Amid the growth of identity activism, the term “compassion” has become political. It is often promoted as a public, political-digital performance, as opposed to the older—and one might say lesser—religious definition. As a result, we now live in a culture of competing definitions of how to “love thy neighbor.” This transformation heightens and contributes to the emergent faith crisis culture in the Church. For the body of the Church, especially among the youth who are the audience for the politically driven form of compassion that is perpetually and widely celebrated on social media, spiritual dissonance results. This current and ongoing social situation complicates the relationship between compassion and faith. Of great concern is how this dissonance situates the two arenas as irreconcilable. Just as the rainbow symbol has lost its biblical association because of its popular contemporary association with the LGBTQ identities, Church members are facing new social challenges due to the nationalistic pledging and performative elements of flag waving. The stark conclusion of this setting that we find ourselves in includes how the gospel of Jesus Christ is increasingly perceived as the antithesis of compassion, rather than the training ground for how to exhibit love through service and righteous hope. The traditional definition of compassion is deemed incomplete and even vilified, and is continuing to lose ground as the digital, influencer world grows in its successful compassion-as-performance campaigns. Addressing faith crisis with doctrinal compassion includes lessons from the immovability of the protagonists of Christ’s parables.

The Digital World and the Power of Opinion

The digital turn, with its prevailing social media culture, has created a new human experience where devices are used to empower organized activism. [1] From it we are invited to engage in unlimited opportunities to both pontificate and find similar opinions on social media, making us both perpetual audiences and orators. This allows those with specific interests, as well as those with specific grievances, to find their niche kin, organize new social efforts, speak to those niche audiences, and redefine our cultural priorities and social expectations. [2] The result is the unprecedented availability of angered versions of activism geared to pursue victory over opposing ideas. [3] Amid this age of digital revolutions, identity is used to challenge the Church’s traditional stances on family, eternal identity, morality, and, especially, the definition of compassion. [4]

As a result, Latter-day Saints live in and are trying to navigate through a “compassion” culture where the term’s meaning is multi-layered, or polysemic (i.e., where there are multiple contradictory ideas of what it means to care for others). Members sometimes face excruciating challenges to their faith because the Church’s concept of compassion is inconsistent with a new and expanding societal definition that we are expected to embrace. When not doing so, a church member now runs the risk of being regarded as compassionless. These troubling inconsistencies most often arise in connection with LGBTQ identities and practices, but still have connections to ethnic and other identity discussions. Central is the challenge of symbols and the appeal—even the persuasive push—to adopt and take on the rainbow flag as a personal mission, which is typically adopted with angst against traditional institutions, such as religion.

Flag devotion is emotionally driven and can become dangerous. Political scientists have warned about flag devotion as flags can function as combative symbols—some political scientists have even argued that “we have to be ready to leave flags behind” because flags are associated with the pursuit of “occupation.” [5] The LGBTQ rainbow flag is being utilized to establish occupation in church dialogue, in the hearts of church members, and as an activist and angry response to Church headquarters and leaders’ commitment to doctrine-driven identities. Concern about and response to avoid rainbow flag waving is more than simply the hope to preserve doctrine. The concerns come with observation of pending political powers that are without a barometer for how far activism will go. Without a logical and doctrinal levy, rainbow loyalists adopt a new definition of compassion, potentially to the detriment of their faith.

With the digital world comes the plethora of social media influencers, including those who are Church members. The site Third Hour, run by the More Good Foundation [6] as a resource for sharing Latter-day Saint beliefs, recommends pursuing faith-driven influencers and itemizes which influencers Latter-day Saints should intentionally follow (namely, those who assist in the journey to developing faith). [7] At the same time, some Latter-day Saint celebrities may be exacerbating the faith crisis of their audiences. Various forms of concerning public rhetoric have emerged as influencers openly challenge Church doctrine, teachings, and principles. Examples include David Archuleta’s insistence that doctrinal-based love is insufficient for addressing the needs of LGTBQ members, [8] Julie Hanks’ recent description of General Conference as a contentious setting that requires mental health awareness (suggesting that the messages of Church leaders can be troubling), [9] Steve Young’s push for Brigham Young University campuses to change honor code policies to promote dating outside of the path toward temple marriage, [10] and Carol Lynn Pearson’s “instructive bumper sticker” call to “Question Authority,” which coincides with her webpage that summarizes her books that question Church teachings. [11] These voices, using celebrity influence amid the growth of “anger culture,” [12] which includes frustrations with Church teachings, contribute to and represent a common state of mind. According to one survey, one in four church members have questioned whether they should continue their association with the Church. [13] Faith crisis is real, damaging, and even promoted— its prevalence needs to be addressed because of the dissonance that is evident due to identity politics’ dichotomization against doctrine.

