Abstract: In his well-known volume about the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy focuses primarily on the book’s main narrators. However, he also makes a number of observations about other figures in the book that are of particular interest, including some about Captain Moroni. In addition to those I address elsewhere, these observations include the claim that Moroni lacked the typical religious virtues — which Hardy identifies as “humility, self-sacrifice, kindness, and relying upon the Lord.” They also include the assertion that Helaman, in his manifest reliance upon God, serves as a counterexample to Moroni’s military leadership. A close look at the text, however, indicates that both these claims are mistaken.
Grant Hardy’s influential volume, Understanding the Book of Mormon,1 focuses on the text’s main narrators. Other figures in the book naturally receive attention along the way, however. One of these is Captain Moroni. Among Hardy’s remarks regarding Captain Moroni are these seven: (1) Moroni’s divine communication (reported in Alma 60:33) was an “off-the-mark revelation”;2 (2) Moroni “slaughters” his political opponents;3 (3) he is not portrayed in the text as “a particularly religious man”;4 (4) he was not comparable to the sons of Mosiah in spiritual matters [Page 218]— despite Mormon’s claim to the contrary;5 (5) he can be described as being “hot-blooded” and as having an “aggressive posture,” a “quick temper,” a “blunt manner,” and “hasty suspicions;”6 (6) he did not possess the “typical religious virtues;”7 and (7) he serves as a contrast to Helaman, who, unlike Moroni, put his trust in God more than in his own expertise.8
I have addressed the first five of these claims elsewhere in two separate papers.9 In this article I will consider the final two assertions, namely, that Captain Moroni lacked “the typical religious virtues” — by which Hardy specifically means “humility, self-sacrifice, kindness, and relying upon the Lord”10 — and the claim that Helaman serves as a counterexample to Moroni.11
Now, the idea that Moroni lacked the usual religious virtues might well be a common view, since what stands out in the record are his wartime leadership and his immersion in circumstances of violence. When we think of Moroni, we tend to think of his military engagements rather than his religious virtues. Surprisingly, however, when we read closely — and when we think carefully about these religious virtues themselves — we find that the text provides far more information about Moroni’s character than we might suppose. To examine Hardy’s conclusions about Moroni’s character, I will consider the several virtues in sequence. All this will be relevant to the subsequent major topic — i.e., the comparison of Captain Moroni to Helaman.
Consider, first, the matter of self-sacrifice. Hardy does not provide any evidence for his remark that Moroni lacks this virtue, but the claim seems implausible on its face. If self-sacrifice includes a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests in the service of a larger cause, then we have no problem identifying that trait in Moroni’s life of service. It is clear in the record that his efforts to defend the Nephites from destruction [Page 219]over nearly one-and-a-half decades12 came at no small cost to himself. We see him not only risk his life in waging defense against repeated aggressive attacks, but we see him do so against an enemy that appears to have outnumbered the Nephites nearly four to one13 — increasing the personal danger and effort such defense entailed.
In addition to leading under these already overwhelming circumstances, we also see Moroni dealing with Nephites who required reminding of the commandments14 as well as with influential traitors within Nephite ranks who only added to the continual threats from without (see, e.g., Alma 51:1–22, 53:8–9, 60, 61). We are also told that Moroni “did labor exceedingly” for the welfare of the Nephites and that he swore with an oath to defend the Nephites “even to the loss of his blood” (Alma 48:12–13) — which we know he suffered in battle (e.g., Alma 52:35). Moreover, Moroni personally reports experiencing “exceedingly great sufferings” with his men, including “hunger, thirst, fatigue, and all manner [Page 220]of afflictions of every kind” (Alma 60:3). For close to fifteen years, the text shows Moroni’s life to be a continuous series of sacrifices.15
“Reliance on the Lord”
Although we tend to think of Moroni primarily in terms of his wartime engagements, his reliance on the Lord is also evident in the text. We are told, for instance, that at the time he created the title of liberty, Moroni “bowed himself to the earth,” “prayed mightily unto his God,” and “poured out his soul to God” (Alma 46:13, 16, 17). We see Moroni not only pray, but we see him pray “mightily.”
Moreover, as he speaks to the people at this time, Moroni tells them explicitly that God will not allow them to be destroyed if they do not fall into transgression (Alma 46:18), and he specifically invites the people to rally around the symbolism of the title of liberty “in the strength of the Lord” (Alma 46:20). In the same discourse, he invites the people to enter a covenant so “the Lord God may bless them” and similarly ties the prospects of success to the Nephites’ remembering to “keep the commandments of God” and to their standing “fast in the faith of Christ” (Alma 46:20, 23, 27).
