In the Book of Mormon we read of a man named Moroni "who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites [and when he] heard of the dissension [in the land caused by Amalikiah] he was angry with Amalickiah. And it came to pass that he rent his coat and he took a piece thereof and wrote upon it - In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children - and he fastened it upon the end of a pole… and he called it the title of liberty" (Alma 46:12,13).
A well known prophecy among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter -day Saints is that the time will come when the Constitution of the United State will hang by a thread and that if it is to be saved it will be by the elders of Israel. The way some people interpret this prophecy is that there will come a time when our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. will no longer follow their duties as outlined in the Constitution but will seek to subvert its principles of limited government and replace it with a government that will have dictatorial powers over the people of America. If that were to happen that would be the end of our constitutional way of life where the Constitution would become nothing more than an ancient document for historians to talk about.
What some imagine is that just before the Constitution is done away with, it will be the priesthood brethren of the LDS Church who will grab their guns, like the minutemen militia did back during the Revolutionary War, rush to Washington, D.C. where they will storm the Capital building and will literally throw out all the corrupt officials at gunpoint. Then, once they have removed those who were seeking to overthrow our form of government they will put people into power who are committed to following the Constitution as it was designed by our Founding Fathers. In this way they will save the Constitution from being destroyed by wicked men and once more enshrine that document as the supreme law of our land.
There are many people today who feel that our Constitution has not only been hanging by a thread for many decades but that the time is getting dangerously close to when it will be totally and completely disregarded by our politicians in Washington, D.C. For this reason there are those who feel that, if we don't take some kind of drastic action soon, we will lose forever the opportunity to save our Constitution and the liberties they safeguard.
Those who feel this way point to the Declaration of Independence where it says, "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (i.e., to secure the unalienable rights of its people in order to effect their safety and happiness) it is the right of the people to abolish it and institute a new government… When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably to same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such governments and provide new guards for their future security."
Those who fear that our government has ignored the Constitution maintain that this situation has not happened suddenly or even recently but that there has been a long train of abuses to our constitutional system and that most of our elected officials are deliberately and systematically usurping more and more power that the Constitution does not authorized them to have.
Many people in America today see our elected leaders as not only passing an increasingly number of laws that take away our freedom, and they not only see the federal courts making law from the bench rather than judging the constitutionality of the issues brought before them, but they also see our elected leaders pursuing a course that, if not stopped, seems designed to purposefully turn the governing of our country into one that resembles "absolute despotism." Should this ever happen then what liberties we will enjoy will be determined by government decree and where the rule of law is applied according to the whims of those in power. Instead of there being "justice for all" and "no man is above the law," justice will be determined by whether the government likes you or not.
The remedy to this solution, according to some, is the same remedy that our Founding Fathers resorted to - revolution. They argue that it is not only our right but our "duty to throw off such governments and provide new guards for [our] future security." They contend that, just like it was necessary for America to rise up and revolt against the despotic government of England in order to establish a just government among ourselves, that we must again rise up in rebellion against a similarly tyrannical government here in America and throw off the chains they are forging to enslave us to their dictatorial power.
They point to the Second Amendment which allows us to bear arms and argue that the very reason this amendment was put into the Constitution was to allow every American citizen the right to defend themselves against their own government if the time ever came when that government would try to use force against its own people, just as England had done with the American colonists.
Those who hold to this opinion point to the state motto of New Hampshire, "Live free or die" and to the old colonial battle cry, "Death to tyrants" as the way Americans won their independence and freedom from Great Britain, and argue that this is what we need to do today in order to regain the freedoms that our own government has taken from us.
Those who belong to the LDS faith who hold this view point to Captain Moroni who gathered together a large army of patriots for the purpose of going to battle against Amalickiah. What Amalickiah wanted was to install himself as king over the Nephite people and subject them to his rule. Since there are many who feel that our current government seems intent on doing this very thing here in America, they say that we should use what Captain Moroni did as the model for how we should deal with the situation we face today. They say that since Moroni's title of liberty is America's title of liberty we should rise up in arms, if necessary, to confront and defeat our unrighteous political leaders just as Moroni did in his day.
They also point to the actions of Moses and Joshua as they approached and entered the promised land. This land was home to many idolatrous people and, in order to preserve the purity of their religious beliefs, the Israelite army went from city to city, clearing the area of all those who could potentially pollute the laws and culture that God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In our own time, in 1776 Americans were hopelessly outnumbered and ill equipped to take on the greatest military power on earth at that time yet, even so, they were able to defeat the well-trained and well-armed British army. Of course, this was done with the help of God so it is argued that if God is with us we cannot fail, no matter what the odds are against us.
The problem with all of these arguments is that they are missing one crucial element of history. With the exception of the wars fought by Moses and Joshua, all the others just mentioned, where the people of God won against great odds, were defensive in nature, not offensive.
