"But [the Lamanites] were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites" (Alma 43:21).
Alma Chapter 43 marks the beginning of a new epoch in Lehite warfare. It's when Captain Moroni introduced defensive armour.
It seems telling to me that the record details every item in the Lamanite arsenal -- "their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings" -- while the Nephites are described as being "armed with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war" . The details of Nephite weaponry come across as not very important. It's not what caused the much-more numerous Lamanite hosts to fear them exceedingly and to slip away into the wilderness in search of easier prey. What frightened them so badly was the defensive armour of the Nephites, their "breastplates... arm-shields... shields to defend their heads, and... thick clothing" (Alma 43:18-20).
Who would have thought that a solid strategy for defence could be so threatening?
As I was reading, I found myself wondering about modern day applications, especially in the context of an information war. When I say "information war" I am talking about the recent phenomenon where incompatible narratives compete for people's allegiance and for the direction of public policy. Is climate change the result of pollution by humans or a natural phenomenon over which we have no control? Is COVID-19 a global plot to reduce the population and institute tyrannical government, or is it a natural disaster that governments must manage decisively in order to protect us? Are our institutions (policing, the courts, etc) systemically biased against disadvantaged groups or do communities see themselves as disadvantaged because their members choose victimhood over personal accountability? Most of our public policy questions these days seem to be presented as an either/or between two extremes while most of our media seem to be recruiting us as soldiers to one side or the other. Our social media feeds, our gatherings and even some of our casual conversations, are increasingly becoming battlegrounds.
So, how would the principles Moroni employed to protect his people apply in the current situation? If I wanted to behave like Moroni today, what should I do?
First is to emphasize protection over conquest. I need to perceive what is endangered by the increasing enmity and the decreasing consensus about what is truth and I need to act to protect them. Among the things that I see as endangered are civil society, self-government, and our capacity to participate in the gathering of Israel.
I'm concerned about civil society and self-government; greatly concerned. But our capacity to participate in the gathering of Israel seems vastly more important. Lately, I've been listening to Justo L. González's The Story of Christianity and it's been impressed upon me that we don't actually need to be free in order to build up the Kingdom of God. It's fascinating to learn about the spread of the faith during the first two centuries of intense persecution, when Christians were grotesquely libelled and routinely martyred.
It follows that even if there is a global plot to institute tyranny and depopulate the Earth and even if we are on a collision course with environmental destruction, the Kingdom of God will roll forth. God will make His voice heard in the storm for all who will listen and will gather us into His saving embrace. He will establish Zion among us. But if I allow my fear to harden my heart and if I submit to the pressure to see my philosophical or political opposites as enemies, I will lose my desire to be a part of the kingdom. I will cease to want to have place in Zion because I will be disposed for war and Zion will be the only people who are not at war one with another (D&C 45:69).
Like Moroni's armies with their breastplates, the first thing I need to protect is my heart. Mormon identifies how to do this in a discourse to the people of his day:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure (Moroni 7:48).
My job is to follow Jesus Christ and energetically plead to be filled with His love toward those who, for whatever reason, I perceive as a threat. According to the scripture above, this will purify my heart and transform my very nature to be like the Son of God.
After writing the above, I had a sobering experience visiting with a friend who is worried about her sister, Trina (not her real name). Trina has devoted great love and care to raising her large family, and then, as her nest emptied, to deepening her gospel study and preparing to be called out from among the wicked into the hills to create a Zion society. Recently, Trina disclosed to my friend that she still expects to be called out from among the wicked, but not by the Church, which is carrying around too much dead weight. She has found some new sources of enlightenment (Julie Rowe, The Mentinah Archives, etc) and was hoping my friend would join her in following them. Trina has adopted new doctrines, like the idea of multiple probations, and feels that the Church is slowing her down in her quest to attain greater spirituality and to rend the veil. My friend feels shaken up by her gospel scholar sister's choice of a path that is leading into darkness.