Later, when Amalickiah was positioned as the head of the Lamanites and was preparing to assault the Nephites, Moroni himself was “preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” [Page 221](Alma 48:7). As general of the armies, he was busily creating defensive fortifications to protect the Nephites from attack, but the first defensive initiative mentioned in the text is his effort to fortify the Nephites’ faithfulness to God. In these same circumstances, Mormon tells us Moroni’s faith specifically was that the Lord would deliver the Nephites from destruction if they were “faithful in keeping the commandments of God” (Alma 48:15–16). In each of these cases, Moroni explicitly acknowledges the Lord and expresses an earnest reliance on him.
Earlier, when Moroni exulted in the Nephites’ success in their defense against Zerahemnah, he also attributed the victory to “our faith in Christ” and reported that “the Lord is with us” (Alma 44:3). He told Zerahemnah that the Nephites’ faith in Christ was “the true faith” and that God would continue to support and preserve the Nephites as long as they were “faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion” (Alma 44:4). He further reported that “we owe all our happiness” to “the sacred word of God” (Alma 44:5).
Much later in the war, when Moroni left his army to attend to an insurrection in the capital, he left “the strength and the blessings of God” upon the soldiers who remained (Alma 60:25).
All these features of the text show Captain Moroni to be a man who relied explicitly and heavily on the Lord and who attributed the Nephites’ success in defending themselves specifically to him.16
The idea that Captain Moroni lacked “kindness” is a particularly important claim, since it requires us to think more deeply about this virtue than we otherwise might. The assertion invites several observations, all of which are important in reaching a cogent view of this matter.
The first thing we notice in looking at the text is that Moroni was kind to the Nephites — a citizenry under assault and fighting for their lives. In reflecting on kindness, we think of acts of support and help and solicitousness toward others. Certainly, Moroni’s valiant service over the years in waging defense demonstrates that he acted in this way toward the Nephites.
The claim that Moroni “lacks kindness” may refer to his criticism of Pahoran or to his treatment of the Lamanites as well as to his treatment of the Lamanites’ confederates in the Nephite population.17 Regarding [Page 222]Pahoran and the governors of the Nephites who were putting the nation at risk, we see that Moroni’s words and threatened actions were justified, as shown elsewhere.18 Once Pahoran’s faithfulness to the Nephite nation was established, Moroni worked to aid Pahoran. Strong words and swift action are needed in such times of emergency, and no genuine charge of unkindness can be levied against Captain Moroni in this episode.
As for defending the Nephites against their enemies, God had commanded Moroni to do this, and his duty to his people was to defend them. Such actions, though necessarily military in nature, cannot be painted as indicators of a lack of kindness or compassion in Moroni’s heart. Indeed, as we will see in upcoming sections, Moroni consistently sought to minimize bloodshed, fully recognizing the humanity of the soldiers opposing him.
It must be remembered that the Lord gives us many examples of using strong words or taking strong measures against opponents, such as publicly chastising the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13–33), casting out the moneychangers and others in the temple (John 2:14–17; see also Matthew 21:12–16; Mark 11:15–17; Luke 19:45–46), the destruction of the wicked at the time of Noah (Genesis 7:13; Moses 7:34), his slaying of Pharaoh and “the host of the Egyptians” as they pursued the children of Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14), his command that the Nephites take up the sword against the Lamanites to defend themselves (Alma 43:46–47, 48:14–16, 60:28), his destruction of numerous Nephite cities and their inhabitants in the aftermath of his crucifixion (3 Nephi 9:1–12), and his assignment of the wicked to suffering and anguish in the spirit world, prior to their resurrection.19
None of these episodes tempt us to conclude that the Lord lacks “kindness.” Indeed, since all of them concern the Savior’s own actions — and since “everlasting kindness” is explicitly identified as one of his attributes20 — the moral we should draw is that the way we normally [Page 223]think about kindness is probably inadequate. Our understanding of what constitutes this attribute might stand some examination — and the result might lead to a more refined view of Captain Moroni. Here are some matters to consider in rounding out our view of kindness.
Aggressors Impose Their Own Restrictions on Kindness
One reality to appreciate about kindness is this: individuals often impose limits on what acts of kindness are possible to show them. The people at the time of Noah had created an environment of violence and debauchery, and the Egyptians refused multiple times to free the enslaved Israelites. In each case, prophetic calls to repentance were ignored, and wickedness persisted. While the Lord’s arm and his “voice of mercy” are lengthened out “all the day long” toward his children,21 when they persist in depravity and rebellion, there might be no option but to end the evil. This, it would seem, is why the Lord can speak in one verse about his fury and vengeance in destroying the wicked at his Second Coming and in the very next verse report that his redeemed shall speak of his “loving kindness” and his “goodness” (D&C 133:51–52). It would seem that the Lord does for everyone the best they will permit him to do. However, he can’t do for them what they won’t permit him to do. The kindness he can show them faces limits they themselves impose.
