A shorter, edited version of this essay appeared in the July 2006 issue of Desert Saints.
A discussion of politics among Church members shows that there are often two kinds of people: those who wince at bringing controversial topics into a gospel forum, and those who roll their eyes because they look down on certain political doctrines as trite cultural assumptions. Such people, perhaps the majority of us, have failed to read the many details in the Book of Mormon that clearly refer to governing practices, some of which the Nephite prophets favor, others of which they warn us against.
There are only two basic political philosophies: conservative and liberal. Conservatives generally believe in limited government, tradition, and freedom preserved by personal responsibility. Liberals typically believe in using government programs to “fix” the world, experimental change, and a kind of tolerance that often ends up promoting immoral behavior.
The editorial comments of Mormon and the examples of Nephite leaders offer an abundant testimony that the Lord favors essentially conservative political principles.
While it would be wrong to use the scriptures to try to support a specific party or candidate, the Book of Mormon does speak clearly on this choice between basic opposites as it does so many other crucial things in life.
1. Governments should prepare weapons in peace time and declare the right to bear arms. Nephi tells us that as soon as Lehi died, his elder brothers started trouble with him (2 Nephi 5:1-4). Nephi then tells us that he took those family members who would follow him and went into the wilderness to establish a new community.
The rest of 2 Nephi 5 is a detailed description of that society, which Nephi tells us “lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). As one part of that program, Nephi “did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us” (2 Nephi 5:14).
Notice that the Lamanites weren’t attacking at the time. Nephi was stockpiling arms to prepare for (and possibly deter) any future conflict.
It’s also good to note that Nephi doesn’t seem to have been referring to a regular army here. This was a new, small community based on an extended family clan which was dealing with basic needs. It seems more likely that Nephi was preparing for an informal citizen’s militia, similar to the one implied by the Second Amendment.
2. Colonizing is good, and people should assimilate into more successful populations. When the Nephites move into the established population at Zarahemla (Omni 1), the native group becomes completely transformed by the new population. The Book of Mormon defies current conventional wisdom by showing us that this was a good thing.
Even though the Nephites were new to the land of Zarahemla, their dominance was recognized by their achievements with language (Omni 1:17), which the native population learned and from which they benefited (Omni 1:18). They then submitted to the Nephite’s superior government. This is reminiscent of the great British Empire, which is despised by many trendy intellectuals of our day.
A similar situation occurs in Mosiah 25:12-13, where another group of Mulekites disavows their old national identity in favor of a superior new one—Nephite. These immigrants also submit to the government of their new land, the Nephite king.
Alma 35 tells us that converted Zoramites were welcomed into the Nephite nation (v. 6-9), but the immigrants fought to defend their new country (v. 14). Indeed, the Nephites don’t appear to have ever turned anybody away, as long as they became, culturally and politically, Nephite.
3. Those whose beliefs are based on feelings of resentment and entitlement are wrong. Mosiah 10 is a great explanation of the growth of anti-Nephite sentiment among the Lamanites. Verses 12-13 in particular make it clear that they didn’t think they were so good, as much as they thought the Nephites were bad: “Believing that… they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; and again, that they were wronged in the land of their first inheritance” (emphasis added).
Their whole world view was a petty reaction to their perceptions of the Nephites, always casting themselves as victims of “the man.” Mormon often comments that angry Lamanites (Enos 1:20) and those Nephites who were culturally closer to the rest of the world (Alma 31:8-11) were the wrong ones by refusing to accept the mainstream Nephites’ ongoing invitation to participate in their way of life, just like many “victim” groups today.
4. Heavy taxes and vast government programs are wrong. Mosiah 11:6 says that evil King Noah taxed his people heavily (unlike good King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:14). Mosiah 11:8-13 details all the many needless public works projects he wasted that money on. For any tempted to see this as a good thing accidentally done by a bad leader, read the entire chapter to see that it is meant as a detailed list of the many wrong deeds of this odious leader.
5. Capital punishment is acceptable. In Alma 1, a vocal critic of the church named Nehor is executed by the civil government. Alma 62:9 also mentions government executions, and Alma 46:35 even says that execution is permissible for those who refuse to be patriotic and defend their freedom during a time of war (imagine that one being implemented today!). Keep in mind that these examples all come from a generation when the Nephites were very righteous and highly favored of God.
6. Using the legal system to further a personal agenda is wrong. When the lawyers of Ammonihah attempt to discredit Alma and Amulek, Mormon makes their real motive very clear: “Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek” (Alma 11:20).
