I would like to address the subject of modern idolatry in the form of wars of aggression, near-eastern emperor-vassal covenants, and voting your conscience.
The following is an excerpt from Spencer W. Kimball’s classic talk The False Gods We Worship. The whole talks is a remarkable and prophetic read, it pulls no punches and clearly hits every point soberly. This excerpt focuses on how we deal with our mortal enemies and the idolatry involved in our current policies that have degraded even more since the days of 9/11.
We are a warlike people
In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord.
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)
We forget that if we are righteous the Lord will either not suffer our enemies to come upon us—and this is the special promise to the inhabitants of the land of the Americas (see 2 Ne. 1:7)—or he will fight our battles for us (Ex. 14:14; D&C 98:37, to name only two references of many). This he is able to do, for as he said at the time of his betrayal, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53.) We can imagine what fearsome soldiers they would be. King Jehoshaphat and his people were delivered by such a troop (see 2 Chr. 20), and when Elisha’s life was threatened, he comforted his servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16). The Lord then opened the eyes of the servant, “And he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kgs. 6:17.)
Enoch, too, was a man of great faith who would not be distracted from his duties by the enemy: “And so great was the faith of Enoch, that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch.” (Moses 7:13.)
What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? Our assignment is affirmative: to forsake the things of the world as ends in themselves; to leave off idolatry and press forward in faith; to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
Consider this excerpt in light of a post I wrote a few years ago titled Was 9/11 our Mormon 3:10? In it I lay out the Book of Mormon’s case against the modern and idolatrous doctrine of “preemptive war.” The first of the 10 commandments is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, Mosiah 12:35) If you examine the positions of most individuals running for president this cycle, they all want to “take the fight to the enemy,” and we Americans like the sound of that.
Some might wonder why and how this can be considered idolatry. Isaiah scholar Avraham Gileadi explains:
Much of our understanding of covenant relationships with God comes from ancient Near Eastern parallels of covenants between emperors and their vassal kings. Under the terms of those covenants, a “servant” or “son” identifies a “vassal” to an emperor. As the prophets use that model to define God’s covenants with Israel and with Israel’s kings, we learn much about how God’s covenants work by comparing them with their ancient Near Eastern counterparts. (Windows on the Prophecy of Isaiah, 251)
As national covenants go, Gileadi refers to a ‘Davidic’ covenant where the emperor-vassal relationship is between the emperor and a righteous king. In that scenario, all that is required is for the king to be loyal to the emperor (or God in this case) and for the people to be loyal to their king. Then there is what Gileadi calls the ‘Sinai’ covenant where the emperor/God covenants with the vassal/people directly. In this scenario, the people must be loyal to God to be worthy of his protection.
Under the Sinai Covenant, which is a national or collective covenant, Israel needs to maintain loyalty to its God as a nation in order to obtain his protection against mortal enemies. Such divine protection happens under Moses and Joshua, when Israel consistently gains the victory over its enemies. Later, when Israel’s loyalty to God lapses, so does his protection, and by the time of the prophet Samuel the Philistines are about to wipe Israel off the map. (Windows on the Prophecy of Isaiah, 233-234)
Such was the case in the Book of Mormon. After generations of kings, the Nephites shift to a system of judges that hearkens to the voice of the people instead of kings. There was a shift from the Davidic to the Sinai covenant. This is what may have frustrated Mormon in the final battles where he prayed mightily in behalf of his people but without effect.
- “…and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith…” (Mormon 3:12)
- “But behold, I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them…” (Mormon 5:2)
The Nephite nation was under a national covenant, and they had broken it. Instead of being loyal to God, their emperor, and earning his protection, they trampled him under their feet and took it upon themselves to enforce their own protection. They did so by going on the attack instead of remaining on the defense.
And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth. (Mormon 3:14-15)
I feel that this is the grave danger that we are in today and unfortunately most of the major candidates running for president this cycle and most Americans subscribe to actions counter to what we are warned of in the Book of Mormon. We no longer trust in God’s protection and the covenant relationship we have with him, we are going it alone.
Nephites and 9/11
Consider the similarities between the following situations, the first is Mormon 3:9-10:
And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies. And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.
The next is the famous “bullhorn” speech given by then President George W. Bush on September 14, 2001:
President Bush: I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
Rescue Workers: (Roar from the crowd) USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!
Nephites, O’Grady, McMullin, Clinton, and Trump
The Nephites once balked at the idea of the sons of Mosiah going out to preach to their mortal enemies. They had a different idea on how to solve their problem:
And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us. (Alma 26:25)
When the Nephites faced the terrible Gaddianton robbers, they felt that going on the offensive was the right move:
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. (3 Nephi 3:20)
Compare those sentiments with former USAF Captain Scott O’Grady in our own time:
President Bush has shown through his decisive leadership that we will take a stand against terrorism. Because of his leadership, we have made major changes in our government to help us against this war such as the Homeland Security Department, the PATRIOT Act, and a proactive policy of fighting terrorists on their own soil before they come and kill us in our country.
