(For part 1 of "When Mormons Take The Lord's name In Vain", click here.)
Have you ever been engaged in a theological discussion with a fellow Mormon and felt as if the two of you were talking two different religions?
Well, me neither really, until I started these discussions on the LDS view of war.
I thought we were all on the same page here, but no Amish farmer was ever shunned by his brethren like I have been by some of my Mormon amigos.
Though most agree with what I've written here, I have received a few apoplectic responses from a handful of agitated members of the church who are absolutely livid at my assertion that God is not too keen on his children killing each other off, or that he doesn't much care for such goings-on among those who claim to have taken upon themselves His name.
An amazing amount of energy is expended by some good church members in an attempt to sanitize that which cannot be washed clean: wanton killing in the name of God.
Regardless of how necessary and justified one may think of our nation’s wars, it's inappropriate to set aside holidays in which we lustily celebrate the carnage and hold up the perpetrators as heroes.
I’ve discussed elsewhere how I grew up with the bizarre conviction that the goals of the United States government were always in sync with the will of God. After all, America was His Favored Nation. I was foolish enough to think that Vox Populi, Vox Dei was a christian concept rather than the heresy that it is. To me, the American military machine represented the mighty arm of God against the heathen nations of the world.
Then I discovered one day that there was nothing in the revealed word of God that could possibly be construed to validate those beliefs. In fact, everything God did reveal forcefully contradicted what I had once held dear. So I adjusted my beliefs to be more in line with God's will.
I always thought the purpose of the gospel was to help us grow and change, to expand our knowledge outward rather than to remain stagnant in our fixed beliefs. When presented with evidence proving we have been in error, the proper response is to engage in a process of self-correction, is it not?
Instead, some have attempted to persuade me to revert to my parochial errors and rejoin them in ignorance.
Sorry, no can do. As Oliver Wendell Holmes has said, "The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size."
One reader who disagreed with what I've shared on this blog invited me to his own Mormon-themed blog which turned out to be a veritable shrine to the American armed forces. As he puts it, “This site is military friendly.”
I should say so. It looks like a tribute site to the priests of Baal. This blogger explains that he is pro military because he comes from a military family. Well, so do I.
I was once acquainted with a wonderfully earthy latter-day saint woman who, it turns out, had once been a former prostitute, or as she put it to me bluntly, she was a whore. Her mother was a whore, her sister was a whore, and her father was a pimp. She came from a whoring and pimping family. But when she accepted the gospel -and this is important now, so pay attention- she turned away from pimping and whoring. She doesn’t wave the flag twice a year in celebration of her former lifestyle.
She is no longer pro-whore.
The Mormon keeper of that pro-military blog writes that “some things are worth fighting for” with which I heartily agree. But he appears incapable of differentiating between national defense, which is justified of God, and empire building, which is prohibited. To bolster his argument of the divine nature inherent in military might, he has put forth examples of historical incidents where early Mormons took up arms in their defense. Although some of those incidents were justified, he included in his list Zion’s Camp and the Missouri-Mormon Wars.
I would not have used those examples.
Maybe Apostles Should Ride In The Back
Zion's camp was a response to some Missourians having driven Mormon settlers off their lands. Joseph Smith called some 200 men into a militia for the purpose of protecting those settlers and getting them back into their homes.
However, to Joseph's alarm many in the party believed that when they arrived they should take Missouri by force and drive all the Missourians out. Many began to murmur against Joseph, so finally God struck the camp with cholera. Several died, and the mission was a failure.
Lesson learned, hopefully. At least by those left alive.
Similarly, the Missouri-Mormon Wars of 1838 do not demonstrate God's approval of aggressive warfare. Organized by Sampson Avard and kept secret from the prophet, a clandestine army of Mormon men set out on a mission of retaliation for wrongs committed against the Saints . This secret band conducted their first raid near the tiny town of Gallatin, near Adam-Ondi-Ahman.
The trouble was, they didn’t discriminate in who they retaliated against. Just as the Missouri Mobs arbitrarily burned out Mormon farms and houses, so did the Mormons burn out innocent Missouri homesteaders who had not always been the same ones who had attacked the Mormons.
These arbitrary attacks culminated in tragedy at the battle of Crooked River, When sixty Mormon men attacked a force of armed Missourians. Apostle David W. Patten drew his sword and led the charge. He was immediately shot from his horse, hit the ground, and died on the spot.