My effort is to highlight the consequences of a performed version of compassion, where compassion has been co-opted to serve political activism, resulting in the spiritual dissonance [14] of contemporary faith crisis culture. I delineate scriptural compassion that is internal and privatized in juxtaposition to the new compassion that encompasses politicized performance, has nationalistic tones, and which is increasing in its scope and authority. I wish to provide reason, context, and response to the inner turmoil that has put Church members against the new cultural authority, described by one SquareTwo author as a time when it is increasingly impossible for doctrine advocates to be understood:

Regardless of the approach used, for many, any attempt to defend the Church’s position is by definition bigoted. Even if members emphasize God’s love for all his children, to many this will seem disingenuous if it is not accompanied by a disavowal of the Church’s heteronormativity, and therefore to some extent, orthodox Church members will simply have to absorb the inevitable opposition… [15]

The implication is the establishment of a new nationalistic-like effort where the power of activism is identifiable with a flagged banner, and where people willingly engage and accept decisions and actions that—in their previous lifestyles that were absent of the new activist compassion—they would have resisted. Marketed symbols, crowd emotions, and narrative change that mindset through implanting unresolvable dissonance between the Church and identity politics.

The Steep Slope of Political Emotions

In 1990, celebrated LGBTQ political writer Alexander Chee made the case for “A Queer Nationalism,” [16] where his zeal for centralizing queer identities in mass culture was apparent, “There is something ancient about queerness… Queer was then and is now about spirit.” [17] Chee makes the case for a cultural overhaul where militant approaches are mobilized to establish the “Queer Nation,” [18] with groups identifying themselves as “GHOST” (Grand Homosexual Organization to Stop Televangelists), “HI MOM” (Homosexual Ideological Mobilization Against the Military), and “DORIS” (Defending Our Rights in the Streets).

While members of the Church who advocate for LGTBQ agendas typically are not militant, there remains the emotionally charged finger-pointing at those who prioritize doctrinal identities. The political emotion that is foundational for the movement forces a dichotomy of doctrinal morality against the expanding list of sexual identities. Among the Church’s membership, this ideology’s advocates often use foyer conversation, comments in second hour lessons, and occasional “shout outs” at chapel pulpits on Sundays as ways to promote open resistance to doctrine. This movement is blanketed by an intoxicated emotional state that comes with an appeal for hearers to pledge allegiance to doctrinal resistance. In their coverage, CNN describes this party among Church members as a “breathing fire” group that is “writing a new chapter in a community of faith.” [19]

We should note that the historical concept of nationalism is not necessarily problematic in and of itself, but challenges arise when groups seek to establish a new singularity of thought through assertive upending of past policies and definitions of truth. The aggressive effort to silence current leadership voices, such as the onslaught against Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in August 2021, [20] is the product of emotional euphoria that comes with group causes that insist on changes in Church teachings. Renowned political scientist R. Marie Griffith describes the current rupture of religious faith in America due to sexual revolutions with a play on words, calling it “moral combat.” [21] Sexuality activism—often driven by aggression and a desire to bulldoze tradition, and with it, may I add, Church doctrine—is the antithesis of discipleship. Its passionate picketing is not “gentleness,” and does not resemble the stoicism of “love unfeigned” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41).

Psychologist Christopher Browning illustrates this quick and subtle transition into new initiatives using the example of the actions of World War II Polish citizens. Recruits became willing to murder Jews by being socialized into a motivated political identity under the Nazi banner, whereas they previously were decent, reasonable, “ordinary men” who would never have imagined becoming the murderers that they were transformed into. [22] While the topic of this study is far from assuming brutal actions by contemporary activists in either description or suggested implication, nonetheless the intentional execution of faith in doctrine is something that we are witnessing. Doctrine is on trial under symbolic banners in a metaphoric way of what was previously the perspective of “ordinary men” and women who had deep faith in eternal identities.

