Episode 4 // The Word and the Sword: Reframing Nephi and Laban with David Pulsipher

Mar 12, 2024
Proclaim Peace S1E4

In this episode, Jen and Patrick are joined by David Pulsipher, professor and co-author of Proclaim Peace: The Restoration's Answer to an Age of Conflict, to delve into the uncomfortable topic of conflict, violence, and the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. They share their personal experiences and struggles with addressing conflict head-on. Despite the initial discomfort of the story of Nephi killing Laban, they recognize the value in unpacking difficult situations. This episode aims to explore the importance of navigating conflict and the growth that can come from embracing uncomfortable conversations.





Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or watch on YouTube.


[00:01:11] Peacekeeping vs. peacemaking.

[00:04:14] Dealing with violent scriptures.

[00:09:02] Peace and societal alignment.

[00:16:06] Nephi's faith in God.

[00:18:05-00:18:15] Faith and divine intervention.

[00:23:49] Nephi's unreliable memory.

[00:27:33] Nephi's fascination with the sword.

[00:31:11] Power of physical force vs. spiritual force.

[00:36:44] Relying on man-made weapons.

[00:41:47] Peacebuilding and moral imagination.

[00:44:16] Nephi's Law and Justification.

[00:49:40] Peacemaking as Sacrifice.

[00:53:08] Dual inheritance of word and sword.

[00:57:45] Reconnecting with God.




(00:03-00:06) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome to the Proclaim Peace Podcast. I'm Jennifer Thomas.
(00:06-00:15) Patrick Mason: And I'm Patrick Mason. And this is the podcast where we apply principles of the gospel and read the Book of Mormon to become better peacemakers.

(00:15-00:16) Jennifer Thomas: Hey, Patrick.

(00:16-00:17) Patrick Mason: Hey, Jen. How you doing?

(00:17-00:19) Jennifer Thomas: I'm doing great. Thanks. How are you?

(00:19-00:20) Patrick Mason: I'm doing great, too. Thanks.

(00:21-00:25) Jennifer Thomas: That's good, because we've got a weighty topic to address today. So it's good that we're starting at doing great.

(00:25-01:00) Patrick Mason: Yeah, we'll see how we're doing in a few minutes. I mean, for the past few episodes, we've been really focusing on the writings of Nephi. And we've focused on just a number of fantastic topics, whether it be family conflict, whether it be the role of forgiveness and navigating some of those conflicts. But there's, you know, throughout this whole time, I think lingering over all of our discussions has been this elephant in the room of this story that comes right at the beginning of 1st Nephi, namely Nephi and Laban.

(01:01-01:57) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah. So can I start this episode by sharing with you and everybody else a little bit of a dirty secret, a dirty little secret? Please. So in my journey of becoming a peacemaker, I have learned that there is a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. And peacekeeping tends to be conflict avoidant and it just wants to keep things as is and not ruffle any feathers. And peacemaking demands that we sort of move towards conflict. And I've learned to sort of check myself against that. And as we were approaching this issue, I found myself wanting to be a peacekeeper. I'm like, this is uncomfortable. I don't know that I want to, you know, kind of move into this icky space and try to figure it out and take it apart. But the good news is that, again, as I've been on this journey, that has taught me that there's something in those spaces that I need to unpack. When I'm feeling like I just want to keep peace, that is usually a little voice telling me, oh, there's something you need to look at and address. And I think that's what we want to kind of hope to do today.

(01:57-03:13) Patrick Mason: Yeah, so that's the peak behind the curtain, dear listeners, of why this is not episode one. We kept kicking the can down the road, but here we are. But I don't think you're alone, Jen, in the sense of a certain level of discomfort of really wrestling with this story. So I was teaching priest quorum a couple weeks ago, and we were talking about this story and talking about Nephi, and I raised, you know, just ever so slight of discomfort of what's happening here in terms of a decapitation and whatnot. And everybody in the room just stared at me blankly. Like, I mean, there was no sense of like, what do we even do with that? And I've experienced that in a lot of Sunday school classes and a lot of other places where We love talking about all the heroic and faith-filled and obedient aspects of the writings of Nephi, but in terms of like wrestling with this story that, like, I was also having this conversation with my seven-year-old who also, you know, was just learning about this in primary, and she came back, she's like, it's kind of weird that Nephi cut Laban's head off, right? But we're not quite sure what to do with it beyond just saying that's kind of weird.

(03:15-03:53) Jennifer Thomas: And I think it's important to note that this isn't a unique challenge to the Book of Mormon, right? We see this in other passages of scripture. We just read through a couple of years ago, as a church, the Old Testament, and there are lots of passages where God commands his people to kill people, even their own children, and sometimes even to commit what we might call genocide. But I think because especially of how much Latter-day Saints love the Book of Mormon, because it is the keystone of our religion and is unique to us, This particular story looms large and it seems it hits kind of a little bit at the core of identity and it's so it's more central to our imagination than say something else would be like Joshua or Saul.

