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Ancient Americans Modern Application and Promised Blessings
In Ancient America, the Nephite society transitioned through several types of governments with only one of them relatable to the republicanism of the United States, it being a political stretch to do so. The freedom and liberty referred to in the record centered around preventing harm to Nephite families and communities and the right to worship God according to the desires of the people discussed later in this article.
Noel B Reynolds of BYU stated in his work entitled Government and Legal History in the Book of Mormon, that
The Nephites were ruled by hereditary kings from 550 to 91 B.C. when the rule changed to a reign of judges. After the coming of Christ, two centuries of peace under the government of his Church were followed by a breakdown of society into tribal units and finally by the destruction of the Nephites. (para. 2)
Where Reynolds conducted an academic study of the types of governments for the entire record of the Book of Mormon, this article focuses on the Nephite society in particular. (Lamanite, Jaredite and other groups mentioned in the record receive consideration in another project.) From Reynolds description, there existed four major governmental types among the Nephites, with one divided into three subcategories for the purposes of this article:
- Patriarchal Theocracy
- Theocratic Protectorate
- Ecclesiocracy or Organizational Theocracy
- Hereditary Succession “Democracy”
- Tribal Federation (or Confederation)
Each of these governmental types provided different protections to the Nephite citizens and served a purpose for the people regarding their religious and civil liberties. This article will focus on aspects not mentioned or fully explored in Noel Reynold's article, though reference to his work will occur. Furthermore, this is not a work of academia connected to an organization, consequently, the content is the author’s own, who took great effort to proliferate proficient academic standards.This work consists of two major parts, one regarding types of governments within Nephite society and a juxtaposition of ancient American democracy and modern American republicanism.
Within a theocracy, all power of the government emanates from a divine fount. Categorically, all of Nephite law and governance come from that source since the government was essentially birthed from the right of succession starting with Lehi, the patriarch of the family. Nevertheless, theocratic power describes three of the types of governments listed in this article.
The Nephite nation began with Lehi, as mentioned, the patriarchal leader of his family, and followers who journeyed into the Arabian desert following a vision Lehi received in conjunction with a revelation to preach to the citizens of Jerusalem of its imminent destruction if they failed to comply. Following Lehi’s failed missionary efforts, God commanded him to leave Jerusalem before its destruction.
Lehi described to his family that God commanded him to take them and eventually another family and individual into the wilderness so that He, God, could provide a land of promise or inheritance of safety. In agreeing to accompany Lehi, his children, friends, and servants submitted to his rule as their prophet and patriarchal leader of a combined group of families and servants. Lehi became the progenitor though there are several lines of descent referred to in the record of the Book of Mormon.
A patriarch is the male leader of the community or clan. A patriarchal theocracy is the head of the community or clan under the appointment of divinity; therefore, abiding by the principles outlined in a religion. Among the Nephites, the religion was based on the Law of Moses as revealed to Lehi and recorded in the Bronze Plates Lehi’s sons obtained before journeying to the ancient Americas.
The drama rich relationships of Lehi’s sons bent to the will of their patriarch. As antagonistic an environment it was for the people of Lehi, they existed as a united group—even if in name only—until the death of Lehi. By right of heredity, the rule of the family group then fell to the oldest son, Laman. unfortunately for Laman, God chose Nephi to lead the group because of his obedience to his father as prophet, and his loyalty in obtaining the divine vision of the future of the Lehites similar to Judah being chosen over Ruben as the birthright son of Israel/Jacob.
Following the death of Lehi, the Lehites split into two major groups of people. One followed the divine appointment of Nephi as the designated patriarch of the Lehites and the other followed the hereditary custom of first born succession of patriarchal power. Nephi became the protector of his people following a series of events that effectively ended the possibility of him being an operative patriarch. His group of Lehites fled away from Laman and his Lehites taking with them the sacred records and items associated with the patriarchal ruler of the clan. This caused a blood feud permanently separating the groups for centuries. Nephi’s protectorate formed a nation of Nephites beholden to his leadership and authority because the people viewed him as the rightful heir and as a prophet of God. He refused to take on the position of a King as the new Nephite citizens desired, and therefore, became a theocratic leader. Theocratic protectorate defined here consists of a state or nation under the protection of God with a representative. Nephi, being the prophet of this group and its leader civilly appeared to be a governor or chancellor.
It is important to mention that Nephi did serve as patriarch of the clan, the prophet-ruler of the people of Lehi before the group split into the Lamanites and the Nephites. Before his death, he became the prophet-leader of his own clan.
The resurrected Jesus Christ visited the people of Lehi toward the end of 34 AD for three days. The governments during the time were tribal confederations (discussed later) at the time of His introduction to the people. During His time with the Lehites, Jesus Christ organized The Church of Jesus Christ among them, which became the religious and civil authority of the people, the Ecclesiocracy that governed all the children of Lehi, Lamanites and Nephites, and another group called Mulekites for almost two centuries.
