What does the Book of Mormon teach about war?

11

March 31, 2010 by The Mormon Worker

Lately, I’ve been having some interesting discussions with a friend about violence and war in the Book of Mormon. I’m curious if readers of this blog feel the Book of Mormon advocates pacifism, war in self-defense, armed struggle against occupation, pre-emptive war, or some thing else.

If people would like to state their view in the comments section, and maybe explain why and cite some scriptures in support, that would be great.

Thanks.

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11 thoughts on “What does the Book of Mormon teach about war?

  1. J. Madson says:

    It all depends on what part of the BoM you use. With Captain Moroni, pre Christ, there is a clear doctrine of self defense on your own lands and only after being attacked multiple times. It actually reads similar to D&C 98. However, there is also a non violent message you find in Jesus words and the people of ammon. Samuel the Lamanite and Jesus single them out with praise. We also have some very telling comparisons between methods of dealing with enemies (14 year war versus 14 year mission), the utter failure of Captain Moroni to end conflict contrasted with the missionary work of Nephi and Lehi which arguably does much more good through dialogue. There is also the descent into chaos post 4 Nephi once the Nephites take up arms beyond self defense and into other lands. This all concludes with Mormon, after he has seen where violence has led, concluding that weapons of war should be given up save God commands and no other time (See Mormon 7). As I wrote before,

    We must never forget that the Book of Mormon begins with the destruction of Jerusalem and ends with a horrible scene of blood and carnage even the destruction of the Nephite civilization. From its opening pages until its conclusion it pleads with us to be wiser than our Nephite forebearers, to learn from their imperfections, and to come unto Christ. The Book of Mormon is not merely a collection of stories and morals for us to emulate, but it is a tragedy, a warning, a voice crying from the dust.

    Unfortunately, many of us use the Book of Mormon to justify our behavior rather than as a warning to do better and learn from the Nephite’s mistakes. One common example of this is the appeal to Nephite culture to justify our nations current conflicts. This mistake is twofold; first we assume that the Nephites in times of war were always righteous despite explicit statements that the Lamanites would only attack in times of wickedness and second we selectively choose the verses that support our current war while ignoring other verses which do not; whether it be the fact that the Nephites in Alma’s day never began wars, never invaded others lands, and never sought to overthrow a foreign government.

    The thing we have to keep in mind is that Capt Moroni, Alma, Nephi, Mormon, any of these individuals are not who we worship. I tend to believe that we should look to Jesus first and foremost on issues. I find it hard to ignore the clear renunciation of violence by Jesus in the NT. He is clearly arguing for a non violent approach to conflict.

  2. Robert Poort says:

    Mormongandhi asks the question: What does the Book of Mormon teach about Peace?

    http://mormongandhi.com/peace-theology-in-the-book-of-mormon/

    Not only we do not worship Capt. Moroni, Alma, Nephi, or Mormon, we also do not worship the Book of Mormon! We worship the Prince of Peace! As a Scriptural Standard Work the Book of Mormon provides us with stories to reflect on within our faith tradition, narratives we’re all familiar with and therefore highly useful and at times very inspirational.

    John-Charles Duffy:
    “LDS faith declares the standard works to be the word of God (A of F 8). At the same time, our tradition acknowledges that these texts are imperfect human creations. The Book of Mormon is especially self-conscious about the fact that scriptures are selective accounts crafted by authors and redactors, not timeless pronouncements issuing directly from the mind of God (e.g., 3 Ne. 23:6-13). Scriptures may contain errors (B of M Title Page; Morm. 8:17), or they may have been shaped by agendas that distort God’s truth (1 Ne. 13:20-29). Scriptures are limited by the language and understanding of their authors or audiences (2 Ne. 31:3; Ether 12:23-25; D&C 1:24). The fact that Joseph Smith can be shown to have revised his revelations invites us to view the scriptures as ongoing efforts to discern God’s will, not as divine dictation.” (LiberalMormon.net: The Scriptures)

    And not to forget:
    The Saints are challenged to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16).

  3. Joseph says:

    The Book of Mormon is very clearly against pre-emptive war:

    20 Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
    21 But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

    3 Nephi 3:20-21

    This message is again repeated in Mormon, where it is pointed out that:

    4 And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them.

    Mormon 4:3

    I think these passages speak for themselves, so I don’t have much to add to them.

    I agree with J. Madsen in that there is a very positive attitude towards pacifism in the Book of Mormon. It is the people of Ammon, or Anti-Nephi-Lehis who show the most faith and courage in the book. And the peaceful missionary efforts of Ammon and his brothers, as well as Nephi and Lehi are certainly more effective than any military campaigns.

    I also agree with J. on General Moroni not being a person we worship. He had a bad temper and he died very young (in his early 40’s, which was young even by Nephite standards).

    However, I do see good in his example that we can learn from. When I have more time, I would like to share some of my thoughts on that.