(03:53-04:27) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I mean, it's so central to us as Latter-day Saints, right? I mean, it's right up front with the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion. You know, if you've grown up in the church or if you've been in the church for a few years, you've heard or read this story many, many times. So I think it really forces us to wrestle with this question. So if we want to be peacemakers, if we want to follow Christ as peacemakers, what do we do with this story at the beginning of this book of Scripture in which the Spirit is commanding somebody to cut off somebody else's head? So how do we deal with that? And so that's what we want to dive right into.

(04:27-05:42) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah. And I think it also gets to a broader question, which is how we can read the scriptures as a roadmap to becoming better peacemakers when the scriptures themselves are sometimes full of violence, including violence that appears to be commanded or even at the very least agreed upon by God. And it's one of the things that I want us to think about, and we'll talk about this more later in the episode, but Even that if we stipulate that sometimes God has commanded some violence, it's actually very, very rare that he asks us to be violent. And most often it is something that happened literally thousands of years in the past. And so what we want all of our listeners to kind of wrestle with as we go through this story and go through this episode with our wonderful guest is to ask ourselves that even if God does stipulate sometimes that violence is the answer, what is the risk that we can use if that's our, or what is the risk that we run if that's our default? You know, it's very rare that God asks that, What is the risk to our souls if we just sort of assume that's the way we have to behave when in fact it is rare that God asks us and that violence does carry with it significant risks to our soul that peacemaking does not?

(05:43-07:00) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I think that's such a great point. And it really just raises this question, yeah, what does this story mean for us? How do we apply it? How do we think about it on our path to becoming better peacemakers? And so as we were thinking about how to talk about this and who to talk about this with, we couldn't think of anybody better than our good friend, David Pulsifer. David is a professor of history at Brigham Young University, Idaho. And at BYU-Idaho, he also leads the program in peace and conflict transformation and is teaching lots of students about peace up there at BYU-Idaho. It's just terrific. He is a certified and practicing mediator and the author of a couple of books that I'll mention. One is called When We Don't See Eye to Eye, Using the Weapon of Love to Overcome Anger and Aggression. And he was kind enough to co-write a book with me called Proclaim Peace, The Restoration's Answer to an Age of Conflict. David has been thinking and studying and writing about these things for a long time. And I will say, as his friend and somebody who spent a lot of time with David, he's truly a man of peace and a peaceful soul and a follower of the Prince of Peace. So, David, welcome to the podcast.

(07:00-07:07) David Pulsipher: Thank you for the invitation. Wow, I hope that someday I can actually live up to that introduction.

(07:07-07:23) Patrick Mason: So David, I'm guessing that a lot of people don't know that BYU-Idaho has a program in peacebuilding and conflict transformation. So we've got a lot to talk about, but could you take just a couple of minutes and tell us a little bit about that program that you're helping to lead?

(07:23-08:27) David Pulsipher: Thank you. Yeah, it's a fairly new program. We started about two and a half years ago. modeled in a large part on what they're doing already and have perfected in many ways over at BYU Hawaii and the intercultural peace building program. We have a minor or a cluster that students can attack onto any particular major that they already have. The goal is to simply teach them to better understand the nature of conflict, to not be afraid of conflict, to understand how to transform destructive conflict into more creative forms of conflict. to learn basic mediation skills, ultimately to fulfill the call of the prophet, President Nelson's call that peacemakers are needed in the world. And our ultimate hope is that what we're doing is preparing disciples of Jesus Christ who follow the Prince of Peace and bringing peace to the world, whether that's on a small scale in their homes or in their workplaces or even in the world in general.

(08:27-08:28) Patrick Mason: That's fantastic.

(08:29-08:51) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah, and we are thrilled to have you with us. And we wanted to start because this is really something you've thought so deeply about. We want to start by asking you the same question that we've been asking all of our guests, which is, how do you define peace? It's an elusive concept. And particularly for the purposes of this conversation, what does that word mean to you? And you know, what are the characteristics of that are there when it's present?

(08:52-10:14) David Pulsipher: I think, for me, peace has become such a multifaceted thing that it's hard to nail down. I have to give an increasingly more complex answer to that question, but as I've been pondering what that might look like, increasingly I come to a more simple notion that, for me, peace personally is when my heart and soul is aligned with that of God, as best as I can tell. And I think that also is the way I feel about societal peace, is that when we are aligned as societies and communities with God. It doesn't mean the absence of conflict though, increasingly, For me, peace is not the absence of conflict. It's about achieving the right balance and achieving conflict in a creative and loving way, both in our society, but also the ability to hold kind of paradoxical ideas within my own heart and mind. And so both my inner peace And my societal piece is increasingly about division, but division that is held in a unifying spirit of love. That's kind of a strange way of maybe saying it.