An Ecclesiocracy is the rule of a nation by a religious organization, in this case, under the direction of Jesus Christ. The first ecclesiarch was interestingly, a man named Nephi. He led as a part of a Council of Twelve men who were also apostolic disciples of Jesus Christ among the Nephites. This Lehite-Mulekite union ruled by the church lived what modern saints called the law of consecration—the citizens’ practiced spiritual communism as opposed to political communism. Voluntarily, the citizen shared their property for the benefit of society, each individual having an equal opportunity to possess an inheritance and develop socially within a community of fraternal love.
Nephi consecrated a king before his death to rule the people. It was the will of the people to have a king though Nephi thought it better that they should have no king, which is why he declined the title. For his service to them, the people titled their Kings Nephi I, Nephi II and so forth, which prevailed for several hundred years before a political reformation occurred under the last king, King Mosiah who gave the people a voice in the direction of their government.
Nephi appears to have had no sons to inherit a leadership role unless he purposely never mentioned any in his record. Subsequently, consecrating a monarch for his people, Nephi separated the function of high priest or prophet from the monarchy and abdicated ecclesiastical responsibility to his brother Jacob creating a separation of religion and state. A monarchy consists of the ruling of a nation by one family usually by hereditary decree. Traditionally, monarchies have great civic authority and provide the identity of the nation.
The most revered monarch of the Nephites was King Mosiah, the last king because he granted the Nephites equal status as citizens and a ruling class instead of a single monarch to guide the government. The people elected to continue with the monarchy with the desire to compel one of the sons of Mosiah to be the next king, though all declined. This provided Mosiah the opportunity to change the nature of Nephite government.
Hereditary Representative Democracy-ish
King Mosiah introduced an assembly of rulers sustained by the people from a cast of representative judges. The judges formed the authoritative group who vouchsafed, interpreted and enforced the laws of the nation. These judges inherited their offices through what can be called a hereditary democracy because no judge ruled over the people without the consent of the majority and could be replaced depending on the will of the people. The judgeships consisted of lower and higher judges and the chief judge. The hereditary transfer prevailed in this democracy for as long as a civil government functioned among Nephites.
Though, in his work, Reynolds suggests that the Nephites lacked the authority to vote the chief judges out of office, the Nephites existed in a true democracy, contrariwise. Citizens of the Nephite nation could vote for a new leader in the form of a king suggesting they could supplant the chief judge if the majority desired to do so; however, in agreement with Reynolds, the assumption exists that the Nephites entertained no provision to remove a judge once in place. The duties of the judges were to uphold the laws of the nation as prescribed by the last king and to dispense justice with equity according to sound common law relative to the established law. An assembly of lower judges arbitrated higher judges if the need arose.
Tribal Federation (or Confederation)
During the one hundred and twenty-first year of the reign of judges over the people of Nephi, Lachoneus the Second made history as the last person to hold the office and title of Chief Judge. After his inaugural year, Lachoneus, the son of Lachoneus perished at the lecherous and homicidal hands of King-men. A group of people seeking a monarchy vowed to exterminate the chief judge and install a kingdom. This group succeeded in dispatching the rightful leader, but destroyed the Nephite government in the process. Tribes formed to replace the shattered institution. Even though the Nephites raged that the secret organization called the Gadianton Robbers destroyed the government, that rage was not sufficient to inspire them to reform the Judgeships.
The tribal federation occurred when the tribes of Nephites united together against a common enemy or in the name of defense; yet, the Nephites remained separate regarding their laws and customs. It appears that following the apostasy of a group of Lehites subsequent the nearly 200-year reign of peace and ecclesiocracy that tribalism commenced again starting with a group that separated calling themselves Lamanites. These new Lamanites crowned a king and warred with the new Nephites whom the record of Mormon does not indicate had a formal government. Tribalism may have prevailed through a new form of the Tribal Federation. Regardless, there was a central governing body because Mormon received the authority from that body to lead the armies of the Nephites.
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Voting God Out
LDS Christians and other supporters of The Book of Mormon believe that somewhere upon the American continents the Nephite nation existed before they were destroyed as a people. The majority of the Nephites chose to go counter to the commandments of God by rejecting Jesus Christ, even though several prophets pronounced a blessing and a cursing on the land that any nation that occupied the soil must worship the God of the land or be removed.
The god of the lands of the Americas is Jesus Christ. Nephi chronicles in his record that God referred to the Americas specifically when he said “it is a choice land… above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon …worship me,” 2 Nephi 10:19. The reference not only applies to the United States, but to Mexico, Canada, Greenland and every other nation in the Americas—North and South Americas!