This is not unlike the circumstance Captain Moroni faced with the Lamanites. They were assailants seeking to destroy Nephite lives and Nephite society.22 Such circumstances make it difficult to see what “kind” options were available to Moroni in how to treat them. Morality does not require individuals to help assailants commit their wrongs. (Should a bystander provide transportation and food to a tired and hungry aggressor who is hunting a person he intends to harm?) Morality requires individuals, in the best way they can, to prevent assailants’ wrongs. This was precisely the case with Moroni. By their aggression, the Lamanites themselves precluded Moroni’s ability to display conventional forms of kindness toward them. That was their doing, not his.
Kindness Does Not Entail Capitulation
Some might believe that capitulating to one’s assailants would be a way to show kindness toward them and that this, therefore, is actually the proper course to follow when faced with conflict. Hugh Nibley, for [Page 224]example, believed that the Ammonites’ refusal to take up arms was “the perfect example of what to do when faced with a conflict.”23 This view overlooks significant features of the scriptural record, however. Standing firmly against evil goes back to the pre-earth life when the Son led many of us in a “war” against the rebel Satan.24 Moreover, the Lord not only commanded the Nephites to defend themselves against their aggressors but routinely helped them execute their defense.25 It is true, of course, that Christ voluntarily assented to his crucifixion, but this does not establish a precedent for capitulating to aggression. The Savior was ordained to die at that time and in that way, and his behavior in his ultimate sacrifice simply does not generalize to other circumstances. The case of the Ammonites in Alma 24 is sui generis as well and also does not generalize to others. In fact, it did not even generalize to later situations with the Ammonites themselves. Although the Ammonites’ assailants repented and were converted the first time they attacked their brethren (Alma 24:23–27), this did not happen the second time they did so (Alma 27:2–4). Indeed, following this second attack, the Lord directed the Ammonites to emigrate because he knew that future aggressors would not repent — and in fact that they would destroy the Ammonites (Alma 27:12). In addition, the Ammonites later faced circumstances in which they could have prostrated themselves before their enemies, just as they had in Alma 24 and 27, but they did not do so. In one case, they were protected by a large Nephite army that had moved into the land of Jershon after the Ammonites moved out for safety reasons (Alma 35:13, 43:4–22), and in another, they first desired to take up weapons of their own and then, when dissuaded, allowed their sons to go to war in their place (Alma 53:10–18). In neither case did the Ammonites prostrate [Page 225]themselves as an alternative to battle. It is evident, then, that they did not believe their experience in Alma 24 and 27 set the precedent for what people should do generally, including themselves. Since they did not believe this, it is unclear on what principle others should believe it.26
Finally, even if by some logic it were kind to let attackers freely commit murder, it is hard to see how doing so would be kind to those they murder — say, women, children, and other innocents we are defending. If (1) we are to be as kind as possible, and (2) if we can’t simultaneously be kind to two groups — to aggressors by giving them free rein to commit murder and to victims by not giving their aggressors free rein to murder them — then (3) it would seem that we are morally obligated to be kind to the group that is not murdering others rather than to the group that is.
These considerations render the idea of capitulation unpersuasive. It is not a genuine option for showing kindness when a nation is facing unjust attack and murder.27
[Page 226]Moroni’s Generosity of Spirit
Now, it is not that the Lord shows no kindness to the wicked, of course — to the people at the time of the flood, to the Nephites he destroyed, and so forth. As we have seen, his arm is stretched out “all the day long” to reach God’s children and save them. His efforts to reach people, to help them repent, and to embrace them when they do repent is repeatedly manifest in scripture. His patience and long-suffering in extending such mercy for so long is unfathomable. This generosity of spirit is the form kindness takes toward those who by their actions preclude any other form of kindness.
As mortals go, Captain Moroni himself is impressive in possessing such generosity of spirit. In his rebuke of the Nephite governors in Alma 60, for example — despite their huge and costly betrayal of the Nephite people — Moroni still managed to call them “my beloved brethren” (Alma 60:10) and reported a revelation that held out the possibility of their repentance (Alma 60:33). In a more famous example, Moroni gave Zerahemnah and his army every chance to repent and cease their aggression, and he allowed them to leave in peace when they did so (Alma 44:1, 19–20). He behaved similarly when a group of Nephites later become rebellious and sought to kill other Nephites in order to obtain lands for themselves. Under Moroni, Teancum eventually thwarted their plans, and — despite the intrigue, threat, and loss of life these dissidents had caused — when they entered a covenant to keep the peace, they were permitted to return to their original lands and settle there once again. All, apparently, was forgiven (Alma 50: 25–36).
On a later occasion, the record shows Moroni refusing to attack defenseless Lamanite soldiers when he could have easily assaulted them because “he did not delight in murder or bloodshed” and thus “would not fall upon the Lamanites and destroy them” (Alma 55:18–19). In this same episode, he managed to surround a whole army of Lamanites whom he could have slain easily. Yet he spared their lives and permitted them to surrender (Alma 55:20–24). This followed Captain Moroni’s famous epistle to Ammoron in which he declared, “I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth” (Alma 54:12). Moroni said this in the heat of his exchange with Ammoron, but when he actually had the chance to destroy an army “from off the face of the earth,” he didn’t.