The issue emerges as ancient scriptural definitions of compassion are now rather removed from historical understandings of Biblical morality due to the constant exposure of the rainbow as a symbol of identity pride. The United States’ contemporary dedication of the month of June as LGBT Pride Month has brought the proliferation of rainbow symbols into businesses, advertising, and events. [23] This popular culture proliferation and celebration of “pride” in mass culture entertainment and fashion casts Church doctrine as being on the outside of the new expectations of compassion.

Compassion is now performance. It is identifiable in the presentation of a symbol. It is meant to be displayed on social media, on bumper stickers, and in planted banners in yards. While the rainbow was an explicit covenant symbol of God’s promise of peace from a destructive flood (Genesis 9:1), that ancient token has now been replaced, marginalized, and, due to the redefining alteration of the symbol, is a casualty in the culture wars.

Faith Crisis Culture

The situation discussed thus far demands our realization that faith crisis culture in the Church is real and is rapidly claiming real estate in ward directories. The decline of religiosity is happening everywhere. [24] Counseling groups are now structured to shepherd people out of the Church. [25] Compassion has taken on new meaning as performed via flag symbols and media templates that identify preferred pronouns, creating a hierarchy of what it means to exhibit compassion for the LGTBQ community. Economies are affected as corporations are expected by their ESG-adherent financiers to perform this new compassion with symbol waving. Cases for the redefinition of compassion also include the titles of business, such as the legal efforts of the companies like Compassion & Choices [26] and the Charter for Compassion project. [27] These are further exhibited through companies choosing to drape their stores and products in rainbow symbols. [28]

The erosion of active membership over these issues becomes a setting where complicated social expectations make faith and the new definition of compassion difficult to reconcile. Mass resignation events have been held near Church headquarters, with a one thousand percent growth from the 2012 [29] resignation event to the 2015 [30] redux. The trend continued as a form of public dissent, such as coverage of Utah attorney Mark Naugle’s website “Quit Mormon,” [31] on which he reports having successfully assisted in generating thousands of resignations, again largely over LGBTQ issues. His actions resulted in an even higher number of mass resignations during the 2016 event. [32]

Flags, Nationalism, and the Power of Symbols

As the expectation to demonstrate love as passionate performance conflicts with private expression that pursues meek responsiveness to covenants, the question of how to correctly exhibit compassion becomes difficult to navigate. If we are activists, at what point are we performing for public acceptance rather than looking into the eyes of those in need if their identity pain is private and they do not want it to be displayed? An anonymous SquareTwo author who experiences same-sex attraction argues this point in a similar way, wondering why sexuality is the finality for selfhood, including the fact that some might prefer to keep their sexuality private: “My sexual attraction is really no one’s concern but mine, a fear of being pigeonholed into a single identity that represents only one small part of me, a desire to write about and focus on other issues, and a secret wish to not have to have honest conversations with family members.” [33]

The social expectation to perform compassion is part of the challenge. At what point does compassion performance come with costs? To analogously borrow from health sciences in the performance of compassion with suffering patients, the expectations of performing can result in “compassion fatigue,” [34] which causes a negative ricochet effect on how we treat others. Excessive compassion performance eventually troubles the performer, causing “a decline in the ability to feel sympathy and empathy, and accordingly, [to] act from a place of compassion.” [35] Ongoing performed compassion, then, can limit someone’s ability to feel compassion longitudinally and in settings of other displays of suffering that are not part of the performer’s specific motive. Arlie Hochschild calls this “emotional labor,” [36] where expectations of ongoing public performance create a false self and lead to emotional and psychological exhaustion.

At what point does setting aside meek compassion allow for the full integration of pharisaic display that is focused on and awarded according to the best activist performance—building a resume of Facebook likes, hearts, and shares? Compassion becomes “viral” on social media, successful via clicked shares that establish a successful digital reputation. But, what if we are encouraging identity challenges with the proliferation of identity posturing? These are not light questions. They emerge as our culture has altered. They are won by activism’s use of popular culture to establish an influential “political marketplace” [37] where definitions of truth are the content of advocacy. These new definitions redefine our world while simultaneously shaming past systems of belief, including past definitions of compassion.