The American Revolutionary War is most frequently used as the example we should follow in order to take back our freedoms but Americans did not go to war against England. England went to war with its colonies and the colonies only went to war, not for the purpose of overthrowing the government of England but to defend their land, their families, and their liberties which were being taken from them by the British.
Over more than a decade, the British appointed governors of Massachusetts and Virginia especially, continually prevented the legally constituted state assemblies from performing their duties. When these colonial leaders objected, protested, and continued to meet in secret, the British authorities branded them as rebels and, in some cases, sought to have them imprisoned.
This fact, nor the fact that these rebel leaders sought ways to circumvent and evade British rule does not constitute war. It was a struggle for ideas and the more the colonists resisted the laws of England through peaceful means, the more England sought to enforce its rule through the use of its power. This also extended to the idea of taxation. The more taxes England levied on the colonies, the more the colonies objected, but neither side engaged in direct warlike activities.
It may be said that the Boston Tea Party was a direct attack on the British but even the British viewed it more as an act of vandalism against the Crown's property than as an act of war. Even the Boston massacre, where five America citizens were shot by British soldiers was more of an angry scuffle, provoked by the Americans themselves. In fact, during the ensuing trial, John Adams, a member of the rebels, successfully defended the British soldiers.
In 1775 General Gage received orders from the King of England to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two leaders of the rebellion, who were staying in Lexington, Massachusetts, and to seize all the weapons and munitions held by the rebels which were located in a warehouse in the town of Concord. When the Massachusetts militia learned of this action, they took their guns and stood firm to defend their property and their leaders. For their part, the British soldiers were not looking for a fight. All they wanted to do was carry out their assigned mission as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
However, on the morning of April 19, 1775 in the town of Lexington, as the two side faced off against one another across an open green, a shot was fired. To this day, no one knows who fired that shot but, at the sound of gunfire, the British opened fire at the Americans in what they thought was a defensive action. When the shooting stopped, eight Americans laid dead. Yet, though this event outraged the Americans, it was not an act of war, although it was viewed as further evidence that life under the British was becoming increasingly intolerable and completely unacceptable.
It was this act that pushed wavering Americans to agree that the time had come to sever the political bonds that united Americans with England. This lead to the writing of the Declaration of Independence where the English colonies made it clear that they renounced their allegiance to the King of England. But this declaration came about only after many, many years of repeated complaints expressing their grievances to the King and repeatedly petitioning him for a redress of their ill-treatment.
When all attempts to reconcile these issues failed, the American colonists made a simple declaration of their intentions. There was no threat made, either directly or indirectly toward England, either militarily or economically, and neither was there any intent to do harm to England. The only intent of the declaration was to let England know that the colonists wanted to live free and in peace but that they could no longer do that under the King's rule.
Predictably, the King sent troops to enforce his rule. The first place he sent his army was to the city of New York with orders to conquer it by force and bring the city into subjection to the British Crown. But, in so doing, it was understood by all sides that his was an act of war of one nation against another. The Continental Congress commissioned George Washington to be the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army with orders to defend the city of New York against this foreign attack. Thus, the Revolutionary War had begun, but not because America was the aggressor. They entered the war, not to attack England but to defend their religious beliefs, their freedom, their homes, their families, and their own lives that were being taken from them by force of arms.
And this was the same reason why Captain Moroni gathered an army. A man named Amalickiah had tried to take over the government of the Nephites through devious means. During this time Captain Moroni was the head of the entire Nephite army and his job was to secure the safety of the Nephites from its enemies. When he heard of what Amalickiah was attempting to do, and the dissention he was creating among the Nephites, Moroni was angered. Ripping off a piece of his coat he wrote upon it, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children." That was not a declaration of war. That was a statement indicating that he intended to defend his God, religion, freedom, wife, and children.
Although it was his duty to protect the peace, Moroni went throughout the country calling people to join him in this pledge and they made a covenant with him to "maintain their rights and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them" (Alma 46:20). Moroni was not gathering an army to attack Amalickiah, although that was within his authority to do , but rather he sought to defeat Amalickiah by having people covenant to stand up for and defend their rights.
However, Amalickiah had gathered a large following of his own and he intended to use violence if necessary to set himself up as king therefore it was necessary for Moroni to raise an army to have Amalickiah arrested and brought to trial. When Amalickiah saw that his army of followers could not win against Moroni, he fled to the land of the Lamaites.
Later, when had successfully manipulated himself into becoming the king of the Lamanites, he then gathered a large army and began attacking Nephite cities. At that point there was war between these two countries, but it was Amalickiah who was the aggressor. Moroni was fighting, not to attack the Lamanites and conquer their land but to defend his own land and the lives of his countrymen.
