Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Alma 56-58 The Stripling Warriors

Posted by cherylem on November 21, 2007

Recently there’s been quite a lot of buzz about a document posted on the web: What Women Know. One of the items in this document that has caused the most comment is the following paragraph.

“We claim the life-affirming powers of spirit and wisdom, and reject the glorification of violence in all its forms. We are filled with unutterable sadness by the Book of Mormon story of more than 2,000 young soldiers whose mothers teach them that faith in God will preserve them in battles in which they kill other mothers’ children. This is not a success story. It is a story of the failure of human relationships and the horrors of war. In a world that has grown increasingly violent, we believe that one of the most important passages in LDS scripture is D&C 98:16: “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace. . . .”

This morning a FAQ was posted on the site which further explained why this paragraph was included:

“2 – Some readers are concerned about your treatment of the Stripling Warriors story. Why did you include that statement?

We wanted to remind ourselves that this is, first and foremost, an account about teen soldiers who have to go to war because there are few grown men left to do so, and because their fathers have taken a vow of nonviolence. It is a story of horrible necessity and of brutal experience.

War hardens and maims its participants both physically and emotionally; survivors are often changed for life. Even though the young fighters prevailed and gave their mothers credit for instilling in them their exceptional faith, we do not pretend their wartime experience did not come at a terrible cost.

Many of the contributors to this document have family and loved ones serving in the military. We are grateful when they return alive. But we cannot forget that others die daily in violent conflicts.”

What do you think of this re-reading of the Stripling Warrior Story? Is this story primarily one of mothers and sons? Or, as my own son wrote me yesterday:

“As I pointed out on my one mailing list where this came up, just because the story of the Stripling Warriors is the only real narrative in which we have the explicit praise of women in the Book of Mormon isn’t a reasonable basis to make it the preferred story to praise women. We shouldn’t use these narratives that glorify violence as stories to teach simple moralistic notions (the text isn’t simple) even though within the church we seem to have this over-riding need to reduce all of these narratives (both scriptural and even those from our real lives) to simple moralistic stories.” 

Any comments? 

101 Responses to “Alma 56-58 The Stripling Warriors”

  1. Kevin Christensen said

    We ought to consider how the mothers came to know what the sons believed they knew. And who those particular mothers were and what they had personally offered, and had experienced of violence.

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/050527nodoubt.html

    And, FWIW, the story is NOT “the only read narrative in which we have explicit praise of women in the Book of Mormon.”

    See http://www.farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=288 for a 52 page essay on women in the Book of Mormon, highlighting several other stories in light of Robert Alter’s “type ‘scene” approach.

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  2. robf said

    I’ve held this “revisionist” view of the Stripling Warriors for a long time. I may be one of the first to bring up the Stripling Warriors as tragic figures theme. I tussled online with Orson Scott Card about this during the start of the Iraq War. I published my thoughts on this in Dialogue. We’ve discussed it on the Feast wiki. I’ve posted about it on Times & Seasons. One of the reasons I stopped regularly posting at Times & Seasons was the hostility I faced there for bringing up anti-war doctrine grounded in the teachings of Christ, modern prophets, and the Book of Mormon.

    One of my worst Sunday School moments of my life was back when we studied the Book of Mormon in 2000 (?) when I made our Sunday School teacher cry by bringing up this tragic view of the Stripling Warriors, unknowingly right before she was about to play the “We are as the Army of Helaman” song. Not a happy experience.

    I’m pretty weary of debating this view, since I think it is hard for many people to see anything but our glorified traditional view of the Stripling Warriors, and there is a strong pro-military feeling among many Church members. I will just add one thing. In the past, a few folks at Times & Seasons have argued that the Sons of Helaman went to war in part because their fathers were all dead. Just because many Anti-Nephi-Lehi men were killed, I don’t think that reading is justified. At the very least, Helaman himself refers to the Stripling Warriors as the “sons of those men whom Ammon brought down out of the Land of Nephi” (Alma 56:3)–seeming to imply that there were lots of Ammonite men around.

  3. Joe Spencer said

    I’m fascinated by and yet semi-uncomfortable with this revisionist reading. I suppose I would appreciate a verse-by-verse reading (I’m hardly averse to radical interpretations, as anyone and everyone here must know!), because I can’t help but worry that there is too much of a “I feel this way about war and so the scriptures must conform to my understanding” sentiment behind the reading. And that is why I’d like to see a very careful study suggesting otherwise.

    Now don’t get me at all wrong here: I’m absolutely fascinated by the possibility of reading this story in another way, and since I first read rob’s allusions to his revisionist reading, I have been quite careful always to present both interpretations as possibilities whenever the passage has come up in a teaching situation—although I’ll confess that I taught something more like rob’s view than the traditional view when we got to that passage this year with my four-year-old daughter (we took the “isn’t this so sad!” tone as we worked through the story). But I doubt I’ll feel comfortable giving myself completely to this reading without having either worked through the details on my own quite carefully, or without having read a very detailed interpretation of the actual texts in the Book of Mormon (ideas are not faithful: readings are).

    Kevin, I’m glad to see you pop in here. I do hope you’ll stick around. I’ve much enjoyed your work on and with Madame Barker. And thanks for these links.

  4. Joe Spencer said

    As I was just skimming Kevin’s article in Meridian, a thought occurred to me, a possibility (and I only throw it out there as a wild idea… something perhaps to get rob talking).

    Could it be that there are some dynamics we’re missing here? Who made the decision that the sons would go and fight? Could it be that the mothers were trying to temper their military zeal with their promises? That the mothers were trying to help them be faithful despite the horrors of what they were about to face? I’d like to think about that more, and to flesh it out.

  5. Robert C. said

    Fascinating and difficult issues—thanks for the post Cheryl. I really like the phrasing “this is not a success story” and “it is a story of horrible necessity and of brutal experience.” Although I think the text is written in such a way that we are to admire God’s grace in preserving the lives of the stripling warriors—for whatever reason— I think the very presence of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites’ story in the Book of Mormon undermines the kind of simplistic moralizing about “just war” that is typically attributed to the text. That is, I think a strong case can be made that the Anti-Nephi-Lehites’ story is more of a “success story” than the story of the stripling warriors….

  6. robf said

    Enjoyed Kevin’s Meridian piece, I hadn’t seen that before. Maybe I should check out Meridian more often! While interesting to speculate about all this, not sure how far we can really get with the text as we have it.

    One thing I do find fascinating is that Alma 56 shows that before the kids sign on to the war, the adult Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s are just about ready to break the covenant that they had made. With everything that covenant involves in the BoM (jump in here, Joe), I think we have to pause for a moment and think about the seriousness of this step.

    How did this influence the young men? To see their parents ready to break their covenants? We read that “they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives” (Alma 56:47). Why did they think that way? What had their parents taught them about their own covenant not to take up arms, that these young men would rather take up arms rather than follow their parents’ example? What’s going on here?

    The Stripling Warriors were obviously heroes in the Nephite culture, and in modern Mormon culture. But given what we know about the impacts of warfare on human psychology, and that these warriors disappear into the Land Northward, where Nephi can find no trace of righteousness a generation later, I’ve maintained that perhaps we should see them as tragic figures who by following the Nephites into battle rather than the example of their parents, they eventually were unable to preserve the blessings that their parents enjoyed.

    Some have objected to this characterization, perhaps because they can only see the BoM text in Black:White::Heroes:Villains::Nephite:Lamanite terms. But I don’t see it in black and white. I think its much more complex. But measured by the standard Christ gave to the Nephites after his resurrection (turn the other cheek, love your enemies) and to us in D&C 98 (renounce war, proclaim peace), I can only see these zealous young men as tragic figures who no matter how obedient they were to the teachings of their mothers, failed somehow to follow their parents into the covenant. While the were protected in body during their battles, they–or at least their posterity–may well have perished in spirit afterwards.

    Like Joe, I try to be careful with this, since I know I could be fooling myself based on my own understanding of Christian nonviolent teachings. But I think there is ample room for reading it this way–which should at least give us pause before marching off to battle under the banner of the army of Helaman.

  7. Robert C. said

    (Yeah, Joe, or anyone else, I want to hear you riff on this bit that robf referred to about the lives of the sons being put at risk for the sake of the fathers, and how this relates to all other types of the Son submitting to the Father….)

  8. Cherylem said

    After starting this discussion I may not be able to add anything of substance until after Thanksgiving, but I did want to add a few, more personal, thoughts.

    I have read this story verse by verse (as Joe suggested) keeping my eye on what these young men experienced. Young and untrained, brave and courageous (if soldiers can ever be brave and courageous, and not just terrified)they fought in kill or be killed battles. They killed and killed again. They had to experience primal blood lust. Around them older, more seasoned soldiers fell to bloody death, leaving wives and families destitute. The young soldiers were seriously wounded, many came close to bleeding to death.

    Did they cry for their mothers as they lay bleeding on the battlefield? Did they sing songs of glory at night, as hell and death surrounded them?

    Plus at the end of chapter 58, I don’t read of them going home. Did they become a permanent part of the army? Did they all live through future battles? If they did live, what memories did they carry? What did their bodies look like? What were their dreams like?

    We sing happy songs about these young soldiers, and use them inspirationally (doing violence to them all over again!). What are we really desiring when we desire our children to be part of the armies of Helaman?

    I have raised 11 sons and have many grandsons. One of my sons is an Army professional – he spends months of every year in the world’s most dangerous places.

    But I have no desire for my children or grandchildren to be part of that ancient army, to experience what those young men experienced. Their mothers knew that if they kept the faith, they would “preserved.” What else did those mothers know? They were sending their young sons directly into harm’s way, and they would never be the same again.

    God keep us from a repeat of this “horrible necessity and brutal experience.” God help us to remember the armies of Helamen, but not in celebration.