Identity politics has awakened a newly empowered activism that has become so principled that it is described as a new religion. [38] [39] [40] While Christ had a massive following in his ministry because of his miracles in public, he also was a private tutor, a private friend, a private demonstrator of love. Such can be seen in his late-night conversation with Nicodemus amid Nicodemus’s struggle with his own colleagues (John 3:1–21), as well as his private mentoring of Peter about forgiveness (Matthew 18:21–22). In the current political climate, it is becoming unacceptable to argue that compassion can exist without flags and performance. Indeed, having no flag may even be deemed intolerant. Despite these protestations—or perhaps because of them—we should consider the reasons to not wave a flag.

International politics journalist Tim Marshall describes how flags, as nationalist banners, create and preside over new geographic entities, represent the acquisition of territory from a previous occupant, and are massively distributed as symbols of established authority. [41] More powerfully, flags “unite a population behind a homogeneous set of ideals, aims, history, and beliefs,” which come with rigid allegiance where “passions are aroused, when the banner of an enemy is flying high,” and where “people flock to their own symbol.” [42] Flags are combative, differentiating, and driven by victory. Further, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Fellow Moises Naim warns against symbolic zealousness that constructs new nationalisms, “Misunderstanding and underestimating nationalism as a driver of people’s motivation to kill and die for their homeland has been a fatal and recurrent American mistake.” [43] Of course, the symbols explored in this study remain in a culture war—a rhetoric and propaganda war, a seeming Cold War where media and social media are the battlefield [44]—rather than a military war. Still, the current verbal war is combative and threatens the survival of faith. There are indeed casualties in a compassion war.

With a successful political campaign, the symbolism of the rainbow that has for millennia represented the Biblical promise of mercy has now changed. Its original meaning is scriptural:

And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud. And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth (Genesis 9:11–16).

The archaic symbol of the rainbow, described as a covenant—one of the few times that word is used in scripture—has now shifted and is covenant-less. Web searches for rainbow meaning, as well as basic cognition upon seeing a rainbow or hearing the word “rainbow,” yields a new etymology that is processed with the new definition that comes with activism expectations. Hence, we notice an absence in the discourses around this new definition of compassion that, despite its assertive form, ironically does not cheer so openly for chastity, nor with chants that hope for a “covenant path” [45] decision.

The Compassion War

In a parallel historical moment that warns of the power of emergent nationalist symbols gaining ground, social critic Herbert Marcuse warned of how the linguistic battleground warriors who work to upend older authority structures are “largely impulsive,” [46] and therefore are not based on methodical reasoning. Marcuse enacted this need for resistance first in his critique of the emergent Nazi authority in Germany, which resulted in his fleeing to the United States for refuge, and later in his response to the 1960s sexual revolutions that were creating a new, powerful, activist dogma.

As faith crisis culture is levied against doctrine, an increase in responses from Church leaders in recent years is observable, such as Elder Kevin W. Pearson’s address on not taking a “conditional faith” stance due to identity politics culture. [47] The warning against identity-ism was blatantly apparent in President Russell M. Nelson’s May 2022 devotional, where he illustrates how the itemization of identities should come with focus on self-descriptions as children of God and Church membership well before political posturing. [48] Similarly strong responses came in Elder Jorg Klebingat’s assertive call for “Valiant Discipleship in the Latter Days,” [49] and especially with Elder Ahmad S. Corbitt’s stern warning of how emergent identity politics activism gives birth to faith crisis culture. [50]

In his wisdom that seems to foreshadow our social situation, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities serves as parable for the over-assertion of activism against those in authority, warning that excessive activism becomes the hand of massacre, illustrated in Dickens’ description that “oppression can beget nothing other than itself.” [51] Today, that new oppression is the death of faith, ironically performed in the name of compassion. Psychologist Scott R. Braithwaite describes this as a “black and white binary” of faith and activism that becomes difficult to reconcile because the goals of social issues are pinned against faith. [52] Explaining the issue based on his own firsthand experience as a man who faces same-sex attraction, Jeff Bennion describes how flag waving is far from evidence of compassion. Instead, he calls for members to “use prophetic frameworks as the infrastructure for balancing competing tensions.” [53]

