Unilateralism takes its form in decision-making without regard for others feelings, thoughts, or beliefs.  The real temptation of good people is not the crude, the crass, or the carnal. The really refined temptation, with which even Jesus was tried, is that of egocentric altruism.  It is to claim oneself to be the incarnation of a good and righteous cause for which others may rightly be made to suffer.  It is rationalizing one’s self-justification in the form of a duty to others.


Ammon cut off arms for King Lamoni. Ammon took the law into his own hands. He was not an agent of King Lamoni, but King Lamoni does not seem disturbed that Ammon would enforce the law (assuming the sheep were justly acquired by King Lamoni) without having been commissioned of him to do so. It is an interesting story that once converted, King Lamoni and his people become the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, whom the record states were “highly favored” of God. So highly favored of God were they that they are referred to as “the people of God.” Even Ammon is astonished by their righteousness. But a covenant of love, one of peace, is not foreign to the law given to Nephi, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. In D&C 98:30-31, the law affords two choices. One is justified according to one’s own desires after asking permission of God and the other requires no permission whatever because it is “righteousness” according to God’s will.

This will have to serve as an introduction to Captain Moroni who seeks permission from God (through his prophet), IAW D&C 98, to go to war with the Lamanites. Captain Moroni demonstrates a “perfect knowledge” of the law and chooses the option in D&C 98:31 which is “justifiable” so long as permission from God is sought. Captain Moroni did not choose the first option in D&C 98:30 and we know how it turns out for the Nephites in the end (they are corrupted by war). In seeking permission from God to shed blood, Captain Moroni is not doing God’s will. It was not revealed that he should do this, rather, Captain Moroni is asking permission to do this in accordance with his own will. The Book of Mormon records that Captain Moroni is acting according to “his desire” (Alma 43:33) and not by revelation from the Lord. Despite the “perfect knowledge” Captain Moroni possessed, he is a fallen man like any other. While he does not rely entirely upon the arm of the flesh, he did ask permission of God after all, Captain Moroni does not rely entirely upon the arm of God either.

The point is that one may be “justified” resorting to carnal warfare with permission from God, but Christ performed Atonement for sinners with the hope a disciple would choose the “more more excellent way of Christ’s” (Ether 12:11 cf D&C 98:30) righteousness by renouncing the sword and waging spiritual warfare (proclaiming the gospel of peace). As the Lord revealed to Adam, “I forbid it, but you are an agent unto yourself.” If everyone were like Christ, the powers of hell would not merely be shaken, they would be bound.

Alma 43

The present day does not call a Saint to defend the Church, one’s family, one’s inalienable rights or social privileges through violence and the shedding of blood (Alma 43:8-9 cf. D&C 63:27-35). The Saints are born into bondage and called to reconcile their oppressors, not to destroy them. The story of Ammon among the people of Lamoni might be more applicable to the Saints of the latter-day than the example of Moroni. Still, the example of Moroni is instructive for those Saints who wish to defend their religion. The Saints can defend the sovereignty of divine institutions, inalienable rights, and social privileges through every exception provided in human law. Unlike other dissenters, eg. Zoramites (Alma 31-32) and Amalekites (Alma 21), the Saints are not dissenting to physical warfare, rather properly dissenting after the tradition of the Bill of Rights and Art. 1 Sec. 10 of the Constitution.

