Editor’s note: Deseret News Editor Hal Boyd, writer Jacob Hess and photojournalist Kristin Murphy are in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, covering the Braver Angels National Convention held July 5-8, 2023.

“My strong belief is that a loving Heavenly Father revealed this heart wrenching history, in part, so we don’t repeat it,” Elder Ahmad S. Corbitt, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said at the 2023 Braver Angels National Convention on Thursday, referring to the social and political divisions described in the Book of Mormon. 

Elder Corbitt also highlighted contemporary calls for peace and unity from the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson, sharing short video clips from his recent messages. 

“How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell or sit together in unity,” Elder Corbitt said, paraphrasing Psalms 133 after reciting the verse in Hebrew, to applause from the audience.

“Whatever our backgrounds,” Elder Corbitt said, “let us continue forward as peacemakers, to appeal to our better angels. This will require us to summon our braver angels, as you do.”

The organization Braver Angels, founded in 2016, is a nonprofit that attempts to ameliorate political polarization in America. Its third national convention brought together this week nearly 700 people — evenly divided between left- and right-leaning Americans — for three days of discussion and debate.

An eclectic array of speakers and panelists slated to speak during the conference included authors Monica Guzman and Ian Rowe, former director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, U.S. Rep Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and Utah’s Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, among others. 

“If someone were trying to put into action what President Nelson has been teaching us about peacemaking, I believe it would look an awful lot like Braver Angels,” said Thomas B. Griffith, a retired federal judge and a fellow of Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute, who was in attendance for Elder Corbitt’s remarks.

After the session in an interview with the Deseret News, Elder Corbitt was “very encouraged” watching Braver Angels in action. “They are impressive and focused in the right direction.”

Elder Ahmad S. Corbitt, General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, applauds during the Braver Angels National Convention at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., on Thursday, July 6, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Unlikely friendships

In his remarks, Elder Corbitt mentioned Malcolm X holding him as a baby, long before Elder Corbitt joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He would eventually work as the church’s point person to Jewish organizations in New York. As a Christian convert “with a Muslim name ... you’re wondering, ‘whose idea was that?’” Elder Corbitt quipped to audience laughter.

Cross-boundary friendship can foster greater collaboration between people of all different backgrounds, reflecting the “best of our national character,” he said, while expressing “respect for our sister churches and religions the world over.” Peace and unification is “the work of many in our diverse nation,” he concluded.

Elder Corbitt related two aspects of the Latter-day Saint faith — the Book of Mormon and modern-day prophets and apostles — to the convention’s theme of fostering “harmony between people of different backgrounds.”

Message of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon, a volume of sacred scripture alongside the Holy Bible for Latter-day Saints, includes descriptions of elections that became fiercely contentious and violent, Elder Corbitt said, as well as abundant examples of conflict between believers and nonbelievers in the text, with religious freedom as a flashpoint. 

Noting how power struggles arose between peoples of different colors and cultures, Elder Corbitt underscored the teachings in the text that “(God) denieth none that come unto Him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 

Failing to live out such calls to unity results in “ideological and political divisiveness,” and, in the Book of Mormon, “a catastrophic civil war,” Elder Corbitt said. He expressed hope that such history would serve as a warning that Americans would not “repeat it.”

Calls for peace and unity 

Elder Corbitt introduced President Nelson to the audience as a “modern-day Simon Peter,” playing clips from his recent address, titled “Peacemakers Needed”: “The Savior’s message is clear: His true disciples build, lift, encourage, persuade and inspire — no matter how difficult the situation. True disciples of Jesus Christ are peacemakers.”

Quoting Sheri Dew, popular writer and executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., Elder Corbitt said modern prophets “see around corners” and expressed his hope that others would follow their calls for unity.

Elder Corbitt cited addresses from President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring of the church’s First Presidency. The former encouraged seeking to “moderate and unify…on contested issues,” and the latter emphasized that “a great day of unity is coming.”

“Let us imagine the consequences of not heeding today’s calls or of not earnestly pursuing the inspired objective of this convention,” Elder Corbitt concluded. “As we lead with courage and boldness, while exemplifying kindness and hope for the soul of America, we can, together, fix the eye of the nation on an inspired vision of our future as a people and as a more perfect union.”

Livestream of Braver Angels National Convention