Gordon B. Hinckley once said of the Book of Mormon that its “narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems. I know of no other writing, which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord.”
“But with prosperity came growing evils,” Hinckley continues. “The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.” In this light, it makes sense to view the Book of Mormon as an anti-war, pro-kingdom scripture.
The people of Jesus does not smite again
Andrew Bolton points to the ‘golden age’ of the repentant and responsive Nephites in the 4th book of Nephi who, “in keeping the commandments of the resurrected Jesus, enjoyed peace, faithful marriages, and all things common for nigh on 200 years.” The fundamental reason to view the Book of Mormon as a document that advocates nonviolence is found in the following passage, according to Bolton:
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which dwelt in the hearts of people”. Later as the golden age began to decline the people hardened their hearts: “for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite the people of Jesus [...] and the people of Jesus did not smite again.” (4 Nephi 1:34)Jesus explained to his disciples among the Nephites the root-causes of the wars and contentions that would destroy their people. After the third generation had passed of those who saw and heard Jesus, Jesus tells his disciples:
“…it sorroweth me because of the fourth generation from this generation, for they are led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold, and for that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal. And in that day will I visit them, even in turning their works upon their own heads. (3 Nephi 27:32)I am grieved because of the destruction of all people
Also Nephi, the first writer in the Book of Mormon, was distraught by the vision of the future carnage that was to take place among his children:
“And now I, Nephi, was grieved ... because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men. And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall”. (1 Nephi 15:4-5)In 1 Nephi 14, the great and marvelous work among the children of men – known to the LDS community as the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to restore the “plain and precious things” that were taken out of the Bible – will be either to the “convincing of them unto peace and life eternal”, or unto the “deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds:”
"Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles, if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God. For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other— either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken."We are without Christ and God in the world
Mormon, the abridger of the history recorded in the Book of Mormon, demonstrates a vivid concern with regards to the historical consequences of war among the children of Father Lehi and of the wickedness that led his people to destruction. He is eager to show to the remnant of the house of Israel, the indigenous peoples of the Americas today, of the things that led to the utter destruction of their ancestors, and describes in this manner the devastating results of the infighting between the Nephites and the Lamanites, as well as among the Jaredites:
“And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. And there never has been so great wickedness among all the children of Lehi, nor even among all the house of Israel as among this people” (Mormon 4:11)."Establish peace with the Book of Mormon and the Bible
“And now behold, I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes; but I knowing that these things must surely be made known, and that all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops [...] I write a small abridgment, daring not to give full account of the things which I have seen [...] that ye might not have too great sorrow because of the wickedness of this people.” (Mormon 5:8-9)
“For behold the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff in the wind. They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father. But now, behold, they are led by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they." (Mormon 5:16-18)
Ezra Taft Benson once said:
“The Book of Mormon verifies and clarifies the Bible. It removes stumbling blocks; it restores many plain and precious things. We testify that when used together, the Bible and the Book of Mormon confound false doctrine, lay down contentions, and establish peace. The Book of Mormon is not on trial – the people of the world, including members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with [or rather how they will use (added by author)] this second witness of Christ." (A New Witness for Christ, 1984)It is clear that the Book of Mormon is an anti-war document and that it has a role to play in the latter day movement as well as in the peace movement in our day, seeing Nephi’s reaction to the vision of the destruction of his people on the American continent and to what would befall the Gentiles - if they did not repent. Remember Hinckley said: “I know of no other writing, which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God”.
For that reason, Nephi hopes that through his writings he may be able to convince his children to believe in Christ and, if possible to avert the killings and slaughters that “must unavoidably come to pass”: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)
I suppose the common mistake is to believe that the plain and precious things restored in the Book of Mormon are solely doctrinal: that small children are in no need of baptism, that baptism ought to be by immersion, that Jesus truly was resurrected and that he is the God of the whole world. But our Savior is concerned with more than just sacraments and ordinances. He envisions a world of social and political righteousness, with peace on earth and with justice to all. The Book of Mormon and the Bible remind us of the words he uttered to Pilate in response to a question of whether he was a King:
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence”. (John 18:36)In this single verse, Jesus sets forth his methodology for social change: nonviolence.
Nonviolence was not a foreign concept to early Mormonism. The Prophet Joseph Smith did say, “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom [foreseen by] Daniel, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel”.
Mormon nonviolence: a restoration of gospel principles
The main purpose of the Book, as explained by Mormon himself on the title page, is to restore knowledge of the covenants God made with the house of Israel. This restoration of covenants puts forward a premise that the promises God made to the fathers are dependent upon the righteousness, or in other words, the nonviolence of their children. That is why the blood of the prophets is crying from the dust – not for revenge, but to show us a better way to the Promised Land, so that we may in truth establish the Kingdom of God on Earth:
“And now behold, I would speak unto the remnant of this people who are spared, ...that they may know of the things of their fathers... : Know ye that ye are of the remnant of the house of Israel. Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved. Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again - save it be that God shall command you. (Mormon 7:1-4)If we were to do as Mormon says, and were to lay hold upon the words of Christ in his sermons of nonviolence and love, then these are the words of nonviolence that must be imprinted in our minds and in our hearts:
“Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ which shall be set before you (1) not only in this record but also in the record that shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.” (2) (Mormon 7:8)
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:9-12)
“And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. Therefore those things, which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled. Old things are done away, and all things have become new. Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect." (3 Nephi 12:43-48 & Matthew 5:44-48).
mormongandhi is looking for alternative and more peaceful ways of thinking and living. He calls himself an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway and works for Norwegian Church Aid as an advisor for peace and reconciliation. He has a BA in peace and development studies from Bradford University in the UK, where he studied religious peacebuilding, as well as a master’s in peace operations from GMU in Washington D.C. For an alternative and nonviolent study of the Book of Mormon, mormongandhi is publishing a study chapter every week on mormon nonviolence (latter day satyagraha) at http://mormongandhi.com. Each chapter follows the set-up of the Institute Study Manual of the LDS Church (total 52 chapters). In addition, you can share your thoughts and insights on the nonviolent readings of the Book of Mormon with other “peaceable followers of Christ” (Moroni 7:3) at the discussion forum http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com, created in parallel to the “latter day satyagraha” site. You may contact mormongandhi directly by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. See sermon to the Nephites after his resurrection: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/3_ne/12/
2. See sermon on the mount to the Jews: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/matt/5/