NOTE: A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2013 Mormon History Association Conference in Layton, Utah on June 7, 2013. The authors are indebted to Levi Sledd of Centre College for his assistance in preparing this manuscript. The authors also thank Dr. Matthew Bowman, Dr. Chris Paskewich, and Dr. Robert Bosco and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.
Abstract. This paper presents an argument for a neoconservative interpretation of the Book of Mormon. Neoconservatism is a foreign policy worldview that includes the following core characteristics: 1) a tendency to see the world in “black-and-white” binary terms, 2) a strong “in-group” vs. “out-group” mentality, 3) a strong emphasis on the centrality of the United States in the world to promote liberal democratic values such as equality, freedom, and representative government, and 4) a readiness to use military force to achieve American goals. Examining a variety of key passages from the Book of Mormon, this paper will argue that several parts of the text readily lend themselves to a neoconservative foreign policy worldview. We also present evidence that Mormon religious and political leaders, as well as Mormons in the mass public, are more likely to agree with key tenets of neoconservatism than non-Mormons. We suggest that this empirical phenomenon may be at least partially attributable to themes and ideas found within the Book of Mormon text that lend themselves readily to a neoconservative worldview.
The 2012 United States Presidential election thrust former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints directly in the world spotlight. Throughout the campaign, Governor Romney attempted to draw sharp contrasts with President Obama over a variety of political priorities and viewpoints, especially in the realm of foreign policy. This included recommendations for taking a more confrontational approach with countries like Iran, North Korea, and Russia (Ingersoll and Kelley 2012; Landsberg and Abcarian 2012).
Romney also repeatedly extolled American virtue on the world stage, claiming that his administration would work to inaugurate an “American Century” in which “we secure peace through our strength. And if by absolute necessity we must employ it, we must wield our strength with resolve. In an American Century, we lead the free world and the free world leads the entire world” (Romney 2012). While Governor Romney never explicitly embraced the label “neoconservative,” many political pundits and commentators interpreted Romney’s campaign rhetoric as a promise to return to the neoconservative militaristic, unipolar, and activist foreign policy of the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations (Berman 2012; Heilbrunn 2011; LaFranchi 2012; Rosengerg 2012; The Week Staff 2012).
Given the novelty of the first viable Mormon candidate in a U.S. general presidential election, some commentators and analysts attempted to explain Romney’s political preferences, including his foreign policy views, through the lens of his Mormon faith, often in unflattering terms (see, for example, Schaeffer 2012; Sullivan 2012). Other Mormon commentators, not pleased with the association of Mormon doctrine and a militaristic foreign policy, argued in response that Romney’s worldview was more attributable to his political ideology than the doctrine of his church (see Brooks 2012a, 2012b, e.g.).
The extent to which Romney’s political positions during the 2012 campaign were derived primarily from his religious beliefs remains an open question, but it serves to highlight the important phenomenon that religious individuals, including Mormons, often justify their political values with an appeal to their faith, including their sacred religious texts. The objective of this current analysis, then, is to lay out an argument for how the Book of Mormon could be interpreted as supporting a neoconservative foreign policy worldview. We further argue that there is some suggestive evidence of a causal mechanism as well, that the themes in the Book of Mormon can potentially lead believing readers to be more sympathetic to neoconservative foreign policy preferences.
For anyone in need of an introduction, the Book of Mormon is a sacred religious text of the churches associated with the Latter-day Saint movement in the United States, the most successful being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose members self-identify as “Mormon” or “LDS” in contemporary American society. The text was published by Joseph Smith in 1830 and he described it as a translation of a set of golden plates given to him by the angel Moroni (see Givens 2003, chapters 1-2). The narrative begins with the account of Nephi, an Israelite prophet who journeyed with his family to the New World around 600 BCE. Shortly thereafter, conflicts between Nephi and his brothers compel the settlers to split into two tribes: the Nephites and Lamanites. The majority of the remainder of the Book of Mormon is an account of the religious history of the Nephites and their frequent conflicts with the Lamanites. The narrative ends in a bloody battle around 400 CE where the Nephites are completely exterminated at the hands of the Lamanites.
As stated, we intend to present a framework through which the Book of Mormon could be interpreted as supporting a neoconservative foreign policy agenda. After all, religious texts can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. Religion and literary scholars commonly argue that texts in and of themselves have no intrinsic meaning separate from the interpretation given to them by the individuals reading the texts. A single text can therefore be given many differing interpretations depending on the background, worldview, language, culture, and/or motivation of the reader (see Fish 1982; Martin 2008).
The Book of Mormon is of course no different – any individual can easily find passages that support his or her particular point of view on any given topic, including foreign policy (see Pulsipher 2012 who describes how this is often the case with readers of the Book of Mormon). Supporting this, behavioral research has also shown that people are more likely to alter their beliefs or opinions to match their behavior rather than altering their behavior to match their beliefs (Deutscher 1973; Kutner, Wilkins, and Yarrow 1952; La Pierre 1934; Wicker 1969, e.g.). This paper will outline and summarize a series of passages which could easily lend themselves to an interpretation supporting a neoconservative foreign policy worldview. In other words, for those Mormons inclined toward neoconservatism, there is ample material in the Book of Mormon that we will show can be “proof-texted” to justify and support their political preferences.
We also argue that there is the possibility of a more direct causal effect taking place. Due to the preponderance of passages in the Book of Mormon that lend themselves easily to a neoconservative interpretation, we argue that Mormons may be more readily inclined to internalize and support neoconservative foreign policy positions because of themes and ideas that they have internalized from an active reading their sacred religious text. To support this argument, we will also present empirical evidence that shows that Mormons are more likely to espouse some key assumptions of the neoconservative worldview.
This paper will proceed by 1) briefly outlining the core tenets of neoconservative ideology in terms of foreign policy, 2) examining the official position of the LDS church on foreign policy matters and analyzing statistical evidence of the foreign policy views of Mormons in the American public, 3) outlining and summarizing a neoconservative interpretative framework of the Book of Mormon, drawing on a number of passages from the text, 4) briefly examining possible objections to our argument, and 5) concluding with a summary and re-examination of the original thesis.
WHAT IS NEOCONSERVATISM?
