(Evan McMullin in Provo, UT)
Full disclosure: I am a Mormon. And while I would love for you to be interested in our church to the point of speaking with full-time missionaries about it, that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I want people to be more aware, generally, of what we believe and why we believe it. There is a lot of prejudice out there, almost always due to ignorance and widespread misconceptions about our doctrine, our history, etc. But I think, if you’re #NeverTrump like me and like so many other Mormons, now would be the time to get to know us a little better, and why we’re #NeverTrump in the first place.
(And bear in mind, not every Mormon is going to think or feel this way.)
The great state of Utah is in the headlines for soundly rejecting Donald Trump and voting not Republican for the first time in decades. Senator Mike Lee, Representative Jason Chaffetz, and Governor Gary Herbert were the first in the nation to publicly repudiate Trump and call for him to step aside after the sexual assault bombshell came out last week. The Deseret News, one of the largest newspapers in the state, also spoke out immediately and boldly against Trump. Glenn Beck, a prominent radio conservative, has refused to vote for Donald Trump. Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, the state’s favored political son, has called out Trump from the start as a con man with atrocious morals. And, seeing no one else challenging Trump for the honorable and conservative vote, former CIA agent and House policy wonk Evan McMullin has risen up as a viable-though-longshot presidential candidate, and is now poised to take Utah. For all this and more, Utah has recently been labeled the “conscience of the GOP.”
Significantly, all of the above are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And even though one of them isn’t a major party’s nominee for president anymore, those pesky Mormons are back on the center stage, leading the conservative charge against Donald Trump.
There have been several articles about Donald Trump’s “Mormon Wall” ever since Utah voted in the primaries back in March. Many are still scratching their heads about it. Just recently, Josh Hammer over at The Resurgent wrote, “A lot of people on social media are a bit perplexed why it is that Utah, of all states, seems to be leading the conservative anti-Trump brigade.” It’s still something of a mystery to most people, especially when other Christians, including evangelicals, seem to be falling for Trump left and right.
There have been various attempts to explain it. They usually point out the LDS Church’s history of religious persecution along with Trump’s intended persecution of Muslims; or Trump’s vulgarity and adultery along with Mormons’ squeaky-clean family values; or Trump’s immigration policies along with the church’s presence in and outreach to Latin American countries.
These are all accurate assessments. But they do not reflect the most important reason. That is that Mormons have an advantage the rest of Christianity does not: The Book of Mormon.
Here I’m going to take David Frum seriously, even if his tweet a couple of weeks ago was obviously tongue in cheek.
I’m glad you said that, David! Here we go.
What IS the Book of Mormon?
Beyond “It’s Mormon scripture,” most people probably don’t know. In simplest terms, it is the history of an ancient American civilization and its eventual downfall. It documents the spiritual and political state of the Nephites (generally the good guys) and the Lamanites (generally the bad guys) as they rise and fall and rise again through many cycles of righteousness and wickedness.
In its pages you’ll find sermons, wars, rebellions, heroes, villains, political intrigue, spiritual conversions, and most importantly throughout, witnesses of Jesus Christ and warnings from its compiler, a prophet named Mormon, to its readers in our modern day—“that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” Significantly, we are also taught to “liken” the scriptures to ourselves, to learn particular lessons from these people’s lives that we can apply to our own.
The truth is, men like Donald Trump are everywhere in the Book of Mormon. Villains both spiritual and political attack the Nephite nation from within and without. Mormons who are born in the Church grow up reading these stories, listening to them in Sunday School. We know them implicitly, and so we don’t need to think too hard about Donald Trump to know exactly who he is and the damage, both spiritual and political, he would wreak on our nation—the damage he wrought already .
I’m going to relay some of these stories to you, often quoting verbatim from the book. It might take a moment to get used to the language, but what’s conveyed is clear enough that I don’t think I’ll need to over-explain it to you. Read, as we Mormons sometimes say, with your “spiritual eyes” and it won’t be hard to spot the parallels to Donald Trump. (Forgive me if the pictures accompanying the text are too heavy-handed—sometimes they’re just perfect.)
King Noah’s Corruption
The political situation in the Book of Mormon is a volatile one. Much of the Nephite history is depicted as great cycles, where power struggles and social attitudes repeat over time, the people alternating between righteousness and wickedness, peace and war. The stories often echo each other because history repeats. Kings come and go for the first few hundred years of the Nephite civilization, some good and some bad.
King Noah was an example of the bad, and how one corrupt leader can also corrupt his entire kingdom. Though Noah was the son of a moderately good man, “he did not walk in the ways of his father” (Mosiah 11:1). After he was made king, “he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness” (Mosiah 11:2).
Armed with his monarchal power, Noah proceeded to tax his people to support his lavish living and the whoredoms of his priests—a quorum of surrogates and sycophants that surrounded him and offered justification and rationalization for every selfish, lustful move he made.
“Thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom” from its former righteousness. And “thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity…Yea and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them” (Mosiah 11:7).
Flattery. That’s an important detail. You’re good! You’re great! You don’t need to change! You and your anger and your hatred are true and correct and good!
“And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with…all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver…and the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold…And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower…” (Mosiah 11:8-11).
Was this tower for God? Did he commission these beautiful buildings to honor heaven?
No. He built them to honor himself. A temple to his own ego. Sound familiar?
We’ve all been witnesses to the corrupting effect Donald Trump has had on the Republican party. Men and women we thought we knew, men and women who we thought stood for the same principles we did, endorsing Trump for president, and the worst actually going to bat for him on news shows.
We see the influence of Trump normalizing adultery, normalizing racist and sexist attitudes, allowing the truly depraved of our society to emerge from the sewers and hold their heads high. We see his surrogates and his voters “labor exceedingly” to put him in power and “support [his] iniquity.” Strong, principled leadership has changed hands for authoritarianism and the need to win above all else. Donald Trump has surely brought out the worst impulses in our natures, corrupted some of our best leaders, and cracked the foundation of our democracy in service of his own avarice. Like Noah, Trump is a weak, truly pathetic man.
But it took an invasion from the Lamanites (the Nephites’ rival nation) to reveal Noah’s cowardice and impotence as a leader. When his own people realized how destructive he had been on the kingdom and their own souls, they burned him at the stake.
It’s not too hard to liken the end of that story to us today. If you are a Trump supporter reading this, is there anything Trump could do, or anything about him that could be revealed, for you to see him negatively? Is there any line he could cross that would change your vote?
Latter-day Saints are encouraged by our leaders to reread the Book of Mormon, indeed all scripture, frequently. A passage we read one year might speak to us in a totally different way the next year because our life situations, our worries and struggles and trials, will cause us to notice different things.
Until this year, the story of Amlici had always just been another Book of Mormon anecdote to me. Not particularly relevant. Then, a few months ago, I reread it, and it blew me away.
About five decades after Noah, the Nephites changed their government from a monarchy to a hierarchical system of judges elected by the people. Not everyone was a fan of this new system, to put it mildly. Cue Amlici.
“Now this Amlici, had, by his cunning, drawn away much people after him; even so much that they began to be very powerful; and they began to endeavor to establish Amlici to be a king over the people. Now this was alarming to the people of the church, and also to all those who had not been drawn away after the persuasions of Amlici” (Alma 2:2-3).
(Note that it wasn’t only those who belonged to the church that could sense the danger of Amlici. Hence my concession that you don’t need to be a Mormon to not be drawn away after Trump’s “persuasions.”)
Now, they were alarmed “for they knew that according to their law that such things must be established by the voice of the people. Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would deprive them of their rights and privileges of the church” (Alma 2:3-4).
They held the election, and it was against Amlici.
“Now this did cause much joy in the hearts of those who were against him; but Amlici did stir up those who were in favor to anger against those who were not in his favor. And it came to pass that they gathered themselves together, and did consecrate Amlici to be their king” (Alma 2:8-9).
Doesn’t this feel just a little too familiar? In the third presidential debate, Trump refused to say whether or not he would concede if the vote came against him. By all appearances the man seems incapable of accepting the possibility that the people don’t like him, and don’t want him to lead. And perhaps neither can his (minority of) followers, many of whom seem willing to put him in power un-democratically if they could.
Would Trump lead a violent uprising? Not him, surely—he’s too much of a coward to man a barricade. But he might stir the anger and resentment so much that the pot boils over nonetheless, and violence does result. Obviously, some already has. And it has sprung up from both sides of the political aisle as a result of Trump’s extreme and irresponsible rhetoric.
“Violent uprising” is exactly what Amlici provoked. Refusing to accept the results of the free election, Amlici t0ok the portion of people he had won over and actually waged a war against their former brethren the Nephites. Amlici lost and was killed, along with thousands of others. But of course, not just mortal lives were lost in that battle, but souls, those whom a power-hungry Amlici stole away for the sake of his own ego. Like with Noah, we can “see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men” (Alma 46:9).
As the Nephites buried their dead, they noticed that the people of Amlici, who were technically still Nephites, “had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites” (Alma 3:4). In this they inadvertently cursed themselves with the same distinguishing curse God had set upon the Lamanites. “They brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (Alma 3:19).
In this context, think about the word “deplorable.” Have you seen these people on Twitter? Deplorable Jim, Deplorable AJ, Deplorable Fred. They, too, have marked themselves, in their minds ironically, but to those who are not fooled by Trump, often accurately. And it’s done entirely of their own free will and choice.
This rhetoric is pretty standard on Twitter these days.
