Oh, yes, IS and the ancient Lamanites would have been cohorts in their destructive works, much like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II. It is to this end that I encouraged the youth in my class to spend time this week evaluating their faith in and relationship to their Savior, Jesus Christ, because again, there are Lamanites in the land once more and there may come a day when they will have to choose to either deny the Christ or face an end to their mortal life (that is in no way meant to scare anyone, but rather promote internal discussions within our hearts about this topic).
Let's review the facts as we compare the IS to the Lamanites:
1. ISIS/ the Lamanites believed they deserved to rule
Lamanites: The Book of Mormon's timeline begins in ancient Jerusalem with Lehi, a prophet, and his family. Having been warned in a dream to depart the land (FYI, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon laid siege to the city and ultimately conquered in 597 BC, three years later), Lehi took his wife and sons and they eventually made their way to the New World. Because of his righteousness and obedience to God, Lehi's younger son Nephi was given authority to govern the people and lead them in their journeys. The older sons, Laman and Lemuel, took issue to this claim and on multiple occasions tried to take Nephi's life. Ultimately, because of this situation Nephi took his family and those who believed in Jesus Christ and left his older brothers to themselves.
This split led to centuries of warfare between the descendants of Nephi, or the Nephites, and the descendants of Laman and Lemuel, or the Lamanites, and the various indigenous groups who aligned with them. I could write a lengthy article about how the symbols of the Brass Plates, the Sword of Laban and the Liahona were symbols of power that denoted legitimate authority to rule (which is why future Lamanite rulers wanted them so badly; when Ammon met Lamoni's father, the old king called Nephi a liar who robbed his brothers), we'll simply focus on the fact throughout the ensuing generations, Lamanite culture held to the belief that the Nephites should be subject to Lamanite rule, almost slavery.
As another ancient American prophet named Zeniff declared, "And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi" (Mosiah 10:16–17).
IS: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” said Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
According to their own published doctrine, disciples of the Islamic State believe that every person on this earth should become subject to a restored caliphate under the "leadership" of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Make no mistake, this would be an Islamic state under the rule of a community of religious scholars guided by a supreme leader, the caliph or khalifah, which is generally taken to mean the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, IS believes that their right to rule trumps any current-standing gorvernment as declared in this manifesto: "The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the khilafah's authority and arrival of its troops to their areas." In other words, when we conquer, we now rule (which was the main reason the Lamanites went to war with the Nephites time and time again). And in case you missed it, IS now controls an area larger than the United Kingdom. Just FYI.
This absolute Sharia-law governance would include every aspect of our lives, from religious to social to economic to political and let's not forget the military. If IS could take over, they would use our military might to wage further "jihad" and force others to "convert or die" as we'll discuss shortly. In summation, IS believes that they exist "for the purpose of compelling the people to do what the Sharia (Allah's law) requires of them."
2. IS/the Lamanites destroyed any materials, artwork, icons or structures that represented opposing beliefs
Lamanites: The people of Nephi understood that if the Lamanites were to gain power, they would immediately begin a destructive program to remove any influences from the "old" beliefs. One of the earliest Book of Mormon prophets, Enos, teaches that, "(the Lamanites) swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers" (Enos 1:14). Nearly 800 years later, Mormon, the editor/compiler of the Book of Mormon, was charged by a prophet named Ammaron that he should take possession of their sacred records when he was twenty-four (Mormon 1). Years later when the Lamanites were overrunning the land, Mormon made sure to visit the Hill Shim to remove the sacred records for he knew that if the Lamanites found them they would be destroyed (Mormon 4:23). He knew the end was nigh; because of the wickedness of his own people, Mormon must have known that the Lamanites were going to win. To that end, he hid all the records that were in his care (nearly 1,000 years worth) to protect them from the Lamanites' destructive tendencies, save a few plates/records which gave to his son, Moroni.
"And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." (Mormon 6:6)
While the Book of Mormon specifically focuses on the preservation of the sacred records from destruction, we can be sure from what we know about ancient American peoples' cultural behaviors that this would also include religious buildings, statues, stelae, songbooks, and any other item that would be a reminder of the "old ways." This distinctive action, taken by conquerors over the vanquished, is a behavior that has been repeated all throughout history. What better way to complete the indoctrination with the new than to burn, crush and otherwise obliterate the old? Just think of the zealousness of European priests in their desire to destroy all the records, idols and places of worship of the Aztecs, Mayans, etc. during the colonization period of the Americas.
IS: The news has been filled lately with videos and photos of IS soldiers/followers systematically destroying ancient Christian relics, structures and other records in the lands that they have conquered. As a lover of history and a once-upon-a-time archaeology wannabe (thank you, Indiana Jones) these actions break my heart. To see such exquisite pieces of art that artists labored over as a sign of worship to be so carelessly (or is that carefully?) cut to pieces and then smashed with hammers is a blaspheme to the human race's ability to create beauty.
My feelings aside, IS, like the Lamanites, does this so that they can more easily remove old beliefs and indoctrinate conquered peoples to make them more compliant with their own convictions. It is ethnic cleansing on a grand scale (that means any non-Islamic religion is targeted) and to give you an idea of what that means, if IS soldiers were to conquer your neighborhood today, they would come in an burn any books they considered "impure", most definitely destroy your XBox/Wii and highly likely they would enslave the women and children (think of the stories in Alma where the Lamanites took prisoners that Captain Moroni then liberated).