While much has been written by scholars and pundits alike about neoconservatism (Clarke 2009; Cooper 2012; Kristol 1999; Kristol 2011; Ryan 2010; Stelzer 2004; Vaïsse 2010), a brief summary is sufficient for our current purposes. Neoconservatism became popular in the United States during the early Cold War (although some American politicians trace its origins back even further to 19th-century socialist authoritarianism, see (Boot 2004; Paul 2011). While originally espoused by liberal Democrats who supported the Containment policies of the 1950s and 1960s, it began to be associated more closely with the Republican Party during the 1970s and especially during the Reagan Administration. Neoconservatives were especially prominent during the George W. Bush administration and are largely credited for orchestrating the American response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In general, neoconservatism is now almost exclusively promoted by elites within the Republican Party (Boot 2004).
Irving Kristol, one of the most prominent public voices of neoconservatism, has argued that “there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience” and preferred instead to characterize neoconservatism as a “persuasion” as opposed to an “ideology.” Nonetheless, he argues that neoconservatives broadly agree on a few core tenets about the nature of the world, international relations, and the role of the United States in shaping the global environment (Kristol 2003).
The first key tenet of neoconservatism is the tendency to see the world in a binary “good vs. evil” framework combined with a strong “us vs. them” mentality. “Statesmen,” argues Kristol, “should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies” (Kristol 2003). The central conceptual thrust to this tenet of neoconservatism is that there is good and evil in the world, and in said paradigm, the United States and liberal democracy are “good,” thus seeing that the United States has a moral obligation to play an active role in promoting and facilitating good and combating evil in the global arena. In other words, neoconservatives largely agree that “American values are worth defending at home and abroad” (Boot 2004). Kristol and Kagan (2004) argue: “In the post-Cold War era, the maintenance of a decent and hospitable international order requires continued American leadership in resisting, and where possible undermining, rising dictators and hostile ideologies … and in providing assistance to those struggling against the more extreme manifestations of human evil” (64).
This strict duality extends to how neoconservatives tend to view the usefulness of diplomacy with authoritarian dictators abroad: “when it comes to dealing with such regimes, then, the United States will not succeed in persuading them to play by the existing … rules of the game. … We cannot hope to stem their aggression by appealing to their consciences and asking them to accept the ‘norms’ of the civilized world” (Kristol and Kagan 2004, 69). In other words, authoritarian dictators are not part of the “in-group” of reasonable, civilized world composed of American and its allies and, therefore, there is little nuance granted in hoping to be able to come to a reasonable agreement on matters of international conflict.
The second core tenet of neoconservatism is a readiness to use military force, based on a belief that a strong military maintains international peace and order. Neoconservatives are “hard Wilsonians” who “place their faith not in pieces of paper but in power, specifically U.S. power. … Neocons believe the United States should use force when necessary to champion its ideals as well as its interests, not only out of sheer humanitarianism but also because the spread of liberal democracy improves U.S. security” (Boot 2004). Kristol and Kagan (2004) argue that one of the most consequential failures of the 1990s was the American decision to “retreat” from the world stage and to cut defense spending. They argue that increasing military spending should be a top priority of American policymakers, as it has effect of deterring serious threats to the global system from would-be aggressors and terrorists (66-67). In sum, neoconservatives think that the best way to preserve global strength is through the threat of overwhelming military force as opposed to diplomatic agreements and treaties.
A third core tenet of neoconservatism in the foreign policy arena is an emphasis on the special role for the United States in promoting a muscular, active foreign policy that encourages liberal democratic ideals internationally and the securing of American interests abroad. For neoconservatives “patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment, and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions” (Kristol 2003). From the neoconservative perspective, the key lesson following World War 2 is that the United States is in a unique position to shape the international environment in a way conducive both to American interests as well as promoting morally virtuous values embodied in liberal democratic political governance, and that it has the moral imperative to do so wherever possible (Kristol and Kagan 2004).
This was especially evident in the George W. Bush administration during the 2000s when, according to neoconservative thinkers, the Bush foreign policy team “realized that the United States no longer could afford a ‘humble’ foreign policy” and began to emphasize “U.S. primacy, the promotion of democracy, and vigorous action, pre-emptive if necessary, to stop terrorism and weapons proliferation” which was “a quintessentially neoconservative” agenda (Boot 2004). To put it more bluntly: “Neocons … are committed above all to U.S. global leadership” (Boot 2004) and that “the decision Americans need to make is whether the United States should generally lean forward, as it were, or sit back” (Kristol and Kagan 2004, 65). Neoconservatives decidedly view it as the United States’ moral duty to “lean forward” in the international arena.
A fourth and final core tenet of neoconservatism is a focus on the Middle East as a foreign policy area of interest, specifically in support of the state of Israel. This may be due to the fact that most early proponents of neoconservatism were, in fact, Jewish. (Indeed, New York Times columnist David Brooks has joked that the origin of the label “neoconservative” is: “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish’” (Brooks 2004, 41). Max Boot (2004) argues, however, that neoconservatives are committed to defending Israel “not [based] on shared religion or ethnicity but on shared liberal democratic values. Israel has won the support for most Americans, of all faiths, because it is the only democracy in the Middle East, and because its enemies (Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria) also proclaim themselves to be enemies of the United States.” In sum, whether deriving from a historical Jewish-Israeli connection or from an ideological solidarity, contemporary neoconservatives feel a deep commitment to supporting Israel and influencing the affairs of the Middle East accordingly.
MORMONS AND NEOCONSERVATISM
As with the vast majority of political issues, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has no official foreign policy stance or viewpoint, even though Mormon leaders have expressed opinions on international issues in recent decades. On the rare occasions when this has happened, it has often been in a more neoconservative direction. Former LDS president Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994), for example, served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration and was an outspoken opponent of Soviet Communism and favored strong a strong military presence on the part of the United States and its allies, although he moderated his rhetoric substantially once becoming president of the Church in 1985 (Bergera 2008a, 2008b; Prince and Wright 2005, chap. 2–3, 12–13). As a more recent example, former LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley expressed support for the Iraq War during the Spring 2003 General Conference of the Church, characterizing it as a “contest with forces of evil and oppression.” He did, however, qualify these views as representing his own “personal feelings” on the matter (Hinckley 2003).