  4. Joseph says:

    Well, I’m sure everyone was hoping that I wouldn’t, but it seems I have time to discuss my thoughts on Moroni. In years passed I might have totally agreed with J. Madsen in viewing Moroni’s military efforts as being a failure, since the conflicts never were really resolved. But I have learned by some bad experiences recently that there are rotten people in the world who aren’t going to just go away because you don’t want to fight. I think Moroni does provide a good example of how to deal with those kinds of people while still striving for Christian ideals of peace and forgiveness.

    In saying this, however, I do think it is important to consider what Moroni was actually fighting for. Who were his main enemies? It wasn’t the Lamanites. Moroni always viewed them as victims and not enemies, and would stop fighting and let them go as soon as they were willing to put their weapons down. When he did keep prisoners, he felt guilty about having to make them work to keep them occupied (he was “compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor” Alma 53:6), which seems a lot less severe than waterboarding. His real enemies were the wealthy, selfish, ultra-conservative Amalakiah, Amalakiah’s brother, and the kingmen. It was these wealthy conservatives that Moroni refused to put up with. He was against slavery and bondage (Alma 48:11). Moroni’s interpretation of liberty cannot really be interpreted as a conservative concern for property rights because he tells the wealthy Nephite leader Pahoran that God will “give unto us of your food, even if it must be by the sword” (Alma 60:35). He breaks into the homes of the wealthy and lets them know that wealth doesn’t give them any special privileges (Alma 51:19). The “extra horse” example given by a certain LDS thinker years ago (https://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/taxes-legal-plunder-and-ezra-taft-benson/) doesn’t hold up to Moroni’s actions. Moroni would tell the selfish owner of the extra horse to share or else!

    We like to use the scripture Alma 43:45 to justify U.S. military actions, because we assume that since we claim to be a democracy (or representative republic, or whatever you want to call it) our troops aren’t fighting for “monarchy or power.” But I think that’s exactly what U.S. troops are used to fight for, at least as Moroni defined it. The ideals of “freedom from bondage and slavery” and levelling the wealthy “to the earth” (and dare I say “social justice”?) that Moroni stood for are dismissed as “communism” and “socialism” in our day.

    So yes, Moroni made mistakes and his methods were not always perfect, but it is possible to learn from his example of courageously standing up to the rich and powerful and not letting them get away with anything.

  5. Frest Simmons says:

    Here are some of the key passages that J Madsen referred to regarding the relative effectiveness of war and missionary work:

    Hel. 4: 13, 16, 18-20
    13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.
    • • •
    16 For when Moronihah saw that they did repent he did venture to lead them forth from place to place, and from city to city, even until they had regained the one-half of their property and the one-half of all their lands.
    • • •
    18 And it came to pass in the *sixty and second year of the reign of the judges, that Moronihah could obtain no more possessions over the Lamanites.
    19 Therefore they did abandon their design to obtain the remainder of their lands, for so numerous were the Lamanites that it became impossible for the Nephites to obtain more power over them; therefore Moronihah did employ all his armies in maintaining those parts which he had taken.
    20 And it came to pass, because of the greatness of the number of the Lamanites the Nephites were in great fear, lest they should be overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed.

    Then two missionaries went to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to their enemies who still occcupied half of the nephite lands. After deliverance from some initial suffering and imprisonment they became the Lord’s instruments in a great and marvelous work:

    Hel. 5: 50-52
    50 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.
    51 And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.
    52 And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession.

    The “more part” or their enemies were converted in less than a year’s time, and voluntarily gave them back what they could not regain by fighting.

    Along these same lines we read in Alma 31:5

    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.

    I’m a Vietnam vet. I served two consecutive years as an enlisted man in the 1st Cav Division (August 1967 to Sept 1969). Later Alma 31:5 re-ignited the desire of my childhood to serve a mission, although I was 23 years old by the time I received my call.

    I always taught my boys that if they had the choice of a mission or military service, the mission would probably be a greater force for good. Of course BH Roberts volunteered to serve as Chaplain during WWI, even though he was long past the age normal enlistment. And in Vietnam I knew some drafted returned missionaries who were instrumental in more convert baptisms during their two years of service than their two years as full time missionaries.

  6. J. Madson says:

    Robert #2

    I agree. We need to remember that our faith is in a person and not a text. I am reminded of the scripture that LDS youth are asked o memorize, “search the scriptures for in them…” without realizing that Jesus was actually stating that if you search the scriptures and expect eternal life in them, then you are missing the point. Eternal life is in him. The scriptures point towards the prince of peace.thanks for the links and quote.

  7. Jason Brown says:

    I think the Book of Mormon is a clear type for the 20th century and all the approaches to war, wealth and social/political organization. But the message is clear. Those who accumulate wealth for wealth’s sake or start wars of aggression, and flagrantly break the commandments of God will meet their demise.

