What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Refugees?

The king of the Lamanites was troubled. His people had accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ after being taught by a group of Nephite missionaries. They had made a solemn oath never to fight again. Their own people had turned against them and were slaughtering them mercilessly. Now, Ammon, the leader of the missionaries, had proposed that they immigrate to the land of the Nephites.

This option had not occurred to the king, probably because the Nephites were their sworn enemies. They had fought many battles, and his people, who were now pacifists, had killed many of them. He found it hard to believe that the Nephites could forgive them (Alma 27:6).

But Ammon persuaded him to go. When they arrived, the chief judge of the Nephites “sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people.” The response was magnanimous: “We will give up Jershon, which is on the east by the sea…. And behold, we will set our armies between the land of Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren” (Alma 27:22-23).

The protection was required. The unconverted Lamanites attacked, and “there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land” (Alma 28:2). Many of the Nephites died defending these refugees.

“This was a time that there was a great mourning” (Alma 28:4). However, there is no record of vindictiveness or misgivings about the decision to defend this group of helpless Lamanites.

A refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Because the Nephites had the brass plates, they knew that the Lord had given strict commandments to the children of Israel through Moses about how to treat immigrants. For example:

The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34).

Years later, the children of these refugees, under the direction of Helaman, were instrumental in turning the tide of a massive war against the Lamanites. Their faith not only resulted in miraculous victories. It also strengthened the morale of the Nephite soldiers who fought by their sides.

As Elder Patrick Kearon has taught, our response to the needs of refugees is a reflection of our values and our character:

Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us (“Refuge from the Storm,” General Conference, April 2016).

And as President Russell M. Nelson recently reminded us, there are more than 70 million refugees in the world today (“The Second Great Commandment,” General Conference, October 2019).

Today, I will remember that God expects us to look after the most vulnerable people among us. I will search for opportunities to support people in need.

Posted in Charity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About the Relationship Between Church and State?

Before the time of King Mosiah, religion and government were commingled in Nephite society. Mosiah’s father, King Benjamin, had served not only as the political leader but also as the spiritual leader of his people, and Mosiah had followed suit.

But when Alma arrived with a group of people whom he had organized into a church, that paradigm changed. Alma had refused to be king, scarred by his association with an evil king named Noah (Mosiah 23:6-7). He was exclusively a religious leader with no political ambitions, which provided a unique opportunity to separate religious leadership from political leadership (Mosiah 25:14-15, 19).

King Mosiah encouraged Alma to preach, and he gave Alma permission to organize the church. When Alma learned of inappropriate behavior among some members of the church, he notified the king, deferring to Mosiah’s judgment on the matter. In response, Mosiah established a significant new boundary between church and state. “I judge them not,” he said to Alma; “therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged” (Mosiah 26:12). These sins were violations of church teachings, not violations of criminal law. The church should deal with them, not the state.

This might seem like an obvious distinction to us, but it was groundbreaking for them. Just before introducing a new form of government, Mosiah was redefining the scope and the jurisdiction of that government.

In 1835, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unanimously adopted a declaration of belief regarding “earthly governments” and “religious societies.” The document included the following statement about the limitations of political authority:

We do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul (Doctrine and Covenants 134:4).

In the United States of America, this limitation of government authority is specified in the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (“The Bill of Rights: A Transcription,” National Archives)

Today, I am grateful to live in a country where freedom of religion is maintained and where the line between church and state is respected. I will remember that there is an important distinction between legal standards of conduct, which must be enforced by the state, and moral standards, which are within the purview of the church.

Posted in Church, Government | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Impeachment?

King Mosiah, who followed his father’s example of servant leadership, was eventually convinced by his friend Alma that monarchy is a dangerous form of government. Alma had served as a priest under king Noah and was painfully aware of the suffering caused by a wicked king.

And so, near the end of his life, King Mosiah introduced a new form of government, with leaders, called judges, appointed “by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:25).

A political system in which the people choose their leaders may not be perfect, but at least it engages every citizen in the process, with some accountability for the outcome. And involving more people in a decision does make extreme or foolish outcomes somewhat less likely:

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).

But what happens when a duly elected leader misbehaves? Mosiah’s plan included provisions for that scenario too:

If ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.
If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people (Mosiah 29:28-29).

Under this system, no one is above the law. Junior leaders who act immorally have to answer to a more senior leader. And senior leaders who misbehave have to answer to a group of more junior leaders. Everyone is accountable for their actions. And ultimately, everyone answers to “the voice of the people.”

It’s a good system as long as the people collectively are moral. But if that morality erodes, if the collective voice of the people no longer chooses right, then the society will surely crumble. As King Mosiah warned:

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).