John D. Lee reported that the Mormons were horrified to discover that an apostle of God could be felled by an enemy bullet the same as any man. Lee said until then they had thought that one of them could chase a thousand gentiles and put them to flight.
This was a serious wake-up call.
Had this unauthorized group made known their plans to the prophet Joseph, he might have dissuaded them from their folly by reminding them of the Lord’s instructions in D&C 98 given five years previous. Had they followed the teachings of Christ, this tragedy would not have befallen the saints, and they wouldn’t be staring in astonishment at the ashen face of the first dead apostle of The Restoration.
As the Lord reminds us, He is bound when we keep His commandments, but when we keep not His commandments, we have no promise.
God Won't Always Have Your Back
The thing to bear in mind here is that these men were some of the most faithful members of the early church; they were the most valiant -the absolute cream of the crop. Their mistake was carrying with them the notion that because they were members of the one true church, God would protect them no matter what.
As I’ve noted previously, no matter how righteous a nation may be, no matter how blessed in lands and resources, no matter how right and just you think your cause is, God will not tolerate anyone taking his name in vain. That just really seems to irk Him.
Christianity, War, And Boyd K. Packer
My reason for writing today is to keep a promise I made in November to a reader identified as "DiligentlySeek", whose opinions run contrary to my own. DiligentlySeek sent me an email attachment that he had trouble opening into the comment section under my piece “Should A Mormon Join The Military?”, so he asked me to post it for him and comment on it. You may find it of interest also.
DiligentlySeek’s words are written in bold type below, and my responses are interjected in regular font:
I hope you will read the following carefully. I haven’t had time to do research for talks given by church leader on the issues you’ve raised. But I think it is shameful to tell our LDS soldiers that they are murderers in the eyes of the Lord for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some other wars.”
You misconstrue my words, DiligentlySeek. I have never told any LDS soldiers that they are murderers in the eyes of the Lord; I have no way of knowing that. But given the many testimonies and confessions we have received from their fellow soldiers, it would not surprise me to learn that the souls of some of our brothers have been irreparably stained. We do know that Jay Bybee has much to answer for.
It’s clear from the citations I shared previously that there will be some sort of accounting in the next life. I don’t presume to know much about that process, but I did speculate a bit about it here. My words are speculative, but the Lord is clear that some sort of accountability will be required of every man who takes up arms in violation of his commandments.
Dr. Laurence Vance, author of Christianity And War, is not a church member. His statement shouldn’t be included in your post to LDS.
This is an odd position you espouse. I quoted Dr. Vance because his words were consistent with LDS doctrine, and because he is the pre-eminent authority on the history of Christianity and War. Dr Vance is the author of numerous books on New Testament Greek and Hebrew.
More importantly, Vance is a highly recognized expert on the early Christian church, the very church that you and I claim to belong to in its present incarnation. So it would seem to me that anyone with scholarly insight as to how the first century Christians viewed the subject of war might serve to validate our own doctrines as revealed through Joseph Smith.
Do you seriously contend that something written for a Mormon audience is somehow tainted if supported by source material from the sectarian world?
Next to me is a copy of Warfare In The Book Of Mormon, written and compiled by Mormons. The authors rely heavily on research from non-Mormon sources to bolster their positions.
When James Talmage compiled his monumental Jesus The Christ, he borrowed liberally from Frederick Farrar’s masterpiece The Life Of Christ. Should Talmage have ignored the weighty scholarship that came before?
This inclination I see in some people to dismiss anything that isn’t currently stocked through Deseret Book may be what is stunting the intellectual growth of our membership and giving ammunition to those who consider Mormons to be a passel of ignorant yahoos.
You appear to want to dismiss Boyd K Packer’s General Conference address, and yet bring Dr. Vance into it. That is an odd approach for an active Latter day Saint to take. I assume you are an active member of the church.
You refer to a reader who suggested that if I read Packer's talk I might be dissuaded from my position. I am indeed familiar with this talk, but see nothing therein to suggest that that God has reversed himself.
If you are accusing me of being dismissive of Boyd K. Packer, you are correct, as you will see below.
The following two quotes make the point that the Lord is against war: “The church is and must be against war, for war is of Satan and this church is the church of Christ...” (Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol 6, pg 170.)