In both this case and that of the American Revolution, God blessed the efforts of those who were defending themselves. But this wasn't the case with Moses or Joshua. They were the aggressors and they invaded a land that didn't belong to them and deliberately went about destroying all the towns and cities in the area in which they intended to take up residency. They were not fighting to protect their rights or their liberties. They were conquerors who were intent on clearing the land of all other inhabitants.
Then why did God bless their efforts? The answer is because they were doing what God Himself specifically commanded them to do. It was God who wanted these cities destroyed and, although He could have accomplished this with fire and brimstone, or hail, or lightening, He chose to use the Israelite army as His instrument in carrying out His purposes.
God told King Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites, including their women, children, and cattle. God blessed Saul's efforts at war but when Saul kept some of the women and all of the cattle, God rebuked him (1 Samuel 15:22-24).
What we see is that God blesses the righteous who take up arms when they must defend themselves or others. The only exception to this rule is when God commands His people to go to war. However, the problem with this exception is knowing when it is God who is calling His people to attack others and when it is someone claiming that God has called His people to commit violence. This was the very problem the Jews faced almost two thousand years ago.
At the time when Jesus was born there had already been a number of men who had come among the Jews announcing that they were the promised messiah. For more than six hundred years before the birth of Jesus the ancient prophets had foretold of a time when God would send a messiah to save His people. The prophecies declared that this messiah would sit on the throne of David (Isaiah 16:5) and that he would reign in judgment over the nations (Isaiah 22:22; 32:1). Furthermore, this king would reign at a time when all of Israel would be gathered together and become one nation again, where there would be peace throughout the land, just like it was under the reign of David (Ezekiel 37:15-28). At this time the heathen kings and queens of the earth would bow down to Israel and become their nursing mothers and fathers (Isaiah 49:23).
The way most of the Jewish Rabbis understood this prophecy was that God was going to send someone who would unite the Jewish people into a strong military force who would then go forth in battle, defeating all of their enemies and restoring the nation of Israel back to the former glory it had enjoyed under the reign of King David.
Ever since the time when King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the kingdom of Judah in 587 B.C., the Jews had always been subservient to other kingdoms. Even when they had achieved some degree of independence under the reign of the Maccabees, they were still very vulnerable to the rule of other countries who had more powerful armies. That's why, in 161 B.C., Judas Maccabee made an alliance with Rome for protection. But more than a hundred years later, after there had been a long period of peace, many Jews began to resent the presence of Romans troops who still remained on their land. Rather than seeing these armed soldiers as protecting their peace, many Jews began complaining that they were slaves of the Roman Empire.
Since Jewish scripture seemed to indicate that God hated Gentiles because of their idolatrous ways, it was during this period when the heathen Roman troops were stationed on Israel's holy land that the prophecy of a kingly messiah became to be prevalently taught by the Rabbis. Not so coincidentally, this is also the time when people began coming forth claiming to be the promised messiah in fulfillment of this prophecy.
Therefore, when Jesus started preaching that the "kingdom" of God was at hand, many Jews interpreted this to mean that Jesus was claiming to be the messiah whom God had promised would establish a political kingdom that all other nations would bow down to, especially the despised Roman Empire. This is why the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah?" (Luke 22:67).
Several days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, signifying that he was entering the city in the same manner that kings did. Thinking that this man of mighty miracles was truly the promised earthly messiah the Jews had been anxiously waiting for and thinking that Jesus was now about to declare his kingship over the Jewish nation, the people came out in throngs and joyously threw palm leaves in front of him to show their acceptance of him as their king. This is also why Pontus Pilot asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews because, if he admitted he was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for, then he posed a serious threat to Rome.
But Jesus was just one of many people who came among the Jews claiming to be the messiah. Each of these men attracted a following (some larger than others) because they talked fearlessly about driving the Romans out of their land with the promise that their efforts would be successful because God would fight their battles for them. For this reason there were many who gladly joined with these self-proclaimed messiahs and engaged in willful acts of violence against the Romans.
There were many such groups, who were collectively known as Zealots but, regardless of who their leader was, the Romans were easily able to crush each of them. And with each defeat, the person claiming to be the messiah would fall from the grace and trust of those who once believed in them, only to become excited all over again when the next "messiah" came along to rally them to his cause.
During the time when Jesus walked the earth teaching the gospel, and even long after his death, many false Christ's (i.e., messiahs) and prophets continued to arise, claiming that they were the one whom God had called to set His people free from the bondage of Rome. Stirring up the people to hatred, these Zealots acted the part of rebels and insurrectionists as they repeatedly committed acts of violence in various forms against the soldiers and symbols of Rome.
Since there were Jews living in other cities within the Roman Empire, some of them began to take part in the violence, feeling they were becoming part of a mighty movement orchestrated by God to rid the world of the idolatrous Roman Gentiles. To these die-hard Jews, they felt they were doing God's work and that God was not only on their side in this conflict but that He would eventually bless them with victory. Inspired by this thought and believing that this is what the scriptures taught, they were continually motivated to continue this course of action.