John Adams issued a similar warning to the Massachusetts Militia on October 11, 1798, ten years after the ratification of the Constitution of the United States:

We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by…morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition,…Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other (Adams Papers on the National Archives website).

I have learned the following lessons from these passages:

  1. Checks and balances are important. It is dangerous for too much power to be concentrated in a single individual.
  2. Groups of lower leaders need the ability to hold higher leaders accountable for their actions.
  3. These types of decisions ultimately depend upon the collective morality of the people.

Today, I will remember that the freedoms I enjoy rely upon the checks and balances built into the government of my country. I will be grateful for those checks and balances. I will strive to vote wisely and to encourage my elected leaders to fulfill their responsibilities with the highest standard of integrity and morality.

Posted in Government | Tagged | 2 Comments

What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About the United States of America?

About 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a prophet named Nephi experienced a sweeping vision, in which he saw a number of events in the distant future. One of those events was the establishment of the United States of America. Here is how he describes it:

I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
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.
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 (1 Nephi 13:16-19).

I think it’s significant that the catalyst for the American Revolution was that the people who had immigrated from Europe collectively humbled themselves before God. As a result, they received power from God and were able not only to obtain their independence from “their mother Gentiles” (Great Britain), but also to defend themselves from “all other nations.”

Throughout the Book of Mormon, we read that God intends for the American continent to be a land of liberty, but we also read that this liberty is dependent on the righteousness of its people. Here are a few examples:

Lehi told his sons:

None shall come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
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 (2 Nephi 1:6-7).

Jacob taught that America would be “a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles” (2 Nephi 10:10-12).

Jesus explained that the establishment of a free country would set the stage for the Father to bring forth the Book of Mormon and begin the process of gathering scattered Israel (3 Nephi 21:1-4).

Moroni tells us that, many thousands of years earlier, the Lord delivered a sobering warning to the brother of Jared, just before his family journeyed to the American continent:

And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.
And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity (Ether 2:8-9).

Surely this principle is true anywhere in the world: If you turn your heart to God, you will prosper, and if you turn away from Him, you will fail to receive vital blessings you need in order to be successful.

Still, it is clear that the establishment of the United States was a significant manifestation of that principle, and the liberty and prosperity which the citizens of that country enjoy is a direct result of the righteousness of their forbears.

No wonder President M. Russell Ballard made the following plea last week in Worcester, Massachusetts:

I plead with you this evening to pray for this country, for our leaders, for our people and for the families that live in this great nation founded by God. Remember, this country was established and preserved by our founding fathers and mothers who repeatedly acknowledged the hand of God through prayer….
I invite you to join in a new movement. Invite your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends on social media to pray for this country” (“The Lord’s Hand,” DCU Center, October 20, 2019).

Today, I will pray for my country, for my leaders, and for the families that live here. I will remember that we owe our liberty to the righteousness of those who have preceded us, and that we must also turn to God, for the benefit of future generations.

Posted in America | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Can I Recognize the Hand of the Lord in My Life?

After warning the people of Jerusalem of their imminent destruction, Lehi was commanded by the Lord to take his family out of the city into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:1-2). He had to defend this decision many times as the family undertook a difficult journey across the land and the sea to a promised land which God had prepared for them. When the family arrived in the promised land, Lehi testified that they had been led to that place “by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:5-6, 10).

Many years later, Lehi’s descendants discovered another group of people who had also been led “by the hand of the Lord” from Jerusalem to the American continent at about the same time (Omni 1:16).

And the Jaredites, another group of people who had traveled to the American continent much earlier, were also directed by the hand of the Lord (Ether 2:6).

King Benjamin acknowledged the hand of the Lord in his reign (Mosiah 2:11). Alma and his armies were strengthened by the hand of the Lord as they defended themselves against the Amlicites (Alma 2:28). Multiple Book of Mormon prophets saw the hand of the Lord in the preservation of the records of their people (Mosiah 1:2-5, Alma 37:4, Mormon 6:6, Mormon 8:26).

But the prophet Nephi warned us that we will be tempted to ignore or deny the hand of the Lord in our lives. People will tell us that there are no miracles and that God is not actively involved in our lives. (See 2 Nephi 28:6.) How can we overcome this?

President Henry B. Eyring has found it useful to write every day how he has seen the hand of the Lord in his life:

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened (“O Remember, Remember,” General Conference, October 2007).

Today, I will follow President Eyring’s example. At the end of the day, I will intentionally review the experiences of the day and look for evidence of the hand of the Lord in my life. I will strive to be cognizant and grateful for the blessings I and my family receive from God.