“The divine law on the taking of human life... embraces war.” (Statements of the LDS First Presidency, pg 481.)
The key word in the following quote from the First Presidency is “unrighteously”. War can be waged righteously, or unrighteously. “God will hold subject to the eternal punishments of His will those who wage [war] unrighteously.” (Ibid, pg 481.)
I agree with all of the above.
Because there is opposition in all things we can never read a scripture in isolation, or the words of the apostles and prophets. If we do we will have incomplete information, incomplete doctrine, and err in our judgment.
The following statement addresses when war is justified: “Wars should be avoided whenever possible; however, men have the right to protect themselves from those who unjustly try to take away their freedom and property. (Principles of the Gospel, 1976.)
Again, I agree. All these quotes you list above were provided by me in the blog entry you claim to disagree with. You have cut and pasted them here precisely as I entered them, but to what end I can’t imagine. You appear to be making my case for me.
The quote below was from me, also. DiligentlySeek my friend, I’m getting confused as to what point you’re trying to make.
And this statement makes it clear who is responsible for war. Those who created the contention that cause war: “Since those who battle for a righteous cause will not be held responsible for bloodshed, the responsibility rests upon those leaders who create contention and cause wars.” (Statements of the LDS First Presidency, pg 480.)
So I ask you, DiligentlySeek: What leaders of which country created the contention and caused the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
(Hint: it rhymes with “Shma-merica”.)
You seem to be ignoring the key words here, “those who battle for a righteous cause." According to the scriptures, the only righteous justification for war is for the protection of one’s own lands and freedoms. I agree that those citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan who are attempting to repel the invaders from their lands are indeed battling for a righteous cause. But where does that leave the poor American soldier? What “righteous cause” is he fighting for? Both sides can’t be on the side of righteousness. It has to be one or the other.
It’s time to face the alarming truth: the American soldier is being played for a sucker by politicians in Washington and many of the folks at home, including you government-worshiping hucksters. You aren't putting yourselves between him and the bullets, and God is required by His word to withhold his protection. So what possible reason would any compassionate latter-day saint have to want to keep even one of God's children out there and in harm's way?
My essay, “Should A Mormon Join The Military?” was a warning aimed at any young LDS men and women who may be currently contemplating joining the military as it is presently constituted, for in so doing they will most certainly be forced to violate their own moral code and act in defiance of the tenets of their religion.
We warn our young people when dating to avoid situations where they might find themselves in danger of losing their chastity. Why don’t we also warn them against getting into situations where they could find themselves in danger of losing their souls?
In my opinion, military recruitment centers should be off limits to all latter-day saint youth.
When two principles of the gospel come into conflict, the higher principle prevails. The apostles and prophets have the responsibility to make the determination which is the higher law.
Boyd K. Packer, in General Conference, during the Viet Nam war said the following:
"But the Church memberships are citizens or subjects of sovereignties over which the Church has no control.
Let me just interject a clarification here. The paragraph above and virtually everything you quote from Packer’s talk below derives from a talk given by Boyd K. Packer in 1968, but the words were not his own. All of these statements are excerpts he was quoting from a talk given by the First Presidency of the church in April conference 1942. Furthermore, Packer was quoting wildly out of context, juxtaposing one statement next to some opinions of his own, to the end that it was possible that a listener could take from that talk an impression contrary to that intended by the original authors.
Further, almost none of the quotes that Packer uses here can correctly be applied to justify our government’s incursions into Iraq or Afghanistan -or even Viet Nam- as the talk delivered in 1942 presupposes the Constitutional mandate ordered by Congress the previous year.
The First Presidency of the church whose words these were consisted of the Prophet Heber J. Grant and his counselors, J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay. President Grant was in frail health, so the statement was read from the pulpit by Elder Clark. It appears from their separate writings that one or all of these men had been suspicious of the subversive machinations of the Roosevelt administration to maneuver America into the war, and the position toward the war they convey here is a cautious one.
This talk, delivered a mere four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was an attempt to restrain the membership of the church from being caught up in the current mania for war. The talk attempted to persuade the young men of the church to keep their focus on serving missions rather than enlisting in the war, but in the end the leadership’s hope that the membership would step back and take a deep breath was no match for the national frenzy for killing Japs.
