Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 51 (Would not Take Up Arms to Defend Their Country)

“13 And it came to pass that when the men who were called king-men had heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them, they were glad in their hearts; and they refused to take up arms, for they were so wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty, that they would not take up arms to defend their country.”

This chapter illustrates some of the dangers that arise in a representative society. There had been a healthy debate and those supporting maintaining the representative rule of judges had triumphed. But those who had supported the king-men refused to go along and support the government.

Captain Moroni’s actions such as executing dissenters may seem harsh to us. But Mormon’s comments about the precariousness of the situation help explain his strong reaction. It helps to remember that the Nephites had just seen the Zoramites and followers of Nehor leave the Nephite body politic and literally join the fight against it. So they were wary of yet another large dissent. And a show of strong force seemed like the only way to stop even more from dissenting.

More generally for us, this chapter reveals why while vigorous debate is healthy, we need to draw the line at refusing to follow the law when we disagree. Such disobedience to the law–absent an extraordinarily strong cause in response to blatant injustice– is deeply harmful to the social fabric. And this is especially true in times of war when public safety is in jeopardy.

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