I have always been intrigued by the prevalence of warfare and political content in the Book of Mormon, despite it's claim to being a spiritual rather than a historical record. When one considers the perspective of the record's primary compiler, Mormon, as a military commander, this content is not altogether surprising. However, we are told repeatedly throughout the text that the intended audience of the record is the people of our day. Further, we know that engraving space on the metal record was limited and that the contributors to the records compiled by Mormon were commanded to only write that which pertained to spiritual matters. We can therefore conclude that the warfare and political content of the Book of Mormon have specific spiritual importance to our time.
Political Structure as a Spiritual Issue
When I first conceived the topic, I had in mind was to show how political freedom had an important role on the the spirituality of citizens. However, after re-examining the lessons taught by the text, it became clear that I had it exactly opposite: The spirituality of individuals and a nation as a whole has an important role in their political freedom. Their political structure tends to be directly or indirectly determined by their spiritual integrity. In preparation for this article, I skimmed the Book of Mormon for political content. Skimming for spiritual and political content made the correlation more obvious to me than previous times I have read the book.
Readers of the Book of Mormon will be well acquainted with the oft-repeated promise of prosperity and liberty to those who keep the commandments of God, and the promise of destruction to those who do not. This promise applies specifically to the Americas, which I explore further below. We see this concept early in 1st Nephi and throughout the text. Mormon frequently interjected his own commentary ("And thus we see that...") within the record he was abridging to reinforce this message.
Time after time, we see individuals who first rebel against the church and gospel of Christ, then second rebel against the socio-political order. They either seek to overthrow the government to their own advantage, or by joining the Lamanite nation and inciting them to war against the Nephite nation. Always, it was the spiritual rebellion (whether on the part of a group of dissenters or a leader already in a position of power) that proceeded the political rebellion and oppression.
Characteristics of Righteous Leadership
There are many examples of good political leadership offered by the Book of Mormon, listed below:
- Servants of the people
The first King Mosiah, followed by King Benjamin and his son the second King Mosiah gives us a good example of "servant leadership."All 3 of these kings relied on their own efforts to provide for their living, not by taxation. They served as moral examples. They consulted "men of God" in political and military matters. They served on the front lines of battle when war was necessary.
- Religious liberty
Under the Reign of the Judges in the books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman, we see a repeated insistence of the law that there should be no religious persecution. Men cannot be judged by the law based on his beliefs, except where his beliefs threaten the liberty of the people. We also see among the Lamanites, following the conversion to Christianity of Lamoni's father, the established decree of religious liberty (and prohibition of religious persecution) to all Lamanites.
In contrast to the excellent example of King Benjamin, we have the example of King Noah, who taxes his people one fifth (20%) of all they produce to support himself, his wives, concubines and priests. He also builds up elegant buildings and thrones for himself and priests. This is noted in context of the description of Noah as a wicked king. We also have the example of the people of Limhi, who return to the original land of Lehi-Nephi and request whether the Lamanites will give them land to occupy. As a trap, the king of the Lamanites vacate some land for Limhi's people. The Lamanites impose a tax of half of all they produce, or take their lives: “a tax which is grievous to be borne . . . And is not this, our affliction great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn.”
(For perspective, a comparison to the current American tax system: “Tax Freedom Day,” the day of the year in which American’s earnings are their own after taxes, is April 26 for 2006, or 31.6% average tax burden, based on Federal and State income tax only. This does not include sales-based taxes, gasoline taxes, so-called "vice taxes" on cigarettes, alcohol, etc. , or government administered lotteries-- which I consider to be voluntary taxation for the stupid.)
Mentioned specifically as being against the law under the Reign of the Judges, and under the 200 years of peace and equality following the visitation of Christ to the Americas.
- Power and War
There are many shining examples of appropriate use of power and war (Captain Moroni, wielder of the Title of Liberty comes to mind) but I find it best expressed by Pahoran, the Chief Judge of Captain Moroni's time:
I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in which God hath made us free.
And now, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed. We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.
We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise in rebellion and take the sword against us . . . therefore . . . let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God. (Alma 61: 9-14)
- Representative Government
Described as ideal in a world where “just men” (righteous kings after Christ’s model of servant leadership) cannot be guaranteed. This was hinted upon when the original Nephi was reluctant to become king ("...I was desirous that they should have no king,” 2 Nephi 5:18) and was reiterated by the second Mosiah, having learned from the example of King Noah:
* “Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you. (Mosiah 29:13)
* “Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.”(Mosiah 29:16)
* “And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.” (Mosiah 29:21)
* “For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;” (Mosiah 29:22)
* “And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.”
On to the selection of leaders and laws by the people:
* “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore, this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction…” (Mosiah 29:26-27)
Book of Mormon Perspective on American Liberty
We know from repeated instances in the Book of Mormon that the Americas are declared by God to be a "land of promise."
