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Captain Moroni and the Sermon on the Mount: Resolving a Scriptural Tension
|Title||Captain Moroni and the Sermon on the Mount: Resolving a Scriptural Tension|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2021|
|Journal||BYU Studies Quarterly|
|Keywords||Anger; Captain Moroni; Mormon (Prophet); Sermon on the Mount; Warfare|
A natural tension seems to exist between two important features of the Book of Mormon. On one hand, Mormon includes in his record a version of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave to the Nephites—an address that sets the standard for discipleship and that contains teachings obviously opposed to violence. In it, we hear about not resisting evil, turning the other cheek, going another mile when compelled to go one, loving our enemies—and so forth (3 Ne. 12:39–44). On the other hand, Mormon also presents various Nephite leaders as righteous even though they were immersed in violence. Captain Moroni stands out among these leaders because his wartime activities dominate the last third of the book of Alma: we see him in significant detail.
The juxtaposition of these two threads appears contradictory. We see righteous men, including prophetic figures, engaged in the very activities that the text itself seems to prohibit. And this apparent contradiction seems significant even though most of these leaders lived before the Sermon was even given. This is because it is natural to think of the Book of Mormon as a whole—as a collection of significant experiences and teachings that are consistent with one another and that together present a unified, divine message to the world. We thus expect to see the book’s most prominent leaders actually live the standard found in the book’s most prominent teachings— whether they actually possessed the Sermon on the Mount or not. And therein lies the problem. Although these prominent teachings clearly seem to be opposed to violence, we see these prominent leaders very much engaged in violence.
It is not necessarily obvious how to resolve this tension. One strategy, of course, would be to ignore the tension and to simply avoid thinking about it. But a sacred text requires more from us than that. So the apparent disparity has to be faced. How is it possible to reconcile Captain Moroni with the Sermon on the Mount?
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