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The Book of Mormon was intended, and is correctly read, to be applied to current events and personal relationships in our day. “In its descriptions of the problems of today’s society,” said President Hinckley, “it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems.”
One of the many emphases made in this book is a warning regarding a millennia-old effort to use government to promote and enforce Satan’s standards. During the years leading up to Christ’s coming, the Gadiantons achieved surprising success—in the end, nearly destroying an entire civilization—by exploiting the natural human condition of deferring to authority. Despite early opposition, they ultimately achieved victory, and were thus able to advance their objectives, by “obtain[ing] the sole management of the government.”
This wasn’t a group of gangsters or foreign terrorists. The secret combination was comprised of Nephites who wanted to usurp power to uphold their preferred leaders and alter the laws to suit their own desired ends. They weren’t enemies from a distant land, or recognizable criminals on the street—they were people who blended into society at large whose distinguishing features were not visible and superficial, but ideological and thus largely undetectable. Thus it was that after Kishkumen murdered the chief judge, he and his followers were unable to be ferreted out, “mingl[ing] themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found.”
But how did the Nephites allow themselves to be overtaken by their true enemies? Why did God’s people fall for Satan’s tricks? More specifically, how did the group of Gadiantons infest and overtake the government, replacing God-fearing men with Satan-supporting statists?
The Book of Mormon explains:
…the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.
First, the Gadiantons focused on the wicked—those who, like them, lusted after power and wanted to play the same game. Once successful with their target market, they expanded their efforts to likewise target the righteous. Amazingly, the individuals who should have known better were propagandized to the point of “believ[ing] in their works” and, even worse, “partak[ing] of their spoils.”
If the Book of Mormon is meant to be applied to our day, then what in the world does this mean?
To address this question, let’s first continue the quote from President Hinckley above:
I know of no other writing which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. But with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.
It makes sense that wicked people in government would be attracted to imposing burdensome taxes to fund their desired projects and please the majority of their constituents who want them to bring home the bacon. Wicked politicians likewise flatter people with promises they have no intention of fulfilling. And it’s little surprise that wicked people encourage or personally exemplify a debasement in moral conduct, which necessarily permeates the political process of which they become a part. And wicked people love war as a tool to centralize power and wealth. There’s no shock in any of this.
What is a shock is to see supposedly righteous people tolerate such a system, let alone praise and participate in it. Even Latter-day Saints have become seduced by secret combinations.
Many in our faith support the status quo of already burdensome taxes, and some want even more. Many make hollow promises in pursuit of political power. Mormons have been instrumental in justifying the brutal exercise of centralized political power, including torture, and are heavy players in all levels of the military industrial complex. And the Mormon masses by and large praise these people and policies, ignorant of the eternal principles, individual liberty, and personal responsibility being violated in the process.
My intent here is not to direct attention to specific individuals per se, but to highlight a worrisome trend that happened once before, and if the Book of Mormon is indeed relevant to our day, is happening once again.
We Mormons are committed to bringing the truth of the gospel to “who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” But what happens when the very same messengers of truth have failed to understand and internalize the principles they profess to believe in? Many of those who know where to find the truth have been unable or unwilling to act on it appropriately, instead (knowingly or ignorantly) supporting secret combinations.
Like most people, Latter-day Saints are good at rejecting evil in hindsight. We revile the despots of world history, and recognize their tyranny quite readily. But few are able to apply such scrutiny in the present, and thereby tolerate or support the very violations they claim to detest. Helmuth Hübener’s story highlights this problematic condition.
Unpersuaded by the propaganda in Nazi Germany, Hübener and a few close friends defied Hitler’s regime—a secret combination that overpowered the German government by following the very practices President Hinckley described—by distributing leaflets containing news he picked up from the British Broadcasting Corporation using a shortwave radio. Hübener had little support from his fellow Latter-day Saints; the branch president was a Nazi loyalist who attempted to excommunicate him and many fellow members disagreed with his efforts. Ultimately, the young protestor was beheaded for his supposed crime.
Latter-day Saints who know of Hübener’s story generally regard him as a heroic defender of freedom, despite his having broken Nazi law in carrying out his protests. Books, films, and other works have been produced describing his praiseworthy efforts. But the fact that he found so few friends among those who shared his faith illustrates the very point I’m making here: even the very elect have been, and will be, deceived.
The context of that scripture is a warning about false prophets. But as then Elder Harold B. Lee reminded us, “False prophets and Christs (Matt. 24:24), as foretold by the Savior, may come to deceive us not alone in the name of religion, but if we can believe the history of Italy and Germany and Russia, they may come under the label of politicians or of social planners or so-called economists, deceitful in their offerings of a kind of salvation which may come under such guise.”
The righteous never have been immune.