Very few characters in the Book of Mormon get as much press coverage as King Noah, our favorite wine-bibber (Mosiah 11:15).
Mormon went to great lengths to give us a fully-fleshed-out portrait of King Noah and his cohorts. But why?
History is full of wicked, adulterous men. What made Noah so special?
Well, I think Mormon was warning us about how religious leaders can use their priesthood authority to "cover [their] sins" (D&C 121:37), creating sacraments out of sacrilege and hiding behind God as they call evil good, and good evil.
What I always found interesting is the way King Noah's people revered him; he wasn't a "bad guy" in their eyes, but was their God-appointed, beloved High Priest.
Despite all of Noah's sins, strangely, the people believed he could do no wrong.
O king, what great evil hast thou done? or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
In hindsight we can easily see Noah's wickedness (read Mosiah 11). But why couldn't his people?
Why did those poor, oppressed folks reject Abinadi's warning and choose to defend Noah's virtue ― when Noah was running around committing all manner of whoredoms?
O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you.
Abinadi got in trouble with King Noah's faithful followers because he "prophesieth evil concerning thy life [Noah's]" (Mosiah 12:9). Whoops. Didn't Abinadi know evil-speaking of the Lord's anointed was a no-no?
You'd expect the people of Noah to begrudge the 20% flat tax he charged them, of all their gold and silver and ziff and copper and sheep and grain.
Thus [the priests] were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes [tithes] which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
"Labor exeedingly to support iniquity"? Those on Team Noah wouldn't have seen it that way, would they? After all, the "bad guys" were the Lamanites in the neighborhood over there; and the Lamanites didn't even go to Church!
"Change the Affairs of the Kingdom"
Question: How did King Noah bamboozle his people into going along with his wickedness, getting them to "labor exceedingly" on his behalf, as if it were a good thing?!
Ah, now we come to it, Noah's masterstroke: "thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom" (Mosiah 11:4). What does it mean to "change the affairs of the kingdom?"
One of Noah's accomplishments (his resumé was replete with good works) was building "many elegant and spacious buildings that he ornamented with fine work of wood, and all manner of precious things" (Mosiah 11:8).
Sound familiar? Noah prided himself on being a temple builder. "He caused his workmen to work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple" (Mosiah 11:10).
And don't forget his breathtaking monument, a symbol to his greatness: "he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof" (Mosiah 11:12).
Notice how Noah liked to be at "the top"? From his vaulted station, he gave many wonderful discourses, which I am sure the people wrote down and studied in their synagogues on the Sabbath, all of Noah's "lying and vain words" (Mosiah 11:11).
The point: I confess that as I think about King Noah's people, I am struck at the similarities between them and us.
How have we "changed the affairs of the kingdom" in our day?
A New Sheriff in Town
Let's go back to the beginning (or in this case, the end of Joseph's life) and look at what I consider to be one of the greatest revelations ever forgotten:
"The chairman [Joseph Smith] then made some further remarks and advised that we let the constitution alone. He would tell us the whole matter about the constitution as follows--
"Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen. From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
"Er Rigdon motioned that the constitution be received and the vote was unanimous, whereupon the council adjourned."
What happened? How did we go from 'being the Lord's constitution' to autocratic government in the Church?
Since the Lord spoke those words on April 25, 1844, the government of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gradually and systematically been altered and rearranged until, now, all power has become centralized in the President of the Church and Q12 (see, D. Michael Quinn, Origins of Power and Extensions of Power).
In other words, the affairs of the kingdom have (already!) been changed. When you think about it, we really don't need a constitution if we have a Prophet to make all the decisions. Because a constitution is to check the power of our leaders and protect the rights of the people.
So the Church doesn't have a constitutional form of government anymore.
Does that prophecy refer to the U.S. Constitution ― or to the constituiton the Lord spoke of on April 25, 1844, or both?
Approximately 1/2 of the world's governments are democracies, but sometimes democratic countries slide backwards into dictatorships.