(10:14-10:40) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah, I don't think it's strange at all. And I think that leads beautifully into this first question that we wanted to ask you is that you've written that there are other ways. We have a pretty traditional way of viewing Nephi's experience, and you've written that there are lots of different ways to consider this experience and questions that we can ask as we read. And so I think that's a great place to start the discussion. Would you consider starting by telling us more about this?

(10:40-12:37) David Pulsipher: It's a great question because Nephi looms so large in our cultural consciousness in terms of the quintessential hero, prophet, even the quintessential youth, if you will, who follows the Lord's will with a certain exactness. And his heart is just so clearly drawn to wanting to follow the Lord that sometimes I think we place upon Nephi this kind of extraordinarily heavy burden of being the ideal in every respect. And then we do that with what happens with Laban then. He must be following everything ideally, that it's And that the way he tells the story also lends itself to a certain kind of constrained, to use his own word, constrained interpretation of what happens there, what his options are, what the Lord is expecting of him in this moment. I think as we often do with Nephi, we just kind of gloss over it quickly, assume that we understand what those words all mean, and what his story is telling us, and yet there are… ways of looking at the story within a larger context, it makes it a much more complex and much more interesting story, I think, in the end and full of alternative ways of seeing it, that the text itself, Nephi's own account, kind of leaves open.

(12:37-13:46) Patrick Mason: I think that's really interesting, and to think about this story in a broader context, not just to isolate what happens in 1 Nephi chapter 4, but to recognize what happens before and then also what happens after, what follows as a result or a consequence. of what happens in that chapter. And so if we rewind just a little bit to the dynamics of conflict that are present in chapter three, and you're right, it starts with like the great statement by Nephi, you know, I will go and do, right? This is the song that kids sing and everything. So we have this kind of heroic moment launching us into chapter three, but then it's a chapter full of conflict. whether it be Laban bullying and eventually trying to kill and stealing from the brothers. And then that then turns into Laman and Lemuel using physical violence against Nephi and Sam until they're stopped. So when we even rewind a little bit to chapter 3, what do you see there in terms of the dynamics of conflict that are important for us to take note of?

(13:46-15:56) David Pulsipher: Well, I think, as you note, Nephi begins the chapter having just had really his first own revelatory experience, right? He's kind of new to all of this God speaking to him, understanding the will of God, understanding the voice and interpreting the voice of God. He responds with incredible faithfulness and a desire to go out into the unknown, assuming that, given what God has told him, that God will figure out a way to help him through this and his brothers through this. And then they run into problem after problem. And I think by the time, you know, we're getting to the end of chapter three, Nephi is a bit frustrated. Things aren't working out the way they're supposed to. And he's frustrated that his brothers are willing to throw in the towel and just go back home. I think he's frustrated both with the ways in which even his own ideas haven't panned out, and his own efforts here, and then the ways in which his brothers have turned on him. So he's got enemies within Jerusalem in the form of Laban, he's got enemies outside of Jerusalem in the form of his brothers, and he is, you know, he's I can't imagine enduring the beating that he's receiving and then getting an intervention by an angel, but still emotions are running high. This is clearly not this kind of calm reflection that's necessarily occurring at the end of chapter three. So I think for me, at least, it's important to point that out. And he's going into Jerusalem. in a kind of heightened sense of anxiety, but with a great deal of faith. And that's, of course, what we really celebrate about going in, not knowing exactly what's going to happen, but having, I think, some expectations about what might happen.

(15:56-18:05) Patrick Mason: So can I talk about some of those expectations or at least throw an idea out there? And I'm interested in how the two of you respond to this. So I was struck as I read these passages again, and I don't know how many times I've read these chapters, let's just say many. And this time, I was struck by a couple of lines that I'd never really noticed before. So, he says, yeah, after the angel and so forth, he says, you know, let us go up again unto Jerusalem, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord, that faith that you were talking about. And then notice what Nephi says next. He says, for behold, he, God, is mightier than all the earth. Then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands? Therefore let us go up, let us be strong like unto Moses. For he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea, and they divided, and our fathers came through out of captivity on dry ground. And the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. And then for me, this was the kicker. I'd never really noticed this before, where Nephi says, let us go up. The Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians. I'd always read this as Nephi's great faith in God's power to deliver, which I think is clearly what's going on, right? But even in the Exodus story, there's two sides of that story. There's the people who are delivered and the people who are destroyed. And Nephi, I'm just gonna throw it out here, is Nephi's kind of view of God here one of a kind of warrior who is mightier than Laban, right? It's like he can defeat Laban in a show of force, just like he defeated the Pharaoh in a show of force. And that going into this, that Nephi is, when he's led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand what to do, he knows, he's already expressed in the narrative this faith in a God who he believes will destroy Laban. And that sets up the conflict in a certain kind of way. Am I off there?

