Remember who the real enemy is
Last week in Come Follow Me, we read the first part of Alma's mission to the apostates in Ammonihah. It's there that we got to meet the wicked lawyer, Zeezrom. The crafty Zeezrom tries every trick in the book to misrepresent Gospel teachings and trip up Alma's junior companion, Amulek. He even tried to bribe Amulek with (according to my math) about a month and a half's worth of a judge's wages– not a small sum of money– if he would just deny his words.
Amulek, being filled with the Spirit of God, detected Zeezrom's deception and would have none of it:
O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations? … thou knowest that there is a God, but thou lovest that lucre more than him.
After rebuking Zeezrom, Amulek proceeded to rip Zeezrom's argument to shreds. He was so powerful that Zeezrom was left, literally shaking in his boots. It's at this point that Alma took the reins and bore testimony of what his junior companion had taught. Again he exposed the wicked plan to trap the servants of the Lord and called Zeezrom out on his deception. But then he said something to Zeezrom that I find really interesting:
Thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us… Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee.
Did you catch that? Alma tells Zeezrom that the plan of deception "was a plan of thine (Zeezrom's) adversary."
Take a moment and think about that. Amulek had just called Zeezrom a "child of hell" who loves money more than God. But Alma, by his choice of words here, seems to be taking this tense, contentious moment and redirecting it. He's pointing out that Zeezrom's plan of deception was authored by Zeezrom's adversary– the devil.
It reminds me of that scene in the second Hunger Games books. Katniss has to be reminded over and over "Remember who the real enemy is." Sure, there are teenagers in the arena out to kill her, but at the end of the day, they are unwilling combatants just like her. They are a danger, and she will have to fight them, but they're not the enemy. Her true enemy– their common enemy is the evil regime that forced them into mortal combat and rules their nation with ruthless oppression.
Alma seems to be pausing the fiery speech of his junior companion to say the same thing. "Zeezrom, remember who the real enemy is. We are not your enemy. In the pre-mortal world, we all fought together on the same side. We are not here to fight you– we're here to help you in your fight against the true enemy of your soul."
We are living Ammonihah
When I read that in my studies the other day, it hit me hard because we are living that tense moment in Ammonihah. Look at the news right now. To me, the political polarization over the past decade has, up until now, been merely annoying. But then COVID happened. You would think that a pandemic would be a great opportunity to come together against the common enemy of the virus. But that never happened. Within 2 weeks we had devolved into partisan hysteria. According to one side, if you wanted to stretch out the quarantine, you were authoritarian, advocating a nanny state, and using a crisis to push down top-down control and socialism. According to the other side, if you wanted to get back to work, you were a selfish science denier who were willing to kill grandma just so you could get your hair done.
Then once things started opening up a bit, we started fighting about masks. The decision of when and where to wear a mask has become a symbol of our political identities. One side laughs at the other side for wearing masks when driving alone in their own cars. The other side cringes when they see people in hiking trails and grocery store parking lots unmasked.
Then, just when we couldn't get more divided, we got the George Floyd and other killings. Let's be clear, virtually 100% of Americans agree the killers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No one is out making the case that black lives somehow don't matter. But again, anytime there is unanimity and consensus, we had to go beyond the issue to find something we could fight about. We transformed a complete agreement about a bad killing into a referendum on America itself. Everyone is now either the defendant or the executioner. Partisans on one side climb over themselves to be absolved of a murder none of them committed and give rioters free rein to torch our cities. Partisans on the other side dismiss peaceful protesters wholesale by lumping them in with the rioters and the looters.
You would think that COVID, masks, and George Floyd would be great situations where we can easily grant each other the benefit of the doubt, right? And yet, we've watched as both issues have gotten hysterically and violently polarized along political lines. More than ever in my lifetime, I think civil discourse is at a boiling point.
If you share your thoughts on social media, you will be ripped up and down in comments and defriended. And if you just leave the issues well enough alone? Well, that's when the "silence is violence" crowd comes for you; decades of your social media posts will be dug up and lobbed in your face. You may lose your job for an inappropriate joke you told two decades ago. There is no mercy, there is no compassion, there is no forgiveness– only the glee at finding fault. Isaiah might well have been talking about Twitter when he prophesied of "the scorner… all that watch for iniquity… they that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him."
Acknowledging our real enemy
Unfortunately, this tendency to castigate those who do not believe as you do has even influenced members within the Lord's Church. Some members resent their Elders Quorum President as uncaring when they see him at the grocery store without a mask. Others laugh when they see their Relief Society President wearing a mask in her own car– yet another mindless sheep "drinking the Kool-Aid." One family thinks their ministering companion is a virtue-signaling Antifa sympathizer for posting a message with a "Black Lives Matter" hashtag. That brother thinks that family is a racist for posting an American flag with a "Support the Police" meme.
With so much infighting in the country, and even within the Lord's Church, Satan must be laughing his evil little head off.
Am I saying we should be wishy-washy about what we believe? Of course not. I post my opinions on the issues of the day, as I'm sure you do, too. It's good to be involved and make your voice heard. And if you honestly believe that "the other side" is pursuing dangerous, destructive, or even "evil" policies, that's fine, too. The problem is when we move from labeling actions and policies to labeling people.
Remember, the Lord had warned Alma that the people of Ammonihah "do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people." They had abused Alma. Zeezrom had attempted bribery. He had misrepresented the doctrine of God. If there was any people that deserved to be called evil, it was Zeezrom and the people of Ammonihah. And yet Alma recognized that Zeezrom and the people of Ammonihah were not the real enemy.
We really need an Alma and Zeezrom moment in our country right now. We may not be able to all "just get along," but we can certainly give others the benefit of respect. The light of Christ is given to every man and woman. In the pre-mortal realm, we all fought on the side of the Savior. We all championed His plan. We all made covenants with Him before coming here. We really need to step back and remember who the real enemy is. In the words of Paul, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness." Our only true enemy is the devil. And he only has as much power as we give him.