Moroni behaved the same way when he and Lehi2 were able to surround an army of Lamanites and overpower them in battle, and [Page 227]yet, rather than continue to fight and substantially reduce the army’s numbers through injury or death, he immediately gave them a chance to surrender and save their lives by throwing down their weapons of war. Many did so, and those who refused were only taken as prisoners; they were not attacked further (Alma 52:32–39). This was in stark contrast to the Lamanites who, in one theater of the war, spared only the chief captains of the Nephites whom they took prisoner and killed all their other prisoners of war (Alma 56:10–15).
Perhaps most significantly, in the epistle in which Moroni tells Ammoron that “hell” and the “wrath of God” await him and that he is “a child of hell,” Moroni still holds out the possibility of repentance for Ammoron — that there will be no more war if Ammoron withdraws his aggression and returns to his own lands (Alma 54:6–11).
Moroni did not tire in his generosity as the war dragged on. In its final year, at the end of one battle, rather than punish the Lamanite invaders who survived, Moroni extracted a covenant from them that they would no longer aggress against the Nephites and then simply sent them in peace to live with the people of Ammon2 (Alma 62:14–17). Later that same year, after winning another battle with a Lamanite army, he did the same. Those who survived were not punished for their aggression and cause of death. Instead, when they expressed a desire to join the Ammonites, Moroni granted them their desire and allowed them to do so in peace (Alma 62:19–28).
In these examples, Moroni ran the risk that the soldiers he freed or left alive would one day return to the battlefield against the Nephites. This was the case even when he extracted a promise from them. The Lamanites had shown a warlike nature for centuries,28 and Moroni could not guarantee that those he spared would not once again pose danger. Indeed, in one battle, the Lamanite leader declared that he and his men would not enter a covenant never to aggress against the Nephites again because they knew they and their children would break it (Alma 44:8). Yet despite such risks, Moroni still spared as many lives as he could. Indeed, it was Moroni’s generosity in this very incident that seriously endangered his own life (Alma 44:12).
[Page 228]Moroni’s attitude toward war seems reflective of what Mormon tells us about the Nephites who were being led by Moroni — namely, that the Nephites contended with the Lamanites “reluctantly,” indeed with “much reluctance,” and that they “were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood … [and that] they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God” (Alma 48:21–23). Their aim in fighting was not punishment or revenge. It was self-preservation undertaken reluctantly but out of necessity.
Such characteristics appear to be impressive in war. More common, it would seem, is the tendency to objectify enemies and to lust for revenge against them. We’ve seen that the Lamanites killed many of their prisoners of war, for example, and Gidgiddoni and Mormon encountered vengeful and aggressive attitudes among their own soldiers (3 Nephi 3:20; Mormon 3:14, 4:1–4), despite a Nephite history that explicitly eschewed such attitudes.29 No Nephite leader — including Captain Moroni — succumbed to such temptations, however.30 It seems fair to say that the text shows Moroni behaving toward his aggressors much as the Lord behaves toward the wicked generally: he does not delight in harming them and instead hopes they will cease their attacks — and when they do so, he treats them with a benevolence that is surprising. In the treacherous situations Moroni faced, this generosity of spirit is an impressive manifestation of kindness toward those who were attacking him and his people.
Moroni’s Restriction to Defensive War
An additional matter to appreciate about “kindness,” specifically in the kind of circumstances Moroni faced, is this conspicuous feature of the record: all Moroni’s wartime efforts took place on Nephite lands. He never invaded traditional Lamanite lands, he never sought to overthrow Lamanite society, and he never attempted to conquer a single Lamanite city. He went to battle against the Lamanites only when they were [Page 229]invading Nephite lands, seeking to kill Nephites and to overthrow their society. In every case, Moroni was forced to wage battle in his own homeland, not because of any aggression of his own but because of repeated invasions by others.31
We also learn the necessity of the Nephites’ defending “their wives, and children” (Alma 35:14): the Nephites were defending themselves to prevent their wives and their children from being “massacred” (Alma 48:24). This was consistent with the earlier report that the Nephites were “not fighting for monarchy nor power” but for preservation of their lives, their families’ lives, and their religion (Alma 43:9–10, 45, 47). Indeed, Moroni reports at one point that the Lamanites were “murdering our people with the sword,” including “our women and our children” (Alma 60:17). We learn in addition that the Lamanites assaulted the Nephites, supposing that they could “slay and massacre” the Nephites “according to their pleasure” (Alma 49:7). Indeed, Ammoron declared that the Lamanites’ aggression against the Nephites would be “eternal” — it would continue either to the complete subjugation of the Nephites or to their “eternal extinction” (Alma 54:20).