Key to the successful campaign for a new compassion is the careful placement of symbols—pronoun preference mandates and flag waving—that starkly oppose traditional descriptions of love. The result is that faith becomes collateral damage of the culture war because performed activism is irreconcilable with trust in leadership. More specifically, members of the Church now face the psychological struggle to negotiate the expectations of physically performed compassion with how to make sense of what they have been taught in previous decades with Church doctrine. This is the spiritual dissonance of performed compassion, troubling individuals, families, and the larger society as the issue has become the center of the culture wars. Crucial has been the establishment of a pervasive, powerful, emotion-driven nationalistic symbol, which political scientist Brian Walker, like Alexander Chee, calls the growing “Queer Nation” [54] (Walker’s reference to progressions in Canada). Identity-ism is slated to become foundational for national priorities and initiatives due to its powerful mobility and insistence from policy advocates. The weight of this symbolic movement, which now authoritatively defines compassion, complicates the Church’s ongoing efforts to balance doctrine, covenants, and the importance of inclusion, [55] further sensitized when activist posturing is dedicated to pressuring changes in Church teachings. [56]

The Co-Opting of Compassion and Spiritual Dissonance

With the recent publication of their Allyship series, “Building Zion: Faithful LGBTQ Allyship,” [57] along with their growing library on identity topics, Deseret Book is now catering to the identity-fixated audience. In the series, audiences are instructed with specific wording and perspectives to adopt in conversation with LGBTQ individuals about their challenges. The series host provides credence to the need for flag posting, podcasting, and the question, “Besides hanging a flag in my yard, what can I do so my good intentions turn to actions that help?”

These discourses operate in juxtaposition to the Church’s instructions on same-sex attraction on the official Church site titled “Same-Sex Attraction.” [58] This page differentiates between understanding and kindness as opposed to demanding activism, such as the presentations on gay individuals deliberately choosing a gospel-centered life over an activist-centric life. The Deseret Book approach prescribes the performance of compassion, while the latter suggests that a Biblical, “love thy neighbor” approach is enough (Matthew 22:36–40).

The wrestle with how to adopt and perform compassion brings confusion, including around whether flag advocacy is too much or not enough. Knowing that LGBTQ individuals suffer, there is and should be a genuine desire to help them—whether a flag is planted in one’s yard or not. Yet, the psychological fork—a dissonance that encourages the questioning of faith in Church teachings—emerges from the symbol’s new conflicting territory that has crowned compassion against traditional theology and that suggests that theology-grounded care toward those who suffer with identity and same- sex attraction is insufficient.

If we more clearly distinguish the two sides that make up the faith crisis dissonance, one definition is more grounded in scripture and insists there should not be confusion of who we are or what we should do with our sexuality, while the other has loosened and broadened the definition of compassion to one associated with public display, commitment to symbol posturing and performance, and the call to go beyond “hanging a flag in my yard,” as the Allyship training suggests. Doctrinal compassion is discernment where we become more like Christ who, through revelation, perceives “all things that ever [we] did” (John 4:29). Which is the most effective form of compassion—a Facebook profile filter, or an instructive discernment of someone’s pain? A discerning form of compassion cannot be meekly responsive to a gentle prompting while also filled with angst-charged activism against Church teachings.

Thus, even from Deseret Book, we enter a confusing landscape where flags are claiming territory—territory where members of the Church have long been told to take on three important perspectives which predate our current age and which were not previously perceived as being irreconcilable: that we have eternal and pre-earth destinies, that we must remain morally clean, and that we must love our neighbor. The importance of eternal destiny and moral cleanliness is now challenged and framed as in direct opposition to loving our neighbor. This is because the public debate, and now culturally authoritative LGBTQ elements of our contemporary culture and legal battles, are centralized on compassion being geared toward picketing, led by the works of popular activist authors such as Gregory Prince [59] and Jana Riess. [60] A key question becomes: Is not the gospel itself the definition of compassion? If we insist on redefining the parameters on love, are we sure we are not "steadying the ark" with new parameters for what is Christianity (2 Samuel 6:6)?

The rhetorical craft of this new compassion is masterfully organized and delivered. Its rapid growth makes it seem infallible, leaving in the dust any who do not willingly carry a banner. This assumption works as defining compassion as associated with only specific types of struggles—identity struggles—as the persuasive messages that bring recruitment to flag bearing. Most importantly, storytelling becomes the specific rhetorical mode that provides a new form of defining compassion. Narratives of suffering LGBTQ saints become the very definition of suffering in our time. So, for the new activist compassion, these identity narratives are canonical, demonstrative, and are seemingly irrefutable as the standard illustrations of care due to the specific power of narrative. [61] They construct a new paradigm for thinking about Christianity, and with that comes the assumption that activist mobilization against doctrine can force change.