(18:05-21:17) David Pulsipher: What do you think? I think it's a great insight because I think it opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities about what's happening next. If we think back on what's happened in chapter three, He's been delivered already once by an angel who comes down and intervenes in his brother's violence and saves him from the violence. apparently dramatic show of divine power in that appearance of the angel in one way or another. We don't know a lot about, you know, how he arrives or, you know, and what kind of glory or subtlety that angel comes. But at any rate, the angel comes and intervenes and saves Nephi. So to walk into Jerusalem with this kind of faith that God's going to be able to not just deliver him but also destroy I think it raises lots of interesting possibilities because then when he finds Laban, Laban is already incapacitated. And then he pulls the sword, and I think we should talk about that later, but I want to skip over that. After looking at the sword, which I find very, very interesting because, of course, he's contemplating this sword. long before, or not long before, but before any whispering of the Spirit. He, to think that Laban's there, that he's there to witness in some way Laban's destruction, and then to have the Spirit say, you're going to be the force that destroys Laban. And when Nephi says that he recoils at that, I've always read that as he recoils at the whole idea of killing Laban. Maybe, given the idea that he thinks God's already kind of done the work for him in the past, what he's surprised at is that his hope for Laban's destruction, which you can imagine he probably also is hoping for because of Laban's threats to him and what he's done with their property and the way he's tried to kill his older brother and then all of the brothers collectively. I think he goes in with that expectation and then to have the Lord's return it back to him and have him being the means for doing it might be maybe Nephi is recoiling at that idea, not so much the idea that Laban dies, but that at this moment he's going to be the one that does it. Now whether he has to be the one that does it is another question, but it's certainly an indication here that the Spirit's saying perhaps you want Laban destroyed, here's the sword, you can accomplish this. And that's what, you know, I think, I just think that it opens up so many really interesting psychological possibilities of what's going on with Nephi in that moment, when he maybe was expecting God to do all the work.

(21:18-22:32) Jennifer Thomas: So I guess I'd like to be the advocate for peacemaking here, if I can, and just make a statement that I don't necessarily need anyone to react to. But I do wonder sometimes how much the solutions that we arrive at are the solutions because of the way we're predisposed to go into problems. It's so interesting to me because Lehi and his family have already followed the pattern of actually fleeing Jerusalem and the Lord protecting them every step of the way as they completely avoided violence. Instead of saying, I'm the prophet, I'm going to stand, I'm going to fight, I'm going to prove to Jerusalem that I'm the right guy, Lehi has led his family out of danger. He's trusted the Lord, much as Moses did, to kind of remove him from the problem and that God would take care of the problem, but he was going to remove his family from it. And so I just kind of want to leave that there, that just saying that always, I'm just going to make the case that there are other solutions to problems, right? And sometimes one of the important roles that we can play as peacemakers and as God's children is not to sort of be predisposed to a solution that is the solution of violence. I think that's one question that we always need to ask ourselves.

(22:32-26:12) David Pulsipher: Well, and I think you're exactly right, because I think if Nephi is going in predisposed to the idea of destroying Laban, then that's the kinds of options that he's going to see and that he's going to hear. I think it's important, again, to stress that he's new to this revelatory experience and knowing what the Lord is requiring and what the Lord is suggesting as potential possibilities and that there may be even other possibilities out there. It's a little tricky. Nephi, I think if we think of him as a narrator, he's writing this story probably in his 40s and 50s. And I think he tells the story as if, you know, there is no other choice. This is what I have to do. This is what God is expecting of me to do. And I think we have to leave open the possibility that that's true, that that's exactly what Nephi was experienced and what he told. But I think there's also, I'm in my 50s. And when I think back on to my teenage years and just what I've learned through my own experience and through reading a little psychology, memory is a very slippery thing. So I think one of the questions we can start asking is how reliable is Nephi's memory? I think I have no doubt that's how he remembers what happened. But then the question is, is it exactly, is he remembering it as accurately as he could? Were there other possibilities that are not aren't being included in the story. And of course now that's a really sensitive question to ask. And I ask that with a lot of caution because as Patrick experienced with his priest quorum, the minute you even begin asking even very gentle questions about, you know, is a 50-year-old man remembering his youth as accurately as he could? The obvious answer is, well, of course, he's a prophet. He remembers everything right. And this was a traumatic experience, so of course, why wouldn't he remember it right? So I think the only way we can actually ask the question is if there might be other possibilities and if the if his memory is entirely reliable is to see if there are other things that might suggest these other possibilities. And I think there are instances in the text where we can read the text faithfully, and we can also read subsequent texts and revelations, particularly with section 98 of the Doctrine and Covenants, that seems to be a direct commentary on this incident when we read it carefully, and seems to suggest in fairly clear ways that there were other options available to Nephi. Now Nephi may have remembered them as only one option, He's a young, impassioned youth, and he's been living with this experience for decades. And it's like, I think most of us, we fall into certain ways of remembering the past and remembering things that happened and highlighting certain things that take greater prominence over time. So I have no doubt that this is Nephi's best memory of what happened, but I think section 98, if you want to get into that a little bit, gives us a sense that there might be some alternative ways of thinking that the Lord might be gently correcting Nephi's memory a little there.

