Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Captain Moroni, Pahoran, and politics

The title of my post could suggest many different directions for discussion.  But for now, I'm just offering a few short comments.

Terryl Givens wrote something about Captain Moroni that reminds me of a friend and former roommate I’ve recently been in touch with.  Here’s what Givens writes:

Moroni's uncompromising intolerance for slackness, his violent repression of dissent and his impetuous judgment, make him a stark counterpoint to his contemporaries, the long-suffering Alma and the pacifist converts of Ammon.  But he seems to be the preferred hero of the book's editor Mormon, himself a general caught up on the losing side of an apocalyptic war. "Verily I say unto you," he writes, "if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of men" (Alma 48:17). (54)

This is from Terryl Givens's The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction (published by Oxford University Press).  Many things in the description of Moroni--the passionate commitment, the refusal to give any quarter to what is viewed as dangerous or evil, the instinct for quick, pointed judgments, and the high idealism, including a love for what is judged as supremely good and valuable--remind me of my friend.

Givens also notes Captain Moroni's capacity to be passionately mistaken--specifically in his accusations against Pahoran.  In his response to Moroni's accusations (including the accusation of treason, accompanied by a threat of military attack), "we see Pahoran's magnanimity overshadow even Moroni's righteous outrage: 'And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart.' And then invoking Moroni's miitary assistance, he closes his epistle to his 'beloved brother, Moroni' (Alma 61:9, 21)" (53-54).

Earlier Givens notes how the message of the Book of Mormon transcends what would seem to us a stark political or even ethical choice--namely in the accounts of the people of Ammon and of their sons who served in the army of Helaman.  In these "stories of steadfast pacifism and lethally efficient militarism,” “[t]wo groups, separated only by a generation, are lauded respectively for their pacifism even at the cost of life, and for their valor and disciplined effectiveness as warriors.  Yet the former are not condemned for inaction in the face of national peril and the death of their protectors.  And their children are not condemned for their armed struggle against their former brethren. . . . The moral of this story, where righteous pacifism and righteous warfare find comfortable co-existence, would seem to be that faithfulness to covenants righteously entered into trumps both" (48, 50-51).  Which would be why, I think, humble obedience to God brings salvation, while commitment to one side or another of an issue or a partisan or ideological divide, even when these seem critical in human terms, doesn't.

(Note: For my view on war and peace from an LDS perspective, see )

Seeing my friend as a Captain Moroni--and myself perhaps as an Alma or Pahoran or maybe a humble member of the people of Ammon--helps me view our partisan division as less crucial than our covenantal connection.  That relative valuation of politics and covenants is part of what explains the importance of this warning from twentieth-century Church president George Albert Smith: “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground." President Gordon B. Hinckley similarly reminded us that "political differences never justify hatred or ill will," adding, " I hope that the Lord's people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties" (see "Instruments of the Lord's Peace," Ensign May 2006).

One of the many lessons of the Book of Mormon may be that our parties and positions on the issues of the day are less important than our covenants--and that as long as we can remember that, we can all, Pahoran and Captian Moroni, people of Ammon and sons of Helaman, not only live at peace but join as companions in the records of righteousness.


dramatic sporano said...

Wonderful post, Bruce! Thought provoking. I am a child of Ammon. I am with the number who buried their weapons, but I do understand why the Sons of Helaman needed to defend themselves. You've caused me to see Captain Moroni with new eyes.

Scott Parkin said...

Thanks for this. I've been stewing for more than a week about the general consensus in my gospel doctrine class that the end of Alma teaches us to execute anyone who is insufficiently patriotic.

The clear justifications in Alma 51 and 62 have always seemed to conflict at a fundamental level with the people of Ammon who laid down their arms in the face of aggression and were considered equally righteous.

The idea that Mormon, like Nephi addressing Laban, might be trying to assuage his own dissonance on the matter by documenting those justifications underpins how difficult such decisions are and should be---and how hard it can be to come to peace even when we're sure the choice is acceptable.

May we always work out such decisions with fear and trembling, rather than bravado and pride.

Braden said...

Beautifully said, Bruce. I agree with this wholeheartedly.