There are times when it is appropriate to fight, because some things are worth fighting for. Racial equality — the end of racism’s dark influence in our society — is one of those things. It is founded on the bedrock truth of the universal Fatherhood of God and the equality of our worth in his sight. We are all entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and there should be no exception to this ideal based on skin color.
This post provides counterpoint to a previous one in this series about race relations, in which I argued that in today’s hyper-polarized society, with the intensity of our rhetoric constantly turned up to 11, we could do with some cooling off. We need to lay down our weapons, abandon our incorrect traditions, and work for peace.
Jesus blessed the meek, and the peacemakers (Matthew 5:5,9), and he himself was the ideal of these attributes, but remember that he is also the one who forcibly drove the money changers out of his Father’s house (Matthew 21:12-13). In the premortal world “there was war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7), fought over the question of whether human beings would have individual liberty and accountability (Moses 4:1-3).
So when we do need to fight for what is right, how do we proceed? Fortunately the Book of Mormon provides excellent guidance on this question.
Disgruntled Nephites beat a steady path to the Lamanite nation throughout the Book of Mormon narrative. The Amalekites, Amulonites, Amlicites, Zoramites, Amalickiahites, and many other Nephite dissenters all stoked the anger of the Lamanites and led them to wage war against the Nephites. Often these Nephite dissenters were given positions of power within the Lamanite government or army, and Amalickiah even managed to make himself their king.
Amalickiah “did care not for the blood of his people” (Alma 49:10), only for himself and his power. He and his brother Ammoron cynically used the language of racial resentment to justify their taking over the Lamanite kingdom and then waging a war against the Nephites for 7 years:
“And now it came to pass that, as soon as Amalickiah had obtained the kingdom he began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites.
“And thus he did inspire their hearts against the Nephites, insomuch that in the latter end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges, he having accomplished his designs thus far, yea, having been made king over the Lamanites, he sought also to reign over all the land, yea, and all the people who were in the land, the Nephites as well as the Lamanites.
“Therefore he had accomplished his design, for he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites” (Alma 48:1-3).
How did he harden the hearts and blind the minds of the Lamanites? In a wartime epistle to the Nephites written a few years later, Amalickiah’s brother Ammoron gave us a glimpse of the propaganda they used:
“For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them.
“And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more. […]
“And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government” (Alma 54:17-18,24).
These were inflammatory lies to those who knew the correct history of their nations. But to Lamanites who inherited such racist resentments and traditions, these teachings were effective recruiting tools for their army. (Never mind the irony that Amalickiah and Ammoron actually were Nephites who robbed the Lamanites of their right to self-government.)
These agitating dissenters represented a threat to the peace of both nations. But at least the Nephites had a champion to defend them.
In the century before Christ’s birth the Lamanite armies invaded Nephite lands at least 11 times. Four of these invasions, including those led by Amalickiah and Ammoron, were met by forces under the command of Moroni, who was chief captain of the Nephite armies for nearly 20 years (approximately 74 BC to 56 BC). Moroni was a man of action, a man of war. When danger is near, he is the kind of man you want to have on your side.
But he did not enjoy fighting for its own sake. In one battle his men had dominated and completely surrounded the invading army. Instead of commanding his men to slaughter them, he paused the fighting and gave the Lamanites a chance to repent. He said to them:
“Behold, […] we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you.
“Behold, we have not come out to battle against you that we might shed your blood for power; neither do we desire to bring any one to the yoke of bondage. But this is the very cause for which ye have come against us” (Alma 44:1-2).
Moroni wanted peace and freedom for his people. He was fighting to prevent them from becoming slaves to the Lamanites. But if he could secure their liberty without shedding any blood then he would rather do it that way. And if he could prevent the next war from happening then that would be even better. So he offered them a deal:
“[…] deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood, but we will spare your lives, if ye will go your way and come not again to war against us.” (Alma 44:6).
And he was true to his word. As soon as the Lamanites were ready to turn in their weapons and make an oath that they would never come back again, Moroni let them go in peace.
Unlike his opponents, Moroni was not racist. He trusted people of Lamanite heritage with important assignments in his army, and he was always willing to accept Lamanites into the society of the Nephites if they were ready to accept the principles of liberty. Towards the end of the war started by Amalickiah there were large groups of Lamanite prisoners of war who requested to join the Nephite nation as free people, and Moroni welcomed them in. He didn’t want war; he wanted freedom — for everyone.
The Real Champion
As amazing as Moroni was, and as impressive as his accomplishments were, Moroni himself would acknowledge that the real champion of the Nephite nation was the Lord.
“Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.
“And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;
“And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity” (Alma 48:14-16).
The passage above refers to physical combat, which sometimes is necessary for defense, but the principles apply equally well to the rhetorical warfare we wage in politics today. We would do well to follow them in our efforts to advocate for racial justice:
- Defend yourself without giving offense to others.
- Have faith that God will guide you in the details of your efforts to fight for your rights.
- Check your motivations to be sure that you are fighting for the right reasons. Don’t do it for conquest or to “own” your enemies. Don’t do it for the thrill of destroying property. Fight to accomplish good and defend the innocent.
At the end of Amalickiah’s war both nations were worse off, having lost tens of thousands of their young men and having suffered years of famine and afflictions, as well as internal dissensions. And they were no closer to reconciliation. Have the events of 2020 brought us any closer to reconciliation between races in America? Are we accomplishing anything with our arguing? I like to hope that we are, but I’m not sure.
In our society today there are people like Amalickiah and Ammoron, who make their living by stoking racial hatreds. Such people exist in the white community as well as in the black community. Their goal is not to find common ground, or to work towards a future day of peace and harmony, but to build up, sustain, and ultimately capitalize upon the anger between ethnic groups. Such people in the Book of Mormon always had selfish motives. There is no shortage of fodder for such work today, because the grievances are real and run deep in our history. But we really need a new business model for race relations in America! We need to stop listening to the race agitators on both sides of the argument and start listening to the peacemakers.
Actually, let’s start listening to the Prince of Peace, who taught us to love one another. When Jesus was asked for clarification about the commandment to love our neighbor, he told a story about a man from a despised ethnic group, reaching across the racial divide to provide selfless service to a man in critical need. Surely at least part of his meaning should be clear to us today.
We don’t need more race agitators. What we need is more people like Moroni, who are “firm in the faith of Christ,” whose “heart[s] swell with thanksgiving to […] God, for the many privileges and blessings” we enjoy, and who “labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of [their] people” (Alma 48:12-13).
“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17).
And if all people would be like Moroni, then there would be no room for racism in our society.
Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.