Excellent article. Patrick Mason is following along in the steps of other prominent Mormon 'pacifists' such as Hugh Nibley and others. For an excellent study on Just War Theory and the LDS perspective, read Duane Boyce's recent book: Even Unto Bloodshed. I'll venture it gives a more balanced and thorough examination of the logic and doctrine supporting an LDS perspective on the use of violence to defend oneself, family, and way of life than will Patrick Mason's forthcoming book.
Thank you so much for the points of view shared here! Especially to you Dianna! Im a fellow recovered addict! So amazing and important to contemplate on this complicated issue!
Pale Ebebezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.
The Pacifist - Hilaire Beloc
the anti nephi lehis would not take up arms because they were addicts, not pacifists. They buried their weapons of war because those weapons were the manifestation of their addictive behaviors. They were reformed Lamanites who recognized the great mercy and grace given to them through the Atonement. They rightly realized that, if they were to engage in bloodshed, even for the right reason, (defense of family, liberty and religion), that the temptation to become what they were before would be too great. Addictions to behavior are just as connected to the powers of darkness as substances are. That is why the anti nephi lehis preferred death to picking up a weapon. I know this for myself because I am a recovered addict. I retain a remission of my sins through faith in, and application of, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and I believe the anti nephi lehis did as well.
Theodore brings up my first argument quite well. The Anti-Nephi-Lehite's pacifism was after repentance from generations of wanton violence. It is at best a corner case, at worst a misappropriation of the story.
I find it interesting that one of the first real trials of Nephi's faith was the commandment to kill Laban. In compelling him the Lord says "Behold th Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle in unbelief."
Is that a call to go and start killing everyone that is evil? No. But it does seem to crush the pure pacifist leanings of those who will not defend their families, liberty, and religion, or claim that it is evil to do so. In general, the Lord does not want his righteous people to be exterminated by inaction (is that not really what pacifism is?), but rather would that we do all in our power to maintain our ability to worship Him, resorting to violence generally only when attacked. There is no encouragement of violence, but a recognition that in this imperfect world violence must at times be met with violence to maintain our liberties.
Even while defending ourselves, we should be looking for ways to end it with the minimum of vilence necessary. How many times did the Nephites get the upper hand in battle only to stop and offer peace if their enemy would covenant to leave them alone? When they would so covenant, they were released unharmed without their weapons. When they wouldn't, they would wipe them out.
I guess if there is a lesson here it is that we should be prepared to defend ourselves, and do so when sufficiently provoked, but we should use all means available to avoid the battle when possible.
Did we not just study the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine? Who was it that killed the Egyptian soldiers as they pursued the Israelites through the Red Sea?
Who was it that commanded the Israelites to slay innocent children by the sword?
20 So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
Who sent the angel to kill 185,000 Assyrians?
2 Kings 19:34-35
34 For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.
35 ¶And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
There are a multitude of examples in the Old Testament ( much too numerous to cite here) where the God of Israel used violent death to achieve his purposes. In all of these cases, the God of Israel who used violent means to achieve his ends was Jesus Christ the pacifist Son of God. Christ's judgement is perfect. If Christ in his perfect judgement believes violence is necessary to achieve his purposes, then it will happen.
For nearly all 15,000,000 give or take Mormons of record, this should not be hard to understand. If violence is needed Christ will make that judgement and provide a means to carry it out. We should never be the one who chooses violence as a means to what we believe is a righteous end.
I enjoyed reading this article Nathaniel. (Though the link to Mason's article sent me to a blank page.) Thanks for commenting on the matter. The oft quoted Sunzi wrote that warfare is the way to life or death and as a result it should be thoroughly analyzed. In a time of war and peace and with literally thousands of lives affected by American foreign policy decisions its important for every Latter Day Saint, especially American ones, to consider the matter and this is a thoughtful addition to the subject.
You might be interested in the volume Mason edited called "War and Peace in our Time: Mormon Perspectives." Its a great book (full disclosure: I contributed to it as well) and it includes an article about the Ammonite conundrum. The Ammonites may have been a great example of pacifism, but their sons were arguably the greatest example of righteous warriors in the text. And you couldn't really have one without the other. So the author of that article presented a very intriguing good, better, best, model that wasn't such a binary argument between pacifism and just war.
I would add that Moroni presents the same conundrum. He is given a rather stellar endorsement (If all men...), but at other times he held people in prison for years, threatened genocide and a coup, and if we look at the Book of Helaman we might conclude that his policies didn't help keep Nephites safe, and I have research that suggests his policies may have contributed to the growing insurgency against the Nephites. So using his actions and scriptures about him as a guide just force is somewhat tricky. (Just like using the BoM for pacifism.)
I'm glad we can have this conversation, and I really appreciated your article and Meridian for letting me post. I approach the BoM from a historical viewpoint, but my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon, does include a defense of just war. I hope you get a chance to read it as well. Thanks again.
