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Sacrificing cities

This is an edit and update of a post I originally ran in 2017. Enjoy!


Amalickiah was not successful in his first military campaign against the Nephites. His captains tried to attack the city of Ammonihah but found it so heavily fortified that it would have been suicide. So they headed to the city of Noah and swore an oath to take it or die trying. But that one was even more heavily fortified. So, they went the “die trying” route.

During the few years following, while the Lamanites were still reeling from that stunning defeat, Moroni had been preparing the hearts and cities of the Nephites to be victorious the next time Amalickiah’s forces would come. By the time Amalickiah had decided to come down himself with the rest of his army, all the cities of the Nephites had been turned into an Ancient American Fort Knox. The Nephites were totally prepared.

But when the Lamanite armies arrived in Alma 51, that preparation didn’t matter because there weren’t enough people to defend the forts. Moroni was missing. His entire army was missing. The Nephites had spent years of labor and taxpayer funds to build these elaborate defenses around their cities only to leave them practically unmanned when the Lamanites actually showed up! It was a total disaster. Without the strength of the Nephite armies, all those cities which had been so carefully prepared with ditches and walls and embankments of earth and pickets and towers fell quickly and easily into Lamanite control: “the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek.”

If Captain Teancum and his army hadn’t happened to be in the neighborhood responding to a domestic dispute when the Lamanites arrived, Amalickiah would have easily conquered the rest of the eastern seaboard and captured land northward. From there, he would likely have surrounded the Nephites and attacked them on all sides, probably winning the war right then and there. From any objective tactical perspective, it was a complete disaster. It was like Moroni was giving heavily fortified cities to the Lamanites as gifts.

So where in the world was Captain Moroni? Where was his army? Why were they missing in action when the enemy arrived?

Moroni sacrificed cities

Just before Amalickiah’s arrival, the Nephites had gone through a very heated, very controversial election (something we know all too much about). The losing side in that election, who called themselves “king-men,” became extremely bitter. So bitter that when Amalickiah showed up to enslave everyone, the king-men were happy. And when the call went out to rise up and defend the country, the king-men all collectively dodged the draft. I suppose they expected Moroni and his soldiers would give their lives defending their freedom from Amalickiah the terrorist and his Lamanite goons while they sat on the sidelines and booed the home team. But Moroni was not going to stand for that:

When Moroni saw [the king-men], and also saw that the Lamanites were coming into the borders of the land, … it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people… And it came to pass that Moroni commanded that his army should go against those king-men, to pull down their pride and their nobility and level them with the earth, or they should take up arms and support the cause of liberty.

Calling the army back home to quell political unrest left the door wide open for the Lamanites:

While Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, … behold, the Lamanites had come into the land.

This maneuver was costly. Moroni effectively sacrificed at least 7 notable, heavily fortified, populated Nephite cities into Lamanite control. Just so that he could resolve the internal dispute going on in the Nephite capital. It would take many years and many thousands of innocent lives for the Nephites to get those cities back.

Let’s talk about why Moroni made the right call.

Good, better, and best

It is one of the principal tenets of our faith that we seek to be involved in “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” We are commanded in the scriptures to “lay hold upon every good thing,” because “all things which are good cometh of God.” That’s why we try not to be just active in the Church, but active everywhere. We fill our lives and the lives of our families to the brim with wholesome, “good things” like friendships, family history, church callings and programs, service organizations, social clubs, sports, music, arts, academics, and our careers. These “good things” are all worthy of our time and attention.

Moroni surely cared for the innocent people in those cities that would fall under Lamanite rule. Surely it would have been a “good thing” for Moroni to stay on the battlefront and defend his country against the oncoming hoards. Yet he didn’t. Because “good” sometimes is not good enough.

Moroni knew that the best choice was to pull away from the Lamanite conflict (as important as it was) so that he could really focus his efforts on what matters most. If the Nephites had a conflict among each other, they could not possibly hope for the helping hand of the Lord in the conflict against their enemies. Fighting the Lamanites was important, but to Moroni, it was even more important to first take care of matters at home.

Elder Oaks called this the principle of Good, better, best:

Just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives… We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.

Don’t let Church get in the way of home.

We see this all the time with the reminders we hear in General Conference not to let worldly concerns like extracurricular activities get in the way of our youths’ family time. That’s all fine and good: we probably don’t feel too bad about canceling our son’s trumpet lessons.

OK, now let’s try something more difficult. Let’s say you are supposed to be attending a Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting in 30 minutes but your wife has taken sick. She’s not dying, but she told you she would really appreciate you feeding the kids and putting the kids to bed so she can eat chicken soup and watch her favorite show. Should you ditch that important stake leadership training? What if it was a ministering appointment? A quorum activity? What if you are the president?

