Book of Mormon Lessons for Our Day

It was my turn to teach our Sunday School class (English) this past Sunday.  The lesson was on chapters 1-5 of the Book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon (BoM).

One of the claims about the Book of Mormon is that it was “written” for the latter days (today, our day).  And this lesson certainly supports that claim.  These particular chapters contain some of the parallels and similarities between the BoM societies and those of today.  The chapters describe - among other things - secret combinations which are groups/individuals that engage in secret dealings, carry out killings, murders, violence and have secret signs, codes, communication, etc.  And in light of the events of this past weekend in New York and New Jersey (explosions and bombs), present-day gang activities, etc. the lesson seemed all the more pertinent.

The chapters/lesson also cover some political pandemonium of the times and which has relevance to the present pandemonium in US politics, specifically the current presidential election. There are warnings in the lesson that need to be heeded, at the very least by America, considering not only its association with the BoM (Americas being the “lands” of the BoM) but also its role in the world as a leader in democracy and  religious freedom.  Remember, too, that America was founded by people who were mostly seeking freedom of religion.

This election again is already known for its strange, demeaning, vicious and degrading nature with its two final candidates unlike any others before.  According to polls and surveys, they are the most untrustworthy and the least popular.  It’s the first time that this has happened.  The real unfortunate thing about the two nominees is that they can be a direct reflection of the present American electorate - The People.  Despite other mechanisms in the American electoral process, the people, in a very real sense, are still “the voice” in these elections.

The “voice of the people”

“Voice of the people” is a phrase that is found throughout the Book of Mormon.  It is a metaphor whose meaning is the same as today's majority rule. It underscores the wisdom and trustworthiness of the voice of the majority especially in democratic elections.  So in the beginning of the lesson, I told the class to ponder this question: “Should the voice of the people always be trusted and/or right?”

The consensus was a  “No!”, and the implication is that it depends on the general disposition of the people, whether good or bad.  Simply, if the people are good, their voice would be right; if they are bad/wicked, their voice would reflect that disposition.

The BoM affirms that:
“... it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right ....” (Mosiah 29:26)

In the first four chapters of the text (Helaman 1-4), the voice of the people appointed the right and good individuals to be leaders (judges), including Helaman himself in chapter 2:

“And it came to pass that Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people.” (Helaman 2:2)

This means that the majority of the people were still good/righteous and were in control, but within the space of about 20 years, the voice of the people had changed.  Those who chose evil outnumbered those who chose good.

“For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.” (Helaman 5:2 emphasis mine)

In other words society had become so corrupt and immoral that the majority of the people chose bad over good, and wrong over right.

In political philosophy, this condition is akin to what is often referred to as the “tyranny of the majority”. ( “Tyranny” can be substituted with other words like wickedness, ignorance, pride, etc.)  It’s a nightmare for any civil and moral society when such condition exists.  The hedonistic and corrupt changes in the BoM societies came about because the people had abandoned and rejected God and their hearts were set on their wealth and riches.  Pride had therefore been planted  in the hearts of the people who had shunned the commandments, hence their downfall. Do these have any parallels today?  I think so.

Again this presidential election is unlike any other before. The Republican Party which is a party of conservatism and traditional values is apparently in turmoil.  Its foundation has been rocked and shaken and will likely never regain its traditional footing and religious leanings. And the people are actually supporting these changes much to the chagrin of the party’s base supporters.  The numbers of those who would choose the bad leaders seem to be gaining in popularity more than those who would choose otherwise.  What is more interesting perhaps is that this hypothesis/trend coincides with other related findings like the one below.

A recent article in a local paper cites this from a Pew Research survey:
The share of religiously unaffiliated voters [“nones”] in the Democratic Party has surged over the last 20 years, leading to a growing God gap between America's two main political parties, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
The percentage of Democratic voters who identify as "nones" has nearly tripled in two decades, growing at a faster rate within the Democratic Party than in the U.S. population as a whole. "In 2016, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent) Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular' — up from just 10 percent in 1996," Pew reported.
Today, 12 percent of Republican voters are religiously unaffiliated, a 6 percentage point increase over 20 years, the study noted.

A separate study by the Public Religion Research Institute notes that
...nones now make up 25 percent of the American population, making them the single largest “faith group” in the U.S., ahead of Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent).
The trend is worrisome because obviously these numbers (“nones”) will not likely to decrease.  America in general is becoming more secular and godless.  Within a period of 20-50 years, who knows what kinds of leaders will be appointed by the voice of the people if the present trend holds - starting with this year’s elections.  Another perhaps more disturbing finding in the above survey is that most of the “nones” are found among young people, who will be the “voice of the people” in the future.  Alarming?  I definitely think so.

There’s some optimism and hope however at least by a well-known pastor and theologian Timothy Keller in his new book “Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical" in which he claims that secularism, not religion, is set to decline.  But this is more a global prognostication.  In America alone, sadly, the trend is in the opposite direction according to this finding:
It should be noted that many of the fears and warnings surrounding secularism's increase stem from a 2015 Pew Research report that found the share of Christians in America decreased from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.
This finding seems to reflect the current and recent socio-political issues and changes in America.

The obvious question is: What would the “voice of the people” be like in 20 years in America? What kinds of leaders will they choose?  If the present pattern continues, it doesn't look encouraging.

So is there hope?  Despite the gloomy outlook, my answer is “Yes!”  The lesson’s solution - and mine too - is found in the sure foundation mentioned in this verse:
And now, ... remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.  (Helaman 5:12 - emphasis mine)
(Note: Being unaffiliated with a religion does not necessarily mean or imply not believing in God.)

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