Every power in the Americas where the people decided to reject Jesus Christ by popular consent fails economically, has rampant poverty, pervasive crime, abysmal dictatorial leadership, or utter destruction. One important aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the mandate to allow all people to worship what they may as long as that practice does not infringe upon the rights of other people to worship. When the governments of any nation restrict the religious liberties of its citizens, they incur divine wrath, especially so in the Americas.
The deciding factor in a democracy is one vote for a permanent change to take effect. Democracies, true democracies are potentially very dangerous. King Mosiah teaches in the Book of Mormon that the voice of the people determined what direction any democratic society took, though he referred to Nephite society when expressing that sentiment. Usually, he instructed, that the majority of the people do not choose any action that is wrong. But on the occasions that they do, then is divine judgement executed, Mosiah 29:26.
It took almost 400 years for the deed to occur, but the Nephites eventually rejected Christ and failed. Firstly, their government transformed to allow the people to have a voice in its function. The voice they executed or power they wielded did not compare to the voting powers of the democracies currently occupying the Americas. They could not lobby for laws; theirs’ was not authority to elect representatives. Serendipitously, they had rulers who judged their lives based on ancient laws. Why serendipity? The people appreciated the limited involvement afforded them. Only those desiring to be king seemed ever displeased with their limited freedom. Their only vote occurred when deciding which of the sons of a former judge would be the next chief judge.
Secondly, they destroyed the 121-year old faux-democracy; thirdly they murdered the 200-year peace under the ecclesiocracy; fourthly, they committed adultery against the God of the Americas, and lastly they found extinction as a people and a nation. The church Jesus established vanished!
Constitutional Provision to Avoid Destruction
Swearing that the church would never plummet into apostasy again in a revelation to Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ fashioned a nation where religion is a guarantee in the form of the Constitution. Jesus said,
According to the laws and constitution of the people [of the United States], which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh [humanity], according to just and holy principles; that every man may act in doctrine [belief system] and principle [lifestyle] pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land [the United States of America], by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood [the Revolutionary War], Doctrine & Covenants 101:77-80.
LDS Christians believe that the US Constitution is an inspired document meant for the entire human family with expressed mention of a Bill of Rights and a representative government so that the citizens have no power to change the form of government directly, or the legal power to infringe on other peoples’ belief system from any foundation—religious, political or philosophical in nature! Those protections can only apply as far as the Guiding Principles of the Constitution are held inviolate.
The Church of Jesus Christ in modern times does support the actuality of many types of governments because if it did not it would not be able to operate within those governments’ domain. Joseph Smith articulated articles of faith that the church adopted later as canonized scripture stating that “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith 1:12.
Jesus explicitly vouchsafes the agency of humanity, all humanity, though particularly regarding the freedoms of the people in the United States when He said,
…that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; and as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil, Doctrine & Covenants 98:5-7.
The United States is not a democracy for the precise reasons to avoid what occurred with the Nephites. The Nephite Tribal Federation (or Confederacy) eventually precluded Christ and failed. The voice of the people could not vote to eliminate religious rights as it could among the Nephites. The voice of the people could not change governments as did the Nephites, which could jeopardize the religious freedom of the people and endanger the Church of Jesus Christ.
Subsequently, to make sure that the voice of the people could not infringe on the rights of others, God inspired the writers of the Constitution to contrive a government where the authority to govern separated into three divisions instead of one group as did the Nephite nation, a group of judges. This government allowed representatives of the denizens to enact laws regularly with the option for a plebiscite by circumstance, still with the possibility of the Judiciary to usurp. This government would sanction elected representatives, legislatures; an elected person of the electorates, executive/president; and appointed people of the Judiciary, the US Supreme Court Justices. Therefore, this new American nation upon the promised lands, the United States of America, would serve as an example to the residue of the world’s nations of how a government should labor to protect the rights of the people.
Is the Constitution for all people in principle, or just the US?
Because of the covenant that God made with the modern Church of Jesus Christ, a government was inspired into existence that makes it almost impossible to turn the people against Christ, almost. Ultimately, a two-thirds majority of legislative representatives can amend the Constitution. The determination of the people to act for or against the celestial will is inviolate by heavenly decree to all powers. The wrath of God ignites against those who expressly infringe on the liberties of His offspring.
Unfortunately, the Nephites did not have the provision common to what God preserved for the latter days. Provisions for a minority population are not evident in the current translation of the Book of Mormon regarding Nephite government. Those in disagreement with the majority had to yield completely to the will of the people. There was no bicameral body to give two types of representation for the people, just the word of the Chief Judge as law. God ensured the agency of humans in the United States epitomized freedom towards benevolent virtuosity or malevolent discord. When divine retribution descends upon the people it will be solely the individuals’ just reward.
- Government and Legal History in the Book of Mormon,
Because the Book of Mormon focuses on religious themes, information about political and legal institutions appears only as background for the religious account.
© 2016 Rodric Johnson