  9. robf said

    Amen Cherylem, we may never know what kind of psychic and spiritual toll those battle had on these warriors. What kind of nightmares did they have? If they didn’t have nightmares, how might those battles have desensitized them to violence and bloodshed? While this isn’t written in the BoM, from what we know about the psychology of warfare, there must have been heavy tolls paid indeed.

    The Stripling Warriors seem to buy into a common Nephite belief–shared by most Mormons and probably most Americans–that God helps those that help themselves. If God can protect us if we have faith, why is it that the Stripling Warriors apparently felt more strongly that God would preserve them in battle than from battle? Why do most of us usually feel the same way? What does this tell us about faith and works?

    Back to the text, what are we to make of the fact that within a generation, all of those cities that the Stripling Warriors defended, and even Zarahemla itself, had fallen into Lamanite hands? How much freedom did their sacrifices really buy? Its so hard to know what to make of all these BoM stories. We readers quickly bypass the blood, gore, and horror of warfare to glorify the “look, God was on our side and we were valiant warriors” spin on these wars. Is that really the message that God wants us to get out of this? How do authorial intentions–especially those of the compiler Mormon, play into this here?

    I think these scriptures are a spiritual Rorschach test. We see what we want to. If you want to find a strong rejection of war, you will find nothing stronger than the war passages of the BoM. If you want war heroes and to justify your own militarism, its easy to come away with that kind of reading too. But here’s the rub–if there is more than one way to read the BoM, do we actually fail the test if we read it the “wrong” way?

  10. NathanG said

    Interesting discussion. A couple thoughts.

    First off, are we making martyrs of the stripling warriors for the anti-war cause? Is this the point that needs to be made to say the Book of Mormon is more anti-war than pro-war? Do we do as much damage to the soldiers by taking such an anti-war stance as we do by celebrating war heroes?

    Second. I really do like a peace-loving read of the Book of Mormon. Broadening the discussion to interactions with enemies is more helpful to me. The strongest message in the Book of Mormon, and the one with most lasting effects was missionary work (although within the compressed time of Nephite life, that didn’t ever last too long). Sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites, Alma’s missionary team to the Zoramites, Nephi and Lehi’s preaching to the Lamanites, Christ to all the people. These changes were much more significant than the victories in war. When did war come? When the people became wicked (at least as the general rule). Nephi was told his brother’s posterity would be there to stir the Nephites up to remembrance. War can be seen as a failure of the Nephites (and ultimately it is their failure and downfall).

    Third. Is it wrong to read into “just war”? God doesn’t seem to condemn people for it. D&C 98 has been referred to (the whole section is worth reading), but even there God says we are justified if after the third or fourth offense we “rewardest him according to his works”. Justified. However, if we forgive even at that time we (and our posterity for generations) will be blessed. So even the anti-war theme isn’t black and white. It’s more white and whiter.

    Last. Christ’s message of peace is what we should live by, but we should also keep in mind the destruction that is promised prior to the second coming and the references to Christ having trodden the wine press alone.

  11. robf said

    NathanG, in the past I’ve considered there to be at least 3 different approaches (or levels? Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial?) to warfare illustrated in the BoM:

    1) Love your enemies, Anti-Nephi-Lehis, etc.
    2) Justifiable self defense
    3) Seeking after power

    So, yeah…not black and white–but pretty easy to see the various results or fruits from each approach. I think D&C 98 clearly lays out the differences between 1 & 2.

  12. mtw said

    This discussion sent me back to the BOM and Alma 53.
    In section 10, it states that the people of Ammon, who in the beginning were Lamanites…..and had ever since been protected by the Nephites. If the fathers were Lamanites, so must have the sons been Lamanites. Does that figure into robf’s statement that “all the cities that the SW defended, and even Zarahemla itself, had fallen into Lamanite hands?”

  13. mtw said

    Please get my information off the end of this thread.
    Thank you!

  14. robf said

    I was talking about Hel 4:5 where the Lamanites take all the land south of Bountiful–which would include the cities defended by the SW. Moronihah and his army were able to regain only half of the land and Zarahemla apparently remained with the Lamanites. True peace came only after Nephi and Lehi’s mission converted most of the Lamanites throughout Zarahemla and Nephi. Of course, Nephite wickedness eventually broke that peace again by the time Nephi and Lehi return from their mission to the Land Northward.

    So, as NathanG intimated, real peace in the BoM only obtained when the people were righteous.

  15. s james said

    Cherlyem, thanks for the post, and your poignant follow up. And robf for the pondering you have done.

    One of my nagging meditations is the dilemma posed by juxtaposing peace and freedom, and the argument that freedom is more important than peace, and hence should be fought for.

    Its not only Primary songs, our hymn book is awash with references to war (and peace).

  16. Joe Spencer said

    I suppose my hesitation—besides having not yet either undertaken or read a systematic, comprehensive study, though the hints of one that are floating about this discussion are certainly helpful—is rooted, in the end, in a concern that any position that is ultimately grounded in ethics is overly focused on death (and all of what attends it, all of its types: suffering, etc.). That is, anything that is too quick to transgress a text in the name of any ethical ideal cares more for the death of the human being than it does for the life of the text. I don’t think I can be convinced that human death should concern us more than textual life. Really.

    Now let me be quite clear, at the same time, that I have been a pacifist all my life! I am not at all arguing that violence is good or even necessary. But I am saying that where we must choose between doing violence to the text and affirming the violence of inflicted death, it seems to me that the latter is by far the lesser of two evils. And that, I am quite aware, is a radical position (radical: mine is a position that sees ethics as being just as ideological as pro-war rhetoric).

    But it is in light of this radical fidelity to the text as such that my appeal to an actual hermeneutic must be understood. The reason I see it necessary to do the textual work of reading this story in a revealing way is because the care of death (always negative) is transformed by that hermeneutic into the care of life (always positive).

    It was in fidelity to the texts Ammon and his brethren had expounded to them that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies bowed themselves before the Lamanite attack. Is it similarly for our faith in the text that we “die daily”? If not, I’m not so sure that our ethical lives (or livings-toward-death, it seems to me, would be a more appropriate term) are worth anything.

  17. John said

    Obviously you guys have thought a lot about the sons of Helaman. More than I ever have, and you’ve made me look a little closer at possible interpretations of their and their parent’s actions.

    I would like to know your thoughts on WHY the story is included in the Book of Mormon in the first place? Is it because Mormon was a military man and just threw it in there? Did he recognize the tragedy of the sacrifice these young men made, and if so why isn’t it emphasized? Does the fact that these events occured before the birth of Christ and the fulfillment of the Law of Moses have any bearing on their actions?

    Just wondering.

  18. NathanG said

    “Why” is an interesting question and I can’t answer with any authority. However, I was wondering how much influence Mormon’s own life had on what he chose to write about. Some of his actions as a general seem to be influenced by the stories we see in the Book of Mormon (e.g. when he begins leading the Nephites after taking a hiatus occupied by abridging the plates of Nephi, he attempts a Captain Moroni approach to stir the Nephites up in remembrance of their liberty and religion). Could his choice about what to include be influenced by the fact that his whole life was involved in war? Why do the wars of Captain Moroni get so much detail? Why is his own son named Moroni? Did Mormon know and write about Moroni before or after his son was born? Why is the most successful and peaceful time in the Book of Mormon contained in one small book? Did Mormon run out of time to adequately treat the post-Christ righteous era because of his focus on wars? Was it so contrary to the life he was consigned to face that it wasn’t as useful to him personally? Did he see the impending destruction of his people and felt that he should write about the what destroys so we clearly understand the tragedy of the Nephite nation? Does he include some of the stories in Alma to show that people can rise to accomplish great things (not their military accomplishments, but their staying firm in their faith in Christ), even in times of war?

  19. robf said

    Joe, the whole concept of “doing violence” to texts is a bit puzzling to me. What about when texts do violence to real people? What kind of hermeneutic justifies fidelity to a text over fidelity to real people? I’m sorry I’ve had to drop out of the Girard project lately, maybe I can find some time to get back over there.

    What I’m really interested in is what may be a tension between fidelity to Christ vs. fidelity to the scriptures. I tend to see the scriptures as imperfect instruments–written by fallible humans, interpreted by other fallible humans–that at best can help us “come unto Christ”. I see the relationship with Deity as the primary concern, and no matter how much I love to feast upon the word, it is only one way for me to build my relationship with God.

    In the case of the SW, I feel like my reading does justice to both Christ and his teachings about loving enemies, while acknowledging the realities of the warriors, Mormon, Mormons, and other writers and readers of the text. While it may do violence to traditional readings of the text, I find that preferable to the violence done to real people by adhering to the traditional reading used to justify violence in the name of “freedom” or some other ideal.

  20. Joe Spencer said

    About the Girard project: all of us dropped out for a while. I’ve only just this week tried to get it started up again, so don’t feel bad about not having been there! But I would love to see the discussions start rolling again there.

    I suppose it seems really tenuous to me to draw a distinction between fidelity to Christ and fidelity to the scriptures: how does that amount to anything besides fidelity to certain scriptures rather than fidelity to other scriptures? Even if one were to claim that fidelity to Christ is a kind of “following the Spirit,” this ultimately amounts to a selective textual faithfulness (one can only come to believe that there is a Spirit at all through the texts!). Unless I’m reading the texts incorrectly (!), it seems pretty clear that every facet of our “relationship with God” is mediated by some text.

    As for the case we’re dealing with here: I would very much like to see a reading that does violence to “traditional readings of the text” (I’m not at all concerned about doing violence to certain readings of the text; but to the text itself… and, yes, I really think there is a difference between the text and readings of the text). But I would like to see that reading do more justice to the text than the traditional reading: that’s my concern. I hold no reading sacred, just the text.

