Why I Am A Tad Bothered By Captain Moroni

Captain Moroni, general Mormon hero and all round good-guy. Right? I mean, there’s an action figure of this guy, and as Seminary kids we learned that famous statement by Mormon that if everyone was like Moroni, even Satan would quiver in his boots (Alma 38: 17).

I was just reading in Alma 51 about Moroni and the King Men. What a sad story. So there are these guys who want a king but are told to get lost, so they get in a huff and refuse to fight the Lamanites. Mormon clearly paints them as Bad Guys, but they probably had their reasons. So what does Captain Moroni do: “fight or die,” he screams, and dispatches 4000 of them to meet their Maker. And then — oh the horror — he “compels” them to hoist the Title of Liberty on their towers!

Stop for a moment. For a guy who liked liberty, this Moroni bloke was awfully intolerant. I mean, “compelled” to hoist the Title of Liberty?

Here’s a question for all of you: should Vietnam draft dodgers have been lined up and shot? Sure, consider them traitors if you want, but kill them? That’s crazy stuff. I know that the King Men were Major League Baddies, but still…

Moroni and I would not have seen eye to eye, methinks, which is too bad for me as I would probably have found myself having my skin flayed or my head removed as a consequence.

Anyway, Captain Moroni is not my favourite Book of Mormon character. But hey, the Book of Mormon has nothing on the Old Testament. Perhaps John C. can arrange a Captain Moroni vs. Joshua smackdown.


  1. Jonathan Green says:

    Did you ever hear about the time the kingmen won? In 13th-century Iceland, there was a sorta similar contention between those who wanted to preserve Iceland’s independence and those who wanted to give their allegiance to the Norwegian king. The kingmen carried the day, the Norwegian kings subsequently neglected the needs of their distant province, and Iceland spent five centuries in desperate poverty.

    By the time I hit the “post” button or shortly thereafter, someone will explain that in Moroni’s time, the land was under attack, the Nephite kingmen were committing treason, Moroni was justified, etc. Whatever. As history, I agree that the story is a teensy bit problematic. But as a specimen of pre-modern literature, it works pretty well. Slaying thousands due to one’s tremendous wrath happens all the time in medieval literature, at least. I was just reading a similar incident in “Ortnit” (before the Sabbath afternoon post-dinner blood sugar collapse knocked me unconscious).

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Those nephites didn’t like the King-men, but they sure didn’t have much of a democracy, either…

  3. JG,
    That’s just it. What Moroni did befits his time and may work in the BoM’s favour as ancient lit. So some would say it makes BoM more “true,” yet the doctrine it espouses in this instance (kill traitors) isn’t “true,” at least not in my book. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a King-Man….

  4. Moroni is a jerk.

    Moroni asks Pahoran for help, and no help comes. So he writes a nasty letter ripping Pahoran a new one, accusing him of all kinds of things, projecting motivation onto Pahoran’s lack of participation with No Data, because apparently Moroni has a Mind Reading Hat.

    Then, Pahoran sends a letter explaining what happened (“Sorry we couldn’t help, but we were under attack, y’see…but I’m not angry that you told me off without cause”). The narrative indicates that Moroni is happy that Pahoran has not abandoned the cause. At any point, though, does the narrative indicate that Moroni was wrong? Does Moroni express any regret for going off half-cocked? Does he recognize that the appropriate response for ripping someone a new one without cause would be to apologize?

    And furthermore – the Title of Liberty was stupid. Who puts an entire paragraph of text on a flag made out of a coat to inspire people? Um, d’you suppose people were actually able to read the text, way up there on the flagpole?

  5. Ok, I’ll fulfill part of Jonathan’s prediction.

    Nibley went to great lengths to show that these king men were not pacifists, but rather they were an armed militia that was a very real threat to the nation. The fact that is was a true battle between the King Men and the army supports this. We are told how many king-men died but not how many free-men in Moroni’s army died. Later events also show that the leftovers of these king-men temporarily succeeded in forcibly overthrowing the government while Moroni and friends were at the front line fending off the invaders. I think the Nibley essays I have in mind are reprinted in The Prophetic Book of Mormon.

    (BTW — I think that some of those essays rival his work in Approaching Zion)

  6. As I showed the action figure link to my wife, she said, “Oh brother, what’s next? An Ammon doll with removable arms?”

  7. Ronan, you must really hate Henry V.

  8. Apparently Mormon knew there would be people like you, Ronan. And so he specifically put in a little plug about the righteousness of Moroni!

    The more interesting question is, when you see things like this in the Book of Mormon, do you presume that you’re right and they’re wrong or the other way around?

  9. I am definetly with Ronan and Ann on this one. I have had the exact same beef with Moroni for some time and it is good to know that others feel the same. The real hero of this section of the BOM is Pahoran. As Ann says, Moroni rips him a new one, accusing him of being an out and out traitor. I think it would be so hard to keep your cool when such accusations had been leveled at you. But Pahoran answers Moroni with: “And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart.” Then he calls Moroni his “beloved brother.” For me Pahoran is one of the best scriptural examples of Christ-like forgiveness and love. I call for a Pahoran action figure to be made, all in favor say aye!

  10. It’s called treason. Battlefield executions are the order of the day; Moroni was just more tolerant and forgiving than most.

  11. Ann: Ever stop to think that maybe he did apologize and Mormon just didn’t include during his editing?

  12. Regardless of your opinion of Moroni, it is just lame to defend or attack on idea in the BOM based on what MIGHT have been left on the cutting floor. Someday we might be the director’s cut w/ commentary, until then you have to use what’s available–otherwise you are just justifying your beliefs w/ events drawn from the ether.

  13. Mathew, that’s not quite right. A recognition of what we don’t or can’t know is central to any investigation. If it is likely that what we have is only a partial or fragmentary record then we should be extra cautious in making any inference whatsoever.