Think that's extreme? "Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatizing from Islam." That's a quote from an article titled, "The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour".
Sufficiently sickened yet? If not, in 2014 ISIS actually set down prices for the selling of their "spoils", aka slaves. (1 dinar = $.86)
- A (Yazidi or Christian) woman, aged 40 to 50 years, is for 50,000 dinars.
- The rate of a (Yazidi or Christian) woman, aged 30 to 40 years, is 75,000 dinars.
- The rate for a (Yazidi or Christian) woman, aged 20 to 30 years, is 100,000 dinars.
- A (Yazidi or Christian) girl, aged 10 to 20 years, is for 150,000 dinars.
- A (Yazidi or Christian) child’s price, aged 1 to 9 years, is 200,000 dinars
In short, when the scriptures and ancient texts refer to the destruction of a people, sometimes they mean the destruction of their way of life and not massacres or mass executions. IS, however, seems to be fine with either.
3. IS/the Lamanites executed anyone who would not deny Jesus Christ
Lamanites: From the moment Nephi and his family split from his brothers Laman and Lemuel and their group, Nephi knew that his life was in danger and mostly so was those of his friends and family. In fact, one of the first things he did once they established a new home land was to take the Sword of Laban and make similar weapons in which his brethren could defend themselves and their families from Lamanite attack "for [he] knew their hatred towards [him] and my children and those who were called [his] people" (2 Nephi 5:14).
This danger was a constant throughout the majority of time in which the Book of Mormon takes place, with by some estimates eighty-five wars and other armed conflicts occurring as the Lamanites invaded Nephite territory with the desire to enslave, destroy and replace Nephite theology with their own time after time. And like IS, if you did not convert to the Lamanite way of thinking then you faced swift execution. As Mormon commented while editing the Alma war chapters, "For they knew that if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites, that whosoever should worship God in spirit and in truth, the true and the living God, the Lamanites would destroy" (Alma 43:10).
IS: Like the Lamanites, IS actively teaches their children to hate Christians (not to mention the Jewish state) and as such like the Lamanites they do not believe it is a crime or even murder to execute non-believers or non-Muslims, nor to rob them, plunder them or do all in their power to destroy them (see above Mosiah 10;16-17). In fact, in September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” Like many Lamanite rulers, IS believes that waging warfare to expand their area of authority is a divine right and a responsibility.
The atrocities committed by IS, ISIS and ISIL sicken the common man and woman. We watch in horror as beheadings, burnings, amputations and stonings take place in the caliphate's quest for expansion as they await the Apocalypse (a major tenant of their belief system). As I watch our fellow Christians suffering such horrors in Africa and the Middle East I cannot help but draw a comparison to the final days of the Book of Mormon when because of their own wickedness the Nephites began to face extinction at the hands of the Lamanites. In a final letter to his son Moroni, Mormon describes a continual scene of bloodshed and depravity (see Mormon 9). It is a reality that we have not seen to such a full extent as of yet, and there are any differences between the Lamanites and the Islamic State, but to those followers of Christ in the cross-hairs of IS the bloodshed and depravity is real.
I will not here recount the terrible acts committed by this group; they are available online from countless sources and as I researched information for this post I can honestly say that I felt my soul moved by the horrible things being done by IS. Needless to say they sicken the hearts of good men and women, including millions of Muslims around the world, and are degenerate in nature.
For most of us, the conflict against Christianity being waged by IS seems "over there." We are concerned and our hearts ache, but the actual fight has yet to show up at our door. The Nephites, however, faced this danger every day of their lives. Which brings me back to the lesson I was teaching in Sunday School on Sunday.
We were reviewing a lesson on Jesus Christ and discussing ways to share our testimonies with others (notice: share, not inflict or force) and I have to say that I get to teach some of the best youth in the Church! But as we were talking, we discussed IS and the situation in Africa and the Middle East and I asked the kids, "What would you do? What would you say if IS showed up in our community today and gave you the choice: deny Jesus Christ or die?"
What would you do? What would you say? The reason I brought this up to the youth, and to all of you, is to stir some introspection regarding your testimony of Jesus Christ. Could you face death and stand firm in your faith? Would you waver? Would you hold firm even in death like Abinadi (Mosiah 17:20) or the Christians in Ammonihah who were cast into the fire for their faith (Alma 14:8)? Would you declare your faith in the face of death like John the Baptist (Mathew 14:3-12), Stephen (Acts 7:55-60), or Joseph and Hyrum Smith (D&C 135)?
Most of us will never have to face the situation of faith or forfeit with death as the penalty like the Nephites in ancient America or modern Christians in the Middle East, but just because we will not have to put our convictions before our lives in practice does not mean we shouldn't be ready to in principle, for without such faith and conviction how can we ever hope to attain exaltation?
So I extend to you the same challenge that I gave to my class: ask yourself how strong is your faith in Jesus Christ? How deeply are you converted to his Gospel? And if you were given the choice, today, to renounce your faith or face a cruel death, could you do it? Could you say, in that moment, as Moroni declared, "And I, (insert your name here), will not deny the Christ..." (Moroni 10:3)?
Will we, with all the faithful martyrs throughout time sing,
"And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!"
(Come, Come Ye Saints; Hymn #30)
Perhaps now is a good time to take inventory of our faith, our testimonies and the state of our spiritual armor of God. After all, there are Lamanites in the land once again and when that level of darkness stares us in the face, we can only rely on the light within.