Such were the hostilities and dangers faced by Moroni and his people. Whereas others might be tempted to seek revenge or to expand one’s territory in time of war, the text only shows Moroni fighting against this very aggression from others. Indeed, Moroni’s defensive posture is the reason Moroni had only men as prisoners of war, whereas the Lamanites had among their prisoners both women and children (Alma 54:3).32 The Lamanites’ military action, after all, consisted in invading the Nephites’ homeland — where the Nephites obviously lived as families — and both killing and capturing many women and children. Captain Moroni’s military action, on the other hand, consisted in nothing other than waging defense against such invasions and doing so in the Nephites’ own territory. He never set foot on the Lamanites’ homeland and thus never encountered Lamanite women and children settled there, much [Page 230]less harm or hold them as prisoners of war. In every respect, the text shows Moroni to be engaged in defensive action only.
Offensive Tactics in a Defensive War
In one place, Hardy raises a matter that might seem to undermine the view that Moroni’s actions were purely defensive in character. It is the account, in Alma 50, of Captain Moroni’s driving Lamanites out of lands that were part of Nephite territory and back into Lamanite lands (Alma 50:6–12).33 In this episode, so it seems, Moroni resorted to aggressive measures.
However, thinking about the episode in this way confuses offensive war with offensive tactics. The Allied landing at Normandy in 1944 (along with a thousand other examples in World War II) was certainly an offensive tactic, but it was just as certainly not a matter of offensive war; it was not an act of aggression. It was no more than an offensive maneuver undertaken as part of a larger defense — a requirement that was thrust upon the Allies in the first place by the military aggression of the Axis powers attacking them. Indeed, this part of Europe had been invaded by Nazi Germany in the first place, and the landing was a crucial step in taking it back and reversing the spread of Nazi hegemony.
Examples of similar offensive maneuvers certainly appear in the Nephite record, and they have the same character as the Normandy invasion: they are not acts of aggression but are acts conducted strictly in the service of self-defense. Think of Teancum’s slaying of Amalickiah (Alma 51:33–34) along with multiple additional examples.34 All are different from the actions condemned by Gidgiddoni and Mormon when they insisted that their armies act strictly in defense (3 Ne. 3:20– 21; Mormon 3:14–6). In these examples, the Nephites’ desires to engage their enemies were forbidden by Gidgiddoni and Mormon, apparently because they felt those acts would have been offensive rather than defensive in nature. In an important sense, in their desire for revenge, these warriors were seeking to instigate hostilities.
In practice, righteous Nephite leaders seem to have defined legitimate defense in a way that prohibited both seeking revenge and, for the most part, leaving their own territory. In his case, Mormon refused to lead the Nephites when they became motivated by revenge and sought to enter Lamanite land to gain their vengeance (Mormon 3:4–11; 4:1–4). And Gidgiddoni, described as “a great prophet” (3 Nephi 3:19), led his armies [Page 231]in vigorously attacking the Gadianton robbers who were laying siege to them at the time and even prevented their retreat to the “furthermost parts of the land northward” when they abandoned their siege (3 Nephi 4:16–27). However, when military action would have required crossing territorial boundaries and engaging the enemy on their own lands, the same Gidgiddoni prohibited it (see 3 Nephi 3:20–21). Indeed, even when they were earlier pursuing the Gadianton robbers at the time of the siege, he was specific in allowing pursuit only to a specific territorial line, or “the borders of the wilderness” (3 Nephi 4:13).35
The general attitudes we see in such Nephite leaders are the reason that all wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites occurred on Nephite lands; as mentioned earlier, they were all the result of Lamanite invasions.36 Even though, militarily speaking, Nephite leaders could have pursued their aggressors past Nephite boundaries, and even though they were not motivated by vengeance, these leaders still did not do so. It appears that a de facto rule governed the Nephites regarding the Lamanites such that they could act to defend themselves, but were they to pass their boundaries, it would no longer be considered defense, and therefore was forbidden. Certainly, that was the rule Captain Moroni followed.
All this helps us see why, although Hardy questions the decision, it was not an act of aggression for Moroni to drive Lamanites who had settled on Nephite land back into Lamanite territory. He did this, after all, while urgently engaged in defense against ongoing Lamanite assault. The event occurred during a lull in the actual fighting, but the lull was not a cessation of hostilities or of danger. Indeed, Mormon reports of the circumstances during this period of Nephite history that the wars did not cease “for the space of many years” (Alma 48:22). Thus, although Hardy questions Moroni for this action, it actually seems to have been [Page 232]a highly prudent course for Moroni to pursue at the time. The Nephites were suffering from continued violence and threat of further attack, and Moroni was responsible to secure the lives of the Nephite citizenry. At the same time, Lamanites possessed lands that, according to the record, belonged to the Nephites (Alma 50:7–9, 11). Moreover, Lamanite presence on these lands actually established “strongholds of the Lamanites” and were seen as sources of “strength and power” for Lamanite invasion within Nephite territory (Alma 50:11–12). Clearing Nephite lands of such “strongholds” and sources of “strength and power” would be the obvious course for any leader. Indeed, later Nephite dissenters appreciably increased the threat to Nephite lives when, living on Nephite lands, they actually overthrew and possessed the city of Zarahemla and then entered an alliance with the Lamanites specifically to assist them in achieving victory over the Nephites (Alma 61:1–8).