Posted in Gratitude, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Can We Learn from Teancum’s Assassinations of Two Lamanite Kings?

During an extended war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, one of the Nephite commanders, Teancum, bravely enters the camp of the enemy on two occasions to take out their leader.

The first of these events occurs near the beginning of the war. The Lamanites have invaded Nephite lands and have taken possession of numerous cities. Their momentum is halted by the armies of Teancum near the land of Bountiful. A battle ensues, and the armies fight furiously all day. When it gets dark, the fighting stops, and they set up camp for the night.

And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.
And it came to pass that Teancum stole privily into the tent of the king, and put a javelin to his heart; and he did cause the death of the king immediately that he did not awake his servants.
And he returned again privily to his own camp, and behold, his men were asleep, and he awoke them and told them all the things that he had done (Alma 51:33-35).

This brave action dramatically affects the morale of the Lamanite army. When they awake in the morning to find their leader dead, they are frightened, and they retreat. Shortly after, they select Amalackiah’s brother, Ammoron, as their new king.

Fast forward five years. The Lamanites are nearly defeated. All of the Lamanite soldiers that remain are encamped in the one Nephite city they still control—Lehi.

And thus they did encamp for the night. For behold, the Nephites and the Lamanites also were weary because of the greatness of the march; therefore they did not resolve upon any stratagem in the night-time, save it were Teancum; for he was exceedingly angry with Ammoron, insomuch that he considered that Ammoron, and Amalickiah his brother, had been the cause of this great and lasting war between them and the Lamanites, which had been the cause of so much war and bloodshed, yea, and so much famine.
And it came to pass that Teancum in his anger did go forth into the camp of the Lamanites, and did let himself down over the walls of the city. And he went forth with a cord, from place to place, insomuch that he did find the king; and he did cast a javelin at him, which did pierce him near the heart. But behold, the king did awaken his servants before he died, insomuch that they did pursue Teancum, and slew him (Alma 62:35-36).

Mormon portrays the first event as a turning point in the war. Teancum’s action comes across as heroic and meaningful.

The second event comes across as reckless and wasteful. The Nephites were about to win the war. The following day, the Nephite armies drove the remaining Lamanites out of their lands. It appears that Teancum sacrificed his own life for no good reason at all.

I’ve been thinking today about what we can learn from these two events. Here are some observations:

  1. Be mindful of your motives. Are you doing something courageous because it is necessary or beneficial? Or are you acting out of anger or pride?
  2. Collaborate. The first time, Teancum took a servant with him to the camp of the Lamanites. The second time, he went alone. There can be safety in consulting with other people before taking action.
  3. Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it will work this time. Evaluate each situation on it’s own terms, and resist the temptation to simplistically apply earlier strategies to new challenges.
  4.  Don’t overestimate your contributions to your success. In his earlier attempt, Teancum took significant risks. Many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Don’t underestimate the risks or overestimate your own abilities.

Today, I will strive to avoid the mistakes of Teancum. I will avoid hubris, address each situation on its own terms, and seek help from others as needed.

Posted in Pride | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How Is Christ the Judge of “Both Quick and Dead?”

Moroni ends the Book of Mormon by bidding us farewell until he meets us at the Final Judgment. In his description, he refers to the Savior as “the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead” (Moroni 10:34). What does that mean?

The phrase actually appears three times in the King James Version of the Bible:

  1. In the Book of Acts, Peter tells Cornelius and his friends that Jesus “was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:42).
  2. Paul admonished his young companion Timothy “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:1).
  3. Peter later wrote to members of the church that all sinners must one day “give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” Immediately after, Peter explains that the gospel has been preached to the dead, “that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:5-6).

In common usage, the word “quick” means “fast,” but in these passages, it means “alive.” How is Christ the judge of both the living and the dead?

Peter’s use of the phrase in his epistle serves to emphasize that those who have died are preparing to be judged just like we are.

Perhaps Moroni used the phrase for a similar purpose: to strengthen his connection with his readers. He knew he would be dead when we received his words. But even though he has died and we are still alive, he wanted us to feel a kinship with him, to recognize what we have in common: We will all one day stand before God’s judgment bar. In that way we are all the same, those who are living and those who are dead.

President Russell M. Nelson has summarized the message of the gospel in these words:

We invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life (“Let Us All Press On,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will remember that the living and the dead are not as different as we might think. Those who have died like us, have the opportunity to receive the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and thereby prepare themselves to receive eternal life in the presence of God.

Posted in Spirit World | Tagged | Leave a comment