Mormons who are elected to political office also have the responsibility to take positions and vote on foreign policy matters. Given that most Mormon members of Congress also happen to be Republicans (King and King 2000; Pew Forum 2011, 2013), they have often been supportive of more activist foreign policy endeavors and a strong and muscular American military.
At the level of the mass public, little research has been done to investigate whether there is a distinctly “Mormon” approach to foreign policy opinions.  In 1982, Pierre Blas argued from a normative perspective that many Mormons throughout the 1970s were essentially “duped” into adopting neoconservative policy preferences due to the outspoken support given them by Mormon leaders during that same decade (Blais 1982).
More recently, Guth (2009) empirically analyzed the results of the 2004 National Survey of Religion and Politics conducted by the University of Akron (N=4,000) to see which religious indicators (if any) were associated with an increased probability of supporting the “Bush Doctrine” among those in the American public. (As described by Guth 2009, this was an index combining responses to “support for the Iraq War, willingness for the United States to take preemptive military action, support for Israel in the Middle East, preference for unilateral action by the United States over multilateral action in international affairs, and the belief that the United States has a special role to play in world politics,” pgs. 259-260.) He found that Mormons are indeed more likely to support this composite measure of the “Bush Doctrine,” even controlling for a host of other religious and demographic variables.
We contribute our own original analysis to these previous findings by taking advantage of the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2007) to see if there is any evidence that Mormons are distinct from the rest of the American population in terms of their foreign policy views, taking into account other important factors such as demographics and religiosity. (The survey sampled nearly 36,000 respondents, 599 of whom self-identified as Mormon.) There were three questions in the survey that specifically reflect three of the core neoconservative worldview characteristics discussed in the previous section. Survey respondents are asked to indicate which of the following statements “comes closer to your own views – even if neither is exactly right”:
- “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” / “Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace.”
- “It is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.” / “We should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.”
An additional question asked respondents whether they “completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree” with the following statement:
- “There are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong.”
Each of these three questions reflects, albeit in broad and general terms, some of the fundamental tenets of neoconservatism discussed previously: a tendency to prefer military action over diplomacy in resolving conflicts, a preference for energetic American involvement in the world, and a tendency to see the world in a binary “black vs. white” fashion.
On the first question, 38.1% of self-identified Mormons in the United States indicated that they agree that “the best way to ensure peace is through military strength” compared to 29.8% of non-Mormons who expressed the same sentiment. In contrast, while 49.1% of Mormons expressed a preference for diplomacy, 60% of non-Mormons expressed the same sentiment. We see that Mormons are about 10% more likely than other Americans to prefer the military over diplomacy in foreign affairs (χ2 of the cross-tabulation matrix < 0.001).
While this finding supports our argument, it is important to determine whether this relationship holds after controlling for other factors that may also lead people to prefer military strength over diplomacy. Thus, we conducted a more sophisticated multivariate statistical analysis that determines the effect of one variable (in this case, Mormon religious affiliation) on another variable (preference for military strength), holding constant the effect of other standard demographics factors such as age, education, sex, and income. We also included a “religiosity” scale in the analysis, which is modeled after the scale utilized by Putnam and Campbell (2012) for this same purpose (see pages 18-21). This scale combines levels of church attendance, frequency of prayer, personal importance of religion, and certainty of belief in God into a single index measure for each individual. Using this religiosity scale, we can compare Mormons of varying degrees of religious commitment to their counterparts in other faith traditions.  The results of the multivariate analysis that take into account the effect of demographics and religiosity indicate that Mormons are indeed unique in their opinions on this issue, as the “average” Mormon is approximately 8% more likely than the “average” non-Mormon to prefer military strength over diplomacy. 
As to the next question, 51.1% of Mormons say that it is “best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs” compared to 36.1% of non-Mormons, a difference of about 15% (χ2 < 0.001). When controlling for partisan identification, we find that 59.7% of Mormon Republicans agree while only 48.4% of non-Mormon Republicans agree, a difference of about 11% (χ2 < 0.001). After controlling for religiosity and demographics, this difference becomes even more pronounced with Mormons being about 16% more likely than non-Mormons to believe that it is important for the United States to be active in world affairs.
Lastly, the results of the Pew survey indicate that 88.6% of Mormons say that they either completely or mostly agree that “there are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong” compared to 78.8% of non-Mormons (χ2 < 0.001). After controlling for religiosity and demographics, we find that a statistically significance difference remains on this issue, with the “average” Mormon being approximately 7% more likely than the “average” non-Mormon to report a preference for perceiving a more binary, “black vs. white” world when it comes to morality and standards.
In sum, there is a modest, but statistically significant difference on each of these three measures of broad foreign policy worldview markers between Mormons and non-Mormons, even after taking into account the effect of individual religiosity. This evidence suggests that there may be something uniquely Mormon about preferring a neoconservative approach to foreign policy in the United States. As stated previously, the objective of this paper is to offer one possible explanation for this observed effect: that the Book of Mormon, a very high-profile sacred religious text to Mormons, often referred to as the “keystone” of their religion (Benson 1986; Givens 2003) has several passages and themes which readily lend themselves to a neoconservative interpretation. We argue that this preponderance of themes may be one reason that Mormons are slightly more likely to express neoconservative sentiments than non-Mormons in the U.S. population.
We will now proceed by summarizing a selection of relevant passages and explaining how they could fit this interpretive framework. We organize these themes based on some of the core characteristics of neoconservative foreign policy thinking, as described previously.
THE NEOCONSERVATIVE INTERPRETATIVE FRAMEWORK
Tendency to see the world in a binary, “black vs. white” fashion. The tendency to see the world as “black and white” instead of “shades of gray” is more formally referred to as “cognitive complexity” (Hermann, Preston, and Young 1996; Jost et al. 2003; Winter 2003) or “authoritarianism” (Altemeyer 1996; Hetherington and Weiler 2009) by political psychologists. Essentially, this is a personality trait that can be expressed on a spectrum of how much “nuance” an individual perceives in their worldview in terms of explaining phenomena and attributing meaning and interpretation to actions and behaviors. 
