Monday, October 31, 2016

A Sober Mind and a Response to Utah Mormons Can Support Trump

I’ve been writing a new future journal article on preemptive war and said that at the very least Moroni should be excused and rescued from the petty political debates of Latter Day Saints that rely upon a very selective and shallow reading of the scriptures that doesn’t properly examine the context of Moroni’s actions.   His actions are far more nuanced than the uninspiring proof texting he receives on so many dogmatic blogs and facebook posts. 

Dr. Wayne Walker discussed why Utah Mormons Can Support Trump. The post is one of many that uses rather shallow analysis and reading from the Book of Mormon and I thought it would be a good test case to compare what a substantive analysis looks like compared to one that is shoving the scriptures into a supporting a political candidate. [All quotes based on his article unless otherwise noted.]

“In Book of Mormon days, some of the Nephite military leaders were chosen because of their size and muscular power in battle.”

Several Book of Mormon leaders were based on size, but so were dissenters such as Coriantumr, who was a “large and mighty man” (Helaman 1:15). Other leaders possessed “austere and bloodthirsty” qualities (Mosiah 9:2). Mormon was chosen for his size, but the people choosing were apostate Nephites ripe for destruction.[1]  His qualification as prophet was based on his “sober” mind that was “quick to observe” (Mormon 1:2, 15).  Not to mention his lineage as a “pure descendant” likely helped his claim to leadership (3 Nephi 5:20). The custom of the Nephites was actually to choose a leader that had the spirit of prophecy (3 Nephi 3:21). In short then, being large of statue was an equivocal standard among others such as lineage that dissenters and apostates liked as much as the righteous, and the latter group had a custom of choosing prophets as military leaders.   

In reading Moroni’s epistle to Ammoron a reader can notice the former’s strength. He had strong words, compelling ideas, and he must have had a rhetorical effect on the reader. But even though Moroni showed powerful words there were limits to the effect. The intent of the letter was to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Moroni was so bad that even though he wanted something from Ammoron he called him a child of hell and threatened genocide (Alma 54: 7, 12.) Then Moroni refused to exchange prisoners and had to instead embark on a daring and risky night mission (Alma 55:2, 16).  The mission was successful, but seemed to be needlessly complicated and risky because of Moroni’s counterproductive, “strong”, negotiating.

In summary, Trump isn’t physically strong and doesn’t possess rhetorical strength beyond shouting bumper stickers. Even if he did, it is a very limited strategy that will not produce the needed results.  Instead, it sounds dangerously close as though the author is justifying a strong man, or some kind of dictator like figure that can ram through whatever solutions he sees fit.  Given the gridlock we see, that is tempting, but a very dangerous road.

 “In this regard, the elite of American politics today are playing the same role as the king-men in the Book of Mormon.”

The author doesn’t present any evidence of this. He lists some names, a few of which I have read for over ten years, and I don’t see any evidence of their being king men. In fact, Trump’s nomination would point to the exact opposite.  Like Laman and Lemuel who were within close contact of Nephi for years but never managed to even try and kill him,[2] the Republican elites must be the worst conspiracy ever, as they obviously didn’t like Trump but nominated him anyway. To quote my old college professor, so many people dislike Trump there is no need for a conspiracy, all they people have to do is vote to get rid of him!  Moreover, its quite ridiculous for a man that lives in a giant gold plated tower whose dry cleaning bill is larger than many of his supporters yearly income is not a part of the elite.  This is a very shallow interpretation that seems to imply the author wants to execute those with whom he disagrees. He even started this section by saying:

“Those dissenters who became angry enemies who would not make the covenant were immediately put to death by Captain Moroni. Why? Those individuals were seen as a real threat to the Nephite government and the country’s freedom”

This sounds nice in theory. We like freedom and we want to fight for it. But who gets to decide who is a threat?  For example, those residents and hunters living near a remote Oregon compound might have felt threatened by an armed militia seizing a compound, even if they called themselves “free man.” The Greeks claimed to be fighting for freedom, but the helots of Sparta and slaves of Athens might have considered the Persian invaders as the ones fighting for (their) freedom.   According to the author’s logic, the armed militia led by the Bundy’s was a threat that should have been executed. Indeed,  Moroni executed the king men to strengthen the central government (Alma 51:20-22). The rebels in this case were Amalikciah and his followers.  

We can take the use of government power even further.  The people of Ammon gave a “large portion” (Alma 43:14) of their substance to the Nephites, so it is not unrealistic to suggest that other groups of people also had a “large portion” taken from them, and that they were less than thrilled with the confiscatory measures of the government. The government would naturally find rival elites with surplus goods and conspicuous consumption of them (Alma 30:27) very attractive ways to fund the war effort.  Alma 46:4 said that many of these dissidents were the lower judges who professed nobility.  From the point of view of the Nephite rulers then, they have a chance to strengthen their own position as elites in society by harming their internal rivals while at the same time funding a war against their external enemies (Alma 46:4). Keep in mind that many of these nobles were imprisoned and killed during the great war. Their lands would have been confiscated by officials and then redistributed as a reward for support or to further strengthen the elites holding power. To summarize, if we accept the idea that Nephite elites might have acted in their own self-interest, and might have caused their own problems, the text suggests that they strengthened their own position, rewarded followers, harmed their rivals, and defeated external enemies, and did all of this in the name of the common people, their wives, their families and their liberty!![3] There is a certain irony in raising a standard of freedom, but then forcing people at sword point to support that freedom (Alma 51:20).