Why would citizens voluntarily (at first) give up their liberties until it was too late to stop their freedoms from being removed (at last)?
One of the best secular examples of this phenomenon (speaking about the erosion of freedom and self-determinism) was Germany's descent from a constitutional form of government into Nazism after WWI.
It is a fascinating tale that bears an odd resemblance to how the Church went from the ideals of equality and common consent to the hieararchy we have today.
In 1919 Germany was constituted as a Republican Democracy. The important thing to remember for our purposes is that Germany had a robust Constitution that afforded all Germans broad representation and protections.
But in the 1920s, the Germans experienced a series of hardships that destabilized the Weimar government.
The Nazis showed up as a political party in 1923; they gradually infiltrated the ranks of the political establishment from the inside, and within a decade they had become the majority party of the German government.
As we've learned by sad experience, as soon as a party or faction gains control, the first order of business is to secure their power from other contenders.
Well, the Nazis just needed an "emergency" to use as a pretext to seize full dictatorial control. The "emergency" came in 1933 when an arsonist attempted to burn down the Reichstag (parliament building).
Then it was just a matter of time for the Nazis to gradually and systematically enact measures, bit by bit, that would dismantle the democratic checks-and-balances enjoyed by the people and overthrow their Constituiton.
Look, though: the coup did not happen all at once; there were no tanks and marching troops invading Berlin to depose the legitimate leaders.
Instead, it was the legitimate government itself, and those enterprising, authority-hungry individuals in it, that began to aggregate greater power until they had utterly transformed the nature of the governement.
There was a tipping point, and eventually the Nazis had enough power that they could do whatever they wanted.
Not all at once, mind you, but death by a thousand cuts.
So You Work For the Church . . .
No one wants to say the Church "abandoned freedom" or "fell away from its founding principles."
Now we are told we are part of an "ongoing Restoration," and so it is easy to recharacterize a falling away (apostasy) as falling-forward (progress).
"Between 1898 and 1930, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints undertook a number of significant administrative changes that helped it to function more effectively."
We see that the Church made a number of "significant administrative changes" because . . . the Lord instructed them to rearrange the affairs of the kingdom?
Because we wanted to be more efficient! (As the biographer of David O. McKay shared, Greg Prince, his secretary read many of President McKay's journal entries and her take-away about how decisions are made by our presiding councils, after having an insider's view? "Why, it's just a lot of corporate politics!")
Like Mussolini, we wanted to make the trains run on time (I mean, the early 20th century was, after all, the age of Henry Ford).
So it appears these changes were not inspired to bring us closer together in unity and love, but to modernize Church operations and finances through administrative consolidation that was consummated in the 1970s during the Correlation Movement; and we can witness the fruit of it.
We exchanged the General Assembly (D&C 107:19) for the Assembly Line.
There's been a lot of research done since WWII looking at how Hitler was able to "brainwash" the Germans.
The scary thing was, no one was brainwashed; they became willing collaborators or passively complicit.
But how? How could good people participate in, or stand by, while such atrocities occurred?
Here's what the research shows:
Control the Narrative
The Nazis developed a curriculum (propaganda) that indoctrinated people (what we might call today "fake news").
This is how Putin recently convinced the Russians to invade Ukraine, thanks to a government-run press, telling the people that the Ukraine war was a necessary "special military operation" intended to fight Nazism and corrupt NATO.
Elder Andersen approvingly included in his speech a young female student saying, "With all of the distractions, [the temple] is how I am able to find peace and redirect myself.... The temple is something I have tried to prioritize as my number one because I know when I do that, everything else works out."
Ummm. Is it just me, or is it alarming how the Church is making temple attendance and temple covenants the most important thing? It's almost like they're turning the temple into a golden calf.
But doesn't anyone remember what happened to the Temple in 600 B.C.? Or in 70 A.D.? Or in 1848?