    And that’s the point: it is readings that do violence to “real people,” not texts themselves. But were it the case that we found a text that somehow actually does violence to “real people” (where it is clear that “real people” means mortals living towards their deaths—what else could “violence” imply), I’m still not convinced that it is better to tear up the text: What else do we have as Latter-day Saints? If we are not to become only one more “Community of Christ”—if we are not, that is, to become a full-blown political entity trying to make of this pathetic telestial world a little happier place—we have no choice but to declare the truth of our scriptures. In the end, I’m not sure what else it means to be Mormon.

  21. s james said

    Nathang, some great questions and observations. The experience of his world at war may be why there is such a concentration in the text of the proselyting period of around 150 years (Mosiah to 3 Nephi).

  22. s james said

    robf you have a point, privileging the text risks obscuring our concerns which in Heidegger’s view, ‘humanises’ the text, ie the textual past (scriptures) is authenticated when a person feels the concerns borne in an historical incident. For Heidegger, concern permits encounter with the text. He claims that the world of the text is disclosed on the basis of our concerns, which are a priori.

    Joe, for me your point that “I hold no reading sacred, just the text” run into difficulties from the hermeneutical position that the text is the reading; and the logic of the statement that no reading is of significance. How is this reconciled with the need to declare truthful readings?

  23. cherylem said

    One of Girard’s points is that by accepting certain texts at face value, violence is done to the people (innocent victims) the texts speak of. So you have the choice (in certain instances) of doing violence to the texts in order to STOP doing violence to people.

  24. m&m said

    I found it ironic that the text was anti-war, but yet it seemed that the creation of the document, and much of its circulation (including in ex-mormon circles…someone showed me where the word ‘revolution’ was used to motivate people to sign) is doing violence of its own kind. It misrepresents Sister Beck’s talk, is a vehicle being used to publicly criticize her (‘conflict’ with her, as they say) and teachings of the Church. I understand people struggling with things, and I seek to be compassionate about those struggles. There are people I know and care about who have signed the document. But it crosses a line for me. I am saddened by the glorification of a different kind of violence the creation and promulgation of this document represents to me.

  25. m&m said

    is a vehicle being used to publicly criticize her (’conflict’ with her, as they say) and teachings of the Church.

    I should have said “some teachings of the Church” because I realize there is also some of it that most members would agree with. The key to me is that if one agrees with it all, one is taking on a couple of key teachings of the Church (and is supporting public criticism of a Church leader), and that makes me sad.

    My intention is not to be at war with anyone here. My heart has just been heavy all week about this document.

  26. s james said

    Notwithstanding the merits of sentiments expressed in ‘What women know’, its premise is arguable. “We are (not) authors of our own lives …” Such a framing view, to say the least, is deeply ideological, ethnocentric and contradictory reflecting a shallow analysis of what constitutes agency in people’s worlds.
    Such a view in the ideology of (cherlyem’s) Girard constitutes a violence to those in other worlds who do not have the privilege of ‘authoring’ their lives.

    cherylem, if the scriptural text is then to be seen just as propositions, in what way might we pray about its truthfulness?

  27. Clark said

    One of Girard’s points is that by accepting certain texts at face value, violence is done to the people (innocent victims) the texts speak of. So you have the choice (in certain instances) of doing violence to the texts in order to STOP doing violence to people.

    Some would say that any reading is violence.

  28. Clark said

    To add, to stop doing a certain kind of violence to some people entails making a hypothesis about them – in effect reading them as a group. This then entails doing violence. (You see this a lot with charity work where sometimes the “help” is anything but) Drawing practical ethics from this all is difficult.

  29. joshua madson said

    While I personally fall in the camp of those who see the stripling warriors as a tragic story for various reasons, I wonder why we cannot accept that perhaps Mormon, surely Captain Moroni thought these wars were justified but were still wrong. Wrong in the sense that they did not follow Christ fully, ie to the cross (renouncing war and giving up one’s life rather than redeeming the world through violence). It would be nice to have consistency in the scriptures at all times, but in those instances where we are faced with differing views I would hope we would always try to follow the teachings of Christ and his life.

    Capt. Moroni, Mormon, and all these individuals needed Christ just as much as we do. The inclusion of their wars and even “Nephite Just War” ideas are not necessarily an endorsement but maybe even a warning. The only real Zion society in the book is 4 Nephi. If we are going to model behavior, we should model theirs.

  30. NathanG said

    Here’s a little different thought:
    How much did the Ammonite’s behavior reflect a stance on war (war is always bad) verses a part of their repentance. They were murderers (their own view of themselves), but felt they had repented. As part of forsaking their sins, they could not participate in anything that was even remotely similar to their past sins (even fighting in defense of their friends, the Nephites). When the Lamanites first came upon them, perhaps they felt their behavior (not defending themselves) was even restitution for their sins. Their sons would not have the same past sins that required them to avoid war at all costs. It would not have been a failure on the part of their sons to miss entering the covenant because their needs of repentance were different.

    I don’t say this to justify war. I don’t think what we have in the Book of Mormon is meant to justify war. However, I think reading this way we can judge those who participated in war in a different way.

  31. robf said

    NathanG, I don’t want to completely discount this possibility. I think perhaps we can see Helaman thinking something like this in urging the adults to keep their covenants, but willingly and rejoicingly leading the youngsters into battle.

    But I think there is also evidence that others recognized the renunciation of armed conflict as more than just part of a repentance process. Specifically, Ammon seems to see their actions as a sign of a greater love than the Nephites were able to ever attain (Alma 26:33).

    Joshua, as for why Mormon included this example, I’m not sure we can know that for sure. While probably a hereditary military leader himself, and fully willing to engage in battle under some circumstances, we do see a concern on his part about the legitimacy of some battles. Perhaps as a historian, he is nostalgic for a “good war”–just as modern Americans in the shadow of Vietnam and perhaps Iraq are eager to see the American Revolution or World War II as “just wars” that can be used to assuage niggling doubts about the legitmacy of warfare in general?

    That we can get a powerfully strong anti-war message from the book, perhaps in spite of any human authorial intent, is something that adds weight to the BoM as a valuable piece of writing. To some degree, we are shown the effects of various approaches to war, and allowed to draw our own conclusions based on the visible “fruits” of warfare and the teachings of Christ and the prophets.

  32. BrianJ said

    Sorry that I haven’t been able to participate—this is a very interesting discussion.

    One question: just how young were the 2000 warriors? From what I understand about ancient warfare, it would not be uncommon to have teenagers in battle (along with even younger boys as squires, etc.). Even some modern-day armies enlist very young soldiers (e.g. thinking of Rwanda and Khmer Rouge). Obviously, Helaman considered his army to be very young, but just how young were they? I always pictured them as ~18-20 yrs old, but maybe that’s just MTC rhetoric influencing my thinking. Would 18 yr olds have seemed all that young to Helaman? Maybe they were just “young” in experience? Does the text support that reading? Maybe they were all 10 yrs old? (i.e. really really young from our perspective, but just young from Helaman’s.)

    • J Faller said

      Alma 53:16 “as many as were able to take up arms”… that’s very young, some of them at least.

  33. cherylem said

    Mormon was 16 when he took command of the armies in Mormon 2:1. I have always imagined the stripling warriors to be significantly younger than this.

  34. Matthew said

    >whose mothers teach them that faith in God will preserve them in battles in which they kill other mothers’ children. This is not a success story.

    When I first read this I assumed that the statement was actually denying that faith in God did preserve those who kill other mother’s children. I assumed that it was suggesting that in teaching their children this the mothers did something wrong. I was wrong in assuming that I assume. I think we can all agree that the mother’s and the son’s displayed great faith–and this is wonderful.

    I still am troubled though by the statement “this is not a success story.” Why not?

    I appreciate this thread and past discussions which recognize the horrible tragedy it was that these 2000 young men went to war. I agree that the tragedies of war is an important part of this and the many other war stories in the Book of Mormon–an important point that is often overlooked. But, why should this be an either or choice–either we read this as a tragedy or we read it as a story about some great mothers and sons with incredible faith. I think it is wonderful when we recognize this as a story which celebrates their mothers.

    This is a faith that many do not achieve. Where it was achieved I see nothing wrong with recognizing it and celebrating the gift of God in preserving their lives (yes, even as they killed other mother’s sons) and the faith which was part of that.

    The story is both, isn’t it?

  35. Clark said

    I don’t think we could know how old they were. But I’ve always imagined them as between 12 – 15.

  36. joshua madson said

    Matthew,

    wouldn’t the even greater faith involve not killing at all

  37. Maybe trusting in the arm of the Lord and not of flesh. Just a thought

  38. m&m said

    This is an interesting discussion, but I admit to being a bit puzzled at the view that this was all tragedy. I agree that war is not ideal, but I think we might be missing something to discount it completely in these chapters, and assume that there is never a place for it.

    I read through this again last nite for my personal study, and took some notes and wrote down some questions.

    - Why would the Lord help and deliver them if they were truly doing something wrong? (e.g., Al. 43:24, 29-30; 44:3-5; 45:1; 48:15-16, 25; 50:21-23; 55:31, 46-48, 56-57; 57:25-27, 35-36)

    - Why would the Lord command them protect families even unto bloodshed if it was wrong to do? (e.g., 43:46-47; 48:14-15)

    It’s mentioned often that they didn’t delight in bloodshed, but were protecting their liberties. Is peace always the best choice? What about protecting families, religion, rights to worship, liberties, etc.? I think hearts matter a lot. I believe they had hearts that desired peace, but perhaps their circumstances (their enemies’ hearts) didn’t allow for it.

    The praise in Alma 48 for Moroni, saying that the powers of hell could be “shaken forever” and the devil would have no power. Sounds to me like the Lord thought he was ok. :)

    I’m also struck by how often they would stop battle to negotiate. Their desire was to get a covenant of peace from their enemies. They wanted nothing else more than peace. But I am not convinced that the Lord simply expects everyone always to die to keep peace. I think the key of these stories is to see the difference between war that is commanded or justified by the laws God has given, vs. war that is offensive and not done relying on God’s direction and help.