Political rhetoric scholar Michael Calvin McGee theorized this authoritative use of terminologies as “ideographs”—single terms that carry weighty rhetorical power and are used to establish authority against opposition. Past examples include "liberty" and "freedom" (identifiable in studies with the angle brackets). Significant ideographs today include politically charged terms like "compassion," "love," and "queer." These ideographs are emotionally loaded, allowing the silencing of opposition and rallying crowds—all encased in the power of single words. [62] As an ideograph, "compassion" is used today as a call to action, whereas previously it was an element of inner character that did not need public validation. Previous displays of compassion are now seen as feeble and inefficient—a vilification strategy in the “war to persuade” where rejection of an ideograph is deemed “as unpatriotic cowardice.” [63] With ideographic authority serving activism, a gospel-centric focus on compassion is, like the rainbow symbol as a Biblical manifestation, archaic.

Further, the weight of discourses dedicated to attempting to align the Church with contemporary political identities creates false hope for flag wavers, and leaves those preserving traditional stances of doctrinal compassion socially exiled. [64] Both sides become disheartened. The combination of living room discussions with family and friends about the issue and online efforts [65] to help the LGBTQ community on social media creates a mish-mashed system of contradictory, irreconcilable messages in interpreting Church doctrine and how it is perceived by both members and the larger public. [66] In a digital age of recorded performance being the measure for how virtue and goodwill are displayed, the best “compassion” becomes the best performance. Love is no longer private and dyadic, but measured in public display; it is no longer scripturally grounded where Christ’s atonement is expansive enough for the plethora of human discouragement and temptation, but is issue-generated and continually expanding with new identities. [67] [68]

The result is a painful spiritual dissonance between Church doctrine and the growing list of identities. Not only a hot political policy issue, identity-ism enjoys a presiding seat in popular culture, as well as prominence in the marketplace. [69] Businesses are turning to flags and stickers to bring in patronage and avoid being sued. The expansive power of sexual identities that are performed and prescribed in media venues and fashion helps explain why Church members are experiencing dissonance between faith and identity politics. Youth, in particular, are caught up in the mistaken assumption that Church doctrine is on the cusp of altering; some LGBTQ youth simply expect change: “At the top of my list is [a same sex] companionship… and it looks like I’ll have to wait just a bit longer.” [70] [71] Popular culture markets have and do drive value stances and expectations. In 2023, the Church’s struggles with identity activism are mild. As economic saturation grows with pride symbolism and performance expectations in the coming years and decades, heavier ideological struggles will emerge.

Yet while sensitivity to identity issues is an ethical imperative because they are real and deserve genuine understanding, the co-opting of compassion has reached a level of driving and influencing national and global markets, is an expanding new norm, and promises transcendence over troubles through identity politics instead of via the covenant path. [72] With two different voices on lifestyle that promise younger generations who are tech savvy, as well as the rest of us, the pursuit of transcendence via flag pledging and crowd marching, a dissonance arises that is intimately associated with faith crisis.

Ancient Compassion as Model

Navigating these different voices, perhaps the story of Christ being confronted by the chief priests with the woman taken in adultery can assist us. When asked to succumb to their desire to execute her, He was silent. Yet, in that moment, He did mourn with her for the sake of her own difficult situation. He spoke to her and expressed his compassion after her accusers had left. Note that his performance of kindness was private, after the accusers had walked away. At that moment, Christ did not hang a banner of compassion for those who are attracted to people other than their spouses. Further, his compassion came with a doctrinal charge. While saving her life, he issued a specifically catered moral expectation for her to avoid giving into sexual appetites. After assuring her safety, he immediately gave her responsibility. Her transcendence was to be found in her decisions, not in his need to publicly perform that He cared. He did not resort to displaying his compassion publicly. Confronted with the discussion of sexuality outside of marriage, Christ 1) reacted compassionately yet without advocacy, and 2) left no room for misinterpretation of his own display of compassion, which was centered on his hopes for her to choose a covenant path.