The Zoramites and Amalekites followed in the ways of Cain, Lamech and Nimrod by apostatizing from correct principles. They had become puffed up in their pride and materialism. They suffered from a severe case of egocentric altruism made manifest in their oppression of the poor and execution of incommensurate punishment upon their offenders. They were “King Men” who ruled by might, not by right, and were embarrassed to associate with the poor and with sinners. In fact, it was exactly because the Zoramites and Amalekites segregated themselves from these disreputables, if they did not summarily kill them, that each believed themselves to be benefactors of society. The Zoramites were more like the Pharisees who, in Christ’s day, prayed in the temple thanking the Lord they were not like the poor and the sinners, but did nothing to help either. The Amalekites were more like the Romans who, in Christ’s day, were vicious and brutal to the poor and to sinners. The Lamanites were a relatively peaceful people who, if left alone, would leave others alone. Unfortunately, the Lamanites were also superstitious and easily stirred up to war by the propaganda of the Zoramites and Amalekites. As much as the Zoramites and Amalekites despised the Nephites, they loathed the Ammonites (i.e. Anti-Nephi-Lehis) because of their piety (Alma 43:11). It was much easier to prevail intellectually upon the Nephites who were more pragmatic than it was to prevail upon the Ammonites whose concerns were spiritual, not temporal (Alma 30:20 cf. 1 Pet. 3:17).

The Ammonites abhorred war and had covenanted to abstain from such brutalities. Nevertheless, their children had not so covenanted and it was to the armies of the Nephites whom the Stripling Warriors volunteered their support in the coming conflict (Alma 43:13 cf. Alma 57:27). Moroni declares himself Captain in Chief over the Nephite militias, but unlike the Military Chieftains of the Lamanite armies who desired to subject the Nephites, he does not undertake to subject the Lamanites to Nephite rule. The offensive nature of war espoused by the Amalekites and Zoramites was solely for the purpose of nation-building and an expansion of jurisdiction and territorial occupation under their rule. The Lamanites move first toward the borders of Jershon which is the place of the Ammonites to whom Korihor first went preaching against Christ. The Ammonites rejected Korihor being more wise than the Nephites who succumbed, many of them, to his teachings. Moroni, remembering the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men to Alma inquiring of the Lord whether the Nephites should defend themselves against the Lamanites (Alma 43:23).

Alma had previously gone among the Nephites preaching against the contentions amongst them. The Nephites had become a house divided against itself. For their contentions, Alma warned of impending punishment from the Lord at the hands of the enemies if they did not repent. Alma proceeded, through the missionary effort, to bring peace back to the land as Benjamin had done in his day (Words of Mormon). Moroni, therefore, seeing that the Lamanites were upon them because of their own wickedness, sought permission from the Lord to defend the Nephites through the shedding of blood. The Lord reveals to Alma the place of initial attack in order to protect the Ammonites. Moroni builds a militia from common folk and becomes the great leader of an insurgency against the Lamanite invasion (Alma 43:26 cf. Deut. 20).

The Lord having shown Moroni where the Lamanites will first attack, Moroni then takes the war into his own hands, according to “his desire” (v. 33). “He thought it no sin that he should defend [the Ammonites] by stratagem” because “he knew the intention of the Lamanites, [was] to destroy…or to subject them and bring them into bondage” (v. 29). The Latter-Day Saints are born into bondage and so we would not expect the Saints to engage in revolution against The Powers That Be. We look to the example of Christ, rather than to Moroni, for a modus operandi to deal with our present discontents. Instead of shedding blood, because we are forbidden to shed blood in our own defense, we protect the sovereignty of the church and our familial relationships through exceptions provided in human law. We are commanded to organize ourselves as closely to divine law as is “agreeable” with human law (D&C 20:1), which means exceptions in human law must be provided that allow us to live divine law in its entirety. Proper dissent is the war we are called to wage today. Like Moroni, a Saint may choose that which is “justifiable” or that which is “righteous” when making use of human law for a defense.