As this attitude began to spread, more and more Jews began to join an ever increasing number of Zealot groups that kept springing up, some warring with each other as much as with Rome. But finally, some of these groups began having success and when they did, they took this as proof that God was with them. After all, how else could such a small number of people defeat the might of Rome's army, even if it that victory was against a very small unit of Rome's military?
In time, some of these groups became quite large and strong which allowed them to actually win some of their battles. With each new victory, their confidence soared and their belief that they were doing God's work increased tremendously. As the victories continued, more Jews throughout the Roman Empire began to join in the violence thinking they were invincible, not because of their own strength alone but because they felt that God was giving them the victory over Rome.
Eventually the Roman government became serious about taking decisive action against these insurrectionist rebels. Jews in cities all around the Roman world were rounded up and slaughtered in retaliation. In 67 A.D. when the Zealots had defeated a legion of Roman soldiers, Emperor Nero sent the retired General, Vespasian, along with his son, Titus, to put down the Jewish revolt. Vespasian took four legions of soldiers and headed toward Jerusalem, laying waste to every Jewish town he came to. By the time they got to the holy city of Jerusalem, there were no other cities left where Jews were living as free men.
Vespasian began to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, cutting it off from receiving any supplies, but then Nero died and Vespasian had to call off his siege because he was ordered to return to Rome to help in resolving the political turmoil that was threatening to tear the Roman government apart. It was a long, messy affair that resulted in a civil war and took a year to resolve the dispute.
In the meantime, the Jews who were within the city walls of Jerusalem, saw this as a sign from God that He had miraculously saved their city and they were once more feeling jubilant and confident that they were going to win the war against Rome because God was with them.
However, the Senate of Rome eventually selected Vespasian as their new Emperor and shortly after taking the crown Vespasian ordered his son, Titus, to take the city of Jerusalem. Methodically, Titus had his army put a tighter and tighter squeeze on the holy city, eventually breaking through one wall after another, until he was in the city itself. Once there, he laid waste to it, burning every building to the ground and destroying the temple - the sacred House of the Lord - after taking all its contents as a bounty of war.
The soldiers slaughtered many of the people living in Jerusalem, killing both men, women, and children. What few people remained alive after the carnage, were taken as slaves and sent to Rome as trophies. The city itself was left in ruins so that no one could come back and inhabit it again. However, in time, the Romans themselves rebuilt the city but made it totally Roman in architecture and culture and passed a law forbidding any Jew to enter the city.
What brought this calamity upon the Jewish people was their belief that God wanted them to fight against Rome. This idea was rooted in their belief that they were God's chosen people and, as such, He would always be with them in war. They looked to the scriptures of how God had blessed Moses, Joshua, Saul, and David as they went to war with their enemies and thought that this was the example they should follow.
A similar attitude still exists today among some people in America, including some in the LDS faith. Although they don't openly advocate violence they nonetheless talk of engaging in armed conflict, almost with glee and eager anticipation. However, while we can and must defend our Constitution, the question is: what is the proper way to do that?
The scriptures tell us "Be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). The prudent course is to avoid conflict whenever possible. This was the course our Founding Fathers took as they repeatedly sought peaceful means to resolve their disagreements with England. Even their declaration of independence was not an act of war but of peace. It was only when they were attacked that they fought back but only out of necessity, not out of desire. They did not look forward to war. In fact, they tried every way possible to avoid war. It was only when war was thrust upon them that they took up arms.
Those times when Americans did initiate physical conflict with England, it only brought them hardships. The throwing of tea into Boston's harbor brought about a severe response where British troops were quartered in private American homes and the city of Boston was blockaded, cutting off all supplies from coming in by sea.
It was the vicious harassment of British troops that brought about the Boston massacre. It was armed men in Lexington that triggered the shot heard round the world. These militiamen had already gotten John Hancock and Samuel Adams safely out of the area and they had already moved all their guns and ammunition out of Concord so there was no need for them to confront the British troops with guns. Yet, it was because of their eagerness to challenge the British soldiers that brought about the death of nine of their people.
While these incidents were not acts of war, they were unnecessary. They only served to escalate tensions and did nothing to actually solve anything. As such, they only made matters worse than they already were. Yet, during this same period of time Americans were able to successfully oppose the Stamp Act and other intolerable rules forced on them by England without resorting to violence.
We have a duty to protect and preserve our religion, our freedom, our wives and our children but initiating violence or giving "evil for evil" is not the way to do it. While we have the right to bear arms, we also have the duty to use those arms responsibly. Violent action, in any form, should be reserved as our last and only means of defense after all other peaceful options have failed. It is only when our conduct is in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we then have the right to expect God to fight our battles for us. This is the proper way to defend our title of liberty.
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