Safety is NOT found in the temple. It is found in repentance (just ask Nineveh, who had no temple, except the one dedicated to Ishtar).
Salvation and exaltation are NOT found in the temple. They are found in Jesus Christ (just ask the Brother of Jared, who had no temple, except for the mountain top).
My son on Sunday (who is turning 8) received a ring they called "an emblem of belonging." For real.
Guess what is on the ring? That's right: the temple.
Create Antipathy for the Opposition
Okay, controlling the narrative still doesn't account for getting people on-board with genocide.
So the next step is to create an "us vs. them" mentality; today we call it "othering." You've got to feed tribalism and make one's institutional affiliation the central, core part of their identity.
We're talking about the Nazi Youth here, who would turn their own grandmother over to the Party, and narc on their best friends, because they viewed their allegiance to the Nazi Organziation as paramount, even over their familial relations (don't get me started on the social practice of "shunning" family members who are gay or who leave the Church).
By targeting another group and blaming them for the problems in the world, we create a scapegoat.
We see the same thing today: political parties demonize each other; the Church tells us not to study "unauthorized" sources or read from "unapproved" materials; we become distrustful of those who do not share our values.
"Approved curriculum materials . . . are listed in the current Instructions for Curriculum on ChurchofJesusChrist.org" (Handbook, Sec. 17.1.3)
Create Pressure to Conform
It is imperative for those who wish to maintain power to clear the ranks of dissenters. We see it with Putin, Xi, and Boyd K. Packer. The comparison shouldn't shock you: they were all authoritarians.
The difference is in the Church we don't have concentration camps; we simply marginalize members who express views that are not aligned with leadership, or if things get too hot-and-heavy, the Church will excommunicate a member.
Those who supported the policies and agenda of the leaders were given titles, promotions, important positions, status, greater authority, money, favors, special treatment, and the property confiscated from the Jews.
In the Church, our current system rewards collaborators; those who support the policies and agenda of the Brethren rise to the top; they are given titles, promotions, important positions, status, greater authority, money, favors, special treatment, and so on.
Just ask Abinadi how his discipleship advanced his prospects in King Noah's church.
The eternal contest (and the struggle is real) will always be between Kingmen (Lucifer) and Freemen (Christ).
The Nephites fought the Lamanites who wanted to subject them to bondage, sure; but the real enemy was the internal power-struggle with the Kingmen. The threats from the inner vessel are always the ones that spell disaster.
In the Book of Mormon, the motivations of the Kingmen are spelled out with glaring clarity: they "sought power and authority over the people" (Alma 51:8).
Well, how were they going to obtain power and authority?
a. "Desired that a few particular points of the law should be altered" (Alma 51:2);
b. Desired "to overthrow the free government" (Alma 51:5); and
c. Desired "to establish a king over the land" (Alma 51:5).
Looking back over Church history, I am sorry to report that our history has been shaped from within by Kingmen who likewise sought for power and authority over God's people, whom many sustain as prophets and apostles, but who advocated for diminished agency and the erasure of common consent; who (however sincere or well-intentioned they may have been) chose the well-worn path leading to the Great and Spacious Building over the straight and narrow way that demands obedience to Christ's celestial law of liberty.
Look to the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein.
The truth shall make you free. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
(John 8:32, 36)
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
So what are going to do? Throw tea off the Boston Harbor?
Put Away the Handbook
The answer to our predicament is simple: hearken to the word of the Lord. Feast upon the words of Christ, and they shall tell you all things we should do.
We have an embarrassment of riches from our Father to guide us; He has given gifts to His Freemen sons and Freewomen daughters to "awake, and arise."
(1)The Doctrine of Christ
The voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
(2 Nephi 31:12)
(2)The Constitution of Christ April 25, 1844:
Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen.
From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord.
(3) The Light of Christ
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully. (Moroni 7:18)
So let us be, in very deed, the Lord's Constitution! Amen.