We are living in a telestial world and while war is eternal, it's not clear what "war in Heaven" looks like. As has been pointed out, revelation must be the determining factor as to "violence or peace" here in this realm. However, the time will come as we transition into Zion (individually and collectively), that we will leave behind the practices of telestial life, as we adapt ourselves to terrestrial, and on to Celestial. Whatever the events of the tribulations that precede the Lord's second coming and personal reign in Zion look like, it makes sense to me that millennial saints will need to adopt a Christ-like way of being if we are to be fit to enter Zion. Will we truly learn to fight darkness with Light, come what may? Will we be able to eventually truly rely on the Lord for all things? Will we recognize the power of the fulness of the priesthood when it comes to us? We are in such a unique time. We have the opportunity to transition from the telestial to terrestrial as we prepare for the blessed return of our Savior who is merciful and patient with our growth. The concepts discussed in this article are not so much conflicting as they are both right, in their own appropriate realm. Shouldn't we all as saints be fostering the ideals of peace, even if we are called upon to fight in this telestial realm, but looking forward to a perhaps not so distant time when the game changes dramatically, in part because of circumstance and perhaps even more so because of our increased faith? We are all "little children" who can't quite yet imagine what the Lord has in store for us! But it behooves us to try, and to treasure up these things and be prepared for that glorious time. It would seem that if we are seeking to be Zion people now, it will be well with us when those tribulations come. Those who are prepared for peace will be our most powerful allies in establishing Zion.
While much of your article is relatively moderate in nature, Mr Givens, I put it to you that you have created a straw-man and attacked that in your argument against unilateral. Violence and the threat thereof is not the only way that a government can ensure compliance with laws, nor is it even a good way. I agree with other commenters who have pointed out that the Book of Mormon promotes reliance on the Lord - if he commands then it is right. When no specific instruction is received from the Lord, then the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" applies. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies show (to my mind) that their own mortal survival is not as important to them as the eternal well-being of their souls.
Perhaps Patrick Mason should read Tolstoy's "War and Peace." In the end this story was a triumph of preserving identity, the integrity of the culture and people of Russia. We must all ask, what price are we willing to pay to preserve what we know is true, right and virtuous? be it as an individual, or a collective society.
I have always been intrigued by the fact that the Lord allows War as a means of eliminating real evil in the world when it becomes overwhelming or tyrannical in nature. Such was the case with Captain Moroni and the Lamanites.
One must ask, when is war morally justified? After all did not the Lord say, "Vengeance is mine..."
Americas 1776 war over King George III dominance is an example of good over evil. Did it not prepare the way for the Fullness of the Gospel to be restored. We know the lord had a hand in this event. The founders were unapologetic about their genuine faith and the form of government they desired, and eventually created for us.
We can passively wait upon the Lord to right all our wrongs, but, I feel we would be in error not to use the power of the pen and where possible our voice to expel or reveal our rage at any injustice, and to use all our mean available to rectify those wrongs. If the Lord were to command as he did Nephi to Laban, personally I might not be as hesitant as Nephi, certainly not as it relates to certain politicians of today. But therein is my folly, am I doing it for vengeance, or for the good of society as a righteous servant and disciple of Christ?
My draft board accepted my pacifist registration from the mission field; 1-O reclassification followed at the end of my mission in 1966. I hope I will never again have to sit through a seminary graduation listening to unexamined praises of Captain Moroni. However, it is not my place to judge his resolution of life's conflicts so long as he does not judge my approach which is appropriate to my times. Interpretations discussed here reflect the principle "what snake eats becomes snake; what tiger eats becomes tiger." All scripture will teach me the degree of pacifism I am able to embrace, including introducing my personal millennium as I become ready. Let me extend kindness to those who stand at different stages of advancement.
In his citing of the Ammonites (Anti-Lehi-Nephites) as the perfect example of pacifism in the Book of Mormon Patrick Mason leaves out two important facts:
1. The Ammonites had been guilty of many murders and had been washed clean through their baptism. The reason they buried their weapons was to prevent their former sins from returning. “For perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God.” (Alma 24:13)
2. Later, when the Nephites had to go to war in their defense, the Ammonites were about to take up arms to assist them until Ammon persuaded them not to, because or their oath. To resolve this dilemma they willingly sent their sons to fight in wars of defense, with Ammon at their head. (Alma 53)
Patrick Mason cannot use the Ammonites as examples of Mormon pacifists.
I think what the Book of Mormon promotes is reliance on the Lord - which will, at times, move us toward a peaceful outcome, and at other times, may include violence. Only God knows what is best in any situation, and throughout the Book of Mormon we have amazing examples of all manner of responses to conflict. While their examples are educational and inspirational, they cannot replace our own reliance on personal revelation for how to handle our current situations. Nephi would never have cut off Laban's head if left to his own devices and relying on his own study and understanding of gospel principles, yet, he was commanded to do so, and it made ALL the difference.
I think, looking at the progression of the Captain Moroni years, Mormon may have become less a fan as his own life in warfare progressed. We see he was a big fan in the beginning (that "If every man were like" and naming a son Moroni), but as it progresses the narrative shifts from glorious warriors to those who wouldn't fight and those who were more concerned with the souls of others.
War is eternal. Pacifism is only possible when practiced by all, which has been a very rare occurrence, during very brief periods of history (for example, the City of Enoch). The Book of Mormon justifies war only when it is defensive (not aggressive or pre-emptive) and is a last resort to defend family, Church and country, after all possible negotiations have failed. Throughout human history there have been heroic efforts to create ideal societies in many cultures, but Lucifer and the law of agency produce selfish environments that transcend the possibility of "heaven on earth", prior to the millennium.
If Mr. Mason's theory is carried to its logical conclusion, then Joseph Smith was wrong to discharge that pistol or attempt to defend his life with the cane at Carthage Jail. The Nauvoo Legion was also illegitimate and the Saints should not have resisted the Missouri or Illinois mobs at all. If such a belief should prevail now, we will soon be living, or dying, under Sharia law. I suspect that Mr. Mason would be one of the first ones executed.
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