    This is a priniciple of statistics that often seems overlooked by people who aren’t used to thinking that way. In statistics, one’s imprecision is characterized by a standard error and a confidence interval. I don’t know what is the equivalent device in textual or historical analysis, but that doesn’t mean the error isn’t there, just that you don’t know what it is.

  14. If Mormon did leave the apology on the cutting room floor, that speaks poorly of his ability to discern what our generation needs to read about in the BOM. Do we need to be taught that virtuous men slaughter traitors and write poison pen letters to suspected traitors, but as for apologizing for errors…that’s not really a key aspect of righteous character that we should know about and emulate?

  15. The Captain Moroni chapters are among my favorite parts of the BoM. What a perfect antidote for the two-dimensional goody-goody character portraits that Nephi gives. Mormon is such an enormously superior writer compared to Nephi. Here we get a true-to-life, blood-and-guts, warts-and-all character portrait of a real human being with real flaws who nonetheless struggles to do the right thing in the most morally horrific circumstances imaginable — foreign invasion COMBINED with civil war. And if Mormon strains some to justify his hero, he also doesn’t censor the description of his faults. Here the BoM can fairly stand with great ancient moral epic tales such as in the OT and elsewhere. True, Captain Moroni is not exactly politically correct — but he is real, and thereby inspiring.

  16. I’ve had my reservations about Captain Moroni as well, but I have often thought that Mormon must have really liked Captain Moroni because he named his son after him. Maybe it was because both lived in a time of war that threatened the continued existence of their nation and religion.

    Someone with the resolve, strength of character (despite flaws), even pig-headedness, to hold a nation together during wartime, and to convince a good part of them to stay true to their traditional faith, must have been very attractive to Mormon–particularly because I assume Mormon knew his similar attempts were doomed to fail.

  17. Let’s not crowd-out our better judgement with flimsy ideologies. The scriptures are given pre-CISE-ly to keep our wrong-headedness in check.

    I think to label Capt. Moroni as a schmoe is to have completely misread the account Mormon gives us (and I disagree with JWL–that Mormon was a superior writer to Nephi–but that’s another topic). Such misreading may also be indicative of a naivete regarding wartime suffering–the sacrifice, the loss, indeed, the horror of living through such a nightmare.

    Remember, before Moroni writes his “vicious” letter to Pahoran (and to all of the governmental leaders, mind you), thousands of Nephites were slaughtered by the Lamanites in a particular region which Moroni believed to be well prepared. But, they were not well prepared because the government failed in its obligation to send the required quota of soldiers and supplies to strenghten that area. Those Kingmen were literally responsible for the death of thousands of there own people–men women and children. Also, Helaman and his soldiers were about to perish with hunger at the government’s neglect even after all that they had suffered in defending their liberty.

    I think it better to praise Moroni for his restraint than anything else. Don’t forget his successes which resulted in little or no bloodshed, and his willingness to let his enemies depart in peace so long as they promised to not lift the sword against them anymore.

  18. Frank,

    I read your comment as a more nuanced explanation of the point I was making.

    If I know that B killed H in a duel and I also know some of the events leading up to the duel as well as something of the personalities of B and H, I might draw on all of these things to make an inference about B’s feelings the day after he killed H. From the outset I would have to acknowledge that my inference may be incorrect and the strength of my argument would depend on the reasonableness of my conclusion based on the known facts. If, however, someone says he doesn’t like B for killing H and I, a great admirer of B, baldly assert that B might have felt terrible for killing H in an effort to make B more sympathetic, then my assertion should be dismissed as that of an apologist.

    Lyle succeeds in pointing out that the information contained in the BOM is third hand (or more?), but then suggests that because we don’t have the entire story we can willy nilly complete it to our liking.

  19. For kicks I made a list of the top ten toughest customers in the Book of Mormon. I left the Captain of the list for a lot of the reasons listed here and thought about puting Pahoran on it, but didn’t have room because let’s face it, there’s a lot of people in the Book of Mormon that really know how to flip out and kill people.

    Check out my list here:


  20. I think these are the critical verses for describing the situation:

    Alma 51:8 and 9, 13 and 14
    8 Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.
    9 But behold, this was a critical time for such contentions to be among the people of Nephi; for behold, Amalickiah had again stirred up the hearts of the people of the Lamanites against the people of the Nephites, and he was gathering together soldiers from all parts of his land, and arming them, and preparing for war with all diligence; for he had sworn to drink the blood of Moroni.
    13 And it came to pass that when the men who were called king-men had heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them, they were glad in their hearts; and they refused to take up arms, for they were so wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty, that they would not take up arms to defend their country.
    14 And it came to pass that when Moroni saw this, and also saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land, he was exceedingly wroth because of the stubbornness of those people whom he had labored with so much diligence to preserve; yea, he was exceedingly wroth; his soul was filled with anger against them.

    The Nephites are in imminent danger and the example of the kingmen, in abstaining from the duty to defend their countrymen, cannot be permitted under these circumstances. As some have said, these kingmen are not conscientious objectors or true pacifists — they are simply being spiteful and standing back to watch as those of lesser class and political ambition take the assault on the head. Why should Moroni endure their stubborness and allow them to gleefully and safely stand by to watch their fellow Nephites be decimated?

  21. Danithew,

    That’s a good comment. I would add, though, that the Kingmen did more than stand back and watch. It appears that they obstructed the war effort in a way that caused the deaths of thousands of Nephites. They were a serious threat that had to be dealt with immediately.

  22. Danithew and Jack:

    Blo*dy H*ll! Remind me to leave the country if any of you makes President. (“Endure their stubbornness” and “dealt with immediately” sent shivers down my spine! Say that again with a German accent.)

  23. Ronan, I really don’t think that our sentiments or those of Captain Moroni are anything akin to the sentiments of the Nazis that you are alluding to.

  24. No, but it’s the hard-hearted way you seem to gleefully greet the death of 4000 people. OK, so they were naughty. But still. Anyway, who cares? They’ve been dead for 2000 years and have probably gotten over it by now.