  8. mormongandhi says:

    Thank you Robert for posting the link to “study peace with the book of mormon”. Indeed, I would put forward three approaches in the Book of Mormon to the understanding of violence and war. It is like SLC:

    1. S = Spiritualists. Spiritualists tend to “spiritualize” the warrior/soldier imagery often found in christianity. To them, taking upon the full armour of God is more a reflection of the “inner struggle/inner jihad” that we all have to fight. Spiritualists tend to resist the use of violence in all circumstances and are therefore committed to principles of nonviolence. In fact, love is the only way to conquer hate. An example of spiritualists in the Book of Mormon might be the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, although I did read an article that made sense of them not being by definition pacifists. http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=18&num=1&id=476

    2. L = Liberationists. Liberationists believe that war and/or violence are at times justified by God, in order to fight off oppression, tyranny, and injustice. The pursuit of justice is primordial. It might be however that in order to achieve justice you must challenge injustice violently. Paulo Freire wrote: “With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.” Captain Moroni might be seen as a liberator.

    3. C = Conversionists. Conversionists often believe that the word is mightier than the sword, but in a world of good forces fighting forces of evil war and violence are an inevitable fact of life. Their main focus is that the “peaceable kingdom” will be established through missionary work and in converting people from their sins to a life in Christ. But being christian does not preclude serving in the army, as we are fighting the forces of evil in the world. Alma the Younger is an example of a conversionist, so was Mormon and Moroni and many other “warrior-prophets” in the Book of Mormon.

    My conclusion is that there are different responses to war and violence in the world and interpretations of the will of God within a faith tradition. It does not mean that someone is wrong or that someone is right, but more that we might not have the full picture. Interpreting the Book of Mormon needs a clear understanding of all three approaches.

    My personal interpretation is that the Book of Mormon provides insight into the dilemmas of human violence in a very profound way. When we bring the “record of the Jews” with the “record of the Nephites”, the wars and the bloodshed in the Book of Mormon must be seen in the light of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. When doing so, the question becomes: what did the Prince of Peace intend with the Book of Mormon in the latter days. To convince us unto peace and life eternal or to abandon us to the blindness of our minds and the hardness of our hearts and to being led captive by the devil…

  9. Tariq says:

    Even when people who the Book of Mormon characterizes as righteous went to war, it was never a glorious thing. It is only people the Book of Mormon characterizes as wicked who gloried in war. Chief Captain Moroni is described as a man who “did not delight in bloodshed” (Alma 48:11, 55:19), and going to war was always considered a grievous, last resort, rather than a glorious opportunity to be macho.

    Contrast that with the US military which teaches soldiers that killing “the enemy” is a virtue to take pride in. “Who are we! Marines! What do we do? We Kill! We Kill! We Kill!” (That’s an actual chant US Marines in training have been instructed to yell.) I worked with explosives in the Air Force. We had t-shirts with a picture of an explosion on them and the motto, “We live that others may die”. Many of my coworkers wore those stupid shirts with pride. Think of Senator John McCain playfully singing the words “bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran”, to the tune of the Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann”. If the Book of Mormon characterizes those who glory in war as “wicked”, then what does that say about the US military or politicians who get high on bloodshed? What does that say about the corporations (such as Lockheed Martin, DynCorp, Blackwater, Halliburton, etc…) that profit off of war?

    Ultimately, the Book of Mormon teaches that the path of war leads to mass extinction. The Jaredite Civilization went extinct because of war. The Nephite-Lamanite Civilization also went extinct because of war. By the end of both civilizations, there were no good guys versus bad guys stories; only bad guys versus bad guys.

    It reminds me of a 1532 print from “The Army Train” by Erhard Schoen, in which Death is on horseback, and he is recruiting people for a war. on one side of him he has recruited a Christian, on the other side of him he has recruited a Muslim. All three of them are skeletons. The point the artist is making is that it doesn’t matter what side you are on in war. It doesn’t matter what cause you think you are fighting for. The only real winner in war is Death.

  10. Tom says:

    I am not mormon but I have read the book of mormon through and I think the block out section from J madison’s first post is very a very wise and throughful summation of the Book as I have experienced it even as I re-read it…here is the section I am referring too:
    We must never forget that the Book of Mormon begins with the destruction of Jerusalem and ends with a horrible scene of blood and carnage even the destruction of the Nephite civilization. From its opening pages until its conclusion it pleads with us to be wiser than our Nephite forebearers, to learn from their imperfections, and to come unto Christ. The Book of Mormon is not merely a collection of stories and morals for us to emulate, but it is a tragedy, a warning, a voice crying from the dust.

    Unfortunately, many of us use the Book of Mormon to justify our behavior rather than as a warning to do better and learn from the Nephite’s mistakes. One common example of this is the appeal to Nephite culture to justify our nations current conflicts. This mistake is twofold; first we assume that the Nephites in times of war were always righteous despite explicit statements that the Lamanites would only attack in times of wickedness and second we selectively choose the verses that support our current war while ignoring other verses which do not; whether it be the fact that the Nephites in Alma’s day never began wars, never invaded others lands, and never sought to overthrow a foreign government.

  11. KC says:

    Pacifism the first 2 times an offensive is made, war in self-defense the 3rd time but only if our families, freedom, and right to worship as we see fit are threatened. I can’t find anything in the Book of Mormon to support invading a country (like Iraq or Iran) because they might have dangerous military weapons.

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