    I think we should also carefully ask why these scriptures are in here. They aren’t just about physical war. And I can’t believe that so many chapters would be included if they should just be dismissed as a mistake. Leaders have used this story to remind us of our duties to protect home, family and faith in a different way.

    For example:

    Elder Bednar:
    Because today we are engaged in a war for the welfare of marriage and the home, in my latest reading of the Book of Mormon I paid particular attention to the ways the Nephites prepared for their battles against the Lamanites. I noted that the people of Nephi “were aware of the intent of [their enemy], and therefore they did prepare to meet them” (Alma 2:12; italics added). As I read and studied, I learned that understanding the intent of an enemy is a key prerequisite to effective preparation. We likewise should consider the intent of our enemy in this latter-day war.

    I think there is a difference between glorifying war (which I think is wrong) and recognizing that sometimes it may be necessary — not ideal, but necessary. I can’t believe that the Lord would have these chapters included, including commands from Him about defending families even unto bloodshed, if there wasn’t a place for this approach…again, not because it’s ideal, but because sometimes it may be what needs to happen given the situation and the enemy.

    I’m also wondering how this scripture fits into the discussion. Is peace always going to be the fruit of following Christ?

    Matt 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

    I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not a fan of war at all. I’m just not a fan of dismissing this very large section of the Book of Mormon as a record of a mistake. We can’t really compare 4 Nephi to these chapters. 4 Nephi peace takes complete unity and conversion. This wasn’t possible with the situation in the war chapters, and perhaps part of the Lord’s guidance and deliverance was for His purposes.

    In short, I don’t believe we can assume to know what is right in different situations. That is why we have prophets who are guided by revelation. As Alma 48:15 said, the key was keeping the commandments, which the scriptures said these people did. If they did that, the Lord would guide them and protect them, including warning them to flee or to prepare to defend themselves (not go out offensively…big difference). I can’t reconcile all the verses talking of the Lord’s involvement in these wars, and His miraculous protection of His people, with those who want to say that these people were somehow doing what they shouldn’t have been doing. Doesn’t compute. :)

    Whew. Lots of thoughts brewing for me on this one…. (And this isn’t even all of them!) :)

  39. m&m said

    Another thought/question/scenario for those who are suggesting that self-sacrifice in the name of peace is the always best way to approach the enemy, or is always the best way to demonstrate faith.

    Imagine you had a sister or daughter who married an RM in the temple. All seems to be going well, until after about a decade, you notice that he has changed. He has stopped coming to church, and you can feel the tension when you are around them. Soon, you start to notice that their children are withdrawn and fearful around others, and intensely so when they interact to their father. Your sister/daughter has also started acting differently. You come to find out that she and the children are being abused, particularly when they talk about the Church. If they go to church, he beats them. If he catches them praying, he abuses them verbally and physically. etc. etc. etc.

    Your sister/daughter is afraid of doing something ‘wrong’ by leaving. She is afraid that choosing to divorce him would show a lack of true faith and Christlike behavior. But she is almost beyond hope and can’t bear to watch her children suffer. She is to the point where she is afraid for their lives. She has tried to talk kindly, and all he does is scream at her. There is no negotiating with this man. She knows that if she leaves him, there would be an ugly battle (custody, etc.) ahead. Should she stay to avoid ‘war’? Should she allow her children to continue to suffer for the sake of avoiding conflict?

    What is the “right” thing for her to do? While there is never a one-sized-fits-all answer in real life, I cannot for a second believe that any of you would suggest that someone in such a situation must sacrifice herself and her children for the sake of a spirit of peace, and/or to demonstrate faith.

    I believe God can direct people/groups/nations to protect themselves when self-sacrifice would cut short lives that are not yet done, when there is work they can/should be doing. I don’t believe faith always means lying down and being victimized.

    Of course, *most* marriages would benefit from less war and more peace, more willingness to suffer a little for the sake of following the Savior. Likewise, most wars of nations really are fought without divine justification and I can’t imagine that the Lord condones most of what we see in our world. But I just can’t see that self-sacrifice for the sake of peace will always, always be the answer. God can and does direct people to protect themselves rather than continue to subject themselves to abuse. And that is some of the message I get from the war chapters. These people strove to obey the commandments, were praised for doing so, were guided (through prophets, no less) and protected by God’s hand in war. This happens elsewhere in the BoM as well. I think there are important lessons to ponder in these chapters. The more I think about it, the more I just don’t see how we can assume that self-protection is always wrong and self-sacrifice is always the better answer, the more faithful choice. I think faith is about doing what God directs one to do, even when it’s hard. Sometimes that will be about sacrifice, other times, it will be about protecting self and others and principles for the cause of God.

  40. s james said

    What I take from this discussion is a sense of how scripture is not ‘limited’, that to limit scripture to a single privileged reading potentially cuts off other kinds of inspiration and insight, by making some things ‘unthinkable’.

    In relation to the above matter, Nibley observes:

    The whole point of Alma’s (or rather Mormon’s) studies in “the work of death” as he calls it, is that they supposed to be revolting. They are meant to be painful.

    We find that despite the blessing of preservation for these “little sons”, such could only have come at an unimagined terrible price. For as we know the circumstances were far more complex than a war between righteous and wicked, as wicked nephite fought alongside righteous nephite.

    …for it has been their (the nephites) quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.
    And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites.(Alma 50:21-22)

  41. NathanG said

    robf #31. That’s a nice reference on love. Could the sons also be showing a manifestation of love (greater love hath no man…) they just are protecting friends rather than refusing to fight enemies?

    m&m. I like your thoughts. I like to look for the message of peace in the Book of Mormon, but think there are still positive examples coming out of the war (which view may also be held by others, it just isn’t coming out very strong). With that in mind here’s a sketch of an attemp to separate the different players of the war:

    War itself: Not to be desired. We have been commanded to forsake war. However, there are situations that are specifically defined where we can be justified in war, not counted for righteousness, but justified at least. There are situations where God commands war, but this may be akin to God giving the law of Moses as a command rather than the law of Christ. It is given because of the stubborness of the hearats of men. Nephites tended to get involved in war because of wickedness of their society.

    Ammonites: Repentant of murderous life. Full of love of God. Did not desire to shed anymore blood and willing to lay down their lives before their enemies (which resulted in even more Lamanites being converted, and the destruction of Ammonihah (ironically)). Surviving Ammonites were later ready to break their covenant to help the Nephites fight when they viewed the war in relative safety, but prevented from doing so.

    Nephite leaders (at least the ones we hear specifics about): Did not desire warfare, but led the fight. Devised ways to take back lands without fighting. Described by Mormon (another military leader) as righteous men.

    Questions regarding the leaders: Is theirs a responsibility to lead in times of war? Would they have been more blessed or less blessed if they decided to follow the example of the Ammonites? Does the whole community have to be unified in making the sacrifice the Ammonites made for it to be counted for righteousness? If the community isn’t united, would the leaders be wrong to lay down their weapons of war? Where did diplomacy fit in? (Moroni didn’t seem to be much of a diplomat with both the Nephites and the Lamanites).

    Nephite: We only have generalizations of people who were wicked, repentant, and/or righteous at various times. Could they have approached the war the way that the Ammonites did? Was the war in part to lead them to repentance? As a whole, they probably weren’t in a spiritual state to make the sacrifice, or even capable of the love that the Ammonites showed. Had they laid down their weapons at the onset of the war, would they have died in their sins, or would that have been sufficient fruit of repentance? Would laying down their weapons have seemed too similar in action to the king-men who outright refused to fight.

    Lamanite leaders: Many of them Nephite dissenters. Stirring the Lamanites up to anger against the Nephites (with ironic arguments most of the time seeing that the leaders were once Nephites). Viewed as the cause of the wars.

    As a contrast, a little later down the road, when the Gadianton Robbers were rising and they began to invade the two nations, the Lamanites (who were righteous) hunted them out until they were extinct, and the Nephites did nothing about them and their society was overrun by secret combinations.

  42. robf said

    m&m (#38)
    It’s hard to find a war where both sides don’t think God is on their side. And the winners take their win as further evidence that they God was supporting them. Could that be happening at all with the Nephites at times?

    We see in D&C 98 that sometimes we can be justified in defending ourselves, but that section also says its better if we still forbear violence. So on one hand, defensive war can be “good” while forbearance may yet be “better”. That’s not me. That’s D&C 98.

    I think its terribly hard for most people to live up to the standard that Christ has set through his mortal experience and in D&C 98. So we’re given an out at times, and can be “justified”–ie. not held to account, if engage in defensive war as outlined in D&C 98. But in doing so we lose the blessings we might otherwise have had, and in most cases probably engage in violence that will fuel further rounds of retributive violence. There is never a war to end all wars, though we’ve seen that claim made repeatedly through history.

    As for hell being bound if everyone was like Moroni–hard to know exactly what that means. Surely, the anger and wrath that he shows isn’t something we should be emulating, seeing how we’ve been specifically counseled against that. In the Millennium hell will be bound, but the world will only be at a Terrestrial level. To achieve the higher Celestial glory will require living an even higher standard. So even if Moroni is good, is his example the best we can follow? Or should we perhaps be better served to follow the Son–even if its a harder path to follow.

    There are surely many ways to read these passages. The real question for me here is, should I use these passages to justify warfare–which is I think we can all agree is a horrible thing, or is there another message here that can help me to more closely follow Christ’s commandment to renounce war and proclaim peace?

  43. I would also second robf’s point on D&C 98 and add that justification is really more of a legal term. You may not have to go to jail or get punished but you certainly are not going to be rewarded or attain a higher level of righteousness (blessed as D&C 98 indicates).

    In so many of these discussions we forget that there is a large difference between justification whether it be in a traditional just war doctrine or in the Nephite tradition of just war and the higher law.

