A Sacred Brotherhood: Seven ways to achieve it

Brotherhood! What’s the first thought or image that comes to mind?

Fraternity! What’s the first thought or image that comes to mind now?

Are they the same? Similar? Different?

Chances are that the word fraternity is more commonly associated with a college fraternity which in these days conjures up images of drinking, hazing, and crazy sexual escapades; in other words, Animal House. But it was not always this way.

There was a time when fraternity evoked feelings of devotion, honor, and fidelity; in other words, a sacred brotherhood. Poems, songs, operas, and great works of art pay homage to the image of brothers linked arm in arm, in the service of a greater cause; serving humanity. Think of General Moroni, raising the standard of liberty “in memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives and our children” (Alma 46:12). Think of Helaman and his 2,000 stripling warriors. The motto of France, forged in the furnace of the French revolution declares fraternity to be the ultimate achievement of liberty and equality; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

​​In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the King delivers his famous St. Crispin’s Day speech declaring to the assembled troops that the cause for which they are gathered and the battle which they are about to fight will create a shared identity and a bond that will endure for generations, all because they stand together as brothers on a battlefield.

“From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered — We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile. This day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, and hold their manhood's cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”

As King Henry so boldly and wisely declares, a shared cause, adventure, or battle brings men together and creates a powerful brotherhood that will be long felt and remembered. And even in the days of chivalry it was a state of being shared only by a few, self-selected men.

So, what has happened to fraternity? How has it been transformed over the centuries from noble ideals played out on the battlefields of ancient America and France, to Spring Break in Miami? Are there no more great causes for which to fight? Have men simply lost the will to fight or to live in the service of something greater than themselves? I hope and believe the answer is, NO!

In writing this I do not mean to imply that war is the only way to express or achieve sacred brotherhood. It is true that there is something about fighting next to a brother, in defense of each other’s lives and the higher purpose that they serve, that brings out the heroic and noble in men. I think however, that there are other, less combative ways to achieve this same nobility. I believe that there are Seven Elements of Brotherhood that should be present in all male associations to varying degrees. These include:

  • Recreation: play, leisure or pleasure. Men who gather to play cards, watch a game or a movie

  • The search for enlightenment: support, self-awareness or healing. Men who support each other through trials and challenges. Men who seek the support of brothers to become better men and heal old wounds.

  • Activity: purposeful association beyond recreation. Men who engage in physical or social activity, team competition and group association

  • Ritual: shared language, oaths of allegiance, boundaries and shared identity. Men who share ritual, oaths of allegiance, covenants and unique language, creating an emotional and spiritual bond as well as a strengthened collective, and thus personal identity

  • Shared history: a common experience that builds a foundation for on-going connection. Men who have shared a unique experience such as an adventure, battle or a significant event or period in their lives and refer to it in order to connect and reconnect.

  • Service: sacrificing self for the benefit of others. Men who come together to help improve the lives of others and the world in which they live.

  • Generativity: a vision and commitment to the future and the well-being of others. Men who share and promote a vision that creates growth and opportunity in the present and for generations to come.

Connection between men generally grows out of shared activity and purpose. Consequently, men’s organizations often form around one of the above as their primary reason for being. Whether it is a group of men who enjoy watching a ball game or who get out on a Saturday morning to play the sport together. Whether men gather to support each other in overcoming addictions or serve those in need. A purpose is what brings men together; men like to “do.” Yet, even though they gather for a reason, some or all of the other elements of brotherhood can and should be represented to a certain degree in every men's organization to enrich the experience, contribute to its overall health and ensure that it endures as long as it's needed. It is our belief that these seven elements must be present to create fraternity, in other words a sacred brotherhood.

For example, a bowling league which exists primarily for recreation can also share a team jersey declaring its shared identity or raise money for a cause by sponsoring a bowling tournament. A service organization that exists primarily to meet the needs of members of the community can also host social events creating an opportunity for its members to build connection.

From the perspective of LDS men, the Elders' Quorum can include all seven of the elements, and thus strengthen our mission and sacred brotherhood. At its core, an Elders' Quorum exists so that the Priesthood of God can be administered to its ward family. Its spiritual goal is intended to be generative in that its ultimate goal is to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth and to help prepare men and women to meet their God. On a temporal level it exists to provide service to the ward and to the greater community. In addition, a quorum exists for the personal growth of its quorum members, which can include spiritual and emotional healing, support and recreation.

As a recent post on this site suggests, a model for such a quorum seems to exist amongst the Quorum of the Twelve.

And while an image of the Twelve playing a game of pickup ball may seem incongruous, I have heard them say things which indicate, that beyond their sacred and generative service to the world, the Brethren make time to serve each other and even play together as part of their sacred brotherhood.

The ultimate example of sacred brotherhood is found in the relationship between the Savior and his disciples. From the scriptural accounts, there was an intimacy that existed between them to which we can all aspire; an intimacy that was inspired and promoted by Jesus Christ. He served them even though he was the master. He loved them so completely that he was able to reprimand them when called for, and then love them all the more. Most importantly he was willing to, and did die for them, of which there is no greater gift that a man can give to a brother. He is our example.

As we enter this age of ministry in the church and quorums I believe it is important to remember these seven elements and make them a part of the new priesthood culture that we are creating. A culture of love for each other and dedicated to serving others and our God. Fraternity will be built amongst us as we focus on the present and the future. It will flourish as we serve and play. It will grow deep in intimacy as we bear one another’s burdens and come to know our God as individuals and as a collective brotherhood. May we all strive to create such a brotherhood in our quorums and throughout our lives, that we might achieve the fullness of sacred brotherhood, reestablishing the true meaning of fraternity, and thus restore it as a hallowed and noble cultural norm in our world.