  25. Ronan, where is my expression of glee at 4000 deaths? I’m not sure how you are reading that into what I am writing.

  26. nevermind

  27. I’m afraid that Ronan has a point, Danithew and Jack. If they were just PO’s about losing the election of refused to fight then we have a serious moral problem to figure out. But I think Nibley’s theory that they were actively planning a coup against the free government puts the story in a totally different light.

    Of course the evidence of that in the account is circumstantial. But we do know two things: the remnants of the king-men actually did overthrow the government as soon as the army left town, and the original fight Moroni had with them was a real battle with a real fighting force — not a slaughter of unarmed individuals.

  28. Ronan,

    I think these these verses from Alma chapter 59 may help to clarify my position on this debate. They outline the events that gave rise to Moroni’s ire toward his government. (moroni’s scathing epistle following immediately in chapter 60)

    5 And it came to pass that while Moroni was thus making preparations to go against the Lamanites to battle, behold, the people of Nephihah, who were gathered together from the city of Moroni and the city of Lehi and the city of Morianton, were attacked by the Lamanites.

    6 Yea, even those who had been compelled to flee from the land of Manti, and from the land round about, had come over and joined the Lamanites in this part of the land.

    7 And thus being exceedingly numerous, yea, and receiving strength from day to day, by the command of Ammoron they came forth against the people of Nephihah, and they did begin to slay them with an exceedingly great slaughter.

    8 And their armies were so numerous that the remainder of the people of Nephihah were obliged to flee before them; and they came even and joined the army of Moroni.

    9 And now as Moroni had supposed that there should be men sent to the city of Nephihah, to the assistance of the people to maintain that city, and knowing that it was easier to keep the city from falling into the hands of the Lamanites than to retake it from them, he supposed that they would easily maintain that city.

    10 Therefore he retained all his force to maintain those places which he had recovered.

    11 And now, when Moroni saw that the city of Nephihah was lost he was exceedingly sorrowful, and began to doubt, because of the wickedness of the people, whether they should not fall into the hands of their brethren.

    12 Now this was the case with all his chief captains. They doubted and marveled also because of the wickedness of the people, and this because of the success of the Lamanites over them.

    13 And it came to pass that Moroni was angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country.

    Now you can imply that I’m a Nazi for siding with Moroni. That’s fine. I’d rather carry that stigma than the pain of conscience for neglecting the duty of protecting my neighbors from the death and carnage brought upon them by the treacherous political intrigues of self-serving aristocrats.

  29. But d’ya have to kill ‘em? (OK, forget the Nazi implications, but say this with a French accent: “the treacherous political intrigues of self-serving aristocrats”.) To the guillotines!!

  30. Geoff,

    I’m not sure what your getting at. Are you suggesting that ronan is right in labeling Danithew and myself as hard-hearted? Because I’m certain that we both agree with Nibley’s theory which lends credence to the idea that those Kingmen where a serious threat. (and besides, Danithew has got to be the least hard-hearted commenter on the blogs–can’t say the same for myself)

  31. Saying the king-men are merely “naughty” is a major understatment. While Moroni was dealing with this serious internal threat to Nephite unity and strength, the “numbeless” Lamanite forces were gaining the upper-hand over many Nephite cities. One only has to continue reading the chapter:

    Alma 51:22,26-27

    22 Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization, and making regulations to prepare for war against the Lamanites, behold, the Lamanites had come into the land of Moroni, which was in the borders by the seashore.

    26And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.

    27 And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.

    The post makes a comparison of the king-men to Vietnam draft dodgers … but the Book of Mormon describes a completely different crisis situation for Moroni and the loyal Nephite forces to face.

  32. No guillotines–just swords, cimeters, slings, and arrows.

    The bottom line is, I’d rather trust in Moroni’s judgement (than my own) which was informed not only by an intimate awareness of the immediate circumstances, but also by the spirit of revelation and prophecy as well.

  33. You will find some very lengthy posts (3-4 so far with more to come) dealing specifically with Captain Moroni at http://www.fairasthemoon.blogspot.com The posts started in July 05 so you might need to check the archives to access them. I also warn you that it is pretty unadulterated praise for the good captain who actually provides an excellent model for problem solving. Future posts at fairasthemoon deal with the various paradigms.

    I would love to have an Ammon figure with removable arms (except it wasn’t Ammon who lost his arms — so the gag wouldn’t be that good).

    Pahoran is also an excellent figure, well worthy of the highest praise. However, you should note that Moroni’s famous epistle is not just to Pahoran, it is also addressed to all those appointed to manage the affairs of the war (See Alma 60:1) the language of the epistle also indicates that it is directed at many people, those who should be providing the necessary supplies and support. While Pahoran personally does not appear in need of such censure, it seems others who had become kingmen were in need of it. When you read Pahoran’s response, he verifies Moroni’s claims, not against him personally, but against those who have gone over to the kingmen and the Lamanites — the ripping didn’t apply to Pahoran personally, he didn’t take it personally, and Moroni had no need to apologize — On the contrary, Moroni’s threatened action was exactly what Pahoran wanted.

  34. Ronan wrote: So, Captain Moroni’s policy was this: you will fight for God or you will die. I’ve heard that before somewhere… Ah yes! It’s what rabid Islamists say when they justify terrorism (“if you do not support our jihad you are an apostate or an infidel”.)

    I think this comparison of Captain Moroni to “rabid Islamists” is a peculiarly low blow.

    Islamists have rarely represented an actual government but are usually fighting to overthrow governments Moroni was seeking to maintain a Nephite government.

    Islamists delight in killing their enemies and often mount attacks on civilian centers. Moroni did not delight even in killing enemy soldiers and at intervals in battles would seek a means to stop the killing. He would never have deliberately attacked a Lamanite civilian center with the aim of indiscriminately killing whatever men, women and children were in his path.

    Islamists operate more like secret combinations — building up secret cells and training their operatives in remote mountains and rural camps. Captain Moroni was the leader of a conventional army.

    There are other differences.