Imagine that. They weren’t concerned with discovering the truth, they were manipulating the system to forward their own interests, encouraging more lawsuits by agitating people. Which political philosophy—conservative or liberal—typically encourages using the courts as a shortcut to forcing resolutions to social strife? One thing is for sure: these wicked lawyers would oppose tort reform: they’d be out of business! Maybe they could get a job on the Supreme Court…
7. Good leaders preserve freedom, defend religion, and punish crime…and that’s all. One of the most overlooked treasures in the Book of Mormon is Alma 50:39, where we are given the oath of office Nephite leaders took during one of that people’s most spiritual periods: “to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and to grant unto them their sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God, yea, to support and maintain the cause of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice according to his crime.”
That’s it. No social programs, no advocating for progressive causes.
King Benjamin, in Mosiah 2:11-14, cites these same things as proof that he has been a righteous king. Notice that he does not mention any social welfare program in his list, either.
8. Subverting tradition and the mainstream is wrong. Zion needs pure unity, but in too many places in history there have been vocal minorities dedicated to reflexive rebellion. The Nephites were no different.
In Alma 51:16, Mormon tells us that during a great war where a special interest group sought to obstruct the administration’s progress, Moroni’s “first care [was] to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction.” Notice that: poisoning your country’s attempts to preserve its institutions is not some alternative form of patriotism, it’s societal suicide.
Another example comes from 4 Nephi, where one of the features of the Nephite Zion is their total unity: “neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were in one” (4 Nephi 1:17). There were no hyphenated minorities; they achieved unity by all fully joining the Christian Nephite culture.
But the disintegration of that harmonious society is complete when a dissatisfied younger generation sabotages it (1:37). This new movement isn’t just marching to the beat of their own drum, they “willfully rebel against the gospel of Christ” and “teach their children that they should not believe” (1:38). As usual, Mormon makes crystal clear the constant characteristics of those who are wrong. These “rebels” would clearly fit right in with America’s youth-oriented counterculture.
No wonder Nephi quotes Isaiah’s prophecy that in the last days “shall every man turn to his own people” (2 Nephi 23:14), splintering into tribes instead of coming together into Zion.
9. Normal procedures can be changed during a war. In Alma 51:13, we read of a group of Nephites who hated their present administration and wanted it out of power. When they heard that the Lamanites were attacking, these men actually “were glad in their hearts” and refused to serve in the military. Good thing nothing like that is around today! (please note the sarcasm)
In Alma 51:19, when Moroni won a battle against these dissenters among the Nephite’s own population, “those of their leaders who were not slain in battle were taken and cast into prison, for there was no time for their trials at this period.”
So the prisoners of war were left in a holding tank since conducting the war took precedence over any due process the prisoners might receive. Even the habeus corpus procedures for Nephite citizens, apparently, could be suspended.
Critics of Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act might want to read these verses before their next protest.
10. Good leaders must have private morality. Those who would defend unethical public leaders, saying that their private lives are not connected to their work, might take this as a warning. The Jaredite king Morianton “did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 10:11).
One would have a hard time arguing that men who are cut off from the Lord’s presence because of their loose morals are fit to lead us, whatever their apparent competence in office. Moroni includes this detail of judgment for a reason; one of the themes of the book of Ether is that wicked leaders, in an inevitable cycle, bring sorrow to their nations.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg. It does not include, for example, the many references to righteous societies embracing wholesome living and strict religion, references which would alienate today’s so-called blue states.
It’s interesting to read the overview of the last days as given by Nephi after his great vision. He describes the church of the devil which scourges the righteous in our era as a political entity that is openly hostile to religion (1 Nephi 13:5), embraces sexual immorality (1 Nephi 13:7), and constitutes an international political entity (1 Nephi 14:13-15). John the Apostle, in his Book of Revelation, adds the detail that this civil Babylon will control a heavily-regulated global economy (Revelation 13:16-17).
Now, which side of the American political spectrum—conservative or liberal—is more likely to get on board with that program?
Those who are riled up by this are welcome to comment, but please keep two things in mind: first, railing against policies you don’t like isn’t a rebuttal. My comments here are the result of honest textual analysis. If you wish to correct me, please make sure your position is grounded in the text of the Book of Mormon. Second, I’d actually like to hear from any liberals who could find so many clear references to their political principles in the text. Keep in mind that my references are all to federal, political issues; not personal virtue or community values.
Bottom line: a close reading of the Book of Mormon should persuade us to adopt conservative political principles.