    War is not compatible with Christ’s life and teachings. He is asking us to be his disciples. He makes it clear what it means to be a son of God, to be like our father in heaven. That is forgive our enemies, bless them that curse us and in this alone he asks us to be perfect. I strongly believe that part of Christ’s perfection is that he was able to renounce violence all the way to the cross even until “it is finished” The opportunity to be a zealot, to rule through violence was always an option for him but he passed that test and has called upon us to be his disciples even to the cross if needs be. He made clear once and for all what God is like. A God of love who sides with the victims, who’s work and glory is to all men regardless of class, race, or nation.

  44. Sterling said

    A few scriptures I found on Google:

    Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (see John 18:22-23).

    Jesus told his disciples to sell their coats so they could buy swords. The disciples told Jesus that they had two swords. Jesus replied “That is enough” (Luke 22:36-38).

    Jesus turned over tables and chased out with a whip the merchants in the temple selling animals for sacrifices (John 2:13-17). Then 3 years later he drove the merchants out of the temple again (Matt 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46).

    How likely is it that Christ’s teaching about turning the other cheek is about choosing not to retaliate when we are insulted, rather than an endorsement of pacificism? Can we learn from the example of Jesus that self-defense is a moral obligation when we and the people around us are threatened by evil? Did Jesus use self-defense to combat violence?

  45. Matthew said

    Joshua (#36). Maybe. Here’s my long answer and I’m hoping to capture some general points of agreement along the way. Anyone feel free to correct me if I’ve got it wrong.

    Rob, I hope you don’t mind me using you as an example…

    If Rob’s position (or anyone else’s) is that in no circumstances is violence the best choice then I disagree. Likewise, I disagree (and again, maybe no one holds this position) that in order to recognize that terrible tragedy we have to first dismantle the “traditional” view of this story which celebrates these soldiers faith and their mother’s teachings. Why make a disagreement between two compatible positions? There’s already enough disagreement in the world.

    (BTW, I DO think it is a tragedy when young sons go to battled to defend their families–when they must go and kill lots innocent people. But I also imagine that everyone on this thread agrees to that.)

    I know Rob since we were in the same ward for a while. And I respect him quite a lot. And from what I know of him I believe that if he were placed in a difficult position like the one these young soldiers faced, he would seek guidance as to what to do. And if he didn’t feel particularly impressed about what to do, I’m guessing he’d stick with his well-founded belief that the best thing would be not to fight. Great. But if the Lord told him to defend his country and his family against those who attacked, he would do that as well. Many others on this thread I know less well, but I suspect the same is true of them. So…

    >wouldn’t the even greater faith involve not killing at all
    >Maybe trusting in the arm of the Lord and not of flesh. Just a thought

    Maybe…maybe not. No generalized formula (even one based on D&C 98) will relieve us of the responsibility to seek guidance in knowing how to respond to violence.

    Finally, I’m guessing we all agree that. The world would be better with more people who believed what Rob believes relative to war and fewer people seeking redress. We should be known for preaching peace and love, not violence.

  46. Matthew,

    If your point is that you renounce violence and war save God commands then I’m on board. Mormon indicates this is the only exception. The reality is that God is not commanding any of us to go to war and certainly not any nation-state. God of course can make exceptions but I think barring some divine command the injunction of Christ to renounce war stands.

    Sterling,

    First of all Jesus drove out the animals (this is how many read the greek), second these “swords” are from a greek word amounting to basically small knives, more importantly I would agree with David O’Mckay that even after looking at all the passages you cite there is no doubt that war is not compatible with true Christianity and any attempt to reconcile the two is in vain. There is a reason why the first 3 centuries of Christians renounced violence. They felt that Christ’s life and teachings were a complete rejection of violence. I certainly don’t see Jesus using self-defense against violence. In fact, he let them crucify him when he had every opportunity to stop them. Christ was tempted with the sword from the first temptations in the desert to the end and chose the cross.

  47. Matthew said

    Joshua, first sorry for continuing to edit my comment 45 after you posted your response. Hopefully it clarified to some degree what I was trying to say.

    >If your point is that you renounce violence and war save God commands then I’m on board.
    That wasn’t my point, but it may be the truth. I don’t know. My guess is that a lot of people would agree with this statement and just disagree over what counts as a command by God.

  48. BrianJ said

    Even if Jesus scattered the merchants as well as their animals, there is still a difference (by orders of magnitude) between being driven out and being killed.

  49. Sterling said

    What do you think of this essay that has appeared on a lot of Christian web sites?

    http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/qselfdefense.html

  50. Robert C. said

    The article Sterling linked to raises an issue that is the biggest reason I’m not a strict pacifist, though I have strong pacifist leanings. That is, if I saw physical or sexual violence being committed against a helpless victim, it’s extremely hard for me not to think of using violence to try and prevent such an act.

    But I think the title of the article undermines my thinking here: it’s not self-defense, that makes me squeamish about strict pacifism, but innocent suffering of others. I’ve been wondering about this issue in relation to Gen 18 vs. Gen 22 where Abraham on the one hand protests against the destruction of any innocent lives in Sodom and Gomorrah, and yet Abraham silently goes forth to sacrifice his own son. I think an important difference in these two episodes is that in Gen 18 Abraham is protesting in behalf of someone else, whereas in Gen 22 the sacrifice is being asked of Abraham himself (or at least of his own son, the fruit of his own loins…). I’m not quite sure what to make of this difference, but it strikes me as significant. (Along these same lines I’ve stewing on robf’s highlight of Alma 56:47 in comment #6 where the stripling warriors cite “the liberty of their fathers” as the crucial motivation for taking up arms—what exactly does “liberty of their fathers” mean and why is it so important to remember and preserve??)

  51. Clark said

    Joshua, I’m just not sure I can accept the idea that one should ideally never go to war. Ideally in the sense of how one responds to any circumstance. The very notion of a war in heaven seems to undermine that concept as does God’s actions in the OT. The usual excuse is that the OT is recorded wrong. But one can’t escape from the fact that Jewish religion presents God sometimes as a God of war.

    Now certainly in the weaker sense ideally we will never have war. But sometimes it is more than just, it is necessary.

  52. Robert C.,

    I understand the self-defense argument and the protecting your family (physical/sexual violence) and have some sympathy for it. Even if you accept that, it is far leap, imo, to war. This is the rational that obviously led to just war principles

    Clark,

    I’m not sure how much of a “war” the war in heaven really was. I’m not sure we have any definitive insights into that.

    As to the OT, there are many ways to approach its violence including the recorded wrong, or some approach it that certain historical events were redacted to place blame on God for national sins. Millard Lind wrote an excellent book accepting the OT accounts and showing that the war events are not as black and white as we suppose (he also argues a large message to the Israelites is God can preserve you, sometimes with your help, but never if you rely on your own arm.)

    I actually prefer the model advanced by many Christian theologians and Girard to some extent that God is taking a small group of people (Israelites) and pulling them away from the violence and sacrifice of their day and moving them ever closer to the message of Christ. I truly believe that God’s ultimate will is expressed in Christ Jesus in his life, in his teachings, and in the visible witness of those teachings on the cross.

  53. robf said

    Clark, don’t forget that “Jewish religion” was in apostasy much of the time, including the years after the exile when much of their scriptures were compiled and edited into what we call the Old Testament.

    As for “war” in heaven, that term might be better translated conflict–which could mean many things. Whatever it is (and there isn’t much revealed about it), it doesn’t seem to be the same thing that we would recognize as war.

    War is only “necessary” if you have already made that assumption. The idea that we wouldn’t have a choice in the matter seems to echo an argument made in that “war” in heaven. Since I’ve rejected that argument before, I’d be wary to pick it up again.

  54. robf said

    Joshua, you beat me to it!

  55. I want to add one thing on the buy a sword passage since it appears in the article as well. On a side note, I am a huge fan of Yoder mentioned in the article.

    Apparently Jesus says that when they have two swords it is enough. This seems to indicate that this passage perhaps cannot be taken literally as a justification for self-defense since obviously 2 swords among 12 being sent to divers places is not enough for real self-defense. It has been argued by some that the disciples misunderstood Jesus and that he was not referring to real swords thus prompting his, it is enough comment.

    We also know that Peter took a sword with him that very night but on the first chance to use it, he was told to put it away. We are told that all those who use the sword perish by the sword.

    So what does this passage mean, Im not wholly sure, but on one hand we have many teachings and a life exemplifying non-violence and on the other a passage or two that can be interpreted more than one way.

  56. robf said

    Joshua, email me at b i r d c h a s e r AT h o t m a i l DOT c o m (removing all the empty spaces) for more discussion off line.

  57. m&m said

    I think something important to consider is that there is more to these chapters in Alma than just physical war. War comes in many forms, and I think there is much to learn about how to deal with conflict, about the importance of family and religion and “liberty of our fathers” (whatever that might have meant for them and what it might mean for us), etc.

    And I agree with the thoughts of Robert on defending others and also Matthew’s on seeking God’s direction. Exceptions to the ideal truly require revelation to discern. Ask Nephi how he feels about using swords. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but in unique and divinely-guided situations, sometimes it might be better that someone perish in order to accomplish God’s larger purposes. I pray I never am faced with such a dilemma, but even that story suggests to me that we can’t draw a line so thick that we never allow for divinely-guided exceptions. I think they are rare, and as such, we can still proclaim peace and renounce war in general. I don’t think anyone here would glorify violence for violence’s sake. But I, like some others here, am not willing to draw a line in the sand and say that strict pacifism will always be the Right approach. I believe we can renounce war and proclaim peace and still feel that sometimes war might be commanded by God/necessary for His big-picture purposes. And sometimes it won’t. The key in my mind is seeking for and knowing God’s will in the particular situation.

    It makes me wonder if we could ever be called to arms by our prophets in our day. Or if we might be faced with this decision individually or collectively (I pray not!). Or if these chapters have something to do with the symbolic attack on the family in our day (I believe they do). Or if they can teach about personal relationships — that God doesn’t expect us to always lie down and be abused for the sake of keeping the peace — that sometimes protecting self and others from unnecessary harm is even a good choice in serious situations. I think there is so much to be considered in these chapters that really has little to do with actual bloodshed.