If you’re like me, you feel really torn. On the one hand, you have a priesthood obligation to attend your meeting. On the other hand, your wife could use your help. Plus, you’d feel guilty staying home because, to be honest, you’d enjoy cuddling with your wife this evening and watching “The Great British Bake-Off” a lot more than watching another Ward Council role-play. So you end up saying, “Yes my wife is my top priority, but she’ll be OK for a few hours and I can spend time with her and take the kids off her hands later this week. After all, this isn’t some unimportant time-eater like sports she’s asking me to give up– this is the work of the Lord! And there is so much work to do to bless Heavenly Father’s children! “We all have work; let no one shirk!” I have a Priesthood duty to fulfill.

Brethren especially, listen up. If we ever find ourselves using “Priesthood duty” as a reason to not be there for our families, we don’t really understand our Priesthood duty.

Yes, the chapel must take a back seat to the home. If we are diligent to “be there” to fold the chairs but we can’t “be there” to help our wives and children, something is very wrong, and we have it all backward. The Brethren have been very clear on this: the entire purpose of every single “activity in the Church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home” (link). That’s been made all the more clear by the recent emphasis on the home-centered nature of Gospel worship. So, when I am torn between my wife asking for help and some priesthood responsibility, I try to remember the example set by Pres. Monson:

Several years ago, just before general conference, President Thomas S. Monson taught a wonderful lesson. This time it was to assembled General Authorities who had traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, many coming from places around the world where they were serving in Area Presidencies. We had come together to be instructed by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

As the time for the meeting approached, everyone seemed to be in attendance except President Monson. Several minutes before the meeting was to begin, we stopped visiting with each other and sat reverently listening to the prelude music, expecting the prophet to arrive any moment.

We patiently waited as 9:00 a.m. came and then passed. Someone walked out the side door– obviously to see if some assistance might be needed. Upon returning, he said, “President Monson will join you shortly.”

About 15 minutes later, President Monson entered the room. Out of respect, we stood as he entered. We were happy to see him and pleased that he looked well. There was no obvious reason as to why he would have been late.

President Monson went straight to the pulpit and said, “Brethren, I’m sorry to be late, but my wife needed me this morning.”

I was deeply impressed and humbled, and I couldn’t stop thinking about his words.

This was a very important meeting. The entire senior leadership of the Church was assembled, but President Monson set the example for us all. His wife needed him, and he took the time necessary to care for her. It was a great sermon. I don’t remember anything else said that day, but I remember that sermon: “My wife needed me.”

Follow the Prophet

Early in my marriage, I was called to serve in a newly reorganized Branch Presidency. I think it was our first branch presidency meeting that the Branch President told us all, “The work we do every week is important. But it is not as important as the work you are doing at home. Never let this calling get in the way of your relationship with your wife and your kids. If you need to stay home for something, text me and let me know you won’t be there and that’s completely fine– you’re doing the right thing. I will do the same. We’ll bless and serve the members of the branch, but make sure we get one thing straight– family first.”

I wish every leader in every calling would say that to their members frequently.

Now, before I give myself a pass and start skipping Church every week so I can skip town with my wife, it’s worth noting that sometimes the Spirit will occasionally prompt you to let your Church responsibilities eclipse a scheduled family activity in specific instances. Elder Bednar shared great insights about how to balance the demands of family, work, and Church callings. He said sometimes he had to miss out on family time to fulfill Church callings, and that’s part of the sacrifice the Lord expects of his servants and their families. Elder Holland shared one touching example where a Bishop’s phone rang right as he and his wife were about to leave for a date night. His wife pled with him not to answer it; she just knew in her heart that it would mean the end of their precious night together before it had even begun. Fortunately, this good man listened to the Spirit and answered the call, resulting in literally saving the soul of a sister in their ward, though the date night was sacrificed in the process. But even here, Elder Holland was quick to add:

Brothers and sisters, please understand that I am one who preaches emphatically a more manageable, more realistic expectation of what our bishops and other leaders can do… And because I am adamant about spouses and children deserving sacred, committed time with a husband and father, nine times out of ten I would have been right alongside that wife telling her husband not to answer that telephone.

We have to use discretion.

As I said, this is something that I have struggled with a lot as I’ve held various callings. If I’m not careful, my obligations in my quorum, my ministering, and my callings can prevent me from being as “diligent and concerned at home” as I should be. I used to be able to blame the meeting-heavy, duty-driven culture that we have built up in the Church. But now that the Brethren have made significant efforts to decrease the load on families required by Church service, even that excuse is gone.

It’s on us to choose to prioritize what matters most. It’s up to us to follow the example of Moroni and sacrifice what’s good for what’s best. It probably would have been easy for Moroni to say, “I have spent four years preparing the land with all manner of fortifications. We are very prepared for this battle and stand to lose so much. I don’t have time to deal with the political unrest in Zarahemla right now. The Lamanites are here. We’ll just have to settle this after the war.” But he didn’t. He chose the harder path and made the difficult sacrifice so that his Nephite family could stand united against the enemy.