  35. I think that reading ancient histories with our modern day perspectives and values can lead to misunderstandings and to harsh judgements of actions that were made in a completely different moral climate. As I understand it, the high value we place on human life is a relatively recent invention. I think that in times past people were considered much more dispensable. I’m not defending Captain Moroni’s actions, but I do take into consideration that he made his decision when life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not considered inalienable rights.

    Of course our modern sensibilities recoil at the thought of killing all these people, but in Moroni’s time, it may have seemed perfectly sensible and the obvious choice.

  36. Amy B,
    This is all true, BUT….
    If we take the BoM has a moral compass for TODAY, how do we take this story?

  37. Ronan,
    How can it be a moral compass?
    God cares more about building his Kingdom on earth than us being democratic and tolerant. Loving God comes before loving your neighbor. God has never said that death is the worst thing that can happen to someone.

  38. Jack,

    Sorry I missed your earlier question. No I certainly don’t think you or Danithew are hard-hearted. You are right that we agree on the subject. I was simply pointing out that we have to make a couple of additional assumptions besides noting that these men were unwilling to fight if we want to explain Moroni’s actions better (like the things I mentione in my last comment). The more aggressive and plotting this militia of king-men were the less Ronan has a leg to stand on with his accusations against Captain Moroni. Unfortunately the actual record only tell us a few things that support that theory.

    I suspect Ronan is mostly trying to be beligerent in this conversation. I hope so because if not, he seems a bit off his nut with the “nazi” rhetoric.

  39. Several of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon concern Captain Moroni:

    Alma 48:11-13
    Alma 48:17
    Alma 60:36

    I’m with Frank, Ronan. Given your diametrically opposing assessments of Captain Mormoni, how can you know if you or Mormon are right? And to make Mormon’s assessment more palatable to you, I should add that it appears the Kingmen were guilty of treason, a traditional capital offense, even in democracies.

  40. You guys need to take British Sarcasm 101. It will make these conversations easier for all.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, the yanks have never been good at comedy.

  42. We would do well to return to the concept of freedom, as defined by the the freemen, so that we could rid ourselves of elitists who think they know better than you or me on how our lives should be lived and our money spent. Those who seek to destroy freedoms and take away liberties by consorting with the enemy need to go to a swift judgment and explain their acts to a Higher Court. Three cheers for Captain Moroni.
    Traitors and conspirators should be dealt with with dispatch. If we don’t accept that as a correct doctrine it will come back to bite us in the …. you know where.
    Political correctness and sweettalking our enemies is as Chamberlain as you can get, and we know what affect he had on Europe and Britain.

  43. Ronan, as I made evident in my comment, I was one of those who didn’t see the humor, probably because I consider the issue too legitimate for satire. That two commenters were quick to agree that Moroni’s a jerk only proves that point. Glad to know you don’t dislike Captain Moroni. He’s cool.

  44. Geoff,

    Thanks for the clarification. I think we are agreed generally–though I disagree (slightly) about having to make too many assumptions. I think the scriptures reveal a fairly clear impetus for Moroni’s actions.


    I don’t think the overall theme of ronan’s thread is founded on humor (unless I really am that clueless). I think he was talking more about his mode of delivery which, when considered in the light of humor, makes a lot more sense.

    I’ll try to remember that ronan! And for the record–I love British humor, as do most Americans, I believe.

  45. Larry,

    That’s a scary comment (#43). What’s more scary is that I don’t know how to disagree with it. The scriptures seem to convey the idea that there’s nothing more “abominable” than the abuse of power which seeks the destruction of free society.

  46. Well, I DO think that Moroni was a bit quick to anger, I DO think that killing people, even Bad Guy Traitors is a bad thing, I DO wish that Latter-day Saints would not be so comfortable in condoning violence, BUT….

    ….I don’t think Danithew is a Nazi, or that Moroni is Bin Laden. Well, one of them, maybe.

    Let me bring this conversation up-to-date. In Britain, for years, we have allowed “king-men” type individuals to peddle their Islamicized hatred of our society. Look what has happened. Blair is finally getting tough, and there is talk that what these people are doing (if they are British citizens) amounts to treason.

    I believe that treason is still a capital offense in the UK (as Matt suggests), BUT I am delighted to report that this is only the case in theory. The gallows are not being prepped. Lock these people up, deport them, whatever (and we have to take the threat seriously), but in the UK at least we have happily moved on from the idea that Bad Guys should be put to death. I understand many Americans feel differently. Fine. But I am just trying to explain how I “liken the scriptures to myself“.

    Here’s the lesson I choose to accept: deal with internal threats to national security yes, but Moroni’s tempestousness, whilst fine in ancient America, is no longer acceptable today. IMO.

  47. Ronan,

    WHat exectly makes it fine then, but bad now? Is it because we have more resources for dealing with traitors or because you think have better societal values? I’m fine with the former, but doubt the latter.

  48. Perhaps the former. I imagine locking up 4000 people would have been difficult. But still, it makes me uncomfortable. EVERYONE: I’m really sorry about that, but it’s true. Honest.

  49. Ronan wrote: ….I don’t think Danithew is a Nazi, or that Moroni is Bin Laden. Well, one of them, maybe.”

    That made me chuckle.

    I do think there are applications for the principles that Moroni represents in Alma 51. However, these are the kind of principles that can only be applied in exceptional crisis situations like the ones being described in the chapter. Hopefully we don’t see these kinds of events or people (like the king-men) all that often. I really don’t think we do. In response to what Ronan has said about Britain’s current situation — I like the way that Britain is deporting Islamist radicals rather than summarily executing them. There is some danger in this because Islamist radicals who get shuffled around from one country to another (in todays globalized society) have a way of showing up again and biting some nation’s hind-parts. Still, there has to be some reasonability in these matters. I don’t think Britain’s very existence has been threatened yet (like the Nephites were in Alma 51). So it isn’t time yet for summary executions.

    Having said that …

    Ronan, I want to step away from the discussion a little bit. I’ve been a bit confrontational, citing chapter and verse and all that. Though I don’t think this is one of your best posts, I think in general you are a pretty thoughtful person and I’m glad you are around.

  50. Steve Evans says:

    I like the revised title. Very David Brent of you.

  51. Danke.

  52. Seth Rogers says:

    Point #1: don’t assume that an American style democracy was feasible or even desirable in the context of ancient America. Quit imposing liberal American values where they aren’t wanted.

    Point #2: Part of the reason Moroni’s letter contained all sorts of half-baked accusations was that messages had to be delivered by runners. Moroni had to make his entire case in one letter (which meant including every possible accusation). There simply wasn’t time to “feel the situation out.”

    Point #3: Moroni was simply a good soldier. Moroni’s job was not that of a media analyst, marriage counselor, or whatever. His job was to fight a war. He did that splendidly.

    Point #4: Moroni’s letter shows why we don’t want the generals who are fighting the war making political decisions. Moroni knew the military situation, but not much else. I don’t blame him for this, it was simply his job. But it didn’t give him a clear basis for making political decisions.
    A modern example is General MacArthur during the Korean War. He was fighting Chinese troops and made the logical conclusion that bombing Chinese railroads, airfields, harbors and supply depots would help him fight the enemy he was facing. He didn’t see that such escalation would likely have set off World War III. Thank God that Truman was willing to yank MacArthur’s chain!

    Moroni was a virtuous individual and an excellent military leader. That doesn’t make him omniscient. Nor does it mean he was suited to be a political leader.

  53. Seth, at the risk of beating this to death, here’s my dilemma:

    I spend my life studying ancient civilizations and I certainly agree that we should not impose our modern, liberal ideas on them. BUT, in some ways, the Book of Mormon requires us to impose THEIR ancient ideas on OUR modern ones. I’m just trying to see what lesson I can learn and adapt from Moroni without coming to accept capital punishment (which I personally reject).

  54. Thanks for the post Ronan. I too have always been uneasy with figuring whether and how to apply Captain Moroni’s example in our day, although not as uneasy as I would be about figuring out whether and how to apply the story of Abraham and Isaac or Nephi and Laban.

  55. For a long while (and contra most of the commenters, it seems) I’ve thought of the Moroni temper chapters as evidence of the man’s faults, not of his greatness. The theme of the temper chapters can be read “even a rash hothead who doesn’t have his temper under control can eventually be brought around and serve the Lord” or something of that sort. In other words, these are like a more detailed explanation of the discussion of Paul killing the saints or Alma spreading iniquity.

    If so, then Moroni’s temper and his description as great need not be reconciled, any more than Alma’s inquity and his repentance. The two are opposites, not complements. If Moroni really was great, then it was because he repented of his temper, and through hard work and prayer and repentance, eventually overcame his faults.

  56. Kaimi,

    I don’t believe there’s any basis for thinking that Mormon’s encomiums are for a repentant-post-military-career Moroni. On the contrary, Mormon, who knew more about Moroni than we do, sings Moroni’s praises specifically in the context of his virtues as a military leader (Alma 48:10-17). Rather than seeing his military adventures as cause for repentance, Mormon views Moroni’s unwavering effort to preserve Nephite freedoms as evidencing his superior virtue.

  57. lyle stamps says:

    Ronan: I think your statement in #54 very interesting. What makes you think the BoM is imposed upon us today?

    What about Divorce as an analogy? The OT shows us that God “allowed” Divorce; but wasn’t thrilled about ti. Perhaps something similar about the Death Penalty?

    Further: I don’t think there is a very strong link between the modern day death penalty & Cpt. Moroni. We are talking war time treason vs. peace time civil executions after due process. Very distinct. In contrast to one comment above: It isn’t extreme in todays mores IMO.

  58. Matt,

    There are a couple of points on which I am uneasy about Moroni’s example. (1) His reproving with sharpness (but based on erroneous information), with little indication of apology for the erroneous chastising (or showing much of an increase in love), and (2) the extreme punishment of dissenters. These are two separate issues.

    I do not believe that, by including the story, Mormon means for us to reprove people based on erroneous information, or for us to fail to apologize when we have made such an error (even if it was in good faith). Does anyone disagree about this?

    I also doubt that he means that all societies, including ours, must severely punish dissent, even in war time. Of course, the US has a mixed record on this issue.

  59. One point for Ronan that has not been addressed here is what he suggests Moroni should have done in the ancient context described in the BoM? In dealing with the kingmen, the text does contain an alternative to Moroni’s massacre of the opposition. That would have been to imprison the traitors and use them as forced labor in constructing fortifications as Moroni did with the Lamanite POWs (not exactly Geneva Convention behavior either but I think we are allowing that Moroni did predate the modern law of war as will as modern civil libertarianism).

    I would suggest that it is no more appropriate to draw modern political guidance from these chpaters of the BoM than it is to impose our modern notions of political rights on a pre-CE general fighting for national survival. The message I see Mormon developing both here and throughout the rest of the Book of Alma (and elsewhere in his record as well) is that real people with real flaws and very real problems in many different curcumstances can do their best to live justly. The fact that Moroni may have failed to follow a less bloody course of action in the case of the massacre of the kingmen just makes him all the more real to me, and therefore a more powerful example. I also find the way that Mormon strains to justify his hero even in this worst case scenario poignant and inspiring. It would have been so much easier to leave that episode “on the cutting room floor.”

    One reasonable criticism of the BoM is that its portrayals of people are unreal and two-dimensional compared to the flawed but moving flesh-and-blood characters of the OT. Mormon’s portrait of Captain Moroni rebuts that criticism. Precisly because of his flaws, his temper and occaisional overzealousness, Captain Moroni can stand next to Joshua, David, or Solomon and not look any less real or moving.

  60. The Kingmen wouldn’t have lost their lives if they didn’t resist–simple as that. Moroni was not a blood thirsty man as is evidenced by his willingness to let his enemies depart in peace in every instance of victory–and that included Nephite dissenters, not just pure blood Lamanites.

  61. Jack is right about Moroni’s reaction — only those who refused to *stop* being treasonous were executed; none were killed for their treasonous past.

    A trickier issue for those troubled by Moroni is figuring out why Mormon approved of Moroni’s actions toward the king-men. (Alma 51:21-22)

    If we can’t trust Mormon, who God called specifically to prepare the Nephite record for our benefit, and who saw Jesus and our modern day, to know good from evil, I’m not sure what normative value the Book of Mormon holds. In that case it seems the book simply becomes a buffer from which we can accept teachings we already accept and reject those we already reject, as we do with a novel.

  62. lyle stamps says:

    DavidH: to what extent does the D&C apply to actions taken in the BoM? I’m not sure the portion you cite is “universal,” in the sense that other parts are (i.e. figure it out in your mind and then pray).

    JWL: I disagree with your literary critique of the BoM vs. the OT. the BoM individuals aren’t moving? Didn’t Nephi himself admit that he had made mistakes? Doesn’t sound like he considered himself w/o flaws. If so, he could have “omitted” how his plan to ‘buy’ the plates from Laban had failed. He didn’t though…he openly admitted ‘his’ failure.

  63. Matt,
    Let’s try and pull our two viewpoints together here. What is the “teaching” we should learn from Moroni via Mormon?

    Is it:

    a) That today enemies of the state should be executed
    b) That today enemies of the state should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law, according to our own mores and consciences (and to use my modern example again, according to this reading we should lock-up and/or deport terrorist-inciting Islamic preachers-of-hate)

    I plump for b), and I think that it’s the “universal” reading intended. If you think it’s a) then we will never agree on this. It’s the absolute assumption of some people that it’s a) that raised my ire in the first place. Of course Moroni is a good guy, but it’s our militaristic reading of him that bothers me.

    The Book of Mormon is not a novel, and its teachings do have normative value. But can you see that for some, these teachings require reflection to determine their meaning for today?

  64. ronan,

    I think it means that seeking to over-throw free society is a most serious offense–one that should be resisted even if it requires the shedding of blood.

    I think we’re getting tied in knots over this issue by assuming that Moroni could have handled the situation in a more “humane” fashion–which (assumption) I think is unprovable.

  65. In any assessment of Moroni’s actions there has to be ample appreciation and allowance for the extremely difficult circumstances under which he was operating. If those factors are considered, the idea of Moroni being more humane or respectful towards these king-men seems a bit irrational — even spoiled. The text itself provides evidence that Moroni was truly humane and not a bloodthirsty person at all. He was plainly more content to send enemies safely home than he was to kill them.

    In my opinion the genocidal wars that ultimately destroyed the Nephites could have come to their full and final result much earlier in history. Moroni’s crucial actions and decision-making were decisive in the most positive way. Without Moroni’s strategic and leadership capabilities there is the strong possibility that Jesus would have had no believers to visit with by the time the period of 3 Nephi comes around.

    Mormon, a spiritual and military prodigy in his own right, didn’t name his son Moroni for nothing.

  66. I wonder if our regard for Moroni may be a proxy for our feelings about the Bush Administration.
    Just as Moroni seems slow to apologize or admit error, and just as Moroni took severe action against actual or perceived enemies in war time, so our current president . . . .

    Many Latter-day Saints I know believe President Bush is divinely called and appointed by God, and can do no wrong. Moroni was a strong and strong-willed leader, and President Bush is perceived that way too. Do LDS Bush supporters look at the President, and see a modern-day Moroni? [I voted for Kerry--is that why some aspects of Moroni trouble me?]

  67. lyle stamps says:

    DavidH: I think you have the causal arrow in err.

    You are reading Moroni as if he was Pres. Bush.

    He isn’t. The former was, at least, an inspired leader, and possibly a prophet; the latter an elected president.

    I for one don’t see Bush as a modern-day Moroni. When a prophet in 50 years names his child Bush…then you can have cause for worry. :)

  68. Wow… I think that there are alot of ideas from people that werent there. First i think there was a point he was making not just killing. and i would say i think he had his reasons to do what he had to you tell me that if the people that didnt want to fight and could walk away left there would be anyone to fight??? He was a leader and a great one do you think george washington had only people that wanted to fight? how many people did he kill for a cause? Its not about war its about the results of war. and for the flag that people bag on they realy didnt care who knew what it said, only that they did. How many people knew what the stars and stripes were for? Only the ones fighting for there liberty. So bag on him all you want but what if he hadnt done anything what would come of it?

  69. In some respects, I don’t know what to make of Captain Moroni. Obviously we do not have all of the facts we might like for an assessment. My favorite verse is Alma 51:22:

    “Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization …”,

    Whatever stance one takes on personal liberty, the phrase “subjecting them to peace” is a priceless turn of phrase.

  70. I like that too. “Subjecting them to peace.” It made me think of laws, and enforcing laws. Kind of like in my house. If I want my children to be happy and play together nicely, we have to have some rules and I have to enforce them. I subject them to a lot of things for their own good. I make them learn to read. I make them take baths. I make them speak in nice voices. I make them not use the word “stupid.”

  71. lyle stamps says:

    nice comparison. good for laughs…

    And happily, children aren’t usually revolutionaries advocating and fomenting rebellion; possibly with dangerous weapons. :)

  72. Ronan,

    I draw a simpler conclusion: it is not necessarily immoral to kill unrepentant traitors.

    And because I think our mores and consciences should track morality, and reject the view that morality tracks our mores and consciences, I wouldn’t include “mores and consciences” in my formulation of teaching (b) at all.

  73. Let’s be honest. How many of us have difficulty accepting some of the bloody measures taken by Diety in the Old Testament? I do. I would have great difficulty following a commandment to kill every living creature in a nieghboring country. And yet, when do we start second-guessing the will of God? At that point where it becomes too uncomfortable for us?

    Now I understand that there may be a theoretical difference between the edicts of God and Moroni’s actions. But even so, one has to assume that Moroni was NOT doing the will of God in order to judge his actions as misguided. And in making that assumption a whole new can of worms bursts open.

    There are several scriptural assertions which seem to support Moroni’s actions as righteous. I’ll touch on five of them.

    1) Mormon’s unparalleled discription of his character.

    2) Moroni’s emphatic statement in his epistle to Pahoran that the Lord has told him to go up to battle against his government if they do not repent.

    3) The fact that Pahoran rejoices in the “greatness of [Moroni's] heart upon reading the epistle.

    4) The fact that Pahoran tells Moroni to come speedily to the land of Zarahemla that they both may join forces and go against the dissenters “in the strength of the Lord”.

    5) It was a custome among the Nephites to chose as the commander of the armies one who possessed the spirit of prophecy and revelation.

  74. I just read these passages about the kingmen and came up with a question. People on both sides of the above debate seem comfortable calling the kingmen traitors. I took this to mean collaboration or a betrayal of one’s country or faction (I suppose everyone could just mean “criminals,” but I doubt it given the context of the posts). But rereading Alma 51 made me wonder.

    What exactly is the evidence that the kingmen were traitors(at least in the sense of collaboration or betrayal)?

  75. ” it is not necessarily immoral to kill unrepentant traitors”

    That I think sums up the difference between American and European thought. In England we abolished the death penalty and find it distateful. The American view is generally different. Ronan (and I) and Matt will therefore never agree on this topic because of this basic difference of opinion.

  76. Aaron Brown says:

    Actually, Rebecca, various European elites undemocratically abolished the death penalty in their respective countries, and I understand that public support for its reinstatement in England and France is large and rising. So I’m not sure the difference your drawing really flies.

    Aaron B

  77. public support for its reinstatement in England

    Sorry Aaron, that’s rubbish. But I’m not having the death penalty discussion today….

  78. “And happily, children aren’t usually revolutionaries advocating and fomenting rebellion; possibly with dangerous weapons. :)”

    Ah, lyle, you’ve never met *my* children!


  79. Seth Rogers says:

    All I’m saying is that ancient societies had a lot of very distasteful qualities. Furthermore, the education level of the population was generally so low that the kind of restraint that anti-killing crowd seems to be advocating here seems like a pipe dream at best.

    Our human past is ugly and brutal. You think the Israelites behavior was brutal? Try looking at the practices of Canaanite groups they drove out. Wars of genocide and anihilation were par for the course in those days. If the Israelites hadn’t wiped out the Ammonites, it’s likely the Ammonites would have done the same to them.

    The command that they slay every living thing was simply to ensure that there be no robbery, rape, slaves and pillaging (the traditional rights of ancient world conquerors). It also ensured that Israelites weren’t transplanting Ammonite idolatry into their homes and villages in the form of Ammonite wives and slaves. The killing was to be an act of devotion rather than greed.

    I tend to view God’s dealings with humanity as a form of damage control. He’s dealing with an ugly situation and doing his best to mitigate the harm being done. On top of this, he has to work with imperfect tools: us. God has decided to do much of His work through His children: a rather predjudiced, ignorant, fearful, impatient, and bloodthirsty lot.

    It would typically be asking a lot of any ancient world military leader to exercise the kind of restraint Moroni showed to Zerahemnah on the banks of the river Sidon. Most would have killed the whole lot including torturing any prisoners to death.

    Incidentally, I also oppose the death penalty in America. But I realize that I am able to have these views only after many millenia of societies where my social views would have been unpractical at best and probably impossible.

  80. To: Lyle
    Re: #63

    Just to clarify, I’m not arguing that *I* think the BoM characters are two-dimensional. Rather I raise the point because that is a criticism I have seen frequently made by the more scholarly evangelical critics of BoM historicity.

  81. I was struck by one of Ronan’s comments, that he(?) is trying to reconcile his understanding of the BoM with his beliefs about the death penalty. To me, this is a dangerous position (although perhaps others disagree), because it suggests that political or ideological beliefs–and that’s the class of opinions or beliefs to which opinions about the death penalty belong–are being considered prior or privledged to the convictions of faith. I’m not really interested in the particular subject of the death penalty here, but a more general issue. For me, political opinions–regardless of what they are based on, be it sophisticated philosophy or the movements of one’s navel–are always transitory. Something about the works of men… And so regadless of how one feels about a particular issue at a particular time (even if one beleives that that political belief will never change), I am always concerned that trying to insert politics into faith can only damage faith, and at a personal level, it can provide the basis for an erosion of testimony. There is a certain pride here–not a pride in the self, but a pride in human reason which may not be justified, and which may be ultimately injurious. Let’s be clear–I’m not suggesting that Ronan is prideful–but rather that this particular kind of position can sometimes have elements of pride, or tend toward it, with sometimes negative after effects. It’s fine, probably a very good thing for our souls, to struggle with the relationships between what is said by those we believe to be inspired and our political opinions; I’m not so sure its as ok to let our our political opinions to act as gatekeepers to our faith.

  82. TMD,
    This is all well and good IF we can 100% sure that the BoM calls for the death penalty here. You assume also that the practices of the people in the Book of Mormon are timeless, that if righteous people did certain things THEN, we should do them NOW. Slaughtered any sheep lately?

    I would not want to shirk away from a Book of Mormon teaching. Upon reflection, though, I have concluded that the teaching of Alma 51 is that we deal strongly with traitors. However, it is my feeling that the eye-for-an-eye principal of capital punishment has gone the war of stoning people who break the Sabbath.

    At the end of the day, I’m just trying to “liken the scriptures unto myself.”

  83. that would be “gone the way” (gone the “war” being a Freudian slip, for sure)

  84. Not to threadjack, but Rebecca referred to what is happening in England and Europe regarding the death penalty.
    This will turn into a slippery slope in the very near future. Those who have for so long advocated for a multi-cultural, PC, moderate society, are reviewing their positions now that they are under attack, or the threat of attack.
    We will find that, over time, a tolerance for the beliefs of others will not long endure when that belief calls for the destruction of their society as they know it.
    This is no different than the situation that existed in Moroni’s time. If one treasures freedom, then any who would take it from them by force, or violence, must be prepared to pay the ultimate price so that future generations are not saddled with tyrrany and corruption. That is a price any generation must pay or the future is doomed.
    Moroni did what he needed to do, at that point in time, as duty and responsibility dictated he must do.

  85. Ronan–

    Two points. First, the most we can gather from a story like this vis-the death penalty is there may be at least one circumstance in which it might not be morally wrong. This is not to say that it is not morally wrong in other circumstances; it may be in all others; moreover, the exact definition of those circumstances is not entirely clear, since, after all, no report is exhaustive. To take the example of the sheep sacrifice, no, I haven’t killed any sheep recently. But, given the correct, and probably quite specific circumstances, I would not be unwilling to sacrific lambchop.

    Second, I’m not sure you’re really ‘likening to youself. ‘Likening’ seems to me to be a passive method, whereas what your doing seems much more active, along the lines of ‘what would I do if I were in his shoes’. Indeed, as indication of your activity (versus a more passive method), you seem to be saying that if you were in his shoes, you would act differently, perhaps in a way you consider ‘more right.’

  86. “if you were in his shoes, you would act differently, perhaps in a way you consider ‘more right.'”

    No. That’s just it. I maybe wouldn’t have acted differently THEN. What I want to know is how would I act NOW. Again, the principal (don’t sit by and watch your country descend into civil war) is correct, but must be adaptable to those of us who honestly think that the days of lopping heads off traitors is over.

  87. Seth Rogers says:

    Larry, I’m not sure what your comments about “paying the ultimate price” have to do with the discussion.

    From where I’m sitting, they could be referring the need for soldiers to lay down their lives in defense of country (like the GIs of World War II for example).

    However, I could also easily read them as the need for us to be willing to die in civilian catastrophes as the price for maintaining an open and free society.

    But like I said, I have no idea what this has to do with the discussion.

  88. I guess I just find that any principle being expressed in this story is weaker than you seem to; that is, I’m not sure how much there is in his actions that suggests how we should act today.

  89. Seth,

    If you read my comments carefully the sentence referred to those who would try to destroy freedom, thus justifying what Moroni did in his time and what we should be doing in ours.

  90. Seth,

    Larry says, “If one treasures freedom, then any who would take it from them by force, or violence, must be prepared to pay the ultimate price…?

    His sentence is a little ambiguous, but it sounds like he’s saying that those who seek to destroy the freedom of others must be willing to defend their ambitions with their lives because, in the end, that’a what it’s going to cost them if they resist those who would seek to reestablish said freedom.

    With rare exception, freedom has always been purchased and maintained at the highest possible cost–human life–and that by God’s command in many instances. I think this is quite relevant to the discussion as it has everything to do with the imeptus behind Moroni’s actions.

  91. Oops,

    Sorry for the long presumtious diatribe, Larry. You defended yourself perfectly with one sentence.

  92. I believe there are a lot of principles to be learned from the “war chapters” of the BOM. I think part of how we get to those principles is to not be so caught up in the literalness of the wars. The wars that I fight every day aren’t physical, but spiritual. One of the lessons I think we learn from framing the issues that way is that, like the Nephites in Moroni’s day, we will be stretched to the limits of our resources.

    Another important principle, I think, is that no matter how bad things seem, we should never stoop as low as the adversary. By analogy, I think Capt Moroni’s opposition to abortion would not lead him to bombing abortion clinics or physically assaulting their staff.

    Here’s another one: Moroni spent the “peacetime” years fortifying and building the defenses of cities he knew would be attacked. How similar is that to the counsel from Pres Kimball (among others) to make some of life’s decisions before being confronted with the temptation? If I decide today that I’m not going to frequent strip clubs (to use an example), I don’t have to think about it if the other guys in the office decide that’s where they all want to go to unwind after a particularly stressful day.

    And there are times when you have to do what you have to do. We probably won’t be in a situation where the choice is to kill somebody or be killed ourselves, but often living the gospel fully means we have to make some hard decisions about what we must give up (Coke? Pepsi?) or maybe what relationships we need to let go of.

  93. Jack,

    You are welcome to explain or clarify my statements any time.
    You certainly are more literate and unambiguous.

  94. Larry,

    Wow! I don’t think anyone has ever considered me “literate”. Thanks for the compliment. And for the record, you are rarely ambiguous. And I enjoy your Canadian style of phrasing and spelling. It’s a breath of fresh air.

  95. “Aaron: public support for its reinstatement in England

    Ronan: Sorry Aaron, that’s rubbish.”

    Amen – being English gives me a little more incite into the public view I think, not actually a LOT more, and the idea that we want back the death penalty is more than rubbish, but I’m a lady, so won’t use expletives.

  96. “Coke, Pepsi?”


  97. Whither the fries?

  98. European death penalty: defending A Brown.

    I have seen numerous articles on the death penalty in Europe that show that majorities or near majorities in most European countries are in favor of it.

    In my opinion Europe is much less democraticly oriented in policy changes on issues like this and the ban on the death penalty was imposed by the “elites”

    Example: Germany. The West german Gov banned the death penalty in an attempt to prevent the execution of large numbers of nazi war criminals by the occupying powers.
    Search the internet for articles on my comments above.

  99. B Bell, You search and post them here. Problem is, “bring back the hangman’s noose” is something you hear from time to time when some kid gets killed etc., but any public support whilst apparently broad is still thin even then. Speaking for England only here. In 29 years of living (mostly) in the UK I have never heard it seriously raised by the public.


  1. [...] …claims to provide LDS doctrinal support for “civil same-sex marriage.” The site is run by a gentlemen (or lady?) called “Captain Moroni.” If you do not join their fight, you may be put to death… [...]


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