(26:13-27:21) Patrick Mason: All of us inhabit narratives and frameworks and experiences that we didn't choose and that oftentimes we inherited. It's either the stories that were told to us or the way that we were raised or other kinds of things. And so Nephi, even in chapter 3, he's seen in a certain way that violence works. Right? I mean, Laban is able to bully them and Laban is able to maintain power and all this because of that. And then he's probably been told this story. He clearly relates it as, you know, God destroys the armies of Pharaoh. And so we all inherit these frames, but part of the power of peacemaking, or another term would be conflict transformation, is that we don't just have to inhabit the stories that we've been given, but we also have the power to transform. the stories that we've been given, that we have agency in our life, as you said, to do better and maybe to make the stories better. So David, you've mentioned the sword. So come back to the sword and Nephi's experience and encounter with that. What do you make of that?

(27:22-30:03) David Pulsipher: I find it deeply interesting. I'm still wrestling with what it means because Nephi finds Laban incapacitated, drunk, lying sprawled on the street. And at least as he tells the story, the first thing he notices is the sword. And then he does something which I think is remarkably unusual, and I wish I was a better scholar of ancient Israel's culture, but for a young man to draw the sword of a person who's clearly kind of militarily and socially superior to him, even if he's incapacitated, to draw the sword and then just to look at it. It's a fascinating moment. Why does Nephi at that moment, before anything has been said through the spirit, pull a sword and start looking at it? And it's clearly a sword that he really is kind of enamored with. The exquisite workmanship of this sword is something that even 40 years later he's still talking about. The pure gold and and it's exceedingly fine workmanship and it's precious steel. This is a sword that Nephi has come to love and of course he keeps it as they flee back into the wilderness. Although interestingly enough he doesn't tell us that. He just says he leaves Jerusalem with Zoram and the plates. It doesn't tell us that he's also got the sword with him, but that moment of looking at the sword, again, I think it frames the possibilities that are within Nephi's mind, right? He's clearly contemplating something, and I don't think it's just a fascination with kind of a diversion. It's not a squirrel moment, right, where he's just suddenly distracted by a sword. He pulls the sword out, he's looking at it, and clearly, I think, has some ideas about maybe what the possibilities that he could do with this, and then to have the spirit say, well, you can kill him, is maybe the moment where he's facing even with his own expectations and desires at that moment, and to be kind of shocked I mean, one way of reading what's happening is that Nephi is, in essence, kind of shocked by the violence that is within him and now seems to be almost expected of him, or at least that's how he's remembering it.

(30:03-30:49) Patrick Mason: So that's fascinating, David, thinking about Nephi's attraction to the sword. And you're right, he doesn't tell us right away that he carries it with him, but we know from later on that the sword of Laban sort of becomes this heirloom. Even Joseph Smith, there are sources that talk about he finds it in the box that is buried with the plates. So, what do you make of it? You know, the fact that really the two things that Nephi takes into the desert, back to his family, back to Lehi and Sariah, are the sword of Laban, and the brass plates, the word of God, the word and the sword. How do you think about these sort of two bequests or these two relics that he takes into the desert with him?

(30:49-33:02) David Pulsipher: Well, I think it's clearly through the narrative and if you follow the full narrative from first Nephi through second Nephi, it's in many ways a story about a reliance upon the sword that shifts to a reliance on the word. And these, I think both of these things become these kinds of these gravitational pulls in his life, right? He is, He eventually becomes a king and he eventually makes, he takes the sword out from wherever he's been keeping it and we didn't know he was keeping it until we get into Second Nephi. He makes copies of the sword and then he, they use those copies to engage in battles and yet he doesn't, dwell much on that. It's almost as if by the time we get to the end of second Nephi, you know, and others have pointed this out, that he is just deep into the word. I mean the second Nephi is saturated with the word and it's almost as if we're watching the struggle between the power that physical force gives as represented by the sword and then the power of spiritual force and ultimately the power of love and the power of trust that is at the heart of God's power that Nephi is ultimately then drawn to. But I think, initially at least, as he leaves Jerusalem, he's got two models of power that he takes with him, the power of the sword and the power of the word. And then the rest of the story becomes this battle, you know, between often very forcefully trying to rein in his brothers and then other times persuading them with long-suffering and love unfeigned. And I think he settles in that direction, but I think the other is a shiny object that he picks up in Jerusalem that he can't quite jettison throughout his life completely.