The statement you highlighted above describing church memberships as citizens and subjects of sovereignties “over which the Church has no control” referred to members of the church who resided in Europe, particularly German and Italian latter-day saints. Now that America had entered the war, these members faced a very real threat that they could be pressed into service by their governments to fight against Americans. They would understandably have some concerns about the possibility that they may be forced to fight -and possibly even kill- fellow latter-day saints.
The Lord himself has told us to `befriend that law which is the constitutional law of the land': . . .
A reminder to all members to make sure that when they go to war, they are going under a constitutional mandate, and not over a whim.
". . . When, therefore, constitutional law, obedient to these principles,
Again, war must be declared “obedient to these principles”, that is, the principles of the constitution as it was established through God “by the hands of wise men”. I shouldn’t have to mention that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan do not qualify as obedient to these principles.
...calls the manhood of the Church into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest civic duty requires that they meet that call. If, harkening to that call and obeying those in command over them, they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill. . . ."
Again, the context of the original makes it clear that the Prophet was making assurances to those European Saints under Nazi and Fascist control. The First Presidency recognized that many of the saints in those European countries had no choice but to obey “those in command over them”, and hastened to reassure these saints that they would not be considered murderers for engaging in a war not of their making.
Surely no individual will be excused for any wanton act of brutality, wickedness, or destruction. Nevertheless, this statement confirms: "...He will not hold the innocent instrumentalities of the war, our brethren in arms, responsible for the conflict. This is a major crisis in the world-life of man. God is at the helm." CR 1968
“The innocent instrumentalities of the war, our brethren in arms” was a direct reference to our hapless fellow latter-day saints in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II. Packer’s use of the quote at the time of the Viet Nam war incorrectly conveys the impression that “brethren in arms” refers to an American’s fellow soldiers, when it actually refers to our latter-day saint "brothers" who may be forced to bear arms against us.
Do you think the apostles and prophets would have allowed this statement to be made in General Conference, at a time of when our country was at war, if they didn’t support it?
Why not? A conference talk is not usually a revelation from God, except in the minds of the less intelligent among us.
Brigham Young used to call people up to the stand extemporaneously at conference all the time, never knowing what they might say. Conference talks didn’t begin to be vetted for content and approved in advance until quite recently. Besides, Packer was not a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles at the time he delivered this address, nor was he even a member of the Seventy or any other recognized body of general authorities.
Only the First Presidency of the church is authorized to speak for the corporation, so Packer’s own comments would not have been binding on the membership anyhow. At the time he presented his convoluted talk, Boyd Packer's job was as an Assistant to the Twelve.
I don’t know what that title even means. It doesn’t appear to have existed in Christ’s ancient church (it isn’t listed on the roll call in Ephesians 4:11). Neither does the office seem to have been a part of the Restoration. At any rate, no assistant to any church office has ever been declared spokesman for the Almighty. The tendency some members have toward bestowing demi-god grandee status onto every church bureaucrat in a dark blue suit is something I find a little disconcerting.
Packer’s misapplication in 1968 of inspired counsel that had been directed at a particular people and meant for a specific time left the unfortunate impression with many contemporary members -myself included- that the church had put its stamp of approval on the unconstitutional conflict then going on in Viet Nam. Was Brother Packer being deliberately disingenuous? Well, it wouldn’t be the last time.
Those men and women who have obeyed the laws of their respective governments, and have not been wantonly brutal, wicked, or destructive are innocent in the eyes of the Lord, according the church leaders.
DiligentlySeek, you are stating your conclusion here based on a false assumption. Again, this reference to the “innocent” defined an unwilling enemy populace forced into conscription as "innocent instrumentalities" of ambitious dictators. This mantle cannot be fitted onto Mormons who voluntarily take part in unconstitutional foreign occupations.
For an accurate glimpse into how opposed the church leadership was to America's participation in the approaching world war, take a look at this excerpt from a letter the First Presidency sent to the Secretary of the treasury in October of 1941:
“… we do thoroughly believe in building up our home defenses to the maximum extent necessary, but we do not believe that aggression should be carried on in the name and under the false cloak of defense.”