To understand our context better, perhaps we can also consider the last week of Christ’s life and the emotional heightening that was key to those events. In only a matter of days, Christ went from being the worshiped Savior of Galilee to the most infamous man worthy of execution. He went from being adored during his entrance into Jerusalem to facing a crowd chanting for his death (Luke 19:8–9); from being understood as the great healer to being publicly humiliated with a crown of thorns and a mocked purple robe (John 19:5). Where were those who loved Him in his final week during His trial and crucifixion? Where were those He healed?

Group emotions are defining and rapidly persuasive. As McGee describes the power of words, we see how the chief priests used the loaded word “blasphemy” to incite further anger when Christ’s divine mission as the Son of God came to their attention (Matthew 26:65–67). Similarly, “compassion” is now also loaded with the expectation of performance, leading to group unison where the weight of powerful wording provides “capacity to… control public belief and behavior.” [73]

Emotions can turn groups in new directions on a whim. Those in Jerusalem were susceptible to “emotional states” where “moods and emotions” were transferred from influencers to their audience. [74] These shared emotional manipulations also come through social media, and are described by psychologists as technologically spread “emotional contagions.” [75] Individuals, united under banners, become singular masses, sharing collective emotion under new nationalistic pursuits of a compassion revolution. Marcuse warned about this result of activism in an age where suffering is mild and we cannot differentiate our privilege compared to historical moments of suffering: “The people, the majority of the people in an affluent society, are on the side of which is—not that which can and ought to be.” [76]

Reason, Contemporary Comforts, and Economics as Context

There are also intellectual and scientific answers to activist compassion while masses are subsumed in the euphoria of identity-ism. They are scientific, sound, reasonable, objective, and relatable to gospel parallels. In his landmark treatment on the history of agriculture as predating contemporary public advertising campaigns (such as the mass distribution of ideologies), historian Stuart Ewen describes the essential male and female roles that men and women played in agricultural life, which was the key to communal survival. [77] Further, the work of Oxford and Cambridge scholar J.D. Unwin, in his examination of dozens of ancient civilizations, describes how civilizations that engage in sexuality outside of traditional marriage end up damaging their own economic and social systems. [78] Current Church leadership provides clarification and direction on the significance of the duality of men and women, in those specific roles, as the centerpiece of human life. [79] [80] These roles are key to economic survival, including their sexual duality, and are permanently intertwined in a relationship that is key to human survival. When examined as a means of communal survival, sexuality is an economic issue. Human reproduction is about survival. Outside of that base function of mortality, activist compassion is the result of a super-comfortable human condition that has little to worry about in life in comparison to the technological absence and economic challenges in previous ages.

The rapid turning of public perception and group euphoria over identities has been accumulating for several decades, [81] and is claiming more territory as time goes on under planted yard banners. [82] As banners provide a “shared psychological state of solidarity,” they “activate our feelings” into action. [83] Flags are planted onto land that has been won and “have much to do with our traditional tribal tendencies and notions of identity—the idea of us versus them.” [84] There is more going on with flags and their social function than just displays of compassion. The current trajectory of the rainbow flag wavers will be a new nationalism that can define society as it continues to expand.

Protagonists in Parables as Praxis

In the face of all of this, what are we as a Church body to do? Several applicable principles warrant a firm foundation in doctrine that is not moved by contemporary faith crisis venues, specifically in social media and in emotional street picketing protests. First, if we return to the mode whereby Christ taught—his parables—we see set structures: the narrative (plot), the lesson (moral of the story), and protagonist (person who made a difference in the story for those who needed to be taught).