This episode indicates the danger posed by Lamanites positioned in Nephite territory. Captain Moroni’s removal of this threat thus seems not only justified but obligatory. It was not an instigation of hostilities; it was an offensive tactic against enemy outposts located on Nephite land, and thus was a legitimate act of defense against an aggressive and determined enemy who had started the war in the first place.37
In all respects, the record shows that Moroni’s behavior is consistent with Mormon’s description of him. He describes Moroni as a man “of a perfect understanding … [who] did not delight in bloodshed, … [but who joyed] in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). The record shows Moroni to be [Page 233]a defender, nothing more, and, under the threatening circumstances he faced, this commitment to strictly defensive fighting is impressive.
What we see in the record, then, is that there is more to the issue of “kindness” than we might often think. The topic cannot be approached simplistically; if it is, we can find the Lord’s own behavior subject to complaint, which would be absurd. In the end, for those who are defending themselves against attack, the question is what acts of kindness are available to them in that position. Conducting oneself as generously as the dangerous circumstances allow and fighting only defensively would seem to be about all that can be done: aggressors themselves preclude any other conceivable acts of kindness. It is significant, therefore, that acting generously and only in defense is exactly what Moroni did, impressively and repeatedly.38
Consider next the opinion that Captain Moroni lacked humility. Hardy does not provide any evidence for this claim, but it does seem to follow from other remarks he makes about Moroni (which are listed in the opening paragraph herein). However, as shown in this paper and elsewhere, these negative descriptions of Moroni’s character are inaccurate. Moroni did not slaughter his political opponents; the text actually presents him as a devoutly religious man; and he was certainly, just as Mormon claimed, comparable to the sons of Mosiah in spiritual matters.39 In addition, he was not at all “hasty” in his suspicions about treasonous activity in the government at the time he wrote his famous epistle recorded in Alma 60 (to which Pahoran responded in Alma 61) and, in fact, had explicit revelation that turned out to be accurate.40 Moreover, rather than being “hot- blooded” or “aggressive,” he fought strictly in defense of Nephite lives and Nephite society and was also surprisingly generous toward his [Page 234]attackers.41 He also fought only because the Lord explicitly commanded him to do so,42 spoke bluntly only to those who should have been spoken to bluntly,43 and cannot in fact be described as having a quick temper.44
When we look closely, then, the text does not show any of Hardy’s negative descriptions of Moroni to be accurate. To the degree we deny Moroni’s humility based on these types of claims, therefore, we are simply mistaken.
Another reason some may fail to see humility in Moroni could be due to the common misunderstanding that humility requires being timid, passive, and “soft,” in contrast to the dynamic, confident, and bold traits seen in many great leaders. Christ, however, gives us the ultimate example of dynamic, confident, and bold leadership adorned with ultimate humility — the humility to subject himself to the will of the Father in all things, to seek others’ pleasure and welfare rather than his own, and to give all that he had in the faithful service of others. Moroni, like all mortals, must pale in comparison to the Savior. Despite his mortal flaws, however, we should still be able to recognize the appropriate humility that accompanied his confidence, his passion, and his successful leadership.
Powerful military leaders without humility have a tendency to amass greater power, often seeking to rule as a king. In contrast, Moroni above all sought to serve God in protecting his people rather than compelling them to serve him.45
Humility vs. “Softness”
As generally conceived in the scriptures, humility seems to be a state of meek submissiveness toward the Lord and of unpretentiousness [Page 233]toward others. The concept indicates an absence of rebellion or willfulness toward God and an absence of self-importance or conceit regarding other people. Once we think of humility this way, it is easy to see that Moroni did not lack this virtue. He certainly called out the wickedness of Amalickiah and Ammoron (Alma 54–55), but not out of conceit or self- importance. He contrasted their conduct with God’s commandments and with Nephite motives generally, but not with himself personally. The same was true regarding the king-men and later, the treasonous Nephite governors (Alma 51, 60). He excoriated them but not with condescension. Rather, he recognized the dire threat they posed to Nephite lives. Though certainly not gentle or “soft” conduct, none of this suggests pride or self-importance on the part of Moroni.