We talked awhile about Julie Rowe and the community that follows her end-of-times predictions, and how a couple of them (Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell) have allegedly gone very badly rogue. According to some reports, members of this community seem to share a longing to be among the very elect (numbering in 144,000) who are extremely well prepared for cataclysmic events and who are blessed with extraordinary spiritual gifts. According to court documents filed by her since-shot-to-death ex-husband, in Lori Vallow's case that longing led her to the belief that she was married to Moroni in a past life, that she had attained to the level of a god, and that she had the right to murder, if necessary, in order to achieve her mission to gather the 144,000. Lori and Chad were charged in June with the murders of Lori's two children, Tylee and JJ, whose bodies were found buried in Chad's back yard. Lori's trial waits on her psychiatric treatment aimed at restoring competence to stand trial. Chad has also been charged with the murder of his wife Tammy, who died in her sleep three weeks before Chad married Lori.
Although Julie Rowe has since broken with Chad, they used to be close friends. He was her publisher with whom he shared his plans and appeared on podcasts and speaking engagements. She defended him from speculation when the children were missing. "I do know the kids are safe. I can see them,” she told Fox 13. “I can see their energy and that they’re in a bright house. I can see they’re in the living room where they are. I can see they’re comfortable bed at night.” She also noted that both she and Chad had been given a vision years ago that Tammy would die.
This is all very ugly and I don't want to go into anymore of the details. What I want to do is process the personal vulnerabilities that it triggers. The thing is, I think I can relate quite well with Trina. After all, I made a goal to prove my worthiness and rend the veil in my Personal Progress book when I was about 14. I thought that if I could be perfect, that is, if I could commit no sins, for two months, that would qualify me. I had no idea how incapable I was of going a single day without violating my conscience in some way. I also had no idea that what qualifies us to be ushered into the presence of the Lord is not perfect obedience, but becoming filled with the pure love of Christ to the point that "when he shall appear, we shall be like him...purified even as he is pure" (Moroni 7:48).
I remember when I suddenly realized that I had hesitations about living in a Zion society because, in such I society, I wouldn't be more righteous than anybody else. That was when I began to comprehend that I was on the wrong track. It was around then that I wrote an early version of this poem:
Oh Father, Let me be a polished shaft today.
I've tried so long and hard to prove my strength and show my fortitude.
I've held my little contests of faith
And sought to excel in wisdom and charity
Above my fellows,
And all the while, I've known the contests wrong,
Known I can't compete my way
Into Thy glory.
Clear my mind of me
And let me see.
Today, when I find someone needing love
Let me forget I haven't learned to love yet,
But fill me with Thy love
And let me minister to him.
Let me by thy instrument, thy vessel.
Should someone call on me to speak today,
Oh, hide from me my hard-won, strong opinions
And let me speak thy words,
In plain simplicity.
Then let thy voice, not mine,
Echo in our hearts and build our faith.
Oh Father, guide my hands today.
Be master of my feet.
Let my thoughts, desires, all reflect thy will.
Lord, suffocate my pride
And let me be a fellow servant.
Father, hide me,
In the shadow of thy hand.
This is still a vulnerability for me. I feel like I was sliding back into pride and becoming more liable to being deceived just a few months ago, when I was beginning to believe I had an infallible revelatory process. That scares me a little. But I am also grateful for and take comfort in the promptings that steered me better.
So what is my breastplate? How do I guard my heart?
1. First and foremost, I need to be "a true follower of Jesus Christ." I want to be anchored in Him; to dwell daily on His goodness and His sacrificial love both for me and for every other of His Father's children.
2. I need to avoid the temptation to be preoccupied with my righteousness and to trust in His. I'm becoming convinced that the "righteousness" to which the scriptures invite us is not about being invulnerable to sin, but is about living in a state of contrition.
Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances...Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens. (D&C 52:15-16,19).
I don't think contrition means walking around with a long face, dressed in sackcloth and ashes. I think it means being ready, even eager, to see and own up to my mistakes and to receive loving correction. I think it means seeing myself like a child and reaching out to put my hand in Jesus Christ's.
3. I need to pray, with all energy of heart, to be filled with the love of God. The Lord will hear those prayers and help me grow a heart that's big enough to be filled with that love.