A Mighty Change of Heart Part III: Righteous Indignation and the Moroni-Pahoran Letters

This will be the third post in the Mighty Change of Heart series. Last week I examined how we Mormons can suffer from many of the weaknesses of the Zoramites without even knowing it. This week, I will examine Captain Moroni as a role model in Mormonism, for good or for bad.

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The Book of Mormon contains about twenty chapters documenting the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites. To recap, the Nephites are generally acknowledges as the “good” ones. They kept the scriptural record, they had a prophet, and they kept the Law of Moses and looked forward to Christ’s coming. The Lamanites are war-like, and are just waiting for some demagogue to rile them up enough to go fight the Nephites. In this case, a Nephite dissident was angry enough to overthrow the Lamanite throne and lead them to war against the Nephites.

This sets the stage for one of Mormonism’s most famed and beloved heroes in the scriptures, Captain Moroni. Worried for the safety and the freedom of his people in the wake of war, he rips off his cloak, writes a memoriam to religious liberty on it (“In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children“), and raised it in every Nephite city. Mormons love this story, and for good reason. With a long history of persecution in the United States, including a general extermination order in the state of Missouri, we have always been ready to defend our rights and liberties. You see that even today, in the many odes to religious liberty surrounding Obergefell v. Hodges and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Mormon, the prophet-historian who wrote the Book of Mormon, writes about Captain Moroni, “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.” Mormons too, hold up Captain Moroni as an example of bravery and Christian courage in a world that increases in wickedness. For example, Elder Soares in a recent general conference asks us all to “transform ourselves into modern Captain Moronis in order to win the wars against evil.”

The Scripture

Moroni is pretty cool. But he often couldn’t keep his cool. In one battle encounter in the Book of Mormon, he is fighting a losing battle with the Lamanites, because he doesn’t have enough resources and men. He writes back to the chief judge of the Nephites, Pahoran, to send in reinforcements. But he gets no answer. In anger, he writes again to Pahoran, “Ye know that ye do transgress the laws of God, and ye do know that ye do trample them under your feet. Behold, the Lord saith unto me: If those whom ye have appointed your governors do not repent of their sins and iniquities, ye shall go up to battle against them… Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.

This is typically awesome Moroni. Faced with the unjust treatment of the government, he is ready to storm the bureaucracy and restore truth and justice. But what if I told you that Moroni didn’t fully understand the situation? It turns out that Pahoran has been in the midst of a coup. A bunch of restless Nephites have overthrown him and installed a king while Moroni was gone with the Nephite army. He is trying to regroup, and is powerless to help Moroni. In his response to Moroni, he explains and asks for Moroni’s help. But, what I find most important, he is willing to look past Moroni’s hasty personal attacks. He says:

And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free. (Alma 61:9).

In my previous readings of this scripture, I just saw it as a bump on the way to the righteous outcome of Moroni restoring peace and order to the Nephite nation. Moroni is the hero. Pahoran is a good guy, but more of a weak side character, who couldn’t even make up his mind whether it was morally acceptable to fight back the coup who overthrew him.

The Change

But what would have happened if Pahoran had been more like Moroni? What would have been Moroni’s response to false accusation? If everyone was ready to condemn the other for “trampling the laws of God” and come to war against them, would the Nephites have been able to recover a united front against the Lamanites? Would Mormon’s vision of a world filled with Moroni’s really be that great, or would it quickly fall apart amidst disagreements escalating to all-out war?  I have since found a profound respect for Pahoran, because of his soft answer in the face of Moroni’s righteous indignation. How many of us can say “It mattereth not”, and respond in love, when others have falsely accused us of wrongdoing? How many of us can compliment someone for the greatness of their heart, after they have pointed the finger at us, and frankly caused us a great deal of embarrassment?

In a world of YouTube comments, Facebook echo chambers, and Twitter rants, we as Mormons have a lot of pressure to respond like Moroni. We can easily try to paint ourselves as defenders of righteousness, and look past the motivations of those on the other side. It’s just a lot easier that way. And who can really call us out? I mean, we’re just our duty as Christian soldiers, defending the faith. But I think if our communications could more reflect Pahoran’s soft answer, we would more quickly bring peace in our society.

Pahoran too was a hero in restoring peace to the land. Because he was willing to be humble and forgive the rash anger of his brother Moroni, he was able to unite his forces with Moroni’s and lead the Nephites to victory. I hope that in our Sunday School lessons and sacrament meeting talks, we can look to Pahoran’s example of righteousness, just as much as we do to Moroni’s.

Additional Thoughts:

I have to give credit to a beautiful post on the same topic by Holly Black at Mormon Hub. She gives examples of how we tend to be Captain Moroni’s on social media. Highly recommend the read.

I also thought this discussion of Harry Potter and toxic masculinity overlaps very well. Newt Scamander in Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them “takes every trope we know about the Male Hero– the toxic tropes we have grown up with, that are so internalized in traditional narratives that we don’t even blink at them anymore– and flips them on their head.” I loved reading Harry Potter, and I still love Harry Potter just as he is. But he always has a Moroni-like tendency to judge quickly (Think about the scene when he confronts Snape and says, “How dare you stand where he stood?”).  Captain Moroni is a Mormon Harry Potter, and Pahoran is a Mormon Newt Scamander.

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