This binary worldview is reinforced through Book of Mormon passages such as “whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil” (Alma 5:40) or “every good thing which inviteth to do good … is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ … but whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ … ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil” (Moroni 7:16-17). In essence, the Book of Mormon teaches that all things ultimately derive from either Christ or Satan. This theme is repeated numerous times throughout the Book of Mormon (see, for example, 1 Nephi 14:7, 10; 1 Nephi 17:36-38; 2 Nephi 2:5; 2 Nephi 3:5; 2 Nephi 9:39; 2 Nephi 13:10-11; 2 Nephi 15:20; Jacob 5: 66, 77; Mosiah 3: 24; Mosiah 16:10-11; Alma 3:26; Alma 5:39-41; Alma 9:28; Alma 29: 5; Helaman 12:26; 3 Nephi 26:5; Mormon 3:21; Moroni 7:6-17).
We also see numerous other manifestations of binary thinking in the text such as references to purity vs. impurity (Jacob 3:2-3), truth vs. falsehood (Jacob 4:13), and light vs. darkness (2 Nephi 19:2; Mosiah 27:29; Alma 26:15). The Book of Mormon also famously contains a warning from the Lord repeated to the Nephites throughout the text: “If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land – but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence” (Alma 37:13, see also 2 Nephi 1:9-11 and 20, 2 Nephi 30:1-2, Ether 1:10, and Ether 13). There does not seem to be much middle ground in the warning. Nephites were told that that they could either choose righteousness and receive blessings and prosperity or choose wickedness and be cut off from the Lord spiritually and potentially be conquered, geographically expelled, or otherwise replaced from the Promised Land (see 2 Nephi 1:9-11).
Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of this binary categorization phenomenon is in how the narrators of the Book of Mormon describe the diversity of social and ancestral groups in the text. It is made clear several times that there are a number of different communities in the environs in addition to the Nephites and Lamanites, including Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lemuelites, Ishmaelites, and others. Nevertheless, nearly every time that a diversity of groups is mentioned, the narrator quickly specifies that he is going to group some of them in with the Nephites and the rest in with the Lamanites. For example, in Jacob 1:14, Jacob explains: “I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi.” Mormon 1:8-9 reads: “And it came to pass in this year there began to be a war between the Nephites, who consisted of the Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites; and this war was between the Nephites, and the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites. Now the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two parties were Nephites and Lamanites.” (See also 4 Nephi 1:35-39 and Alma 43:13).
The important thing to note is that whenever diversity, complexity, or nuance is introduced when talking about the various social and ancestral groups, the narrator acknowledges the complexity but immediately collapses and simplifies this complexity into a simplistic classification scheme of Nephites vs. Lamanites. It is also clear throughout the text that, with a few notable exceptions, the Nephites are clearly the protagonists of the narrative while the Lamanites are the antagonists. Some could argue that this same rhetorical strategy was employed by former President George W. Bush during his address to a joint session of Congress shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he asserted: “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” in effect collapsing the various diverse nations of the world into a simplistic binary classification scheme (Bush 2001). Another examples is in his 2002 State of the Union address when President Bush grouped the countries of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea (three very different countries) into a single “axis of evil” (Bush 2002), once again reducing an otherwise complex and diverse set of cases into a single unit, much the same as is done throughout the Book of Mormon.
Strong in-group/out-group mentality. The binary, black-and-white worldview discussed previously leads to a related theme: a strong “in-group, out-group” mentality. This can be found throughout the Book of Mormon in the way that the text’s narrators characterize their fellow “in-group” protagonistic Nephites and draw contrasts with their “out-group” Lamanite antagonists. This is especially prominent in how the text’s narrators assign motives to the two groups in terms of their actions during the various military conflicts between the two tribes.
For example, in Alma 48:10 the narrator Mormon explains the pure motives of the Nephites to “support their liberty, their lands, their wives, and their children, and their peace, and that they might live unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:10). In an earlier passage, they “fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children” (Mosiah 20:11).
Their military leader, Moroni, is then described as “a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). Further, “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). The narrator further describes Moroni as a “man of God” (vs. 18). Grant Hardy (2010) notes that the description of Captain Moroni is “remarkable” in that the narrator (Mormon) “employs language elsewhere reserved for deity (‘verily, verily I say unto you’), [and] the rarity of these sorts of direct comparisons makes one sit up and take notice” (176). Thus, these passages not only portray the special virtue of the in-group Nephites, but also exalt their military leader as a righteous and godly person.
The Lamanites, in clear contrast, are regularly characterized in the Book of Mormon simply as bloodthirsty savages who “loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts” (Jarom 1:6), a people who were the “vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4), a “wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them” (Alma 17:14). There are also several passages in the text that describe how the Lamanites would attack the Nephites for purposes of revenge, bloodlust, or even for no apparent reason at all (e,g. Mosiah 11:19, Alma 16:2, 25:1, 27:2, 49:7, 54:13, 17).
Similar “pure motivations” on the part of the in-group are reflected in the recent rhetorical justification for the War on Terror. In addition to combating international terrorism groups such as Al-Qaeda, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was framed in terms of spreading democracy and liberating women from oppressive religio-political structures. Expressed during the 2004 International Women’s week (a year into the Iraq campaign), the Bush administration framed the year-old Iraq campaign as seeking to “advance and support the dignity of all people, because the best guarantors of the rights of women are freedom and democracy” (U.S. Department of State 2004).
Another example is the specific appeal to feminist interests in defending the invasion of Afghanistan when President Bush stated, “As women emerge from the shadows, so will Afghanistan,” (Oliver 2010, 40) thus justifying the U.S. intervention as necessary not only to liberate women but to move Afghanistan forward as a nation. While the actual intent and the relative success of these motivations is disputed (Al-Ali and Pratt 2009; Zangana 2013), these “pure motivations” from the in-group enabled elected officials to mobilize public support for military intervention (Nusair, Isis 2009, 145).
In addition to the strong in-group/out-group themes found throughout the Book of Mormon, we also see several occasions where religious leaders in the Book of Mormon take measures to try to maintain and reinforce these in-group/out-group boundaries. In Mosiah 1:11, for example, King Benjamin describes his intention to give his people a name “thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem,” in other words, distinguished from the Lamanites. The text even explicitly describes in Alma 3: 14 that God has an interest in maintaining these in-group/out-group boundaries: “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed.”
