Literary BMGD #26: War

William Wines Phelps

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, the focus of Book of Mormon lesson #26, have to be the most unusual group in the Book of Mormon.  Their choice of pacifism is unequaled in scripture, except possibly by the people of Enoch. While the lesson concentrates on their conversion and how that led them to turn to pacifism, I think the fact that they chose pacifism is instructive, something that should make us all ponder what really matters.

Perhaps their pacifist views, along with the troubles in Missouri, influenced William Wines Phelps, one of the first poets of Mormonism, leading him to write the following condemnation of war:



By W. W. Phelps

What is the token ere evils unbar;
Pestilence, famine; the black list of crime;
Thieves rush for honor, and vagabonds fame
Kingdoms for conquest, when plunder’s the game?—



What is the signal of nations ajar;
Murder and treason; the banquet of fools;
Tempest of passions; the bonfire of wrath;
Hero of death, like Goliath of Gath?—



What is the ‘fire-shower of ruin’ afar;
Waste and destruction; the lion of wo;
Cup full of fury, from Babylon’s whore;
Feast of the Devil to revel in gore?—



What is the red-sign of misery’s car:
Women bereaved, and children distressed;
Cities in ashes, and virtue forgot;
Curse of all curses;—old Lucifer’s blot?—


The Wasp, v1 n14, 16 July 1842, p. 4


Phelps’ language seems to me complex and dark, mirroring his subject. All that is evil is connected with war, and Phelps sees no virtue in it at all — surely the same logic and feeling that led the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to choose pacifism, even in the face of danger. Our language and attitude towards war today seems different—not that we think war is good exactly, but that we see it as acceptable in some cases and even glorify it at times. I wish that the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies made us think more about how we should feel about war.


3 comments for “Literary BMGD #26: War

  1. I’ve never felt that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis fit into the pacifist mold – mainly because they do not seem to be opposed to any and all war – rather they are in a mode where they are repenting for their own murders. If they were pacifists, wholly opposed to war, they could not have taught their sons to become warriors or offered sustenance to the Nephite armies warring in their defense.

  2. I can certainly see how you get there, danithew. I think it over.

    But I think I can still claim that, even so, this poem still seems relevant for these chapters.

  3. Once again, well done, Kent. I agree that this poem is certainly relevant to the chapters.

    I’ve always thought that this is one story that doesn’t really fit well into the Book of Mormon, or Mormon theology as a whole. By the Book of Mormon’s own standard, their vow was rash and not praiseworthy. The Book of Mormon teaches that it is God’s divine commandment that we defend ourselves and our families even unto bloodshed. Thus, refusing to do so is contrary to God’s will, and is therefore sinful. So the vow which the Anti-Nephi-Lehies made was in violation of other passages found in the Book of Mormon, and, according to various Book of Mormon passages, was both rash and sinful.

    Having said that, the Anti-Nephi-lehies’ story sits better with me than those other passages in the Book of Mormon. I think I’ve always had a natural tendency towards pacifism, and I personally admire the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (though I agree with danithew, in that they can’t truly be considered pacifists). I really love the poem, too.

Comments are closed.