The cycle repeated about two decades later. A man named Amalickiah rose to become perhaps the greatest villain of the Book of Mormon. A Nephite by birth, Amalickiah wanted power, and, like with Amlici, a number of people wanted to give him that power.
“Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power. And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people” (Alma 46:4-5).
“And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous.” (Alma 46:7).
The “precarious and dangerous” situation the Nephites were in echoes in this day and age. With unsubstantiated rumors of a rigged election and the violent tendencies of many Trump supporters, law and order threaten to break down across the country. Violence threatens because the people have been flattered into believing there’s no way they’ve picked the losing side. If they didn’t win it’s not because their candidate was atrocious—it’s because they were cheated.
And like the Nephites, we see both ordinary Christian believers and prominent evangelical leaders dissenting from Christ’s teachings to support the boastful adulterer Donald Trump.
“Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words…led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to…destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them” (Alma 46:10).
We see Trump call for lawsuits against people who’ve spoken negatively about him, and try to persecute people who believe in a different God than his own (himself). We see him try to restrict the freedoms of the First Amendment, to strip away those essential rights that are the reasons for America’s greatness and liberty. And we see people who claim to believe in the Constitution not care about that, and support him anyway. They have been flattered away to help erode America’s foundation.
However, like Churchill to Hitler, a hero rose up to counter Amalickiah: a Nephite captain named Moroni. Moroni took up the cause of liberty and organized the people against Amalickiah.
“And it came to pass that when Amalickiah saw that the people of Moroni were more numerous than the Amalickiahites—and [Amalickiah] also saw that his people were doubtful concerning the justice of the cause in which they had undertaken—therefore, fearing that he should not gain the point, he took those of his people who would and departed” into the lands of the Lamanites” (Alma 46:29).
Spiritual eyes: Amalickiah switched allegiances and joined with the Lamanites because he knew they would be more malleable in his hands (unfortunately, we are not told the size of his hands). There he “did stir up the Lamanites to anger against the people of Nephi,” ultimately persuading the king of the Lamanites to initiate warfare. Interestingly, the greater part of the Lamanites, though generally hateful of the Nephites, did not want to go to war, and many resisted at first.
Like the former Democrat Donald Trump with the Republican party, Amalickiah took advantage of this unique political situation to climb up the power ladder. He used people like objects and cast them aside when he did not need them anymore. Through an ingenious, fascinating, and literally Satanic chain of lies, manipulation, and back-to-back betrayals, Amalickiah ultimately dethroned the king and took his place as head of the Lamanite nation.
“And thus by his fraud, and by the assistance of cunning servants, he obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land, among all the people of the Lamanites…and all the dissenters of the Nephites.
“Now these dissenters, having the same instruction and the same information of the Nephites, yea, having been instructed in the same knowledge of the Lord, nevertheless, it is strange to relate, not long after their dissensions they became more hardened and impenitent, and more wild, wicked and ferocious than the Lamanites” (Alma 47:35–36).
Don’t we see that in certain Trump supporters? People we may have once allied with now taking on the worst attributes of Trump and his ilk, becoming worse than normal political opponents.
Then we have the story of a people calling themselves “kingmen.” While the Nephites were in the middle of a war for their existence with the Lamanites, a movement gained traction in the capital city—a movement “to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land” (Alma 51:5). You can see how the troubles of the Nephites are indeed cyclical, repetitive. That is not an accident or failure of creativity. It is how evil seeks to gain dominance.
Like Amlici, the kingmen lost in a free election, but they didn’t go away. And when the Nephite capital is threatened by the Lamanites, “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” (Alma 51:13). They would actively harm the cause of the Nephites’ survival in this critical time, just because they did not get their way.
While I could almost see this story being used against the Never Trump movement, I think it is more apt to liken this those who, in any ordinary election would vote for a straight GOP ticket, but this year vote for only Trump and refuse to help down-ballot Republicans who they’ve felt did not honor and support Trump enough in the general. Especially given that the GOP’s congressional hopes are 1) more realistic and 2) at least a little bit more honorable than Trump himself. It is like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.
For a long time this story of the kingmen (like Amlici’s followers) seemed implausible, even to me, a faithful Mormon. How could a significant body of people actually campaign for the existence of a monarch over them? Why would people ever choose a dictator over an elected leader?
Needless to say, over the last few months, it’s gotten increasingly believable. Frighteningly believable.
Pahoran, Pacumeni, and Paanchi
One last power dynamic I want to share—again, a similar story as the cycle continues.
The election of a new chief judge took place shortly after the struggle with Amalickiah ended (Captain Moroni was victorious). The old chief judge passed away, and because the Nephites had a thing for family legacy, his three sons ran to take his place. The oldest, Pahoran, was elected. One of his brothers, Pacumeni, conceded gracefully “and did unite with the voice of the people.” But Paanchi and his followers were “exceedingly wroth” (Helaman 1:6-7).