(33:03-34:29) Jennifer Thomas: So I'm just going to insert again that I, again, just as a reader and someone who's a little discombobulated by this story, one of the ways I can read it most gracefully is to see Nephi's transformation and decide as a human being that that's the way I'm going to move to, that I'm going to move away from solving my problems through weapons and solving my problems through violence and then I'm gonna, which are the traditional power mechanisms that the world offers us, right? And then I'm gonna move towards the Word. And to me, that is one of the most glorious messages of the Book of Mormon. It's that this book succeeds not as a how-to manual in terms of how to chop up your enemies, but in a how-to manual of how to follow the Son of God and become like Him. And we use it best when that's the way we use it, when we use it as a testament of the word and its power and its glory and its ability to transform lives. And we see that over and over again. And I think that's one of the reasons that it's worth exploring this narrative at the beginning and taking it apart a little bit, not because we're trying to take apart a prophet at all, but we're trying to trust a prophet as we see his transformation from someone who, when he was young, So this is how the world taught me how to solve problems and moving towards a space where he's trying to solve problems differently and think about how the gospel can really be the thing that drives him and is the thing that he's thinking about.

(34:29-34:42) David Pulsipher: Yeah, that was so beautifully said. And the word here, of course, is not just the brass plates. It's also the word with a capital W. You know, yeah, exactly. Jesus is the word. Right.

(34:42-34:44) Jennifer Thomas: And yeah, that's what I was thinking. Beautiful.

(34:45-35:06) Patrick Mason: Let me also kind of ask an application to our contemporary world. Are we a little bit too entranced by the shiny weapons in front of us? Are we maybe a little bit too like Nephi in terms of falling in love with these weapons?

(35:08-37:08) David Pulsipher: I hope this isn't a controversial statement, but to say absolutely. I think all we have to do is just a simple example of that is our video game culture in which the games are largely, and the most popular ones, are ones that involve weapons and shooting and powering up to better weapons. And, you know, the shiny objects that are the rewards for good performance within those are often better weapons and better power in those ways. And, of course, it's not too far of a jump from there to our actual weapons and the ways in which, I mean, they're honestly just, they're fun when you're going out shooting targets and and doing other things. And then it leads to, though, a reliance upon them to save us, rather, and to deliver us from the threats that we see around us. And we think that those things are the protection and the deliverance that we need. when in fact I think reading the Old Testament especially the prophets later in the Old Testament and of course reading the words of Jesus and then as we've been and as Jennifer just said it so beautifully the entire Book of Mormon is essentially a cautionary tale about what happens when we rely too much upon the arm of flesh or upon our own man-made weapons. And we don't think about the weapon of love and the weapon of trust and the weapon of God's power and spirit in our lives and our reliance upon the word. So I think the sword continues to distract us from the word in our modern culture.

(37:08-38:19) Jennifer Thomas: And I would just add, I think it changes how we think about the people around us. when we are focused on, and I mean, we're using weapons very literally here to talk about ways that we can wound other people, but there are a lot of things that are manifestations of the flesh, whether it's money or power or influence or actual weapons that we can rely on. And then if those become the things that we center our identity on or that we think are the mechanisms that are gonna best solve our problems, All of those things actually lead us away from seeing the people around us as children of God and people that we need to engage with as equals. But the Word of God never does that. The Word of God does the opposite, right? The Word of God pulls us toward our neighbor, pulls us toward Zion, pulls us toward loving, being able to observe that commandment where we'll love our neighbor as ourself. I think there are consequences that come from centering weapons and physical manifestations of power over really turning towards God and the Prince of Peace. And I think that's one of them.

(38:19-39:06) Patrick Mason: I always remember Claudia Bushman, who's a great historian and scholar and just a wise woman. I heard her say once, she said, okay, so one of the Ten Commandments is thou shalt not kill. And she says, I'm pretty good at that one. Like, I haven't killed anybody like physically. But she said, as I got thinking about it more, I said, is there a deeper spiritual meaning to that in terms of am I killing somebody's reputation? Am I killing somebody's hopes? Am I killing somebody's opportunities? Are there other ways that maybe that commandment calls us to a different kind of interaction with other people and not just settling for the fact that I did not actually make somebody depart mortality yesterday?

(39:06-40:04) David Pulsipher: Yeah. We twist the word, not meaning the word of God, but our own words become weapons. And if you've ever found yourself in Of course, I've never done this, where you're thinking about, if I had just said this, if I had just come up with this argument, then I would have totally destroyed their position. I would have won the debate. I would have won the argument. And we get into these kinds of modes of destroying the opponent. And it's not just with physical weapons. It's with these weapons of words. And the ultimate put down is like, celebrated all over the internet and social media whenever you've got the best comeback line, the best, you know. So, again, those are thinking about relationships and seeing others as people to be defeated instead of loved.

