For the new year, I have been re-focusing on gospel study. For what feels like the millionth time, I am beginning the Book of Mormon again. I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…. Each time I begin, it’s the same book, but yet it’s different because I have changed. The world has changed.
The impeachment Senate trial of Donald J. Trump has begun. Hours and hours of arguments have been presented to show the contours of the Ukraine scandal and the reasons for the House to take the extraordinary step of impeaching the President. I assume that hours and hours will be spent by the President’s defenders to cast suspicion on the House investigation. The country is divided with each side determined to remain so to the detriment of our country.
It reminds me of the sons of Lehi. Laman and Lemuel on the one side, Nephi and Sam on the other. Laman and Lemuel were suspicious of their father. He was a strange and visionary man. He had coerced them into leaving the comforts of their home and community to wander in the wilderness, hunting game, and living in tents. It brings to mind abusive families and cults who isolate their followers and subject them to privations. And Nephi and Sam support and believe. They are the “good sons” who hang on Dad’s every word. Laman and Lemuel saw the good in the Jewish people that their father had condemned and they felt judged. Why did Nephi and Sam see things so differently?
Nephi was himself a visionary man. It might be said that he saw even more than his father did of the designs of God and His Son. He clearly recognized the evil that had steeped itself in the culture of the Jews and knew that destruction was near. He knew this in a way Laman and Lemuel did not because he inquired of the Lord. In making a sincere connection with the Spirit, he saw the truth; his family could not continue to follow God and remain in Jerusalem. I assume Sam must have come to the same conclusions.
I’ve been reading the history of my mom’s great-great-great grandfather John Lowe Butler. He lived in Tennessee in the 1830’s when he and his wife joined the Mormons. He moved to Far West and then to Nauvoo. His wife’s sister, Charity Skeen, had also joined back in Tennessee, but was not able to migrate. She was a deaf-mute and her brothers were hostile to the church and felt she was being manipulated against her will. He traveled back to Tennessee in 1842 on a mission. He visited Charity and learned that she was still strong in the faith and wanted to join her sister in Nauvoo. Her brothers threatened to kill John if he took her with him.
He made an interesting observation of his former friends, and neighbors. He said that the society was “all pretty well and bitterly opposed to the principles of the Kingdom of God.” He felt they were “full of the devil and persecution.” He, like Nephi, could see that people were hard in their hearts, immune to the truth, and determined to walk their own way, away from God.
Like Lehi, John Lowe Butler had to leave his home and society in order to follow his conscience and become the man God intended for him to be. In his day, as in our day, as in Lehi’s day, there are divisions that no calm recitation of “the facts” will bridge. The devil rages in the hearts of men. He distorts the minds and hardens the hearts of those who allow him to. The narratives are many. The cynical insinuations multiply like rabbits. There are many warriors fighting supposed bad guys; each side certain of their own superiority. Like the people of Babel, we hardly speak the same language anymore. Where is the truth? Who is the enemy? Is it Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Muslims, Muslims or Jews, rich or poor, white or black? What tribe do you belong to? How can you project the faults of your own tribe onto your enemy? How can you defend your own people regardless of their crimes? That is the name of the game.
But the truth is there for those who are willing to inquire of the Lord. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees our day. He sees a vision of the rise of “two churches,” one good and one evil. The evil church oppresses the humble followers of Christ and puts them in bondage. Their creed is not of principle or ideology, but of power and lust. Their God is not of heaven, but of mammon. This church is not exclusive. There are members in all parties, religions, ethnicities, nations, and economic means. They see themselves as above the rules. They put the pursuit of power and wealth over everything else. They look down on those who behave honorably and act with integrity. They subject them to persecution and bondage.
I was listening to NPR in the car on the way home from dropping Austin off at preschool. The news talked about the Rohingya in Myanmar and the severe persecution of those people. I imagined in my mind a mob of angry men full of hate and violence. Their victims were the Rohingya; and then they were my ancestors, the Mormon pioneers in Missouri; and then they were the Kurds in Northern Syria. And the mob changed too in my mind. They changed from back to white, from poor to rich, from educated to ignorant, etc. Their weapons were likewise fluid. Sometimes guns, sometimes household items, sometimes laws, sometimes judges and lawyers, sometimes social media shaming.
And I saw the truth of this moment. Like Lehi did. Like Nephi did. Like John Lowe Butler did. There is a rising of evil. There is a hardening of hearts and a blinding of minds. The humble followers of Christ; not only Christians, but everyone who seeks to elevate mankind to greater civility, kindness, and devotion to true principles; will face persecution. We will be driven out. Metaphorically and literally. Driven from councils and schools. Driven from houses of government and places of employment. We will increasingly find ourselves excluded from parties consumed with hate and tribalism, who seek power and revenge. To follow Christ is to reject these things. Christ had a crown of thorns, not gems. He stood above the people nailed to a cross, not elevated on a throne of gold. He was willing to face rejection and death rather than deny the principles and truth he held sacred. If he had lived transactionally, compromised his principles, and made friends with the right people, he would likely have been embraced by the Jews. Perhaps he would have been made a king. A fallen king for a fallen people. Instead He became the King of a different Kingdom. As he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
And it has never been of this world. His Kingdom is Zion; where the pure in heart dwell. Zion is all around us, just as the great and abominable church is all around us. We choose which church we belong to by what we set our hearts upon. Will you be driven out with me? Will you take upon yourself the name of my King? Will you become my countrymen in a kingdom that is not of this world? Let us purify our hearts together. Let us partake of a cleansing sacrament of renewal. Let us join hearts and hands in devotion to a higher law, a better way, a holier path guided by the light of truth that resides in the minds of the pure in heart. The Lord will not forget His people. He will not leave us comfortless. As long as we have one another, we will never be alone.