We know from Nephi’s vision (1 Nephi 13) some 2000 plus years before the Declaration of Independence, that America in our time was specifically discovered and established by God-- we learn that the spirit of God wrought upon Columbus and other gentiles; “and they went forth out of captivity.” (1 Nephi 13:13)
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity [American colonists] did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles [England] were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them [the War of Independence].
18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.
We see these concepts came to be echoed later in America's founding documents-- such as the proclamation that God, not government, is the source of our "inalienable rights."
Lehi prophesies the New World to be a land of liberty (2 Nephi 1:6-11) – Keeping in mind Nephi's encouragement to "liken the scriptures unto us," does this not apply equally to the current inhabitants (us) as it did to the descendants of Lehi?
6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.
11 Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten." (emphasis mine)
Secular Humanism and Political Freedom
In chapter 30 of the book of Alma, we are introduced to an Anti-Christ named Korihor. The interesting thing to me about the encounter with Korihor is the parallels between his rhetoric and the arguments made by secular humanists. At this time, the coming of Christ had been prophesied but had not taken place.
-In Alma 30: 13 & 15, Korihor argues for Impiricism, stating that prophets could not know of anything which is to come, and that one cannot know of things they cannot see.
-In verse 14, he dismisses belief in the coming Messiah as "foolish traditions of your fathers."
-In verse 16, he characterizes religion as a crutch for the mentally weak ("it is the effect of a frenzied mind")
-In verse 17, Korihor argues for a "might makes right" system (essentially social Darwinism) which leads neatly into situational ethics: "whatsoever a man did was no crime"
-In verse 18, he promotes hedonism, rationalizing that immoral acts had no consequence, as he claimed there is nothing after death.
-Further, in verse 23, he claims that religion is a mechanism to keep the people in ignorance and usurp power and authority over them. He follows this in verse 24 with the claim that religion is a form of bondage, that keeps people from free thought.
The people rejected his rhetoric and turned him over to the law. When presented to Alma, the Chief Judge of the time, he attempted to argue that this integration of church and state was a form of oppression on the people. Alma rebutted to Korihor with the reminder that both the judges and the priests earned their own livings, independently of their church or civil service. Korihor's rhetoric would be echoed later by others who conspired to overthrow the government. Again, the interesting thing to me about this encounter is how closely the rhetoric of Korihor the Anti-Christ matches the rhetoric of today's rabidly vocal minority, the secular humanist left.
Secret Combinations Then and Now
Political, religious, and economic conspiracies are referred to in the Book of Mormon as "secret combinations," and is the forth most frequent topic in the text; behind only the topics of Christ, missionary work, and warfare. This should be an indicator of the importance of being aware of them and keeping them out of our society.
We learn in Mormon chapter 8 that the Book of Mormon would come in a time “when there shall be great [spiritual] pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day. . . Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.” (Mormon 8:31,32)
Moroni has our time shown unto him and “knows [our] doing;” he condemns those who “build up . . . secret abominations to get gain” warns that “the sword of vengeance hangs over you.” (Mormon 8:35, 40, 41)
Moroni, speaking directly to our time, warns us again in Ether 8:
...[W]hatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people. (Ether 8: 22-25)
The Remedy for Political Malady
Thus far we have established, according to the lessons of the Books of Mormon, that political freedom is tied to the spiritual integrity of the peoples of a nation and their leaders. We have seen some qualities of good political leadership. We have explored the divine preparation for the establishment of American independence and the spiritual conditions required for the preservation of liberty. We have seen the introduction of secular humanist thought which produces dissent from righteous leadership and threatens liberty. We have seen the dangerous influence of political, economic, and religious conspiracy and the direct warnings to watch out for and avoid them in our time; at the risk of our own destruction.
Seeing the parallels to all of these issues in our own time, one then might ask what can be done to offset these dangerous influences? The Chief Judge Alma faced this same dilemma in Alma 31, when faced with the imminent dissent of the people calling themselves Zoramites. Alma feared they would join with the Lamanite nation and incite them to war against the Nephite nation again.
His resolution? Missionary work: "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."
Is it really that simple? Unjust political conflict resolved by a little preaching? Obviously, it can't always work. There are cases where evil men simply refuse to conform to the principles of peace and liberty because those principles prevent them from obtaining the power they seek. We see repeated instances later in the book of Alma where Captain Moroni would force captured enemy combatants to choose between taking an oath to preserve peace and liberty, or death (This solution is obviously only workable under righteous leadership).
While we may not be able to offset all evil by "the preaching of the word," it should be apparent that any hope of maintaining our political liberties is fruitless unless we can maintain a standard of spiritual integrity throughout the people in general. Our Founding Fathers recognized the Source of human liberty-- it should follow that a nation will cease to honor that liberty if it ceases to recognize that Source.