My most recent reading of the the story of Alma and Amulek in the Book of Mormon was interesting because the parallels to our time are so strong. Like many of the people I talk to I am concerned for our country and our liberties. For me these concerns are reinforced when I hear conference talks or read church sponsored articles encouraging members to foster a culture of religious freedom.
Clearly the Nephites had a different type of government than exists today, but some of the threats to the government were similar. Speaking of the people in the city Ammonihah, “For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of the people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgements, and commandments which he has given unto his people.” (Alma 8:17) Later Amulek declares to the people, “I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.” (Alma 10:27) Finally the angel told Alma, “Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.” (Alma 8:16)
Back in 1995 President Hinckley presented, “The Family, A Proclamation to the World.” At the time this document didn’t seem controversial. In part it states, “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” I have a friend who was on a mission in Brazil during this time and he was instructed to use this document as a way to approach people about the church. He found this frustrating because he would share the contents of the document and the response he would get was that everyone believed these things, why would I be interested in your church based on something that everyone already believes.
Thirteen years after the proclamation was presented by the prophet, Prop 8 passed in California in 2008. Marriage law defined by this proposition was similar to doctrine presented by in the proclamation. The people of California voted for and passed proposition 8 but the law was revoked by a court and eventually the US supreme court upheld the ruling of the lower court by a 5-4 decision.
This proclamation comes with a warning, “We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfil family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
After wrestling with God on behalf of the people of Ammonihah in mighty prayer and then being spit upon and cast out of the city Alma left. Seems a reasonable course of action, especially when there were other cities and people who needed the message and who would likely respond positively. But the angel sent him back, telling him to, “say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them” and Alma “returned speedily.”
Some say or hope that the church will change its stance on marriage with time. Yet the proclamation continues to be quoted at every conference. Another belief of the church is that, “we believe … in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (Article of Faith 12) As in times past the church and its members strive to stay in compliance with the law of the land as well as the law of God. The church did cease from the practice of plural marriage when the law forbade the practice. However, this did not change the belief or doctrine that plural marriages solemnized in the temple were valid. With the repeal of the 18th amendment the national Prohibition ended, but church members were not then free to imbibe alcohol. With courts striking down Prop 8 and DOMA the church still proclaims that marriage is between a man and a woman. I do not see this changing. What I do see are more frequent talks from church officers encouraging members to defend their religious liberties.
In a vision Amulek saw Alma before he returned to Ammonihah so Amulek knew Alma and told him, “I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.” and indeed Alma did bless Amulek and his house. Amulek said, “I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry.”(Alma 10:4) Amulek also testified, “For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake.” Eventually the people of Ammonihah would not allow Amulek to return, “Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the work of God, he being rejected by those who were one his friends and also by his father and his kindred;” (Alma 15:16) Alma took “Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.” (Alma 15:18) Amulek paid a high price to follow the Lord. He lost his wealth, friends and family. It was much better than the alternative of being destroyed with those who chose to stay in Ammonihah.
Alma and Amulek watched as wives and children were burned. Families were destroyed. In our day we saw the CEO of Mozilla be fired for his support of Prop 8. Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one to lose his job in California for his views. Many members who supported the call of church leaders to support Prop 8 were abused. Now we await a supreme court decision in what is being called the “gay wedding cake case.” How quickly things have changed. The people of California voted for Prop 8 just a few years ago and now the State of Colorado has done its best to drive one of its citizens out of business as his views don’t align with those of the state. Should Colorado win where does the persecution of religious people end?
The initial confrontation between Amulek and Zeezrom is interesting in this story and I must admit that one of my favorite lines from the Book of Mormon comes from this interaction. Zeezrom lays a trap for Amulek, desiring to destroy him, which Amulek identifies, avoids and then replies, “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me?” ( I wonder if Alma would have used that moniker.) In spite of the animosity they continue their discussion. Amulek continues to preach as does Alma. Some were convinced of the words of Alma and Amulek but “the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek,” and they were thrown into prison where they were tortured. Later, after great suffering and significant loss of life among the believers Zeezrom desired to speak more to Alma and Amulek after leaving Ammonihah. Remarkably, after the previous hostilities Alma and Amulek hurry to Zeezrom’s side. Zeezrom repents and is forgiven. If we have to confront “children of hell” we need to remember that like Zeezrom, they might repent and we need to be ready and anxious to help them quickly.
As a kid I would have thought the story of Alma and Amulek was beyond anything I would experience in my life and now it feels familiar to the world around me.