“Moreover, Trump clearly won the vast majority of voters in the Republican primary.   The Book of Mormon is clear that there is something powerful about the voice of the majority.”

I would dispute the fact that Trump had the vast majority of votes. The author may be referring to the fact that Trump accumulated more votes than any other candidate in history, but since the population is higher than ever before that is a useless statistic. This nomination process went on longer than any other in modern history because he had such comparatively little support among Republicans to the point that there was discussion of a convention fight. 

Having a majority rule doesn’t mean the rest of the people must abandon their freedom.  Again, I cite the irony of Moroni forcing people to support freedom. You can call it free, but the government obviously exercised compulsive power over its subjects.  I would ask the author if he is so willing to concede to the majority if Hillary wins.  The foundations of American democracy, the freedom to vote for what you think is right, and the responsibility to avoid trampling the rights of minorities are enshrined in the Constitution, explained by Madison in the Federalist papers, and not waived because of a shallow reading from the BoM. 

“Unless those “dissenters” repent, the wrong candidate”

Its not a sin to support Hillary Clinton. I personally think she is a deeply flawed candidate, but I recognize the freedom of others to make decisions that I think are foolish. If the author were to really follow the Book of Mormon he would indefinitely detain political prisoners before executing them (Alma 51:19; Alma 62:4).

“Today, as in Book of Mormon days, building walls to keep the undocumented and often criminal enemy out is seen as effective”

Building walls was a military tactic used during a war. The Nephites actually did very little to control immigration in the way the author is suggesting. Helaman 3:3, 6:6 and 3 Nephi 7:13 all refer to unchecked immigration, and I could show more examples where Nephites and Lamanites crossed borders without walls. One man, Samuel the Lamanite, used the walls to preach, not to impede his movement.   The analogy is wholly inappropriate.  

“How much independent policy thinking will someone like that be able to bring to the office? Not much. So in other words, Evan is another politician imbued with spirit and money of the elitists, the modern day “king-men.””

Another shallow comparison used to denigrate. As I discussed at the recent FAIR conference: [The discussion of robbers in history led] to the use of words that were far more emotional than accurate. We see the potency of words today as well. Policy makers debated over whether to call anti-American forces in Iraq “insurgents” or “terrorists.” (In truth it was a complex mixture of both.) Many Americans felt a great deal of frustration when the sectarian conflict in Iraq was labeled the demoralizing term “civil war.” It explains why the surge led by General Petraeus was labeled an escalation by some critics who were trying to invoke the ghoul of Vietnam. A blockade during the Cuban Missile crisis would have been an act of war, but a quarantine of the island prescribed the same action without the accompanying baggage. In the prelude to the Bosnia deployment, each side for and against it, avoided the term “genocide” to evade the treaty obligations associated with it.
Most people who accused the Bundys of terrorism do so utterly unware of the long history of using words as weapons. I certainly disagree with their actions, but I was even more bothered by the casual use of emotional charged words based upon political inclinations more than clinical definitions…I hope we can use terms that are clinically precise and avoid needless bomb throwing when discussing sensitive issues, like actual bomb throwing.

Speaking of being clinically precise, I believe McMullin is one of the only serious candidates in this race. For example, I’ve written about his reasonable and excellent China policy for the Salt Lake Tribune.[4] I don’t see much from the author connecting him to being elitist, except for name dropping people on the same ideological spectrum as him.  As I said before the last time I was accused of being a country club elitist, the only country club I’ve ever entered was that time I was a dish washer in college.

“It is time for Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney and the Deseret News editors to swallow their pride”

 It would actually be easier for many people to vote for Trump. Never Trump people are called all sorts of names, including king men elitists in this post. But the members of the Never Trump have to follow their conscience, and they can’t vote for a man with serious moral flaws.  Calling people elite might work for those with lots of anger towards elites and would rather think with their hearts, but it doesn’t mean you’ve thoroughly analyzed and assessed a person’s position.  


A strong stigma can be created based on a narrow interpretation of a couple of verses, and an almost demonic dislike for a position bred from a dogmatic devotion to political planks more than a substantive and nuanced interpretation of the scriptures.  Given the lives at stake it’s important the Latter Day Saints have all the tools for judging political candidates. That comes from intensive study and a nuanced interpretation of verses that challenge and broaden our understanding. 

[Thank you for reading. I work as a freelance writer. If you find value in this work please consider donating using the small pay pal buttons below.)
[1] h/t Mark Wright on facebook.
[2] See Grant Hardy’s argument about them in Understanding the Book of Mormon.
[3] From my new book, “Evil Gangs and Starving Widows: Reassessing the Book of Mormon” forthcoming. For a review of my methodology please see the bottom half of this post;
[4] I meant to do a post announcing this, so surprise! It feels good to get published, and it was extra good to publish something that was deleted on another site by an overzealous moderator.  

No comments: