Sunday, February 26, 2023

Destruction, Part 8: Inward Vessel

How came you to be here and yet mortal; the last who came here were brothers who had been slain, and you are yet alive? And the man answered, I waited on the Lord and he brought me here safely.
—T&C 163:4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Captain Moroni was, by all indications, quite a guy. Equally orator, military strategist, leader, teacher, prophet and elected official, he represented a seemingly impossible combination of immense power and abject humility, wielded effectively in the cause of righteousness and peace. It’s little wonder that the Book of Mormon devotes significant attention to the teachings and accomplishments of this “strong and…mighty man” whose example sets that standard for righteous power. “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 for ever; yea, the Devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 21: 34 RE)

Naturally, any hero of this stature requires an arch-nemesis to battle and overcome, and the Book of Mormon doesn’t disappoint. The same chapter that brings us Captain Moroni also introduces another “large and…strong man” named Amalickiah who likewise had a penchant for teaching, leading, and fighting. “Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning devices and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly, yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.” (Alma 21:6 RE)

You know the contours of the story. Amalickiah “was desirous to be king.” So desirous, in fact, that he stirred up others who sought power, promising that in his new kingdom, they would be rulers over the people. When Moroni raised the Title of Liberty in response and rallied the people to the cause of freedom, Amalickiah and his followers fled to the Lamanites. 

Once there, Amalickiah employed deception, flattery, subterfuge, murder and, yes, romance to ultimately reach his goal of kingship, albeit as king of the Lamanites. He then led a years-long campaign of war against the Nephites, attempting to become their king as well. His reign of terror didn’t even end when the point of Teancum’s javelin sent Amalickiah to hell; the war continued for many more years costing tens of thousands of lives. 

These “war chapters” of the Book of Mormon have always been a bit of a mystery to me. Given the excruciating care with which the text was curated over the course of a thousand years, I’ve often wondered why so much space was devoted to detailed coverage of this war initiated by Amalickiah and concluded by Moroni. Certainly, we find many valuable teachings in these chapters, but for today we’ll focus on just one lesson that bears terribly and proximally on us as a covenant people facing widespread destruction, which we’ll cover in a few moments. 

But before we get there, I’d like to weave another strand into this rope. 

Let’s talk about the deaths of Hyrum and Joseph Smith. It’s increasingly clear to anyone who cares to give it a moment’s consideration, that the official story of what happened that day in June is rife with lies. Unpacking the blatant impossibilities in the official account, the contradictory physical evidence, and an increasing number of contrary historical records, ultimately points to a very high likelihood that the Smith brothers were killed by their own followers. Even by their friends. 

What’s worse, the shocking realization that John Taylor and Willard Richards likely shot the Smiths is dwarfed by the further discoveries that come if you tug that thread a bit further. For me, and in the limited time I’ve been able to spend, it leads to the discovery of a conspiracy lasting over a decade with the ultimate goal of supplanting Joseph Smith, indeed the entire Smith family, and taking control and ownership of what he built. 

Carthage was merely the final scene in a much longer tragedy involving murder, sex, money, power and destruction of the Lord’s incipient work. The secret poisonings, jostling for position, politics of power, envy, strife, malice, alteration of historical records, clandestine polygamy and adultery, money counterfeiting and deception truly boggle the mind. I might add that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were guilty of none of these things, though those who took power after the Smiths’ death attempted to push it all off on them. 

The ongoing perils of the “false brethren” (T&C 139:8) surrounding Joseph Smith lend even greater gravity to our Lord’s sharp and direct warning delivered through Mormon:

Hearken, O ye gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you; for behold, he commandeth me that I should write, saying, Turn, all ye gentiles, from your wicked ways, and repent of your evil doings — of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations — and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins and be filled with the holy ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 14 RE)

This warning was directly targeted to the gentiles surrounding Joseph Smith. And to us. 

It’s little wonder, therefore, that the Lord’s last-days covenant includes the very same language as a conditional qualification for reception of the Lord’s promises:

All you who have turned from your wicked ways and repented of your evil doings, of lying and deceiving, and of all whoredoms, and of secret abominations, idolatries, murders, priestcrafts, envying, and strife, and from all wickedness and abominations, and have come unto me, and been baptized in my name, and have received a remission of your sins, and received the holy ghost, are now numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (T&C 158:10)

Implicit in this statement is that any of these evil doings among us prevent those involved from receiving the Lord’s covenant, and may well prevent the entire covenant people from accomplishing the Lord’s work. 

So What’s Wrong?

When you consider these two statements, it’s easy enough to dismiss them as being overly broad and dire. Whoredoms? Secret abominations? Murders? Priestcrafts? Really? Among us? Nah…

I mean, how could such things happen? Among people as “righteous” as us? People who believe and sacrifice and covenant and hope for the return of the Lord? Maybe such evils used to be a problem in a more wicked time, but certainly not now. Certainly not among the covenant body. Right? 

But let’s suppose, just for a moment, that the Lord actually knows what he was—and is—talking about, and that these warnings are as applicable to us now as they were in prior, more “wicked” times. Hey, wait a minute…aren’t these wicked times as well? Isn’t the world ripening in iniquity, soon to be burned? Uh-oh.

All right, so let’s consider it all, by asking a few questions. First about the cabal of Brigham Young and his circle who ultimately murdered the Smiths and usurped the restoration.

  1. How did the believing converts and churchmen who surrounded Joseph Smith reach the point that they considered murder to be justified, and possibly even righteous, and doing God a service (see John 9:13 RE)?
  2. Did it start with the intent of murder? 
  3. And if murder wasn’t the original intent, then what set off the cascade leading there, and what was the first domino to fall? 

While we consider those, let’s ask similar questions about Amalickiah. 

  1. Did he really intend to single-handedly instigate a terrible war lasting over a decade and costing tens of thousands of lives, including his own? 
  2. Did it start with the intent of wholesale slaughter and the near annihilation of an entire civilization?
  3. And if genocide wasn’t the original intent, then what set off the cascade leading there, and what was the first domino to fall? 

I believe the first domino was the same for both Amalickiah and Brigham. I believe one of the most important lessons of the “war chapters” is found in discovering that initial spark that led to infernos, both ancient and recent. And I believe that same lesson applies to us, here, now, in exactly the same way as it did in times past, because human nature doesn’t change. What worked to nearly wipe out the Nephites, and to usurp the latter-day restoration of the gospel, will have just as great an effect in preventing the Lord’s work now underway if it is not understood, recognized and eliminated. 

The initial spark of the conflagration is always the same. It is zeal.


To be sure, zeal itself isn’t necessarily all bad, and can in fact be good. Webster’s 1828 defines zeal as follows:

Passionate ardor in the pursuit of any thing. In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object, and it may be manifested either in favor of any person or thing, or in opposition to it, and in a good or bad cause.

The real key is that last bit—in a good or bad cause. Certainly, appropriate zeal in the pursuit of good is key to accomplishing righteous ends. But zeal in the service of anything that is misled, incorrect, or wrong leads to disastrous outcomes. The key is knowing the difference. And this is where it gets difficult. 

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge; for they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes. (Romans 1:46 RE)

Paul warns us it is indeed possible, even for those among the house of Israel, to have zeal, but not according to knowledge. Ignorant of God’s righteousness. Seeking to establish their own righteousness. Not submitting unto God. Even Lucifer and his minions *appear* to manifest zeal for the glory of God (T&C 147:5) 

So zeal MUST be coupled with correct understanding of God’s righteousness. It is therefore instructive to consider a recent definition of righteousness given at a fireside dedicated to that topic:

[R]ighteousness can be defined in the most simple terms as hearing the voice of the Shepherd, the voice of the Son, hearing that voice, heeding it, and repenting…no matter where that voice comes from. (Denver Snuffer, Righteousness, p. 11)

This is where it breaks down, and the spark becomes a conflagration. Let’s consider Amalickiah’s instructive example.

Chapter 21 of Alma begins, ironically enough, with Alma’s very detailed and specific prophecy to his son Helaman, predicting the future annihilation of the Nephite civilization. Then after Alma’s departure, we get the story of Amalickiah. It began with a religious dissension among the believers, caused because of pride. Amalickiah was the leader of the dissenting group and he wanted to be king. 

It’s easy to read this account in a few sentences and pass it off as great wickedness on the part of Amalickiah and his followers. But it started in unity. All involved subscribed to the same religion, but understood it differently. I don’t expect Amalickiah gained followers by rejecting the religion wholesale, but rather by pushing a different interpretation, likely based on his own reading of scripture. And, finding that he could attract followers who viewed him as their leader perhaps led naturally to the notion in his own mind that he should be king. According to the text, he was large, strong, flattering, persuasive. Did he therefore assume this was all evidence he was right in his interpretation, and that he and his followers needed to set the rest of the believers straight? Did he naturally presume he was on a God-given quest of reform and redemption? And wouldn’t a righteous king be a benefit? After all, when Israel had righteous kings, they were blessed! And that’s scripture! So this MUST be God revealing his will that his mighty leader, Amalickiah, should be made king and right the ship of religion. 

My point here is that Amalickiah likely thought, believed, even KNEW he was on the Lord’s errand, and that the dissension and resulting contention was necessary in the fight to establish God’s manifest will. Messy, perhaps, but necessary.

The trouble is that the greater portion of the Nephite people saw things differently, which likely convinced Amalickiah he was in fact the victim of the larger Nephite body’s failure to accept his mandate. Meanwhile, Helaman and Captain Moroni saw Amalickiah and his cause for what they were: Zeal without knowledge. Amalickiah and his followers were zealous for a false idea, and became ever more zealous, hardened, and unpersuadable the further they pressed on in their cause.

When Amalickiah was unable to accomplish his desires among the Nephites, rather than recognizing he was deceived and repenting in abject humility, he simply changed sides and kept up the battle, seeking to become king of the Lamanites. I’m sure he STILL had persuasive scriptural arguments making him right, and he just needed to bring enough force to get the Nephites to consider his arguments and see the light. If they would just listen to him long enough, he could persuade them. But they wouldn’t listen! So he would force them…

On and on it goes, from one self-justified act of wickedness to another until it led to murder (hey, isn’t it better that one man should perish than a nation should dwindle in unbelief? That’s scripture!), deception, fraud, more murder, corrupt marriage, and war. By the time it was all over, Amalickiah may have dropped the facade of righteousness, or maybe not. At that point it didn’t matter. He was committed, beyond repentance, and had a fixed and zealous determination to enforce his will or die trying. Justifications could be manufactured at will. 

We could paint a very similar scenario for the conspirators who killed the Smith brothers. It may have all started with something small—Brigham’s admitted frustration with Joseph over Joseph’s leadership style and lack of good business management, as a possible example. From there, it would be natural, and accurate, for Brigham to presume he could do a better job than Joseph in those areas. And really, shouldn’t God’s kingdom have the best management? Wait, was that the whisper of the spirit telling Brigham he was indeed a better leader than Joseph and that the kingdom would one day all be his? 

Might it be possible to convince others by pointing out Joseph’s faults, promising them leadership and power when the time came? And from there, how hard is it to justify the removal of certain people who were loyal to Joseph, but stood in the way of Brigham’s ambition? And naturally the kingdom of God, and his king, need ample funds to run the enterprise, and hey, we have a printing shop…so we can print some counterfeit currency. Problem solved! 

Oh, by the way, if you look in the Bible, you’ll see that one of the benefits of kingship is many wives, right? I mean look at David and Solomon! So naturally such things must be implemented and pursued. Secretly, at first, because Joseph has lost the spirit and is a fallen prophet, and he doesn’t understand and accept this new order of things and he’ll cast us out if he finds out. But it’s in the scriptures, so Joseph is obviously wrong. 

And ultimately, when the time came, Brigham’s doctrine of blood atonement provided all the justification needed for murdering the Smith brothers, who now stood in the way of God’s manifest will concerning Brigham, polygamy, money and power. Brigham stated that Joseph had no particle of the spirit at that point, so redemption through the shedding of blood would fit Brigham’s doctrine perfectly. Kill them to save them. It’s the most loving thing to do.

For both Brigham and Amalickiah, it all started with zeal for a bad idea, based on their own pride, pursued over the long term, justified by deceptive arguments, and pressed continually in an ever-increasing campaign to win—to be right—to stand vindicated when the bad idea was fully implemented. 

What lessons can we learn from these two examples, and how might we avoid falling into similar traps as we seek to assist in the Lord’s work now underway? 

Well first, discernment is hard, and none of us are as good at it as we think. There WILL be bad ideas. Many of them. And that’s perfectly fine if they are ultimately recognized as bad ideas and abandoned.

Second, self-awareness is key. I have no doubt Amalickiah and Brigham both thought they were righteous, justified, and on the Lord’s errand. Neither had the self awareness to realize the overt wickedness of what they were doing. They were SURE they were right, and I expect they both went to their graves expecting a parade in heaven to celebrate their accomplishments for the Lord. Stephanie Snuffer’s clarion call at the last conference, highlighting the need for self awareness, ought to inform us all.

Third, excessive zeal should be avoided. Given the lack of discernment and poor self awareness that mark human nature and especially the ambitious, we should guard carefully against excessive zeal in ANYTHING. By this, I mean that if an idea really is that great, and really does have God’s approval, it shouldn’t require many attempts through a years-long campaign to get others in the movement to listen and agree. 

Fourth, not all scriptural arguments are valid. I’ve encountered all sorts of foolish and false ideas promoted through tortured scriptural arguments that are just wrong. Remember, in Joseph’s day, everyone used the same Bible to oppose one another, and to oppose the Lord’s work when the restoration began. It’s no different now in the larger Christian world, or even among the ongoing restoration.

Why Does This All Matter to US?

In our movement, I’m aware of a number of ideas, initiatives, and proposals that have been put forward over the years, that have been considered and discussed, and that have been largely rejected or ignored by the body of believers. Some of these notions have gone away with no harm done, and others have stuck around. In the cases of those that have stuck around, they are promoted by a zealous few who simply cannot let their ideas drop, and who are willing to engage in attempt after attempt to press their desires on the covenant body, seemingly no matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how many other believers oppose them. The voice of the people in the covenant body appears to hold no sway at all with those who are zealous in the pursuit of a false notion.

Lest anyone should assume I’m singling them or their ideas out, rest assured I’m thinking of at least four separate initiatives in this category. I’ve noticed the following generalities about how each is promoted. 

  1. Each consists of something to which the entire covenant body is expected to subscribe. In other words, it’s not about something individuals should do, believe, or accept, but rather each calls for action by the entire body of believers. There is a noticeable desire to control others and the movement at large. 
  2. Each is promoted by scriptural arguments, in some cases arguing that the plain meaning of the scripture quoted is the exact opposite of the Lord’s intent and that we have to see past the Lord’s plain words to get to some deeper, opposite meaning.
  3. Each is also promoted with the argument that the Lord’s work cannot move forward until the specific idea, initiative or action is implemented. Common arguments include, “Zion can never come until we…(implement my idea)” or “The Lord won’t move things forward until we…(implement my proposal).” These arguments are designed to play upon fear and impatience, while simultaneously manifesting the pride inherent in the assumption that the Lord can’t do his work unless someone’s bad idea is implemented. 
  4. Each seeks to do something the Lord has not commanded, or alternatively, to add to or greatly expand what the Lord has commanded. 
  5. Each *claims* the implicit support of the dispensation head as a means to bolster acceptance, while there has never been any sort of overt approval given. There are explanations for this as well, together with assurances that he really does want this to happen and the Lord needs it done, but it won’t ever be announced generally.
  6. And finally, needless to say, each is promoted with a zeal bordering on a life’s mission and purpose for those doing the promoting. No opposition, no persuasion, no argument, no correction seems capable of convincing them to let up or let go. The same proposals just keep coming back.

I’m not accusing anyone of being Amalickiah or Brigham, of having murderous intent, or even of intentional unrighteousness. I’m simply pointing out patterns of human nature, given in scripture and acted out on the stage of this existence from the beginning. We are fools if we think we are somehow immune to the same patterns, and God forbid, the same outcomes. 

Something Denver Snuffer said at the last conference is particularly applicable here. He taught that ALL institutions become corrupted, and that any form of power structure or hierarchy becomes the target of the adversary. This is because, “It's very easy to corrupt men. Vain and ambitious desires, lustful and covetous attitudes, they’re resident in every person in embryo, and the adversary knows how to excite that into corruption.” (What to Worry About, p.3)

Every person. Including you. Including me. We are fools to think otherwise. And therefore, we require acute self awareness, constant vigilance, and the robust direction of God’s spirit to keep us in the right way. But even more than that, there is, in fact a cure for the latent flaws in our nature that make us all potential tools of evil. That cure, like all cures, comes through our Lord:

As many as perceived the Light in Him, to them He gave knowledge to enable them to follow the path to become like Him, begotten children in the family of the Most High God. This is only possible for those who believe through His name. Those who believe through His name are no longer born of blood to follow the appetites of flesh, nor the ambitions of man, but are able to become, like Him, the offspring of God. (TSJ 1:3)

One of the first objects of our belief is to create a change within us, commonly called being born again. This event changes our very natures and enables us to overcome the latent flaws we carry. 

Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women — all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people — must be born again, yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters. And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 11:28 RE)

And for those who have experienced this mighty change and become new creatures, Alma has a few questions:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say — if ye were called to die at this time — within yourselves that ye have been sufficiently humble, that your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not, ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold, ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared. And I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand; and he knoweth not when the time shall come, for such an one is not found guiltless.


And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Woe unto such an one, for he is not prepared; and the time is at hand that he must repent, or he cannot be saved. Yea, even woe unto all ye workers of iniquity. Repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Alma 3:5-6 RE)


I began this series by talking about destruction, in hopes we would recognize the dire situation in which we find ourselves. Our nation and society have already been destroyed, and the decline toward the eventual sweeping off is underway. Time is short and we certainly can’t afford to be complacent, foolish, or wrong. As we close, there yet remains one final point we should consider regarding destruction: It always comes from within.

Historian Will Durant, who with his wife Ariel spent 40 years writing The Story of Civilization in 11 volumes put it thus:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.

He had cause to know. Every great civilization that eventually crumbled to ruin rotted from within before being conquered and destroyed from without. Captain Moroni was well aware of this when he wrote his fiery epistle to Parhoron, saying, “Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.” (Alma 27:9 RE) Moroni recognized there was no way they could repel the attacking Lamanites if the leadership and the populace were not valiant in the cause of truth. 

In the case of our civilization, pride and prosperity have made room for very bad ideas to be promoted with great zeal, justified with attractive arguments, and enforced upon the rest of us by force of law or abject lawlessness. 

The same fate overcomes religious movements. Whether the time of Abraham, ancient Israel, Christ, or Joseph Smith, nearly every dispensation has ended in corruption in ruin—not because of outside forces, but by forces from within. The blood of the prophets, ancient and modern, cries for vengeance and insists, even demands that we recognize the danger and repent. Christ began his Nephite ministry with a sharp warning against disputation for a reason. Sharp disputation is the first sign of excessive zeal. The signs that then follow have been outlined above. 

Before Denver Snuffer started the Forty Years in Mormonism series of ten talks that initiated the movement now underway, he related a vision he received that has great application now. Consider this:

After great losses, many deaths, and terrible suffering, the people chosen by the Lord withdrew and departed from the mountain. After four and five generations, the Lord again brought some few back to the pass and again told them to stay at the mouth of the pass and wait on Him. But again there were those who tired of waiting, for they could see in the distance the glory of the Fathers and they desired to be there. These, being overtaken by their zeal, did not wait, but moved into the pass where again the beast killed or hurt them.

Among those who waited, however, was a man who knelt and prayed, and waited patiently for his Lord. After a great time, the Lord came to this man and took him by the hand and led him into the pass where the great beast guarded the way. As the Lord led, however, the beast was ever occupied with attacking others, and therefore its back was turned to the Lord and the man. And so they passed by unnoticed, safely to the top. (T&C 163:4)

In this vision, some tired of waiting on the Lord, and instead charged ahead, overcome with zeal, and reaped destruction. In contrast, one man knelt, prayed, and waited patiently. Zealous for truth, though he was, his greater attributes were humility, obedience, and patience to wait upon the Lord. 

At this point it all hangs in the balance. Destruction awaits for this world, and our only hope of safety and deliverance lies in kneeling humbly and waiting on the Lord. Otherwise those same forces of destruction from within will overcome and destroy the body of believers who call themselves the remnant. May we choose to overcome our zeal before it overcomes us all.

And they were numbered among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God and also towards men, for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end. And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence, and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection…And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.

—Alma 15:9 RE

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Young Adult Retreat and Survey

A group of young adults is planning what looks like it will be a great event. Please see the flyer below and if you are a potential attendee, please complete the survey request included at the bottom. 


Please fill out this survey if you are interested in attending the retreat and receiving updates. (This is not an official RSVP--just a survey to assess interest and potential numbers.)