To attempt a de facto political take over by disenfranchising the wicked from participation in political institutions will be seen as aggression. This will provoke the beast inside them and put them into fight mode. They will retaliate in an age where democracy is accepted as political salvation. Therefore, undertaking a non-unilateral “stratagem” that does not provoke the wicked to “fight like dragons” and “smite with fierce anger” (v. 43-44) is wisdom for “wrath’s sake.” Instead of fighting for de facto political theocracy (v. 45), the Saints might pursue a strategem of social theocracy through every exception provided by human law. We can still fulfill a duty to defend our families, our inalienable rights, our children, our religion, and our social privileges from outside regulation and infringement without having to rely on outsiders for protection (Isaiah 31, the Israelites are reproved by the Lord for looking to the heathen and their wicked institutions for protection). We seek to govern ourselves through every exception provided by human law (v. 46-47). Our “better cause” (v. 45) is not to slay or dominate those who oppress us, nor to give them power for our protection, but to preserve the peace (Alma 44:1, also known as Home Rule) by remaining separate in our political affairs. Let us not “shrink” or “flee” (Alma 43:48) from the more excellent ways Christ provides for our protection. If we “stand…with [priesthood] power…[crying] unto the Lord for…freedom,” our enemies will withdraw themselves from our relationships (v. 50). We can be a free and independent people again, where patriarchy presides and the order of the priesthood governs (D&C 82:21). We observe human law in order to maintain the peace while we work to provide exception in human law that allows us to govern ourselves.

Moroni’s Covenant of Liberty (Alma 46:20-23)


In Alma 43:46, Moroni leads an insurgency in defense of social privileges and immunities, for Church and for family. He cites the laws governing war that have again been revealed in the Latter-Days (D&C 98:22-48). If one is attacked four times and the offender does not repent, then the Lord’s vengeance is upon the aggressor and one can seek permission from the Lord to estrange or to retaliate against one’s offender. Whatever course one takes is justified by the Lord as it was for David into whose hands King Saul was delivered (1 Sam. 24). Of course, if one’s offender repents, one is not permitted to retaliate else the initial offense is justified (D&C 98:24 cf. Matt. 7:1-2). One’s retaliatory offense becomes the greater sin. It is also true that any retaliatory offense, regardless an offender repents, is the greater sin if carried out before four recidivist offenses and without first taking it to the Lord. An offender can trespass an infinite number of times and as long as he repents each time, one is not, at any time, justified retaliating against one’s offender.

What does this mean for Saints today? While Moroni was taught to defend his community until the shedding of his blood with permission from the Lord after four attacks by an impenitent offender, the Lord counsels the Saints of the Latter-Day that it is better to estrange in indignation (D&C 98:47) than to retaliate. While Moroni may have been justified to punish the Lamanites should they fail to repent and enter into a peace covenant, the Lord has forbidden the Saints to defend the Church by shedding blood and to leave vengeance to the Lord. This is consistent with D&C 134:10-11. Instead, the Saints are commanded to seek a remedy to all infringements upon the sovereignty of Church and family through an appeal to the civil authority. Many Saints have interpreted D&C 134:11 to mean the Saints should take their offenders to law rather than provide exceptions in the law that preserve the sovereignty of Church and family from outside regulation and intervention. This is grave error since it would make the entire section of D&C 98 and the appeal of Captain Moroni to the Lord for permission a moot point, since one would go to Caesar and not the Lord. Caesar leaves the victim with little say as to the extent an offender will be punished despite repenting. The more accurate interpretation would be to provide exceptions in human law, such as victim’s rights, that preserve the free exercise of conscience in dealing with offenders. A victim should be allowed to waive temporal punishments for offenders who have not offended them at least four times or who repent each time they cause an offense and for whom one does not receive permission from the Lord through the Holy Ghost (or priesthood representative) to punish. A victim should be allowed to determine the redress for wrongs against their person rather than have it dictated unilaterally by law (Romans 7). Restitution is what the victim and the perpetrator agree upon, not what Caesar dictates, often for his own benefit, especially since the Saints are forbidden to shed blood and the Church is forbidden to put sinners in jeopardy of life and limb or to try them at law for their property. It may be that neither Church nor Saint can justifiably go to law with sinners until victim’s rights are provided as exceptions in the law.

