What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Corruption?

King Benjamin set the standard for political leadership when he reported to his people at the end of his reign that he had conscientiously labored to serve them and avoided taking advantage of his role for personal gain (Mosiah 2:12-15).

His son Mosiah followed his example (Mosiah 6:6-7).

But when the people of King Limhi and Alma arrived in the land of Zarahemla with stories of egregious abuse of power by Limhi’s father Noah, King Mosiah was concerned about his people’s future. He described to the people how an unscrupulous man could take advantage of their system of government:

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;
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 (Mosiah 29:22-23).

The solution proposed by Mosiah was a representative form of government in which decisions are made by “the voice of the people,” instead of by a single person.

Can’t the majority of the people be wrong? Of course they can. But a system of government in which everyone has a voice is less amenable to corruption than a system in which power is concentrated:

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 (Mosiah 29:26).

Then he added an ominous warning:

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 even as he has hitherto visited this land (Mosiah 29:27).

About 60 years later, a chief judge named Nephi was horrified at the failure of the people to live up to the expectations set by King Mosiah.

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted (Helaman 5:2).

In frustration, Nephi stepped down from his post as chief judge, naming a successor, and dedicated the remainder of his life to preaching the gospel and fortifying the moral character of his society.

Seven years later, Nephi returned from a mission to find that things had deteriorated further. Positions of authority were held by immoral men who did whatever they could get away with:

Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills….
Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years (Helaman 7:5-6).

Fifty-two years later, things had become far worse. After a period of righteousness and peace, the moral character of the people had begun to decay again. An ethic of loyalty to family and close friends had replaced a commitment to integrity and justice. When a group of judges were accused of unlawfully executing innocent people, they openly flaunted the fact that their extreme loyalty to one another had made them immune to prosecution:

Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
And they did enter into a covenant one with another…to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country (3 Nephi 6:27-30).

The result was anarchy. The people lost confidence in their institutions of justice, and those institutions could not survive that loss of confidence. The government crumbled, and the people separated into tribes (3 Nephi 7:1-6).

The Oxford Dictionary defines “corruption” as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” When leaders prioritize their own gain over the people they are supposed to serve, and when they prioritize personal loyalty over integrity, the structures which uphold society begin to disintegrate.

I have learned the following principles from these Book of Mormon examples:

  1. It is important to avoid too much concentration of power.
  2. Even when power is distributed, the laws of a nation and the nation’s adherence to those laws is a reflection of the collective moral character of its people.
  3. We must hold our leaders to a high standard of integrity and not allow that standard to be watered down over time.
  4. When we allow people to get away with crimes because of their money or connections, we weaken the rule of law.

Today, I will recommit to follow and uphold the standard of leadership set by Benjamin and Mosiah. I will remember that the positions of authority I hold are responsibilities to serve conscientiously. I will make it clear that I expect the same from my leaders: integrity in fulfilling their duties and respect for the rule of law.

4 thoughts on “What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Corruption?

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  1. Having this timeline really makes me grateful for the inspired constitution that has enabled the great American experiment of self-rule to last over 200 years. Also reminds me that we must avoid being a “silent majority” and instead be an active influence for good in society. Thanks Paul

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    1. I think that’s the main thing I got out of studying this topic. In a democracy, everyone has rights and privileges but also responsibilities (Mosiah 29:32, 34). Freedom of speech doesn’t just mean you can say whatever you want. It also means you are responsible to speak up when something isn’t right.

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