(40:04-40:55) Patrick Mason: Okay, well, let's come back to the story then and actually to what Nephi tells us happens. Here's the million-dollar question for you, David. What is going on in this chapter with the Spirit? right? Three times we have the Spirit says, or Nephi says that the Spirit constrains or says for him to kill Laban, even going so far as to offer an argument for why that's a good thing, right? That it's better for one man to perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief. Doesn't that alone doesn't that pretty much just undermine any kind of nonviolent reading of the Book of Mormon? That sometimes you just got to do what you got to do in order to preserve the things that are most important. It's the Spirit saying it.

(40:55-48:47) David Pulsipher: Well, I will concede that possibly. Okay. It is possible that Nephi is remembering everything with complete accuracy and is knowing it, but I do think that there are evidences again I think we've talked a little bit about Nephi's frame of mind and what the pulling of the sword might indicate in terms of the options that he sees in front of us and And I know that, at least in my own experience with the Lord, He often, He sometimes will take me in an option I never considered, but most of the times, the options He presents to me and the inspiration that I feel in my own life is within the options that I can imagine, the ones that I… And of course, John Paul Lederach, a great scholar of peace, talks about one of our great limitations in peacebuilding is that we don't have enough moral imagination to imagine other possibilities. So one of the questions becomes is, were there other possibilities that Nephi could even have imagined? And that's one way of actually just of reading the text and seeing that the Spirit's working within the the options that Nephi has in front of him and is willing to consider. But I think there's even better evidence that something more is going on here than just what's within the Book of Mormon. And I do think it's in Doctrine and Covenants section 98, where the Lord lays out in the most explicit terms anywhere in the scriptures what the rules about violence are. And those rules are not always the way I think people think of them. In verse starting in verse 23, of course, there's the wonderful line earlier about renounce war and proclaim peace Somebody ought to have a podcast named that I think they should yeah, that's a or write a book But later a few verses later It says now I speak unto you concerning your families that men will smite you Or your families once and you bear it patiently and revile not against them see neither seek revenge. You shall be rewarded But if you bear it not patiently it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you which is a fascinating dynamic meaning that basically if you strike back then then their initial striking of you is kind of cancels out your striking back you're kind of even. Everything's you know on the balance books of the eternities I guess it's all it all balances out. But then it goes on to talk about the bearing it a second time and you'll be rewarded and a third time you'll be rewarded and then These three testimonies stand against your enemy if you repent not. And if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, then you'll warn him in my name that he does not come anymore upon you. and your children and your children's children to the third and fourth generation. And then if he shall come upon you after that warning, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands. It's an interesting phrase because of course that's exactly the language that the Spirit uses, that the Lord has delivered Laban into your hands. So far it seems like, okay, pretty straightforward and you can almost see Nephi going through as he's contemplating this action, and he's going through the list, you know, Laban's done this, he's done this, he's done this, he's tried to kill us, he's taken our property, he refuses to obey the word of the Lord. There's his three strikes, right? And he is delivered into my hands, as the Spirit says. And the next line in section 98 says, nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands, again, using that same language that's happening. This is why I think these are related texts. And if thou rewardest him according to his works, thou art justified. Justification is, of course, a very interesting concept, meaning that something that would normally be bad in certain circumstances isn't necessarily good, but it is at least not bad. It's not counted against one. uh if he has sought thy life and thy life is endangered by him thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified so if we stop right there everything seems to be going uh according to plan but the the next part of it is well actually the verse right before it i kind of skipped and if thou wilt spare him thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness and also thy children and thy children's children unto the third and fourth generation. And then the Lord says, nevertheless, he is in nine hands and you can do it. And you're justified in doing it if you want. But the very next line says, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi and to thy fathers, Joseph and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham. There's the traditional kind of ancient prophets. And then, but the Lord sticks at the very beginning of the list and almost in kind of an unexpected move says Nephi had this law. Now if Nephi had this law, and we don't know when he had this law, was he an old man when he had this law? But the language from the earlier verses seem to indicate, thine enemy is in thine hands, is echoing the language of the Spirit in 1st Nephi chapter 4. So in some ways you could say well then this might be the moment in which the spirit gave this law to Nephi and if this is that moment then one of the options was you can kill him you're justified in doing that or you can spare him and and that's also a legitimate option that will be reward and you'll be rewarded and your children and your children's children into the third and fourth generation will be rewarded That seems almost, to me at least, as a subtle revision of Nephi's story, with the Lord possibly saying here, and I don't think it's a slam dunk, but it does raise this, in terms of this interpretation, but it does raise this interesting possibility that Nephi had more than one option. Now, I have no doubt that in his 50s he remembers it as only one option. But this may be a gentle correction of Nephi's memory of what happened to say, well, you know, you may not have been paying attention completely, you may have only heard the option to kill, but there really was another option here and that was to spare Laban and maybe to have acquired the plates without having to kill him. And I take some comfort in that in the sense that these kinds of commands from the Lord, if these are the commands that he teaches his ancient prophets and Nephi and is teaching us, then there is always the option to spare the enemy. Now, that may come with some significant consequences to us personally. I don't want to minimize the consequences that that may represent, but that is still an option, and it is not necessarily required of us to shed the blood. Now, to be justified and allowed to do it is one thing, to be required to do it is another, and I think that this Section 98 gives us pretty clear direction that it's at least as far as I can tell, never required, but is a legitimate option within the range of options available to us.