There are other ways in which the Saints can defend their rights, the Church, their communities, and their fellow men than resorting to violence, bloodshed, or compulsory and unilateral human laws. Doctrine and Covenants 121 gives us a better way despite our rationalized justifications for resorting to compulsory means (as if the rationale behind an act is what makes for sin and not the act itself). Dominion is righteously established and protected “without compulsory means” (v. 46), “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving…when moved upon by the Holy Ghost…then showing…afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved; that he may know…thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (v. 41-43). This defense through priesthood power, or the “righteous” option in D&C 98:30, is in stark contrast to indignant estrangement and bloodshed permissible in D&C 98. While justifiable, the latter permissible methods, by order of the priesthood, are little more than attempts to “cover our sins,” to “gratify our pride, our vain ambition” and to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in…unrighteousness” (v. 37). They are unilateral decisions made without regard for repentance. This is especially true of retaliatory punishment. Such a Saint is “left unto himself, to kick against the pricks…and to fight against God” (v. 38). Egocentric altruism works hypocrisy because it does not recognize what it can force (i.e. repentance), thereby punishing the innocent and the penitent (who would repent had their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings been respected.)

Alma 44

Moroni was a pragmatic man who sympathized greatly with the altruism of the Ammonites and encouraged them to maintain their nonviolent discipline and peace covenant with the Lord. As a man who looked to pragmatic ways of protecting the community, with the Lord’s permission, Moroni entered into a covenant which tells us much about his understanding, education, integrity and character. In the sense that Moroni enters into a covenant with like-minded individuals to defend the community, and with permission from God, Moroni is not acting unilaterally with regard to those who enter into a covenant with him. Moroni and his band do, however, act unilaterally on behalf of some in the community who have not entered into Moroni’s covenant and who would prefer not to have their enemy’s blood shed on their behalf. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether Moroni was exploiting the misfortune of the Ammonites, as the focus of the enemy’s initial attack, as a way to ingratiate “his desires” for the defensive war option in the law. Still, Moroni refused to enforce any requirement upon others which he himself did not observe. He violently defended his community against the aggression of the Lamanites but, once he had the upper hand, he refused 1. to punish enemy survivors who repented and entered into a peace covenant, 2. To demand restitution or reparations from them, or 3. To pursue those who retreated into Lamanite territory. He and his band of warriors had covenanted that as enforcers of the law, to break laws they sought to enforce required their own destruction (Alma 46:21). They neither believed as enforcers of the law that they were above or immune to the law nor that they could cover their sins under the color of law. In all of Moroni’s actions, his goal was immediate and lasting peace. He did not desire to fan the flames of future war by levying oppressive requirements upon the defeated.

Alma 45-46

After war with the Lamanites has ended, Alma the Younger prophesies that the Nephites will destroy themselves through perpetual war with the Lamanites. He then withdraws from the Nephites into the wilderness. Helaman and his brethren begin a campaign of missionary work calling the Nephites unto repentance and to a building of the Church. They are resisted by the Nephites as dissensions arise. Once having tasted the corrupting influence of bloodshed and war, the Nephites have come to rely more on the arm of the flesh than on the arm of the Lord. Dissenters are led by a man named Amalickiah. Amalickiah wants to be king and to establish a state among the Nephites and to regulate their free institutions (Alma 46:10). He is aided by the lower-judges in the land who desire power over the people. The Nephites being a pragmatic people, are easily flattered by Amalickiah and the judges (v. 7). Moroni raises the title of liberty again and, by covenant, calls forth the militia to “keep the peace” through war because he “thought it expedient” to do so (v. 31). “According to his desires” (v. 32) and because he “thought it was not expedient that the Lamanites should have any more strength” (v. 30), Moroni cut off Amalickiah and the dissenters as they fled. Amalickiah escapes but the majority of the dissenters are captured and a peace covenant established. The lesson to be learned is that once a people become a warlike, pragmatic, and materialistic people, it is hard to contain the desire towards war and towards an establishment, and growth, of the state.