Many Mormons are throwing their support behind Evan McMullin who seems like a great guy and maybe a great alternative to Trump and Hillary (I support neither). Maybe they trust that his Mormonism may guide him in the right direction, but here is McMullin in his own words:
But what I would say is two broad things: Number one, we have to be better about taking the fight to ISIS out there. We’re just not serious right now. I mean, you know, President Obama is doing a few airstrikes here and there, but we need to step that up. We need to do a range of things to take the fight to them. (Source)
Hillary Clinton’s own website supports the following:
“Take out ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq and Syria,” and “Work with our allies to dismantle global terror networks” (Source)
Donald Trump promises to:
“Pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS…” (Source)
This is all offensive war talk, but is this really such a bad thing? Mormon himself explains the results of the Nephites offensive stance:
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. But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed. (Mormon 4:4-5)
I’ve presented only a few quotes and if I had the space I could provide much, much more to make the case. What I have provided is sufficient to outline a premise that anyone else can explore on their own should they feel so inclined.
What to do?
I cannot, in good conscience support any candidate that subscribes to the same ideology that led to the destruction of the Nephites and which I believe violates the very first of the 10 commandments.
Some might think that I’m over-simplifying and that there are many more issues to consider. I’ve heard those cases made by many people I respect and think are intelligent and thoughtful people. That said, none of them appear aware of the points that I’m making here and that lends me to doubt the integrity of their positions.
Much of the rhetoric I have heard among friends is peppered with talking points I hear parroted in the media. We’re all leaning on some form of reason and towards issues that we feel are the most impactful and important. There are so many little planks and policy stances that are pushed forward by candidates but there are only a few things mentioned in scripture that have the power to destroy nations.
I feel that those things deserve our foremost attention.
To the Nephites who said to their leader, “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.” (3 Nephi 3:20) Gidgiddoni replied:
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 3:21)
I think the solution is right there in the Book of Mormon, left for us by one who saw our day: prepare, gather, and wait. This would represent a strong, proactive, responsible approach that would keep God as our sovereign and trust in his covenant of protection. But wait, wouldn’t that require a great deal of faith? Yes it would.
If we can’t have faith in God to preserve us from our mortal enemies, then how can we have faith in his ability to preserve us against the ultimate enemies of sin and death? We cannot.
Many people talk about voting for the lesser of two evils, but the Lord has said, “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:10)
I reject the argument that voting for a third party candidate is ‘throwing away your vote’ or basically ‘giving up the election to the opposition.’ I think those are false and evil notions that lack faith and seek to shirk responsibility by cowering to the masses. In Lehi’s vision we see a strait and narrow path with an iron rod (the Word of God) running parallel to it. There are also broad roads leading to a great and spacious building where they mock everyone upon that path. It is not hard to see why many would choose the broad roads, especially when the masses pull you in that direction.
Let’s not forget that Joseph Smith himself ran for president as an independent who didn’t have much hope for winning against Democrat James Polk and Whig candidate Henry Clay, but he did so anyway. He wrote:
I would not have suffered my name to been used by my friends on anywise as president of United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends would have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, Even those rights which the Constitution guarantee and to all her citizens alike. But this as a people we have been denied from the beginning. Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, from portions of the United States, like peals of thunder, because of our religion; and no portion of the government as yet has stepped forward for our release. And in my view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in United States, for the protection of injured innocence; And if I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth, in maintaining the laws and Constitution of United States, if need be, for the general good of mankind. (DHC 6:411)
Even though he was assasinated before the election, I think it is safe to say that Joseph would have stood behind voting your conscience. Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother once said:
We engage in the election the same as in any other principle: you are to vote for good men, and if you do not do this it is a sin: to vote for wicked men, it would be sin. Choose the good and refuse the evil. Men of false principles have preyed upon us like wolves upon helpless lambs. Damn the rod of tyranny; curse it. Let every man use his liberties according to the Constitution. Don’t fear man or devil; electioneer with all people, male and female, and exhort them to do the thing that is right. We want a President of the U. S., not a party President, but a President of the whole people; for a party President disfranchises the opposite party. Have a President who will maintain every man in his rights. (History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.15, p.323)
And finally, a quote attributed to former president John Quincy Adams:
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
Nothing changes because while people talk much about change, in the end, they simply revert back to what they have done in the past. They follow the broad road and fear diverging from the masses and that’s how evil people stay in power. Here’s a good place to insert that quote about the definition of insanity.