If humility, then, is an inner condition, it also seems clear that Moroni did not lack humility toward the Lord. The reality after all is that the Lord does not always will soft behavior, which means that following him will not always result in soft behavior. The Lord instructed Moroni to go to battle against the treasonous Nephite governors, for example (Alma 60:33), an instruction that simply instantiated the general command he gave the Nephites to defend themselves (Alma 43:46-47). Such defense was a pattern followed by a long line of Nephite prophets and leaders over centuries.46
To the degree we think that Moroni’s lack of “softness” indicated a lack of humility, then, we are in error. The determined actions he took to defend Nephite lives were both required by the circumstances and commanded by the Lord. He did not behave “softly” because what the Lord instructed was not “soft.” Indeed, in these circumstances, soft action would actually have been an act of rebellion against the Lord, not an act of humble submissiveness toward him. Moroni’s lack of softness, like his abundance of faith and confidence and his dynamic leadership skills, do not conflict with humility, but are adorned with it.
Comparison with King Benjamin
It might help to think about the difference between humility and mere “softness” by remembering what the record tells us about King Benjamin. He famously taught about humility and serving others in the Book of Mosiah. However, less-discussed is the extent to which he waged war prior to this time. The record tells us that “armies of the Lamanites” [Page 236]came against King Benjamin’s people and that King Benjamin therefore “gathered together his armies,” fought “with the strength of his own arm,” contended “in the strength of the Lord,” slew with his army “many thousands of the Lamanites,” and contended against the invading armies until they had “driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance” (Words of Mormon 1:13–14). Around the time of these wars, Mormon describes King Benjamin as reigning over his people “in righteousness,” indeed, as a “holy man” (Words of Mormon 1:17).
King Benjamin was clearly a man of holiness when he taught his people, a circumstance in which he was manifestly gentle in manner. But King Benjamin was also a man of holiness when he led his people in war to defend themselves, a time in which he was manifestly not gentle in manner. Each situation required a meek surrender of himself to the Lord and to the needs of the moment, but this submissiveness manifested itself in radically different ways: gentle speech in one case, and killing Lamanite aggressors in the other.
Appreciating the full scope of King Benjamin’s life reinforces the view of humility as an inner condition. If we think that humility equates to mere gentleness in outward behavior, then we would not assign that descriptor to the King who fought against the Lamanites, even though the text describes him this way. Reconciling this about King Benjamin reinforces our understanding of Captain Moroni.
With this in mind, it should be remembered that Moroni was as gentle as circumstances allowed. We have seen that he showed a surprising generosity toward those who were attacking him and his people and that he also fought only in defense. For a man routinely forced into war, this is impressive; it is hard to see how anyone could ask for anything more.
Captain Moroni and Helaman
After observing that Moroni lacks the typical religious virtues (specifically, those I have addressed above), Hardy remarks that Mormon gives his readers “a counterexample of a very different kind of military leader” — namely, Helaman, who was high priest over the Church and who also served in combat.47 In drawing a distinction between Moroni and Helaman, Hardy observes that in the early years of the conflict, Helaman did his part to help the Nephite cause by preaching, and he describes Helaman as someone who, unlike Moroni, “boasts no particular martial skills or background” and apparently knew “next to nothing about warfare” at the [Page 237]time he began leading the Ammonites’ sons.48 Hardy says that we thus see “a contrast between ordinary success — the result of diligent effort and personal skills [i.e., in the case of Moroni] — and the sort of miraculous accomplishments that can occur when humble people put their trust in God [i.e., in the case of Helaman].”49 Indeed, Hardy reports that Mormon writes of Moroni in “secular” terms, crediting whatever success he had to Moroni’s “skills as a general.”50 Hardy thus states that Moroni and Helaman represent “a contrast between these two modes of existence,”51 emphasizing that in Helaman’s case, unlike Moroni’s, we see that “success comes from God’s intervention rather than his own expertise.”52
According to Hardy, then, Helaman is a counterexample to Captain Moroni because we see in him the religious virtues we do not see in Moroni. Helaman, in Hardy’s view, was a novice in battle, one who initially helped by preaching, and whose success came despite his inexperience and because of his humility and trust in God. Contrasted with Moroni, Helaman’s success was due to God’s intervention whereas Moroni succeeded due to his own expertise.
It is not hard to see why this kind of contrast might appear reasonable on the surface. Once we read more carefully, however, the distinction evaporates. It is a false contrast.
Why the Contrast is a Mistake
We have already seen, for example, that Moroni’s reliance on the Lord was equal in every way to Helaman’s. It is true that Helaman, who had a specific responsibility to teach the gospel, preached to the Nephites as they were preparing for defense. But this was also true of Moroni. As we saw in an earlier section,53 Moroni’s very first act of defense was to prepare the people to be faithful to the Lord. And he did this even though his specific responsibility, as general of all the armies, was the military defense of his people. Yet his devotion to God came first.