Defensive war is a slippery slope that ultimately and eventually leads to conspiracy, dissent, immorality, the state, and imperialism. Peace cannot long be maintained by war, but only by the missionary effort and a conversion of one’s enemies to the Gospel of Peace. Moroni was a just and pragmatic man who did the best he knew how violently defending the sovereignty of his people. He observed the law that he enforced, working neither hypocrisy nor any covering of his sins. Moroni estranged and, where a peace covenant could not be achieved, he punished. Unfortunately, Moroni did not pursue the path the Ammonites had taken because he neither thought such a course was expedient nor was it according to his desires. Moroni was a man who concerned himself more for justice and enforcement of the laws, for liberty, and a preservation of the sovereignty of his religion and his people. From time to time he did question whether others might mistake him for a tyrant (Alma 60:13) or for relying more on the arm of the flesh than on the arm of the Lord (Alma 60:36), but Moroni thought himself justified in all he had done because he never acted without first going to the Lord, he had used the arguments of the Ammonites as a rationalized justification for his own actions and he was faithful to his covenant to defend the Church even unto to bloodshed. Moroni was not corrupted by war, but unfortunately his people were. Having achieved a “little authority…they…immediately [began] to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39). The Ammonites, on the other hand, were called “the people of God” because they did not concern themselves over the loss of life at the hands of their enemies. They were a “righteous people” who had “no reason to doubt but [that] they were saved” (Alma 24:26). They refused participation in war exactly because they knew of the temptations and corruptions arising out of war, something Moroni found out with the rise of the Amalickiahites; the Zoramites and Amalekites before them.


The prophets have mentioned the phrase “innocent instrumentalities of war” to describe soldiers on the battlefield from any and every nation. To ask the question: Are they innocent if they volunteer? Most nations require military service by law. Our nation does not. However, our nation has conscripted members of society to war in the past. It is safe to assume that were it not for the law of the land, Saints who volunteer could not be considered “innocent” to have participated in war. The point is further illustrated by President Harold B. Lee in 1971:

When the “law…calls the manhood of the Church into the armed services of any country…civic duty requires that they meet that call. If…they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill…: for it would be a cruel God that would punish his children as moral sinners for acts done by them as the innocent instrumentalities of a sovereign…they were powerless to resist.”

A Saint who volunteers his will as a participant in war is not an innocent instrumentality. Only Saints who are conscripted by law because they are powerless to resist. In the latter case, there is one exception. President Lee continues by stating that killing in war “will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty, beyond the principles to be mentioned.” Even these “innocent instrumentalities of war” who are conscripted might be “murderers” if, when required to kill, they do not observe “the principles to be mentioned.” The principle upon which even a conscript may yet be considered a murderer is to kill with anger or hate in one’s heart (Principles of the Gospel for Military Members, p. 250).

“If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:11-13, 17, 23). The important point here is not that the very powers of hell would be shaken forever were men to root it out through violence, rather, were men to be true to the covenants they make, to keep the commandments revealed unto them by the Lord, and to keep love in their hearts. The people of Nephi were taught to defend their families and religion even unto bloodshed (Alma 43:46-47). The people of God or Ammonites were not so taught to do, rather to be observers and not enforcers of the law in expectation of its fulfillment through Christ. Each kept the covenant which was expected of them.

The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that the Book of Mormon is the “record of a fallen people” (D&C 20:9). Why did they fall? This is one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon.  Commander Mormon gives the answer in the closing chapters of the book in these words: “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction” (Moroni 8:27). And, lest we miss that momentous Book of Mormon message from that fallen people, the Lord warns us in the Doctrine and Covenants again, “Beware the pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old” (D&C 38:39). War gratifies our pride and vain ambition. We can avert the fall and the consequences which follow if we renounce war and proclaim the gospel of peace.

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L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

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