“We therefore look with sorrowing eyes at the present use to which a great part of the funds being raised by taxes and by borrowing is being put … We believe that our real threat comes from within and not from without, and it comes from the underlying spirit common to Naziism, Fascism, and Communism, namely, the spirit which would array class against class, which would set up a socialistic state of some sort, which would rob the people of the liberties which we possess under the Constitution, and would set up such a reign of terror as exists now in many parts of Europe …”
Read that again, and think carefully about how those words could apply today.
Lastly, in Mormon 3:11 the warrior prophet Mormon says: And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination. Mormon’s soldiers were wantonly brutal, wicked, and destructive, but more than that they sought revenge and “went up” (Mormon 3:14, 4:4) to fight the Lamanites, something the Lord had forbidden them to do.
Then later, he writes: AND it came to pass that I did go forth among the Nephites, and did repent of the oath which I had made that I would no more assist them; and they gave me command again of their armies, for they looked upon me as though I could deliver them from their afflictions. Mormon 5:1 The Lord’s warrior-prophet returned to lead the unrighteous Nephites. Do you suppose that the Lord held Mormon accountable for murder for leading unrighteous soldiers? Likewise, most soldiers who are fighting to defend freedom do so with noble intent, and as Mormon, are innocent in the eyes of the Lord.
I was scratching my head in bewilderment trying to understand what you were getting at here, when I finally figured it out: You don’t have the slightest grasp of Mormon’s agonizing dilemma, do you?
Mormon didn’t repent for having quit as the leader of the Nephite armies when they went on the offensive; he was right to do that. What he regretted was having been so upset with them that he swore an irreversible oath which would have prevented him from ever assisting them when they needed to be defended.
At that day when the Nephites had gleefully determined to take the fight into the Lamanite lands, Mormon was so appalled at this horror that he resigned on the spot. Everybody knew God forbade anything of the sort. You could drive the enemy out of your lands, but you absolutely weren’t allowed to conduct military incursions inside the other guy’s borders. Mormon rightly would have nothing to do with it, so he turned in his sword and walked away.
But Mormon didn’t just quit. He was so furious that he swore an oath before God and everybody that he would never, ever assist these wicked people again.
Fast forward a bit, and the Nephites are feeling the inevitable effects of that long ago raid into Lamanite territory. The Lamanites had retaliated against the Nephites again and again, and now because of that one display of hubris, the last remnant of a once great nation was on the verge of being snuffed out forever.
The few remaining Nephites no longer harbored dreams of victory, they just wanted to survive. All they wanted now was to defend themselves the best they could. Mormon knew it was a lost cause, but he was also the one they put all their hopes in.
But Mormon had a problem. In his fury he had sworn an oath before God, and no matter how much he may have wanted to help his people, that sticky business about the oath got in the way and prevented him from stepping up to the plate. He absolutely, positively could not violate that oath. To renege on a sacred oath meant taking the name of the Lord in vain. He would be damning himself for all eternity.
People today can’t begin to understand how seriously folks took their oaths in the ancient world. Remember the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s? Their oath to never lift a weapon even in their own defense was about to result in their imminent slaughter, and they knew it. They were going to die, and there was nothing they could do but shrug. A sacred oath could not be nullified. Fortunately for the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s, their teenage kids stepped up and did their fighting for them.
Ultimately, Mormon went before the Lord and humbly repented of his oath, which must have been a very difficult thing to have to do.
You seem to have concluded that Mormon had regretted turning his back on his troops when they were breaking God’s law, and that he overlooked his people's wickedness and came back to lead them into battle once more.
Nope. Mormon wasn’t sorry he had quit, he was just sorry he took an oath about quitting. Because in his anger he hadn’t foreseen that one day he might wish to be found standing tall among his kinsmen the day the mighty Nephite civilization finally passed into oblivion.
Are there exceptions to this? Yes, I’m certain there are. I’ve seen soldiers who were blood thirsty and cruel in their conduct.
Me too. Here's just one.
I respectively call upon you to cease preaching the false doctrine that all soldiers who fight in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan are guilty of murder. Leave judgment to the Lord.
Again, I’ve never preached that “all soldiers who fight in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan are guilty of murder”. But many, many are. It has nothing to do with unrighteous judgment when the soldiers have confessed publicly.
The videos I linked to above are only four of hundreds of confessions available to you with the click of a mouse. For you to imply by your name that you diligently seek while keeping yourself deliberately ignorant is a shame upon you.
Some day you must open your eyes.