It is also true that Helaman ascribed the success of his efforts to the Lord. He speaks in one place of “the goodness of God in preserving us” (Alma 57:36) and repeatedly expresses the central role of the Lord’s help in the Nephites’ defense (Alma 58:10–11, 33, 37). But Moroni, too, [Page 238]repeatedly ascribes Nephite success to the Lord and expresses exactly the same kind of reliance on him.54
Hardy also proposes that Mormon is drawn to Moroni’s achievements — “lavishing” fourteen chapters on his career — because he wants to ensure that his readers do not quickly dismiss “Moroni’s very human strivings,” and he refers to Mormon’s plaintive wish, “if only everyone could be like Moroni” (emphasis in original).55 But Mormon’s wish actually has nothing to do with Moroni’s “very human” strivings; they specifically refer to his spiritual strivings — strivings catalogued by Mormon (Alma 48:11–19) throughout his report of Moroni’s wartime efforts.56 It is simply a mistake to say that Mormon writes of Moroni in secular terms; Moroni’s spiritual devotion and reliance on the Lord show clearly throughout Mormon’s text.
It is also hard to justify the assertion that Helaman’s success came “from God’s intervention rather than his own expertise.”57 Over the course of three chapters, one hundred and two verses are devoted to the numerous preparations and counter-preparations, moves and countermoves of Helaman’s battles against the Lamanites.58 The account is rich in intrigue and military strategy and demonstrates in detail that God did not simply hand victory to Helaman. He and his military cohorts appear to have relied every bit as much on “personal skills” and “expertise” as did Moroni. In the end, of course, Helaman knew success was due to the Lord’s help, and this is what Hardy emphasizes. What he does not emphasize is that Moroni knew this of the Nephites’ success as well.59
In trying to contrast Moroni’s expertise with what he (mistakenly) thinks is Helaman’s more direct reliance on God, Hardy also appears to overstate Helaman’s amateur status. It is true that we do not see Helaman involved in war before he takes leadership of the Ammonites’ sons, but Hardy is too quick to conclude that this means he “knew next to nothing about warfare.” We have just seen, for example, that the text records in detail various strategic moves and countermoves that involved Helaman; he does not seem like a novice in these exploits. Additionally, Helaman’s father had been high priest over the Church before him and was active [Page 239]in military leadership and war with the Lamanites (e.g., Alma 2); such involvement was far from unprecedented. More importantly, however, following the very first battle with his stripling soldiers, Helaman tells Moroni that “never had I seen so great courage, nay, amongst all the Nephites” (Alma 56:45), a report that suggests prior experience with military action that would allow him to make such a comparison. The record also shows Helaman giving battle instructions to other military leaders (Alma 58:16) and exchanging personal epistles with Ammoron, the highest authority in the Lamanite army (Alma 57:1–21). Neither action seems likely if Helaman were as new to military matters as Hardy assumes.
It is also noteworthy that the great majority of Helaman’s references to trust in God, devotion, and God’s deliverance occur when he is talking specifically about the Ammonites’ sons — his “stripling” soldiers. Hardy refers to such instances to show that Helaman, unlike Moroni, put more trust in God than in his own skill.60 But this is an inapt comparison. While Helaman’s soldiers may have had greater faith than other soldiers, it does not follow that the same held true for Helaman and Moroni. If these young warriors had been part of Moroni’s army, their faith and devotion would have been exactly the same. Yet, if we used Hardy’s logic, we would then find ourselves appealing to Moroni’s reports of their trust in God to show that Moroni was more spiritually reliant than Helaman.
The reality is that the devotion and faith of the Ammonites’ sons was unrelated to either Helaman or Moroni’s faith and devotion, and thus offers no basis for comparison between them.
Captain Moroni and Helaman: Summary
What we see in the end is that the supposed distinction between Helaman and Moroni does not exist. Moroni possessed and displayed the very virtues that Hardy claims he lacked. Additionally, while Hardy claims that Helaman was more reliant on God than Moroni, we have seen that to be false as well. In terms of spiritual devotion, trust in God, and the need for military strategy and skill, Helaman was not a “counterexample” to Moroni; he appears instead to be what he himself said — Moroni’s “brother,” both in “warfare” and in “the Lord” (Alma 56:2).
A general reading of the text might seem to suggest that Captain Moroni lacked self-sacrifice, reliance on the Lord, kindness, humility, and that he served as a contrast to Helaman. When we read with a higher degree of resolution, however, the record paints a very different picture. Not only are self-sacrifice and reliance on the Lord evident in Moroni’s life, but so are kindness and humility once we think about these qualities with some care. While it might seem at first glance that Moroni lacked the typical religious virtues, closer consideration suggests he was impressive in his possession of them.
The same point can be made regarding Moroni and Helaman. While it might be thought they were dissimilar — that Helaman serves as a counterexample to Moroni’s military leadership — closer reading demonstrates them to have been very much alike. Indeed, it turns out that comparing these two figures on spiritual grounds does not diminish Moroni. Rather, the comparison serves only to reveal Moroni to us more clearly — and, seeing him more clearly, the light we discern in the life and devotion of this man of God does not dim but brightens.