There are some important exceptions to this pattern, of course. The sixth chapter of Helaman describes a brief time when the boundaries between the Lamanites and Nephites blur as the Lamanites repent and begin to follow God and the Nephites increase in their wickedness. Even here, though, an in-group/out-group framework remains in place. The dividing line has now become personal righteousness and obedience to God instead of ancestry (see Helaman 6 and 13:1). Indeed, there is only one instance in the narrative where it is made explicitly clear that there was a single community – in the Zion community described by 4 Nephi instituted after the manifestation of Jesus Christ. At this point in the narrative, there is only one all-inclusive in-group in the society (see 4 Nephi 1:17). Even so, this group eventually begins to divide itself along class lines and once again the Nephite/Lamanite in-group/out-group framework reasserts itself (4 Nephi 1:35-36) and remains until the end of the narrative.
A readiness to use military force and the importance of military preparation. The Book of Mormon constantly stresses the importance of military preparation against potential attacks from aggressors, a value that neoconservatives strongly embrace. For example, in Jarom 1:8-9 it is explained that the Nephites used their material prosperity to fortify their military preparations, “making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war – yea, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war. And thus being prepared to meet the Lamanites, they did not prosper against us.” At one point in the narrative, the prophet Mormon explains that he, expecting a potential Lamanite attack at any time, spent ten years working with his people during peacetime “in preparing their lands and their arms against the time of battle” (Mormon 3:1). There are literally dozens of passages that describe Nephite preparations for battles against the Lamanites and reluctant engagement in military action to protect themselves from Lamanite aggression (e.g. Jacob 7:25; Jarom 1:6-7; Mosiah 10:1, 20:11, 21:5; Alma chapters 43 and 48, 50:1-10, 54:13, 55:19, 58:12, 60:36, 61:11; 3 Nephi 2:12, Mormon 2:23, Ether 10:27, 14:2).
Recently, Morgan Deane (2012) has argued that the Book of Mormon justifies the “offensive defensive strategy,” more commonly referred to in American political discourse as the “preventive war doctrine” (e.g. Gray 2007) or also “the Bush doctrine.” Thus, he argues, the recent American invasion of Iraq can be justified with an appeal to the Book of Mormon text. To support this argument, Deane cites several examples from the book of Alma where the Nephite military leaders use “stratagem” to preemptively defeat their Lamanite enemies. “Moreover,” Deane explains, “Moroni pre-emptively ‘cut off’ Amalickiah, based on the assumption that preventing his escape through military action would prevent a future war ([Alma] 46:30)” (Deane 2012, 33).
American exceptionalism. The “exceptional” nature of the American continent is a recurring theme in the Book of Mormon, and this has previously been explored by other scholars. For example, Phillip Barlow (2012) documents the various passages in the Book of Mormon in which the American continent is described as a “land of promise” (2 Nephi 1:6-7, see also 1 Nephi 2:20, 5:22, 7:13, 13:30, 2 Nephi 10:10, Alma 46:17, Ether 1:7-12) and how those who are led to this continent are given a covenant that they will possess it based on righteousness and how there will be no monarchy in the land (1 Nephi chapters 2, 13, and 22; also 2 Nephi 10:10-16).
Not only does the Book of Mormon give special significance to the American continent and the nations that possess it, but there is also language that speaks to the semi-divine origin of the United States in particular. In the first chapters of the text the narrator Nephi shares a vision in which an angel shows him a nation populated by “Gentiles” who “went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters” to a “land of promise” (1 Nephi 13:13-14) who then fought a war against their “mother Gentiles” (vs. 17) and that “God was with them... and they were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations” (vs. 18-19). These passages are widely interpreted by Mormons as referring to the Pilgrims and other early American settlers, as well as the American Revolutionary War. (See also Bushman 1976.)
Later in the text, the prophet Ether prophesies that in the last days before the second coming of Jesus Christ, “a new Jerusalem should be built upon this land” (Ether 13:5), in other words, upon the American continent. These and other passages in the Book of Mormon are widely interpreted by Mormons as having a “sacralizing” effect on the United States (Kernis 2012; Park 2012). This is significant because when one is working under the framework that the United States is special or sacred to some degree, a War on Terror against Muslim terrorists who attacked the United States becomes not just a political conflict, but a religious one as well. (For example, a controversy ensued over President Bush’s early characterization of the War on Terror as a “crusade,” see Ford 2001; Stramer 2010, 35–48).
This “sacralization” effect can be seen as applying not only to the United States as a nation-state, but also its liberal democratic form of government. The later narrators of the Book of Mormon go to great lengths to emphasize that democratic or semi-democratic forms of government are preferable to monarchies (see Mosiah 29:3, 16-25, Alma 51, and Ether 6:21-23, for example). There are also several references to how the Nephite form of government put into place by King Mosiah looked to the “voice of the people” to select its executive officers (see Mosiah 29:25, 39, Alma 51:7, Helaman 1:5, 5:2) and that these officers were subject to a system of checks and balances (Mosiah 29:28). (This topic has elsewhere been treated at length by Mormon scholars and commentators, see Merrill 1991, e.g.)
Further, one of the key premises of liberal democratic theory is that since human beings are fallible, rule by the people is necessary because too much power centralized in a corruptible absolute monarchy tends to threaten the natural rights of the citizens to life, liberty, and property. James Madison writes in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The Book of Mormon echoes this theme in Mosiah 29:12-13: “Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just. Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings … I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.” The Book of Mormon thus explicitly endorses one of the central assumptions of liberal democratic forms of government.
Thus, the United States of America and its liberal democratic form of government tend to have a unique and central role in both Mormon eschatological and historical thinking. We argue that it may not be a stretch for many contemporary Mormons to make the leap, whether consciously or not, between the central role of the American continent and the United States in religious prophecies in the Book of Mormon and the central and active role that the United States should play in promoting its liberal democratic form of governance to the wider global political sphere.