  58. Clark said

    Clark, don’t forget that “Jewish religion” was in apostasy much of the time, including the years after the exile when much of their scriptures were compiled and edited into what we call the Old Testament.

    True, but the presentation is of God commanding things. Ironically one of the more disturbing scenes in the OT in Joshua is when God orders some pretty horrific violence and the nation of Israel refuses. As I said, the only defense is really to argue that most of the OT presentation of God is apostate. And are you really comfortable taking that position?

    As for “war” in heaven, that term might be better translated conflict–which could mean many things.

    And on what basis do you make that claim?

    We also know that Peter took a sword with him that very night but on the first chance to use it, he was told to put it away. We are told that all those who use the sword perish by the sword.

    On the other hand Nephi is told to kill Laban. I think those who argue against such things really are picking very selectively without being able to give the justification. Also, even if someone perishes by the sword that doesn’t entail their perishing wrongly. After all many people give their lives.

  59. cherylem said

    I think the issues of violence and war in the scriptures – all of them – are complex and not easily understood. Remember that Nephi wrote about Laban’s murder long after the fact, and he described that event carefully. My son Ben has written a wonderful and intellectually stimulating paper on Laban’s murder, which will be public in a few months.

    I’m pretty thoroughly Girardian (with Joshua Madson above) – see our ongoing (but with long breaks) discussion on the herm blog at the upper left. One of the things that has come out of that reading and thinking (of years) is that I personally feel just because we have a scriptural account of God commanding violence or a murder does not necessarily mean that God commanded it.

    However, on the other side of this pacifist view I offer the following anecdote, which I heard Gil Bailie talk about in a very small group setting. I know of no one who has studied violence and tried to be as nonviolent as Gil. Gil related an incident when his teenage son came home pretty badly beaten up. Gil, peaceful, nonviolent, was filled with rage. It was all he could do, he said, not to run out of his home and find the guys who had done this to his son, and tear them apart. The need to do this was stunningly primal.

    Regarding Jesus casting out the moneychangers, to me the important part of this event was that Jesus was literally shutting the temple down – a result that would have only happened for a short time. No doubt everything was back to normal at the temple the next day. Jesus was using a form of “acting out” prophesy, used frequently by Old Testament prophets.

    Last, regarding to the stripling warriors, my point is that this is a terrible story. War, whether you believe it justified or not, whether you are on the right side or not, is hell, and not to be celebrated. If you have ever heard a returned solder weep, you get some sense of the horror he has seen and been through.

    The text of the stripling warriors is complex, and is ultimately not about mothers, but about a General and his soldiers. I have often wondered if Helaman placed such emphasis on the survival – brutal though it was – of his young soldiers out of a combination of complex emotions, including guilt. It is as if he is saying, see? they were young and untrained [and should not have gone to war] but God himself protected them. And they saved us. So . . their going to war under my command was justified.

    But again – that protection came at a terrible cost.

  60. cherylem said

    #1 Kevin,
    Thanks for the link to yours and Shauna’s paper on women and the Book of Mormon. Very interesting.

  61. robf said

    “The only defense is really to argue that most of the OT presentation of God is apostate. And are you really comfortable taking that position?”

    I don’t know about “most of the OT”, but in the case of God commanding genocide, yes–I’m fully comfortable calling that apostate.

    As for the war in heaven, here’s how I discussed it on Times & Seasons way back when:

    Revelations 12:7-11

    7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

    8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

    9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

    10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

    11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

    OK…where is the justification for physical violence and warfare in the mortal world? Looks like this war was won through the atoning blood of the Lamb and by words of testimony. Not physical (whatever that means in a spirit world) violence. I don’t know what the “loved not their lives unto death” message is here, but I wonder if that isn’t another message about what a different kind of conflict this one was than the warfare we see in mortality, where we might fight to save our lives or the lives of others.

    So, the “war” in heaven may not be the kind of war we think about here. If it isn’t, it might be an apple to our oranges. And, it might also serve as a different model for conflict–where we win through faith in Christ, testimonies, and unselfishness that makes us willing to lose our lives–like Christ eventually did–instead of taking lives.

    So, I’m wondering what the word “war” in this scripture even means. According to online scriptural sources, the Greek word polemos used here could mean 1) a war, 2)a fight, a battle, or 3)a dispute, strife, quarrel. Since the verses say this polemos was waged with words, maybe we should better call it the Dispute or Strife in Heaven, rather than a war.
    *******

    I think for me this discussion is getting close to the end. I don’t believe I can ever convince anyone that war is completely counter to the gospel of Christ if they don’t want to believe it. The question for all of us is–what really lies at the bottom of our justifications for or against the “necessity” of war?

  62. cherylem said

    Robf,
    Never give up, though indeed this discussion may be winding down. Really, all you or anyone can do is to lay new information on the table, and let people think about it.

    Everyone,
    It is true that Jesus could have won a “war” instead of pouring himself out on behalf of us all. He chose the way that did not fight back, did not kill back. I think we seriously have to think about this. Whether God calls us all to be pacifists while our families and children are being tortured and taken – well, the jury is out on that one for me. After all, Jesus was not watching someone else suffer; he was suffering. There is a difference there. I can more easily think of giving up my own life than I can imagine watching the suffering of my own little ones while I stood by and did nothing.

    And yet Jesus, in dying as he did, was in a way standing by knowing that his “little ones” would suffer unbearably for his gospel, and he would not rescue them. This was also Paul’s message, over and over again.

    Regarding the Garden of Gethsemane and the cutting off of the ear, I think reading of the scriptural accounts show disciples ready with their swords. Can we fight NOW? Can we do it NOW? We’re ready to stand by you, fight by you. We have our swords out. Just say the word, oh mighty one, oh King, our General, and we will at last shed blood for you.

    but Christ’s message was: you still don’t understand. Put your swords away. This victory will not be won by the sword.

    complex issues, complex readings, difficult commandments all.

  63. Joe Spencer said

    I’m testing this once more…

  64. Joe Spencer said

    I can post!!!

  65. Joe Spencer said

    (Sorry all, everything I’ve tried to say for the past four or five days has been eaten immediately. I hope to get back to this discussion soon, now that I can say something again!)

  66. m&m said

    I don’t believe I can ever convince anyone that war is completely counter to the gospel of Christ if they don’t want to believe it. The question for all of us is–what really lies at the bottom of our justifications for or against the “necessity” of war?

    Hm. I think you oversimplify the positions of people who may not jump completely onto your bandwagon.

    I think any attempt to summarize the gospel with one ‘ism’ — in this case, pacifism — risks looking beyond the mark. We are to do as the Lord directs. And I’m not convinced that He never has or never would direct His people to prepare for and engage in war…not because this is ideal, but because sometimes we have to work within the fallenness of our world to be able to move forward.

    I think about what Elder Oaks said about divorce. God’s celestial law is that there be no divorce. I think the celestial law is that there should be no war. But since we aren’t in a celestial sphere, and some situations get really desperate, the Lord allows (even sometimes guides someone toward) divorce. I think the same kind of situation may exist regarding war. This is not about justifying war in a vacuum, or in the absolute sense of what the Savior’s teachings are about. I don’t think anyone would suggest that war itself should somehow be glorified. But to me, there should be a recognition that just because it’s not ideal doesn’t mean that the Lord won’t condone or even guide individuals or groups toward war in certain situations.

    We do our very best to strive toward the ideal, but you would never try to guilt someone into avoiding divorce to save their lives or to protect their children, even though we all know that divorce is less than ideal. I see little value in trying to guilt people into drawing a hard line and saying there should never, ever be a sword or gun raised in this life. You can proclaim peace and renounce war while still recognizing our fallen situation and that sometimes we may find ourselves in a situation created by others’ agency that leaves us choosing between the celestial law and mortal survival, which may yet still have eternal impacts in the Lord’s big picture. If you sacrifice righteous people, you may slow His work down. (Sometimes such a sacrifice has a place, too (think Alma and Amulek being told to let the people burn)…it all depends.) I just can think of too many possible reasons He might direct toward war even though it’s a horrible tragedy when that happens. Either way, it’s a tragedy.

    And I also can’t get out of my mind that the Lord Himself has destroyed people. I don’t compare us to Him, just like I don’t seek to justify anger because the Lord cleansed the temple. I don’t suggest this alone justifies war. He is perfect and His anger and destruction are done in perfect wisdom, justice, mercy and love. But is it not possible that a God who has at times sworn and carried out destruction ever guide imperfect mortal people to engage in stopping evil, even by war? Will His commands always be about what WE understand about the ‘shoulds’ in the short run, or might He sometimes direct people to do things that accomplish His purposes in a bigger picture? To me, this recognition may take more stretching of faith than simply saying, “I will never fight because I want to have peace.” It is instead saying, “I will always do what the Lord commands, even if it doesn’t make sense to me.” This requires us to be so in tune with the Spirit that we could know in a moment if and when the Lord was guiding us toward something that was not ideal, but right.

    Ask a woman who has felt impressed to sever a covenant marriage relationship what that is like. It’s tragedy to the nth degree. But would you rather she stay in an abusive marriage that might affect generations to come, that might taint children’s lives worse than keeping the marriage would? Would you rather she defy the revelation of God to somehow maintain “peace”? Divorce is the exception, and something that you would hope is truly inspired and done only after serious prayer and contemplation. But I see such a similarity to the principle of peace vs. war. I would never want to be the exception, but we ought to not pretend it doesn’t exist.

