Just One Minute
The crowd roared their approval as the senator took the stage. He grabbed the proffered microphone and raised it to his mouth – his mind racing. He only had one minute. One minute to endorse the head of his party. One minute to show his allegiance and unity. Just one single minute to try and secure more coveted votes.
Senator Mike Lee from Utah took a deep breath and declared: “…To my Mormon friends, my Latter-Day Saint friends, think of [President Trump] as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power, but to pull it down. He seeks not praise of the world or the fake news, but he seeks the well-being and the peace of the American people.”
When I first heard this statement, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I was hurt and outraged. How dare Senator Lee compare our current President with Captain Moroni? In so doing, he disfigured our scriptural hero, stretching them beyond all recognition to fit his desired frame. This comparison is on par with equating President Trump to other prominent religious figures, such as Saint Peter, Siddhartha Guatama, Lao Tzu, or the Prophet Muhammed.
After my initial reaction, I actually found the whole thing rather funny. The juxtaposition of President Trump to Captain Moroni, along with the similarities between their two societies, was too ironic not to share.
However, the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints isn’t exactly mainstream. With that in mind, I am going to have to get my feet wet a bit and briefly explain who is Captain Moroni.
He’s The Golden Statue On Top Of Every Temple Ever… Right?
Uh… no, actually. That would be the Angel Moroni, whose father actually named him after the man we’re about to discuss: Captain Moroni.
Captain Moroni was a reportedly mighty, righteous man placed in charge of the armies of a civilization in the Book of Mormon. He was a brilliant, well-educated leader with keen foresight.
During his career, he built practically impenetrable strongholds and introduced the idea of armor throughout his army. He held firm against an invasion that dragged on for years before ultimately claiming victory.
The Book of Mormon has this to say about him:
“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, 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 48:17)
Why Do We Care About Captain Moroni’s Story?
In my faith, we believe that there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, we believe that by studying the histories and stories recorded in scripture, we can gain insight into our current times. How does that work with the story of Captain Moroni?
To begin with, his society was similar to our own. It was a democratic one, deciding laws and electing the head of government as well as military appointments like Captain Moroni’s according to the voice of the people.
The people’s voice was starkly divided during the massive invasion that defined Captain Moroni’s career. It was a lot like the polarization we see in our society today. The divisive issue? Whether they should remain a democracy or establish a monarchy.
While the majority of people valued their ability to collectively govern their civilization, not everyone wanted it to stay that way. Even though they were facing invasion by a foreign power, those who belonged to the upper class didn’t view it as a threat. They wanted to let the invading force in so that they could strike a deal to gain a crown. In order to facilitate this outcome, they refused to take up arms and fight.
Captain Moroni was outraged by this arrogance born of greed and privilege. He was also livid over the indifference for the lives of his soldiers and fellow countrymen. Those living in the center of the land didn’t see the war being fought on their borders. They viewed it as a political issue rather than a lethal reality.
Realizing that the division at home was causing him to fight a war on two fronts, Captain Moroni turned to the people. Ultimately he obtained authorization to institute martial law. Anyone found speaking out against freedom or refusing to defend their country during the war he threw in jail or killed. This helped Captain Moroni restore unity to the civilization and, eventually, successfully repel the invaders.
A lethal invasion that many view as a political issue and refuse to defend against, all while debating freedom? Sounds like a pandemic to me…
The Best Of Intentions…
Senator Lee made his comparison thinking that it would build up President Trump’s repertoire with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Unfortunately, I believe he delivered a fatal blow to President Trump’s character instead.
President Trump has done nothing but exhibit the complete opposite of Captain Moroni’s beliefs. He has deterred his followers from wearing masks, emboldening them to declare that it’s their right not to wear them. He supports hate groups while ignoring the plight of minorities. President Trump has also shirked many of the responsibilities that come with freedom in this country, including dodging war drafts and not paying taxes.
Most insidiously of all, President Trump has prioritized himself above America as he’s attempted to overthrow democracy. He has sown distrust, appealing to the most privileged in this country to trust him above all else. He has also referred to a third, fourth, or fifth term, showing all he is interested in is power. Our current President doesn’t seek the praise of the world? All anyone has to do is look at his rallies, Twitter account, and incessant bragging to know that is fundamentally untrue.
The Real Problem In America
Clearly, President Trump is not Captain Moroni incarnate. If President Trump lived during the time of Captain Moroni, he would be in jail without a trial under martial law. If he somehow escaped execution for the threats he has breathed out against democracy, that is. He will never be able to say, as did Captain Moroni:
“I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for the honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country” (Alma 60:36).
Here’s the weird thing: the majority of American citizens agree with me. They do not look to President Trump for moral guidance. They don’t believe most of what he says. Some are even appalled that President Trump is the head of their party. If that’s the case, then why did his supposed political opposite, President-elect Joe Biden, win by such a small margin?
The answer is that President Trump is not the problem with America. He is a symptom, an outgrowth of powerful currents running beneath the surface of American society. The divisive issues that cause people to protest, riot, and brawl in the streets grow out of deeper cracks from within the bones of our country. The question remains, then: what is dividing America?
I believe that the divide doesn’t stem from any one issue, geography, or political agenda. Instead, I believe that it is born out of a misinterpretation of the idea of “freedom.”
The TV blares warnings of how a certain individual’s or group’s ideas are dangerous, so there need to be laws put in place to stop them from exercising their freedom. On the other hand, social media spits outfeed full of those who say government mandates are taking away their freedoms.
The reality is, both of these views fundamentally misunderstand “freedom”. Somewhere along the line, we here in America started thinking that “freedom” is equivalent to “free will”. In other words, we believe that if we are able to do whatever we want with no limits or accountability, we are free.
This type of “freedom” is unattainable, because it simply does not exist. “Freedom” has limits and responsibilities inherently built into it. The reason is simple: “freedom” relies on society to exist while “free will” does not.
“Freedom” is reliant upon people coming together to form a civilization. Being a part of civilization means agreeing to a social contract. It means understanding that by individually accepting some limits and responsibilities, we collectively gain rights and privileges. This is why civilization has the word “civil” in it: having a society is what allows for our freedom, so it requires us all getting along and depending on one another. We, therefore, have an individual and collective duty to protect everyone in our society, since it is through individual membership that we gain collective freedom.
The story of Captain Moroni fascinates me because it clearly lays out the opinion that freedom is not free. If we want freedom with all the rights and privileges that come with it, we need to take on certain responsibilities and duties. Retaining our freedom means that, at times, we stop digging in our heels because we don’t think it’s in our best interest or fair to ask us to take part in a war that we feel doesn’t affect us. Why? Because the truth is when the freedom of one of us is threatened, all of our freedom is threatened. Hopefully, we will be able to realize this and re-center ourselves as we move into a new chapter of American history.