A focus on the Middle East. Another of Clarke’s (2009) core tenets of neoconservatism is a disproportionate focus on the Middle East compared to other regions in the world. This may not come as a surprise given that many of the early neoconservative intellectual thinkers were, in fact, Jewish. While Mormons are of course not Jewish, there are several references by the text’s Nephite narrators to their ancestral home of Jerusalem (2 Nephi 30:4; Enos 1:25; Alma 9:9, 22:9, 54:23; 3 Nephi 2:6; Ether 13:3). The Book of Mormon also has several passages which support Biblical eschatological theology that that the Jewish diaspora will someday be reversed and that the Israelites will be restored to the “land of Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 20:29, see also 1 Nephi 10:14, 15:20, 2 Nephi 9:2, 25:11).
Summary. The Book of Mormon contains literally hundreds of passages that, at face value, would support several of the key assumptions of a neoconservative worldview. We previously presented evidence that Mormons are also more likely than non-Mormons to espouse many of these assumptions in their foreign policy political views. In brief, our argument is that the interpretative framework that we have outlined above may be at least partially responsible for the neoconservative leanings of contemporary American Mormons because of the high status that the Book of Mormon is afforded in both Mormon doctrine and culture (Givens 2003).
OBJECTIONS AND RESPONSES
The first and most obvious objection to the argument that we have advanced is that the Book of Mormon text does not exclusively endorse a neoconservative interpretation. After all, others could look at the same text and find an emphasis on pacifism in the face of external attack (Alma 24:20-22), a caution against “preventive” wars (Alma 48:14, 3 Nephi 3:18-21), and ultimately, the text even finishes its narrative with a lament from the prophet Mormon on the horror and needlessness of war (Mormon 6:16-22). While neoconservatism tends to focus on military action and war as a means to achieve a nation’s goals, the Book of Mormon has several passages extolling the virtues of peace (e.g. 1 Nephi 13:37; 2 Nephi 3:12; Mosiah 2:20, 4:13, 10:5, 28:37, 29:40; Alma 13:18, 23:13, 24:29, 26:32, 27:28, 44:14; Helaman 3:32, 5:52, 6:7-8; 3 Nephi 6:3, 12:44; 4 Nephi 1; Ether 10:20-23; Moroni 1:4).
Furthermore, in contrast to the framework we have outlined above, Joshua Madsen (2012) recently published a thorough and well-reasoned argument that the Book of Mormon in fact is a pacifistic document – that the entire narrative is one long lesson on the futility of war and how the militarism of the Nephites eventually led, in the long run, to their tragic destruction (pg. 15). Madsen further argues that the foundational narrative of the Nephites is that of a “justified killing” for the greater good (when Nephi kills Laban to secure the brass plates, see 1 Nephi 4:7-19). Through this event, Madsen explains that the Nephites learned that “violence can be redemptive and serve righteous ends” (pg. 18), but that this lesson was flawed from the beginning and that, ultimately, this view of violence eventually resulted in their downfall nearly 1,000 years later. Madsen argues that those who read the Book of Mormon as anything other than a pacifistic document are selectively “proof-texting” passages or instances in the narrative to support their viewpoints when they should be considering the message of the entire narrative as a whole.
To this objection we reply that there are of course many ways in which a particular text, including the Book of Mormon, can be interpreted.  Our objective, however, is not to argue that the Book of Mormon necessarily requires a neoconservative foreign policy interpretation, but rather to outline what such an interpretation might look like for those inclined to desire or accept such an interpretation. We also offer an argument that a neoconservative reading of the Book of Mormon is perhaps more obvious to most American Mormons (who tend to be politically conservative) than the more liberal pacifistic interpretation offered by Madsen (2012), especially when we consider that people tend to be motivated to make interpretations that reflect our pre-existing worldviews  (see Kunda 1990; Redlawsk 2002, e.g.). This may help explain why Mormons may potentially be more likely to internalize the more neoconservative militaristic interpretation that we have outlined than the liberal pacifistic interpretation that Madsen offers.
Another objection could be that our argument is invalidated because there are examples of Mormons who are not neoconservatives. After all, current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon who, as a Democrat, was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War during the end of the George W. Bush administration (CNN 2007). Also, during the 2012 GOP presidential primaries another member of the LDS Church, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, publicly took a much more nuanced approach to foreign policy that would not fit within the conventional neoconservative framework (ForeignPolicy.com 2011). And we see from recent surveys that nearly one-fifth of American Mormons self-identify as Democrats (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2012) and just as many voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election (Hickey 2012). It is not likely that the majority of those Mormons who voted for President Obama are neoconservatives at heart.
To this we reply that while these examples are certainly true, a select few individual cases do not produce an aggregate pattern. The fact remains that most Mormon elected officials in the U.S. federal government have tended to support recent neoconservative foreign policy priorities such as the Iraq War (U.S. House Clerk 2002; U.S. Senate Clerk 2002) and we have previously demonstrated that Mormons in the American public are somewhere between 5%-10% more likely than non-Mormons to agree with some key neoconservative worldview assumptions, even controlling for partisanship.
Yet another objection could be raised that the Book of Mormon is not unique in the world of religious texts in terms of the neoconservative themes that we have outlined above. For example, there are many passages in the Bible that also exhibit a binary black and white worldview (e.g. Matthew 6:24, Revelation 3:15-16), a strong in-group/out-group mentality (e.g. Ezekiel 44:9), a focus on militarism (e.g. much of Judges, Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, etc.), and, given the location where the entire Biblical narrative occurs and where the “end of times” events prophesied in the book of Revelation are to take place, a focus on the Middle East. Thus, one could argue that the interpretive framework of the Book of Mormon that we have outlined herein cannot account for the observed patterns in Mormon foreign policy thinking because the Bible also contains similar passages; we, however, see lower levels of neoconservative thinking amongst American Christians and Jews on the whole than among Mormons.
In response, we argue that there are good reasons to think that scripture likely has a more intense effect on Mormon political thinking than it does among other American Christians or Jews. Current Mormon institutional leaders, for example, strongly encourage daily individual and family “scripture study” as a religious responsibility, while (with the exception perhaps of Evangelical Protestantism) there is no strong corresponding behavioral expectation among most American Christian denominations or Jews. Indeed, an analysis of the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2007) reveals that 75.8% of American Mormons report reading scripture outside of religious services at least once a week, compared to 60.1% for black Protestants, 59.3% for Evangelical Protestants, 27.1% for Mainline Protestants, 19.8% for Catholics, and 13.2% for Jews. Given this comparatively high rate of personal scripture reading, Mormons might thus be more likely to internalize themes from their religious texts, especially when those themes are found in two separate books of scripture, than other religious Americans.