    To my friends who have left their spouses because of revelation, I hope they remember the glory of the Atonement, which can make beauty out of the ashes of their lives and broken dreams and hearts. That Atonement covers the tragedies of war as well for those who have innocently been pulled in, either because they are fulfilling their duty, or because (as with some scriptural examples) they were guided to protect themselves even unto bloodshed. If we preach only the ideal, I think we sometimes miss this truth in the midst of it all. The Lord recognizes that the ideal doesn’t always happen. We should, too…not to justify it per se, but to acknowledge the realities of life. (It’s funny to me to be arguing for the exception, because I’m rarely on that side of an argument. Hm. I’m a rule person by nature. Interesting.)

    One last thought: I can’t believe the scriptures are wrong on this. That’s a pretty serious mistake to be made in holy writ. I’d rather assume that this less-than-ideal thing happened, and try to discern why it is that the Lord did this, and why it’s included in our scriptures, ‘written for our day.’ I don’t see it as a wholesale justification of war by any means. I still think war is almost always a mistake. But I won’t take that last step and say, “Never should it happen.” Just like I won’t say divorce should never happen. It rarely should (and happens too much) but I won’t draw that line in the sand because of the evils that exist, not because I think divorce is somehow intrinsically good.

    Now I’m repeating myself….

  67. Matthew said

    good points all around but…is there anything left we are disagreeing about? Seems to me like pretty much everyone agrees. PS Joe, I wonder what was going on with your posts. If others are having their comments get eaten let me know.

  68. Clark said

    One of the things that has come out of that reading and thinking (of years) is that I personally feel just because we have a scriptural account of God commanding violence or a murder does not necessarily mean that God commanded it.

    Logically doesn’t it also follow that just because we have a scriptural account of God commanding to love it doesn’t necessarily mean that God commanded it?

    Certainly the LDS position that allows a fair degree of fallibilism in the scriptures entails a certain larger degree of the “hermeneutics of suspicion” with regards to the scriptures. Yet, opposing this, is a kind of de facto trust in them. The danger we face is doing scriptural hermeneutics (or hermeneutics of prophecy in general) is that because we always have the “fallibilism” card we can play it whenever we want. That is our personal political views can always be taken to trump scripture or prophecy. But there is a great danger in that. Of course the ultimate responsibility in all this is the individual.

    What I find though is that pacifists unsurprisingly privilege accounts that ignore or downplay violence and repress those that do. Yet the justification for this tends to be the stance they come from. Which isn’t bad except when the scriptures are used to justify this stance. At best this becomes a bad case of confirmation bias. At worse it is circular logic of the sort we ought try to weed out.

  69. Clark said

    Looks like this war was won through the atoning blood of the Lamb and by words of testimony. Not physical (whatever that means in a spirit world) violence.

    So you think one third the host of heaven were cast out simply because God made a good argument? That they went willingly and really aren’t as evil as portrayed? I’m having a hard time reconciling this to basic Mormon cosmology. (Which is not to say that the standard view is correct)

    I’ll not draw down the tangent on this though and get off topic. I admit I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the Satan went willingly.

  70. robf said

    Clark, I think it is a mistake to assume that Mormon anti-war ideas come from secular pacifism. I know my own comes directly from my reading of LDS scriptures. I started out very pro-military as a kid, and ended up being converted to an anti-war stance the more I read in the scriptures. While I have to admit the possibility of making mistakes as I try to harmonize my understanding of what sometimes appears as contradictory scriptural examples or statements, I also try to make my biases clear.

    I do not consider myself a pacifist. I am just trying to be a disciple of Christ who takes seriously the teachings to renounce war, love our enemies, and that sometimes it may be better to lose our life than to save it–and a hundred other statements that lead me to reject war.

    While I can agree that war may be “necessary” in a telestial or terrestrial world, that’s not the kind of world I am seeking, or that I have covenanted to help build (though I’m mulling over a post about this–maybe more on this soon!). I’m always willing to revisit my interpretations or understandings of scripture, and don’t want to dismiss any scripture lightly with the fallibalism card. But in my pondering I do challenge every scripture from multiple angles as I try to wrap my puny mortal understanding around them in seeking to bring all light and knowledge together into one great whole.

  71. robf said

    Clark, as for the war in heaven, I think our standard Mormon view of this is probably very cartoonish–written or illustrated with thick bold lines that don’t give us much detail. Much of it may be more symbolic, and not sure how tightly we need to hold to a view of a giant auditorium filled with pre-mortal spirits. Given that there has to be an enormous amount of wiggle room here in what we’ve been given, I think it would be dangerous to use the “war in heaven” story too much one way or the other in discussing real and present military conflicts.

  72. Robert C. said

    I like how this discussion is making rethinking the very nature of conflict, even at the abstract level of good and evil (esp. per the comments of m&m on divorce and robf’s exchange with Clark on the war in heaven). Thanks everyone for a very civil discussion of hot-button topics….

  73. Clark said

    Rob, allow me to break my refusal to enter into the tangent. It seems that there are only two possibilities. One, that Satan goes willingly without being due to threat. That entails his being convinced or persuaded. The other is that Satan goes unwillingly. If it is unwillingly then that only works due to violence or the threat of violence. I see no other alternatives. This has nothing to do with whether most folk presentations of the war are cartoonish. (I agree most are) When I talk about basic Mormon cosmology I’m not talking about these folk traditions but more the mainstream formal theology. That theology might be vague but is based upon much more than Revelation. (At a minimum one has to consider Abraham’s writings)

    The reason I think this relevant is because it raises the spectre of violence in the abstract. i.e. can we say God never forces. It seems God tries to minimize force and maximize freedom. But there are limits. Even if one takes Joshua, Genesis and much of the OT as either allegorical. apostate, or at least deeply a-historical I don’t see how one can avoid this.

    Once we establish the relationship between God and force, then I think that has huge implications for any conflict. How one answers the general question can’t help but affect how we view the particulars.

    Regarding pacificism and renouncing war. I think those are two different issues, for the reasons I mentioned. (One can feel that one should do everything one can to avoid war but still feel it is sometimes necessary to prevent greater evils) The question is how one reads the scriptures to do this. The problem, as I mentioned, is that once we allow for dismissing passages we don’t like (typically historic presentations in opposition to short wisdom sayings) is that this is rarely done in a consistent fashion. That leaves us in an aporia which raises many hermeneutic difficulties.

  74. Clark said

    Oh, one addition. I didn’t mean to imply that your views arose primarily out of secular pacificism. I was speaking much broader (and mainly in terms of debates I had in college) But the point is that as we read we always have the task of privileging and repressing elements of the text. With regards to the issue of violence in the scriptures this seems done in a way very much entailed by a preconceived stance. Now how we got to that stance is itself a hermeneutical voyage. That is we didn’t just simply arrive there. It has a genealogy that is itself shaped by our environment, biases, and so forth. What we can’t do we ignore that element and say that our reading is the correct one without engaging with the very historical stance that makes our reading possible.

    I hope that my comments haven’t attempted to privilege one stance above the other. While I think there are sometimes some structural limits (such as the two choices of force/not-force in the war in heaven) typically I find the texts underdetermined. That is I think very defensible pro-violence and anti-violence readings are possible. The question is then which to chose. For that we have to turn to the spirit. But that is itself a hermeneutic undertaking. (And perhaps one even more difficult than reading texts, if only because the role of our responsibility is so much more apparent)

    My point is ultimately that the text doesn’t simply decide for us but rather the text makes a demand upon us to take responsibility for how we read. That ought, I feel, entail a kind of hermeneutics of suspicion in which we question not only the text but our own stances that make textual action possible.

  75. m&m said

    The reason I think this relevant is because it raises the spectre of violence in the abstract. i.e. can we say God never forces. It seems God tries to minimize force and maximize freedom.

    This is really good food for thought. Perhaps God has boundaries?

  76. robf said

    Clark, I hear what you are saying, and these are interesting questions about God and force, but even if we could resolve them I’m not sure they would be completely relevant to what God has commanded or required of us here in mortality–which I think we have to take at least in our dispensation as a default “no war” policy unless commanded otherwise (D&C 98). Lots to think about, though.

  77. Joe Spencer said

    Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since I was last able to get involved in this discussion, and unfortunately, it has gone in directions that are less and less interesting to me. So let me see if I can’t shake things up and get everyone mad at me by going back to the points I was trying to raise before the site revolted against my ip address.

    I really think that what is at the heart of this entire issue is this—and this is an issue I’m ultimately trying to raise in the psychical man discussion, though I’ve hardly gotten anywhere along this road as yet: there is a sharp divide between ethics and textual engagement, and where the two seem to be in conflict, I think the latter deserves our fidelity. The primary reason for this is that ethics is fundamentally carnally minded (what could just as well be translated “the thought of the flesh,” and which is equated with death), while textual engagement is fundamentally spiritually minded (what could just as well be translated “the thought of the Spirit,” and which is equated with life). Life or death: the resurrection, so to speak, calls us to the task of interpretation.

    I’m not at all putting this well. But in a word: to transgress a text in the name of ethics seems to me to be an outright rejection of life. Of course, to transgress ethics in the name of a text is not therefore always an acceptance of life: it might well be a rejection of death in the name of life, but it might just as easily be simply evil.

    Another way to put this: to transgress a text in the name of ethics seems to me to be a fundamentally terrestrial move. To transgress ethics in the name of a text can be either telestial or celestial. But just because it is possible for such a move to be telestial does not mean that we should hover in the terrestrial and never accept the celestial.

    Still not putting this well. I’ll have to take responses to help me clarify this.

  78. Cherylem said

    Joe,
    Try again.
    Give some examples.

  79. robf said

    Very interesting questions, Joe. But I’m not sure how meaningful it is to talk about “the” text. Our scriptures are a collection of so many texts, with so many authors, from so many cultures, with so many modes of transmission, in so many languages. What are we to make of all these texts? How are we to reconcile, say, a 19th Century commandment to the Saints from Christ through Joseph Smith to renounce war and proclaim peace with stories of divinely commanded genocide that come from 3000 years ago–which are of unknown provenance and that lack other historical witnesses or archaeological evidences to support them? What considerations should be made when trying to weigh each of these scriptures? What would “fidelity” to each of these texts even mean? Are they of equal value? Personally, while D&C 98 speaks to me and my immediate ancestors, I can’t say that I have as much confidence in the Book of Judges. I’m not saying that to dismiss the Book of Judges out of hand, but perhaps giving it as much weight as I give D&C 98 may not be the most faithful way to read D&C 98?