Here we see another shadow of a Trump-yet-to-come. For what did Paanchi do? “He was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren,” but he was caught before the rebellion could occur and condemned to death for treason. Not content, his rabid followers hired an assassin to kill the new chief judge, Paanchi’s own brother, while he sat upon the judgment seat.
Donald Trump: “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially, abolish the second amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick…. if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people…maybe there is.”
I think you can see just why we Mormons are so wary of Donald Trump.
True, Trump has yet to lead his people up in rebellion against the government. But the impulses are there. The pattern of behavior is there. The psychology of the man and his followers are there!
The prophet Mormon chose these stories out of all the centuries’ worth of records specifically for our modern day. As readers of the Book of Mormon, we Latter-day Saints are primed to recognize this kind of evil for what it is. That’s why we’re frightened when we see movements like Trump’s: we know what it can lead to. We know that in the last days there will be wars and rumors of wars, and a global descent into wickedness and chaos as evil men—and women—take and lust after power.
We are suspicious of leaders who gain favor through flattery. Leaders who tell the people exactly what they want to hear—complimenting them, blaming their enemies for their miseries, relieving them of the duties and burdens of managing and being accountable for their own life and success. Gone are the days when we owed something to our country. Here are the days when we feel the country owes us.
Donald Trump is both extremely vulnerable to flattery—regarding Putin: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him”—and constantly employs it to win over various crowds and classes of people. “I love the [demographic he stands in front of]!” he exclaims before the frenzied crowd.
By placating them with flattery, the people are then primed to be stirred up to anger as their enemies are listed: It’s the government’s fault! It’s the Mexicans’ fault! It’s China’s fault! It’s the media’s fault! It’s your elected leader’s fault! It’s all rigged against you! The other side must never take power, even to the point of violent rebellion if need be—for if they do take power, all hope is extinguished.
This makes the problem political, rather than what it truly is: spiritual. Trump convinces his people the problem is in the system, not their souls. He assures them that the things wrong in their lives are due to outside forces, not internal. He makes them think they need him, are powerless and voiceless without him, and thus gains their implicit and unending devotion no matter what vile acts he commits. Like the villains of the Book of Mormon, he flatters them so much they never know how far they are falling. And that, after all, is the whole point: for “this good man,” as Mike Pence calls him, wants to own your soul.
Woe and Warning
There are other relevant lessons from the Book of Mormon. I could point out how Trump’s rhetoric and behavior matches that of the Antichrists that come among the Nephite people. I could describe how chaos envelops the land due to corrupt judges obtaining and abusing their power. Or how, as a result of this, the democratic Nephite government eventually falls apart, and how—this is exceedingly relevant—the people divide into tribes in a direct parallel to today’s identity politics: Nephites, Lamanites, Ishmaelites, Zoramites, Jacobites, Josphites. And how all this division leads to an entire generation of wickedness that precedes the great destruction prior to Christ’s visitation to the American continent.
There is much here that speaks directly to our day.
“For behold,” declared King Benjamin, a righteous king who changed the system from a monarchy to judiciary, “how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!” (Mosiah 29:17)
We only need glance at the shattered state of America’s political discourse—the anger, the mindless hate, the insanity that divides brother from brother, friend from friend—to see the fruits of Trump’s candidacy. Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that’s why we Latter-day Saints will do everything possible to prevent such people from taking power. Why the great state of Utah, the “conscience of the GOP,” could not sit still and let a power-hungry, ego-driven madman seduce the people of America and take power over their lives and souls.
Of course, in the Book of Mormon there are also figures of inspiration we can learn from, not just cautionary tales.
“I seek not for power, but to pull it down,” proclaimed Captain Moroni. “I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.” (Alma 60:36)
This is what Utah sees in Evan McMullin. A man of honor and integrity who respects the great tradition of America. Not one who will tell flattering lies, or who will cynically manipulate people in need of hope, or who enjoys and abuses his power and fame for personal glory and lust. He is the kind of man we can turn to in times of deep crisis, who seeks not for power, but the freedom and welfare of his country, first and foremost.
The great LDS scholar Hugh Nibley once wrote of the Book of Mormon, “Woe unto the generation that understands this book!” In other words, when we start seeing how relevant the message of the Book of Mormon truly is, we need to watch out. Because there’s a lot more to warn about and learn from than just Donald Trump.
So I invite you, if you find any of this even slightly intriguing, to read the Book of Mormon for yourself. See how it would apply to other aspects of our modern day. The threats it warns against are, like Trump, not strictly political, but spiritual. And spiritual problems are the most difficult to identify. If you read the Book of Mormon in good faith, you might see, like us, how it can be likened to your own life and especially our modern day.
So consider Evan McMullin. Consider the Book of Mormon. Consider the fruits of the Latter-day Saints. I think Utah, in this election cycle, has earned at least that.