Furthermore, it is also very much the case that the Mormon religious community in the United States is much more ideologically homogenous (both religiously and politically) than most other major religious communities (see Campbell and Monson 2007, 107–114). Thus, Biblical passages that would support a neoconservative worldview might have less of an effect on the political thinking of members of more diverse religious communities because they may not feel as much group pressure to adopt any particular interpretations of scripture if there is a wider diversity of interpretations within the community. Given that Mormons often exist in very homogenous religious and political communities, popular scriptural interpretations (especially that support prevailing political ideologies) would likely have an increased influence on their political attitudes.
A final objection that can be examined is that Governor Romney and other prominent Mormon politicians may indeed hold neoconservative policy preferences, but this is due to their political ideology and not due to their religious beliefs. For example, prominent Mormon commentator Joanna Brooks wrote in the 2012 campaign season that Romney “maintains an approach to foreign policy shaped far more by nationalism and political expedience than by faith” (Brooks 2012a). Fellow commentator Sarah Posner, after examining Romney’s foreign policy views on Israel and Palestine and summarizing some of Romney’s comments on the situation, noted that “he was hardly reading from a Mormon script” (Posner 2012).
To this objection we make the following response: we also see the foreign policy worldview of Governor Romney and other Mormons as primarily the product of their political ideologies and partisanship. This is supported by voluminous political science research on the subject (see Holsti 2009, e.g.). However, research has also shown that religious denominational affiliation has a modest, but independent and statistically significant effect on political attitudes in the American public, even controlling for a host of other socioeconomic and political factors (see Baumgartner, Francia, and Morris 2008; Green 1996; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009, e.g.).
In this case, we do not see it as unreasonable to expect that a faithful Mormon, who has read the Book of Mormon several times throughout his or her life, would be likely to internalize (whether consciously aware or not) at least a few of the dominant themes as found in the sacred text, such as those that seem to endorse a “black and white” worldview, a strong in-group/out-group mentality, a belief in American primacy, or a readiness to commit resources to strengthen the military. In this way, these themes may become part of the “mental wallpaper” upon which one’s political world is perceived and interpreted. Thus, we argue that there are compelling reasons to support the argument that the neoconservative worldview of many American Mormons (both at the mass and elite levels) is at least partially attributable to their religious beliefs, particularly as manifested by the many themes found throughout the Book of Mormon text. That being said, we readily admit that we have no clear empirical evidence to directly support this conclusion. Instead, we believe that we have outlined a reasonable and plausible link between the narratives contained in the Book of Mormon and contemporary Mormon foreign policy attitudes. More research will ultimately be needed, though, before this conclusion can be supported with more confidence.
This analysis began by noting that the 2012 presidential run of Mitt Romney produced a flurry of speculation and commentary over the extent to which the political positions of a potential President Romney would be influenced by his religious beliefs, and part of this speculation centered on whether or not there is anything distinctive about Mormonism that could explain Romney’s foreign policy views that included prioritizing a muscular military, an active promotion of American values abroad, and a more confrontational tone with the likes of Syria, Iran, and Russia.
Herein we have laid out an argument for how the Book of Mormon could be interpreted as supporting a neoconservative foreign policy worldview for those with sympathies toward such an interpretation. We documented and summarized dozens of passages which would support some of the fundamental assumptions of neoconservatism. We also showed evidence from a public opinion survey analysis that the average Mormon in the United States is, to a small or modest extent, more likely than the average non-Mormon to accept some of the broad contours of neoconservatism, specifically in supporting an active role of the United States in the global geopolitical arena and a tendency to see the world in a binary, “black and white” framework.
We interpret this evidence as modest support for the argument that there may be something distinctive about Mormonism that results in a higher proportion of Mormons exhibiting neoconservative political opinions and could also help explain why Mormon politicians are often supportive of neoconservative foreign policy priorities. We of course readily recognize that, as is the case with all Americans, the foreign policy views of Mormon politicians and Mormons in the public are often much more a product of their particular partisan ideologies than their religious beliefs. We maintain, however, that this evidence suggests that there is at least some reason to think that Mormon beliefs, especially those found in the themes from the Book of Mormon that we have outlined in this analysis, account for at least a portion of the origins of foreign policy views of Mormons in the United States.
Of course, in the absence of more comprehensive data on Mormon religious beliefs and political opinions, we cannot at this point conduct a more conclusive assessment of our argument. Further evidence and research is certainly called for to better understand the interaction of Mormonism and foreign policy views, especially as the Mormon church continues to become an increasingly global religion with more members currently living outside the United States than inside the United States (Mormon Newsroom 2011). This is especially the case because, due to the efforts of Mitt Romney, Mormons have now broken the “glass ceiling” of achieving a major-party presidential nomination. Thus, understanding how Mormon beliefs may inform foreign policy views and political preferences is increasingly important not only to scholars of religion and politics, but also to American voters who ultimately decide the whether or not to base their vote choices on the religion of the candidates on the ballot.