  80. Clark said

    Rob, I think that is a big issue. In order to appropriate some command we effectively have to de-contextualize it. That is we have to move it from a single historic context into a more universal context. (Of course this is a matter of degree)

    Regarding the issue of war, I simply see it as much more complex. That is how I read D&C 98 probably is different from how you do.

    Joe, I’m not sure what you are getting at. One could argue hermeneutics is always an ethical act (some interpretations are better than others) and any attempt to understand ethics is always an hermeneutic act (we have to interpret the Good). So I am not sure of the divide you are trying to make.

  81. NathanG said

    There’s a phrase in the parable of the talents that has been puzzling in the past, but provides another way to think of God’s view on war. The servant who receives one talent, when confronted by the master describes him as a man who reaps where he does not sow. He seems to get a harvest out of things he does not plant. For instance, God did not command or inspire Jacob’s sons to rise up against Joeph and sell him into Egypt, but God made the most of it and managed to preserve the house of Israel because of their wickedness. Christ’s lineage came out of the union of Lot and his daughter’s (through Ruth). Laman and Lemuel were wicked, but provided an opposition for the Nephites to help them remember God.
    The Nephite wars could fit into this category (at least in the time of Captain Moroni). War came upon the Nephites as they became wicked and forgot God. The Lamanites already hated the Nephites, the Nephite dissenters stirred them up to anger, and the Lamanites would attack. God reaped in this situation as the wars stirred up a nation to repentance and put their faith in him once again. With this view, war can be seen as the effects as the choice of men that God then uses to his advantage to bring his people back to him. Defintely not the situation we should seek or promote (I’m going to be wicked so bad things can happen that will make me repent). This doesn’t seem to address the wars at the reclaiming of Canaan, though.

  82. Jim F. said

    Nathan, your comment is brilliant. Thank you. It is so much better than the usual take on things like the introduction of the Church into Korea by soliders at war. The usual take sounds like God promotes war in order to make missionary work possible. But it makes much more sense to think of such things as instances in which he reaps what he does not sow. Again, thanks very much.

  83. robf said

    Clark, far be it from me to know how much we may or may not agree on our reading of D&C 98. Based on the limitations of blog communications, for all I know we could be in almost complete agreement!

  84. In the discussion of textual exegesis, I am always curious as to why Christ needed to come and needed to teach the Nephites for example. I have always felt that there was many competing narratives for what God was like or not like in the ancient world, even among the Israelites and certainly the Nephites. Note, the Nephite cities were destroyed because they killed the prophets. Who were these prophets and what were they teaching.

    It seems to me that Christ had to come to show the world what God is truly like. I personally believe that a significant aspect of Christ’s mission/raison d’etre was to show that God sides with the victims, that God would rather die than rule the world through violence, that God expects us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and that he does rain on the just and unjust alike. If you have seen him, you have seen the father.

    Perhaps some of you will disagree, and while I think there are many truths and great insights of the prophets before and after Christ, I have to believe that his life was a manifestation of what God is like and how we should be. In other words, if scripture records that God commanded Joshua to kill children, dash babies to the ground, or whatever other atrocity and at the same time we have Jesus preaches something else, it should probably give us pause and question this whole warrior prophet narrative.

  85. Clark said

    Joshua, perhaps. Maybe a discussion of D&C 98 would be fruitful? I admit I see it as much vaguer than many do.

  86. How do you understand it Clark?

  87. Clark said

    Why not dedicate a separate post? (I’m not a member of the blog so I can’t start one up)

  88. [...] Alma 56-58 The Stripling Warriors [...]

  89. cherylem said

    Rather than hijack our discussion of D&C 98, where I just posted this and deleted it, I’ll throw this in here. I really don’t feel like starting a post on the murder of Laban. But this is still interesting (I am not endorsing this, but merely put it out on the table), and some of you may not have seen this:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=430

  90. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for this link, I hadn’t noticed that article.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help ranting a bit:

    I’ve only read the first section so far, but I find this setting-the-stage for the article very unsatisfying—in particular, the meagerly-argued yet boldly-stated claim that we must at all costs find an ethically-satisfying reading of the text. This betrays such a shameful and embarrassing naivete—his absolutist language makes him sound like he thinks he’s dismissed centuries of philosophical and theological reflection, at least on the Akedah, in a few short sentences (e.g., he cites Kierkegaard, but then addresses an argument that seems to bear no resemblance to what Kierkegaard wrote). Surely I should be looking beyond mere rhetoric here—and maybe I’ll have a chance later to write a post engaging the article’s substance (which actually looks to be quite good)—but . . . AAAAGGGGHHH!!! this kind of absolutist writing is so infuriating, and it makes it so hard to take the rest of the essay seriously. (Yes, I know I’m hypocritically using worse-than-absolutist rhetoric myself here, but this is a blog post rant, not a “journal” publication….)

    OK, I feel better now. I promise to regain my composure before posting again.

  91. cherylem said

    I hear you Robert.

    One of our problems institutionally, I think, is that we don’t always demand rigor. Speaking generally and not specifically, of course. And maybe Jim F and others will disagree with this statement.

  92. douglas Hunter said

    I have not been able to fully follow this discussion, because work is nuts the past two weeks but I did see some of the initial reaction in the bloggernacle to the document that Cheryl mentioned. In those responses and here also I think the skeptical (and at times very hostile) response to pacifism, the desire for a glorifying reading of the text, and in many posts above we very much need the insights the black church in America has known about for a long time:

    that there can be power in powerlessness.

    James Cone makes this point directly when he compares the cross to the lynching tree. but I am also reminded of Mamie Till’s decision to have her son’s coffin be open so to show the physical reality and brutality of his murder.

    In what (with some reservations) we can think of as a cultural paradigm of white, middle or upper class values, capitalist values, American values etc. power is found exactly in power, and is so closely tied to wealth, achievement, self fulfillment, success, etc. That its difficult to even begin to conceptualize power in powerlessness or the disjunction between power and faithfulness because faithfulness has already been claimed as a value of power (and has been become institutionalized, with all that this imples) which also always clings to power (and faithfulness) due to the anxiety over the potential for material, cultural and personal loss.

    If these relations can be untangled and the fear they generate dealt with; I think that would be the most fundamental and necessary starting point for a reading of the SW story specifically, and a reading of war in the scriptures more generally. which is to say, I don’t think we can understand such issues without a tremendous amount of psycho-social work. What is so positive about the What Women Know statement is that is lays bare the necessity of that work. I don’t think it intends to do so, but the dynamic that arose in response was a direct result of the need for the work.

  93. Clark said

    Douglas, you might be surprised but I actually agree to a point. I think the Book of Mormon contains both approaches. We have war (which I don’t think is glorified in the least, but certainly is presented as necessary). But we also have the anti-Nephi-Lehies. But we have a little earlier God allowing many converts of Alma and Amulek to be killed before having Alma do anything. So both moves occur.

    My whole argument is that if we are looking for a general principle we can apply it just isn’t there. God commands different things at different times. To impose a general principle (whether it be self-defense or pacifism) is simply wrong.

  94. douglas Hunter said

    Clark, not sure what to make of your reply. Did you read my comments as already implying that a singular general principle is there and we just need to do the work to uncover it? I think that’s a totally different conversation all together.

  95. douglas Hunter said

    I had another though this morning that I think is helpful in this context. Cornell West has distinguished between prophetic Christianity and constantinian Christianity. It seems to me that Mormon theology, in a very real way, seeks to be both at the same time. Or maybe its just that in Mormon theology the prophetic is put in service of the constantinian, I’m not sure. I have no idea of the degree to which these positions can be synthesized. I think they are fundamentally in conflict I don’t have a good paradigm for dealing with that conflict but I think West’s distinction can help understand the violent response to the women bold enough to say that they know.

  96. douglas,

    Cornell is getting this Constantinian distinction from Yoder, see Politics of Jesus and other books.

    I think Mormons tried to be prophetic but with the fear of destruction we have moved towards accommodation with the state (ie Constantinianism). It seems that we go out of our way to make sure everyone knows we are good citizens. The real danger of this is what we might see with Romney on thursday. I will be a Christian, I will be a mormon so long as it doesnt come in conflict with politics, the state. Christ certainly did not align with the state but was a non-violent anti-govt kind of guy who was executed by the state.

  97. Clark said

    Douglas, I just meant that I think the points you raise is definitely in the text and that some Mormons ignore those aspects. However I think the aspects that often get focused on (which are anything but pacificistic) are also in the text.

  98. douglas Hunter said

    Joshua, I appreciate your comment but I think the constantianianism goes deeper than that since we do have scriptures in the D&C that deal directly with the state and align it with god. Now I do understand that the idea of the ethical state is a Biblical one so just the mentioning of the state in scriptures is not necessarily constantianian in nature, but am I wrong in thinking that such an energy may be present in the D&C? I’m open to being wrong on that point but it may be the case that we have Prophetic leaderships -all be it different from what Yoder / West would call prophetic- and we also have a direct scriptural link to the constantianian aspect of Christianity as Yoder / West would describe it.

    I do empathize with what you are getting at. Romney while not a prophetic Christian of any sort has already aligned himself with Constantianian Christianity (he did this a long time ago.) I think now its a matter of degree.

  99. Douglas,

    what do you see as the state/God link in d&c

  100. douglashunter said

    I was actually hoping that someone who knows the D&C better than I would chime in. I was reading some interesting passages two nights ago. I’ll have to go back to them and closely examine some of the specifics, before I can say anything of substance.

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