or halting of construction projects, activities, and missionary work in some countries. War has taken many lives and caused much misery. It will continue on the earth until Satan is vanquished. The battle of Armageddon will usher in the Second Coming and the millennial reign of Christ.