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 Indeed, Guth (2009) points out that “a review of relevant literature since World War II reveals severe limitations” in the extent of empirical research on how religion affects foreign policy attitudes in the United States. Thus, this is not a uniquely “Mormon” problem. [Back to manuscript]
 This is important because it could be argued that Mormons are more likely to have a certain opinion because they tend to have, on average, higher levels of religious behaviors than others in the population. Including this religiosity scale in a multivariate analysis addresses that potential concern. [Back to manuscript]
 Full statistical output of these multivariate analyses is available from the authors upon request. [Back to manuscript]
 On a related note, Hetherington and Weiler (2009)show that since the year 2000 or so, this personality trait has become one of the chief determinants of whether an individual self-identifies as a Republican or Democrat in the United States, with Republicans increasingly subscribing to a “black and white” view of the world and Democrats taking the “shades of gray” approach. This trait is measured using responses to a series of child-rearing preference questions. The exact text is: Although there are a number of qualities that people feel that children should have, every person thinks that some are more important than others. I am going to read you pairs of desirable qualities. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have." The respondents must then indicate a preference between the following pairs of attributes: 1) independence versus respect for elders, 2) obedience versus self-reliance, 3) curiosity versus good manners, and 4) being considerate versus being well-behaved. Those who rank respect for elders, obedience, good manners, and being well-behaved as more important than independence, self-reliant, curious, and considerate are ranked higher on the authoritarian personality scale. This as a more politically-neutral scale than that popularized by Robert Altemeyer (Altemeyer 2007). [Back to manuscript]
 In reference to textual interpretation, Fish (1982) argues: “either there is a literal meaning of the utterance and we should be able to say what it is, or there are as many meanings as there are readers” (305). [Back to manuscript]
 “A sentence… is never in the abstract; it is always in a situation, and the situation will already have determined the purpose for which it can be used” (Fish 1982, 291). [Back to manuscript]
Full Citation for this Article: Knoll, Benjamin R. and Natalie E. Pope (2014) "'Preparing Their Lands and Their Arms Against the Time of Battle': A Neoconservative Interpretation of the Book of Mormon," SquareTwo, Vol. 7 No. 3 (Fall 2014), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleKnollPopeNeoconLDS.html, accessed <give access date>.
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I. John Mark Mattox
The accompanying article raises an important issue with two aspects:
1. Some Latter-day Saints have appealed to The Book of Mormon to justify what may be called, in broad terms, the “neo-conservative agenda”.
2. Some observers of Mormonism have effectively labeled The Book of Mormon as a source-book for what may be called, in broad terms, “neo-conservative ideology”.
I do not dispute that such claims have been made. However, I hasten to make clear my position that these are claims that the divinely inspired authors of The Book of Mormon do not themselves make. Rather, these claims are of modern origin and have been overlaid on The Book of Mormon text in support of a specific ideological orientation. In particular, the accompanying article highlights, inter alia, five characteristics which, upon fair-minded reflection, the authors argue might prompt some to turn to The Book of Mormon in an attempt to justify their beliefs. Ultimately, however, such attempts at justification fall short of their purpose, to wit:
- Black and white world view. While The Book of Mormon certainly supports belief in objective good and evil, the fact that one believes in the objective reality of good and evil does not mean that one has no sense of nuance. For example, one is perfectly able to say it is objectively evil to take a human life with malice aforethought and still hold that no war of human instigation is perfectly just on one side and perfectly unjust on the other.
- In group/out group mentality: The existence of “groups” in The Book of Mormon is readily discernible. Moreover, the assessment of these “groups” as generally good or evil is also readily possible on the basis of the text. However, as the fundamentals of set theory attest, groups, by their very definition, are inclusive of some elements and exclusive of others. For example, even a person who believes that everyone belongs to the same group would have to concede that anyone who disagrees with that proposition does not belong to the group! The fact that some groups associate with, or are associated with, righteous causes and others do/are not does not mean that the former has any moral warrant to kill the latter, and The Book of Mormon makes no claim to that effect. In fact, its thrust is quite the opposite: The “out group” should be an object of exhortation, of forgiveness, and of redemption.
- Offensive/defensive strategy: While The Book of Mormon does, in fact, speak of “stratagem” in war, there is all the difference in the world between preemptively starting a war and applying “stratagem” in a war already begun. International law and custom makes this distinction abundantly clear. Even if, as the accompanying article asserts, “neo-conservative” thought advocates preemptive use of military force, The Book of Mormon does not. If anything, the stronger case can be made that The Book of Mormon expressly forbids it (see 3 Nephi 3:21).
- The eschatological place of liberal democracy: If there is one thing Latter-day Saint eschatology does not do, it is to champion the cause of liberal democracy. The church is the kingdom of God on earth established preparatory to the coming of the King. The aim of sanctification is not for humans to maintain their independence but rather to yield their hearts—and wills—to God. This latter point is part and parcel of the central message of The Book of Mormon.
- Focus on the Middle East: The Book of Mormon peoples came from the Middle East. The house of Israel essentially originates in the Middle East. One of the millennial world capitals will be in the Middle East. None of that, however, translates directly or indirectly into an imperative to support—though the heavens fall—the present politics of the State of Israel, and The Book of Mormon makes no such claim to that effect.
The salient point of this rendition is that anyone who reads a text—any text—for the purpose of proof-texting is going to see in that text what he or she wants—and to their great credit, the authors of the accompanying article concede as much. However, I feel strongly that The Book of Mormon does not in any way seek to lead its readers by the nose to embrace neo-conservatism as understood in contemporary American politics. One may subscribe to neo-conservative principles for any number of reasons, but to do so on the basis of the claim that The Book of Mormon enjoins such acceptance is to misunderstand the message of The Book of Mormon. As the reader bears this important point in mind, the accompanying article can be valuably read.
2) Kathy Bence
While some of us might feel lost in the complexities of foreign policy, it was interesting to hear the perspective of how Church members might use an important part of their faith to explain their foreign policy views.
In the classic advice, “avoid discussing politics and religion,” these two categories are lumped together for a reason. For many of us, our religious views and our political views, including our views on foreign policy, are of supreme importance in our lives. Religion and politics are both based on deeply held convictions that help us interpret the world and, at the same time, hold the promise of an improved world. If we govern our lives by a religious text such as the Book of Mormon, then I can easily see how our interpretation of that text will sway our other deeply seated view—politics.
I think the authors successfully, but at the same time cautiously, explained how the Book of Mormon might—with an emphasis on might--be interpreted as supporting a neoconservative foreign policy worldview.
3) Suzanne Lundquist
As I read the abstract for the Knoll and Pope essay, I thought of the consequences of the neoconservative world view by the end of the Book of Mormon. For me, the sacred narrative criticizes such a world view and is, in the finish, an anti-patriarchal, anti-war work. By the end of the text, the symbol for the degradation of the people is the abuse of women: raping them and eating their flesh. Both Carl G. Jung and Rene Girard (a non-duelistic approach---the spelling intended) ground their psychology and anthropology on the non-violent foundation of Christ's life and teachings. The War Metaphor (us and them) has us by the throat and we don't seem to be able to breath. The B of M is very interesting on immigration and race ("All are alike unto God") as well.