It has been said that the Book of Mormon was written for us in our day and every time I find one of these little gems I am reminded how true this idea is. Sometimes the gems are guides. Sometimes they are encouragements. And sometimes they are warnings – warnings of things to look out for so we don’t end up as the Nephites did.
While we may not be able to avoid all of the pitfalls contained in the Book of Mormon, at this time of political decision making in the United States it seems pertinent that we consider the messages the Book of Mormon contains regarding political figures and movements and how to be wary of the dangerous ones while choosing instead the ones which have the power to transform our society into a truly great and benevolent people and nation.
Warning 1: Avoid The Angry & Violent
The Book of Mormon is chalked full of political and legal commentary that is extremely valuable and a few months ago I read a couple of passages with commentary that sounded as warnings in my ear for how to be aware of what is going on around us politically and how to react to it.
Here’s passage number one:
And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.
And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.Alma 24:1-2
There are three sides to this passage: Two groups of people with two differing viewpoints on the way to live life and the rules by which they wanted to be governed (the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi and the Amulonites and Amalekites), and a third group of people to be influenced one way or the other (the unconverted Lamanites). In short it was a situation of politics.
As I read I couldn’t help but hear echoes of our own day in the United States. All have their own opinions for the laws by which we should be governed and many try desperately to persuade others to their own point of view. Some are won over. Some are pushed away. Still others sit, waiting for someone else – another faction – to better represent their own opinions and desires.
When irresolvable conflict happens during our modern day political struggles something rather unastonishing happens in light of this passage of scripture. In failing to convert other people to our own political points of view we quickly turn – as the Amalekites and Amulonites did – to anger and hatred, hoping that by vilifying the opposing sides we can somehow win more converts to our cause and ultimately win the “war” entirely.
But anger, hatred, and vilification are just the start – and herein is the warning from the Book of Mormon. At the time of the conversion of these Lamanites to worshiping the true and living God, the anger- and hatred-mongering of those who opposed the converts’ new way of life turned to bloodshed with the intent of completely destroying those who believed (see Alma 24:20). They came upon them ready for war and finding no resistance killed more than 1000 people (Alma 24:22). Then, when they realized what had happened, they turned their anger and hatred to yet a fourth group of people who were completely uninvolved in the conflict and tried to kill them instead (Alma 25:1-5). (For the complete story see Alma 17-25) We see from this account that when anger gets pushed too far it can easily turn to promoting and encouraging violence against those with differing viewpoints – and once that happens it’s not unlikely that it will also be enacted.
Now you may be thinking, “But we’re passed all that! We’ve evolved. We’re different. That will never happen to us. It’s impossible!” Certainly there is today a sentiment in our society that we are somehow progressive and more advanced than those civilizations of the past simply because we are somehow more accepting and permissive, less aggressive and barbaric, more technologically advanced and sophisticated than those of the past. And you may be one who agrees with this perspective.
But I ask you to reconsider that idea. Think of the wars in the world today. Think of the political struggles and fears in the US alone even as recently as the last 4 years. Most recently think of the uproar caused by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. These situations aren’t very much different from the Amalekites and Amulonites – and our responses to them aren’t either.
No, the sad truth is that human nature has not changed – and neither have we. And here is the warning – be wary of those set upon stirring us up to anger in order to usher in their own political agendas. Be wary of their messages and plans for instating them. And if the policies or their planned methods for pushing them through do not line up with God’s plan for His children, find someone else who’s agendas and plans do and support them instead.
Warning #2: Be Wary of Popular Ideals
Several chapters after these events there is yet another similar warning from another city whose political machinations were also not so different from ours today. In Alma chapters 30-35 we read of a people whose worship of God had been morphed into a popularity contest among the city’s elite and wealthy inhabitants. They used their wealth, status, and authority to dismiss, reject, and otherwise mistreat those who did not have as much material wealth or influence in the community as they did.
Then Alma and his friends and sons come along preaching a far more inclusive doctrine of worship and belief than that practiced by the popular crowd (see Alma 31-34) and the people in political and religious power in the city didn’t like it. The scriptures say that, “it did destroy their craft,” (see Alma 35:3) and because it undermined their objectives and ideals the city leaders did the only logical thing they could to keep the status quo: figure out how people felt about the new doctrine and then kick everyone out who agreed with it (see Alma 35:3-6). This meant that the poor, unpopular class of the city suddenly became homeless and completely without means to provide for their basic necessities simply because their political and religious ideas and beliefs differed from what the popular, in-power crowd wanted.
It’s probable that the city leaders had expected this would cause the exiles all to die and that this was their desire, for when they discovered that those who they had kicked out had been cared for by others who followed the same religion that Alma had come preaching, as with the Amalekites and Amulonites, the city’s political leaders turned to threats of violence against those who had ministered to the outcasts (see Alma 35:6-13). The doctrine of popularity and elitism had led those who preached it to threaten and later enact violence against those whose political and religious views differed and undermined their own.
You may again think that we are past all of that, but I ask you again to re-examine recent political history and reconsider the rhetoric used during battles over policies which were extremely controversial in the popular arena. In most cases perhaps no physical violence was threatened, but people get just as upset today as they did anciently when conflict happens in the public arena over issues they feel passionate about between themselves and other people who have a differing perspective from them, and we should not turn a blind eye to the private, small, or simple acts of violence that have taken place under those circumstances just because they were not mass events like those reported above. But even if there were no acts of violence at all we are just as masterful today at exiling each other from society as they were anciently. It’s just that today’s exiling tools have evolved to the use of social media and the internet as a means for humiliating, belittling, dismissing, and rejecting one another from society and denying friendship to those who were once dear to us. The polarization of society over a vast number of issues is a very real thing and we are becoming experts at it instead of being experts at bringing each other together.
As we consider the events recorded in Alma 30-35, in addition the the lesson taken from Warning #1 above, the point here is this: Popular policy does not always equal correct policy and we need to be careful not to follow or support those policies or the people preaching them simply because they have a large following. A careful reading of the Book of Mormon will show that the destruction and disintegration of the Nephite culture and political system prior to the death, resurrection, and subsequent visitation of Jesus Christ was the result of following this sort of mentality (see the entire book of Helaman and first part of 3rd Nephi). We need to be smarter and wiser than the Nephites were and evaluate policy and persons based on true principles and only support what agrees with those principles.
Now . . . Having said all of that I realize that it is also important to remember the admonishments of our Savior to beware of wolves in sheeps’ clothing, and I suppose the ultimate message of this post aligns with the following statement made by the Lord Jesus Christ:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.Matthew 7:15-20
Conclusion: Listen To The Still Small Voice
We could dive deep into many of the scenarios spoken of in the Book of Mormon and find value and instruction in their political commentary, but these two examples will suffice for now. The main points are these:
- Remember that popular does not always equal right.
- Don’t get swept up in the fear- and hatred-mongering of those trying to stir us up to anger.
- Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
- Support who and what aligns with the doctrines of Christ.
- Listen to the Still Small Voice.
Take a moment to think about what your positions are on the issues and candidates at hand. How do they align with the teachings of Jesus? Then consider the rhetoric, practices, and policies of the current political candidates. How do they measure up to that same criteria? Once the answer to those questions is clear then listen to the Holy Ghost and choose to vote for those who will lead the nation toward a more Christ-like way of living and governance.