Hold it! Don’t go anywhere! It’s not what you think. Please keep reading. Enlightenment is sure to follow. :)
I frequently contribute to an LDS Facebook fan page. Sometime ago, I posted a video with this quote from a talk by President Howard W. Hunter: “If a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church.”
I then posed this question to the members of the fanpage: “Can Mormons build a bridge between Christianity and Muslims? Please submit your thoughts here.”
Now, I want to emphasize that most of the feedback I received was positive. However, there were some responses (about 25% of them) that shocked me. Here are just a few:
- “i wont do it.. muslim are evil ppl.”
- “Muslims are dangerous people. It is best just not to be around them. If they are willing to kill themselves or others, I would rather just stay away from them.”
- “there is no such thing as moderate muslim. they don’t exisit.”
- “THIS IS THE GREATEST MISTAKE THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN IN THE CHURCH. IF IT DOES HAPPEN THEN MY TESTIMONY WILL BE LOST.”
As I read those comments, I couldn’t help but think about the Lamanites.
Who Are The Lamanites?
At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, we read of two brothers: Nephi and Laman. These two brothers did not get along. After many bitter arguments and fights, Nephi and Laman separated from each other and started what eventually evolved into two distinct civilizations: the Nephites and the Lamanites.
Although the terms “Nephite” and “Lamanite” are sometimes used to describe physical differences, the terms were primarily used to mark political or religious differences. “Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites. But 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, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:13-14).
Still don’t believe that the terms “Nephite” and “Lamanite” are political or religious distinctions? Ask yourself this: When Nephites defected from the Nephites, who did they join? The Lamanites. When Lamanites defected from Lamanites, who did they join? The Nephites. If these two cultures were prejudice against skin colors, then why did the Lamanites let Amalickiah (a Nephite) become their king? Or why did the Nephites embrace the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (former Lamanites) and give them land? Because they changed their beliefs.
Beliefs, not physical appearances, are what distinguished the Nephites and the Lamanites.
Violence and Falsehood
As time went on, these two civilizations continued to hate and fight with one another. As in all wars—whether they be wars abroad or wars in our hearts—their hatred of one another was perpetuated by false beliefs. As Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood.”
Isolating themselves from each other, the Nephites and the Lamanites developed many false beliefs about each other. Consider this: The Nephites believed that the Lamanites “were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people,” while the Lamanites believed “that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and…that [Laman and his people were] wronged while in the land of their first inheritance” (Mosiah 10:12-13).
So, while the Nephites considered the Lamanites to be a “wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people,” (Enos 1:20) the Lamanites considered the Nephites to be liars and robbers (Alma 20:13).
Yet we know that these things are not true. The Book of Mormon is filled with examples of peaceful and loving Lamanites (King Lamoni, Abish, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, the 2,000 Stripling Warriors, Samuel, et cetera) and it is filled with examples of incredibly honest and self-sacrificing Nephites (Abinadi, King Benjamin, Mormon, Moroni, et cetera).
When the Nephites and the Lamanites believed lies about one another they hated each other. But when they believed the gospel they loved each other. The gospel helped them rediscover that they were a family; a family linked together by two brothers, Nephi and Laman, and a family bound together through a Father—God. The love of God helps all to see the truth about each other.
We see this “rediscovery of family” happen over and over again in the Book of Mormon. The Nephite prophet Enos prays for himself, his people and then his “brethren the Lamanites” (Enos 1:11). After their powerful conversions, Ammon and the sons of Mosiah go on life-long missions to their brethren the Lamanites. For a time, even Nephi and Laman forgive one another (1 Nephi 7:19-21).
So the term “Nephite” does not mean “good” and the term “Lamanite” does not mean “bad.” The terms were temporal, political distinctions. In the end, they were still a family.
As people draw nearer to God, they will throw away the labels of the world as they rediscover that all the people of the earth are their brothers and sisters and that we are all part of a divine family.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India.” (History of the Church, 4:595–96.)
The Symbolic Lamanite
So back to my original question: Who are the Lamanites? That is to say, who do they represent? If we are to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23) then we must ask ourselves, who are the “Lamanites” of our world? Who are the “Lamanites” of our own lives?
Who do we view as different from us? Who do we view as “bloodthirsty?” Who do we fight with? Who do we habitually misunderstand?
The symbolic “Lamanites” of our world could be the Muslim people. Like those who commented on my post about Muslims, there are many who think that the Muslim people are a “wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people.” When the truth is: they are not. Remember that we are all part of a divine family. We are not as different from each other as lies would have us believe.
One person wrote this on the post I mentioned above: “Our stake center is next to the Muslim center and the people there are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Better than some members I know. People that say otherwise sound ignorant and have no foundation to the belief that Muslim people would not be genuinely kind and good people. No member of our church should feel otherwise (or people in general). Because that is not at all what our Christ would want us to feel.”
Another wrote this: “I lived in a Muslim country for 2 years. It was the best time ever. The most honest out of the lot were the Muslim people. The most respectful were the Muslim people. Heck they even allowed some amazing LDS missionaries into the country to preach the gospel!”
But let’s take this a step further. The “Lamanites” of our lives could be people we habitually misunderstand: members of different faiths, people who fight against us, or even family members. We ourselves can be “Lamanites” in the eyes of another.
Yeah, but what if a particular group of people really is evil? What if someone really is bad? What if someone won’t stop hating you or other people? Aren’t we justified then?
Frankly, no, we are not. God will never justify our hatred of another person. It is not God-like to hate others. God requires that we love others (John 13:34-35). The nearer we draw to Jesus Christ and learn more of His atonement, the more we will love our fellow man.
Drawing upon this principle, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.”
The Tree of Life
In closing, I would have you remember the symbolic dream of Lehi—the father of Nephi and Laman.
Lehi eats the fruit of the Tree of Life. This fruit represents the love of God and as he eats it he is filled with “exceedingly great joy.” He then beckons to his whole family to come and partake.
He even beckons to his sons Laman and Lemuel—sons that had once plotted to kill him (1 Nephi 16:37).
Lehi’s dream is symbolic for all of us. God stands at the Tree of Life, and beckons to His whole family, regardless of their nationality, or their political or religious beliefs. God beckons to all mankind.