Three primary parables emerge in this structure and demonstrate the immovability of what the protagonists face: the parable of prodigal son, the parable of the vineyard workers, and the parable of the wicked husbandmen. All three parables situate the protagonist as 1) establishing parameters of what actions and attitudes to adopt amid their subjects’ confusion about the difficult circumstances, 2) addressing the confusion on the part of the subjects who work for them, and 3) not being moved from their stances despite the trouble that is brought to them. Rather, these leaders instruct their constituents to better understand their circumstances, and then to change themselves rather than forcing circumstances or expectations to adjust.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the father stands firm on what would happen with the property in the future (i.e., the property will be given to the other son), but still embraces the prodigal son upon his return (Luke 15:11–32). He exhibits love but does not change his stance on what must happen for the family going forward. The father offers both love and restitution, but he does not change the world to be defined by his son’s difficulties. Despite his love for his son, he resists changing the circumstances or the lifestyle expectations for his prodigal son. Similarly, the owner of the vineyard does not yield on his payment offer to those whose labor was longer than those who were hired later in the day (Luke 20:9–19). Rather, he reasons with them on their own chosen labor status as a manifestation of his fairness. He does not change when demands to do so arrive. Also, the landowner in the parable of the wicked husbandmen does not hand over his property to his rebellious servants. Instead, he first attempts to reason with them, but fails to do so. Despite the discomfort of facing those seeking a hostile takeover of his land, the parable ends with the assumption that he will preserve the land for its already designed purpose (Matthew 21:33–46).

These lessons are heavy. Borrowing from them, what is a parent, a Church leader, a friend to do? Symbolically speaking, should they make the case that the beginning of the parables—when negotiations were put in place—were inaccurate all along, and that the parable needs to be rewritten altogether? Or is the lesson from these protagonists to be patient, kind, reasonable, and generous in our willingness to have tender conversations about topics that are increasingly sore for those who are struggling with their agreements? Both camps, the laborers and the vineyard owner, are exhausted because of the laborers’ misplaced angst. Both the prodigal son and the father are weary of the son’s troubled circumstances. Today, the burden of those who do not leave holy places is as heavy as those promoting doctrinal change that caters to popular expectations. With lessons from Christ’s ancient teachings, we see that an immovable stance on doctrine is essential.

Conclusion: Competing Proclamations

To conclude with reasons as to how faith crisis emerges, I reference again the polarizing political setting where spiritual dissonance is born. The dedication of flag waving in an entire month to parades, its unavoidable presence in advertising, its unyielding display in social media, and impassioned conversation with its new recruits, make exposure to the bright colors that are assigned to this rainbow nation unavoidable. This issue will not dissipate for Latter-day Saints. A response based on reason that draws upon historical and doctrinal warnings is needed. The purpose of this project has been to give Latter-day Saints a lens—intellectually and spiritually—to respond to, to reason with, and to perhaps persuade our friends to put down and avoid emotional, nationalistic banners and focus on covenants instead. Love is not lost in a covenant path. In opposition to rainbow nation, can we conclude that Christ’s “grace is sufficient” for identity and sexuality challenges (2 Corinthians 12:9)? Trajectories observed and history revisited in this study are meant to help us answer that question.

One final consideration demonstrates the stark contrast of where we have arrived at this unprecedented point in history—American history, world history, and certainly Church history. Proclamations are powerful for their audiences. They come from authority voices and direct action on the part of followers. We are currently experiencing competing proclamations on identity, a situation that demonstrates the heightening of the ongoing compassion war. Nearly three decades ago, the Church’s “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” [85] provided precursory response to where we are now and was published five years after Alexander Chee’s push for a “Queer Nationalism.” Consider the chronology of the Family Proclamation: 28 years ago, our current cultural struggle was predicted by Church leadership. That time sequence parallels the prophet Joseph Smith’s prophesied secession of South Carolina and the eruption of the Civil War (D&C 87:1): 29 years.

This year, a new proclamation serves as response to that, a polarization of perspectives between Church doctrine and identities that come with new economic and governmental ambitions. [86] In his formal Pride Month proclamation, President Joseph R. Biden describes the “inflection point” [87] we have entered on the public stage of demonstrating care for another. Inflection means to change. In his White House Proclamation, President Biden calls for organized marching against traditional perspective, describing them as embedded with “vitriol” and needing to be met with his charge for the “American people” to “wave their flags of pride high.” [88] Scholars have warned that “Flags Divide Us.” [89] This issue could not be more serious for Latter-Day Saints. The proclamation issued 28 years ago, by people who Latter-day Saints call prophets, warned against adopting an ideology dedicated to ensuring “inflections” and political organizing that dismisses doctrine and contributes to faith crisis.


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Full Citation for this Article: Yergensen, Brent (2023) "The Compassion War: Identities, Flag Nationalism, and Faith Crisis Culture," SquareTwo, Vol. 16 No. 2 (Summer 2023),, accessed <give access date>.

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