(48:48-50:51) Jennifer Thomas: So one of the things I love so much about that is I think it is, again, the sign of a gracious God who understands that we are people with limitations, and he's giving us options to succeed, a variety of options in which we can succeed and not be damned and carry the weight of these things. But I really like that point that you made about this not being easy, because one of the things that Patrick and I don't want to do over the course of this podcast is to minimize the cost of being a peacemaker. It is a weighty thing to take on and to be willing to do to be able to to move into spaces of conflict and sometimes it comes at a point of personal sacrifice. But I love the way you frame that with those scriptures because I as a person have the opportunity to think In this moment, the easier path for me and the justified path for me might be X, but what do I want to give to the generations that come after me? Am I willing to accept some sacrifice on my part? Am I willing to carry a burden knowing that the Lord has promised me that if I am willing to carry that burden, that gift will shine through for generations to come? And I think we need to be willing as peacemakers to truly take the Lord at that promise And I think that it also gives us the opportunity to truly become Christ-like. We know that if we want to be Christ-like, that is going to entail an element of sacrifice. To be like him means that we need to be willing to sacrifice for others. And so acknowledging that peacemaking is sometimes a sacrifice and that it might come at cost to us personally, but the Lord has promised us, and again, beautifully, we're gonna see this play out over and over again in the Book of Mormon, the people that were willing to take that pain on themselves in the moment, it brought dividends for the people that followed after in extraordinary ways. And so that to me is a great opportunity to say, hey, you can win in the Lord's eyes doing both, but you also have the opportunity to give something extraordinary to the people who follow if you'll follow that higher law.

(50:52-51:42) David Pulsipher: I think that's just wonderfully said, and it does. It shows up over and over again. And of course, as you indicated, the Savior, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate example of the person who chooses the harder option and pays the extraordinary price for that harder option. And of course, it's that price that he pays which then opens up the opportunity for all of us to follow and to receive that salvation. If we follow the Prince of Peace, there will probably be some level of extraordinary sacrifice that we will be asked to give at some point, and it won't be an easy path.

(51:43-52:25) Patrick Mason: So as we move towards closing, can you help us think sort of beyond now, Chapter 4, as Nephi goes back into the desert, as he said, takes the word and the sword with him, and Can you project forward kind of the meaning of what's just happened in chapter four based on clues that we have from the text or other kinds of things? What are the ramifications of this choice that he's made? You know, that the Lord promised in section 98, if you spare them, it'll redound, you know, future generations will be blessed. How does this story play out for future generations?

(52:26-55:26) David Pulsipher: Well, to reference section 98, the promise of the Lord is twofold. One is if you choose, you know, the harder option of sparing the enemy, you and your future generations will be blessed. But if you choose the option of justified violence, the Lord promises I'll be there to fight your battles, you know, going forward. But one of the things that is often kind of missed in that promise is that means there probably will be future battles. and that means that the violence that you have entirely engaged in in an entirely justified manner does have a tendency to rebound in some way. It doesn't necessarily solve the problem and will often create, as we see I think with Nephi and his brothers, Nephi brings with him an inheritance of the word and an inheritance of the sword and both of those things will through the rest of his life, but also for future generations, be the great temptations. Which ones will his posterity follow? He gives them both inheritances, right? And then you get to moments. Alma, I find, is a fascinating descendant of Nephi who begins with the sword as a military leader and eventually just kind of throws it away and says that the word has a more powerful effect than the sword and he turns to the sword and we see it with his other descendants of the brothers of Nephi and Lehi who after Moroniha claws back half of the Nephite territory lost to the Lamanites they go into the Lamanite occupied territories and then deep into Lamanite territory and bring the word and they end up getting all the land back within just a few short verses. And so I think this inheritance will continue to reverberate, this dual inheritance, if you will, will just reverberate through the rest of the pages of the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, and there are moments where one is ascendant and the other is not, and fourth Nephi is the ascendancy of the word, and then the Book of Mormon, within the Book of Mormon is the ascendancy of the sword and the tragic results of that as they annihilate each other in those chapters. So I think it's hard to to not see those dual legacies once you kind of realize that what Nephi is carrying is two emblems that will kind of impact his own family, but hundreds of years of history that will be impacted by that.

(55:26-56:06) Jennifer Thomas: And I think we get to choose based on how we read this book, how those legacies impact us. If we choose to read this book as an invitation to violence and a justification for violence, then that is the legacy that we hand to our children and to our community. But if we as the people who uniquely have this scripture, who have been gifted this from God, say, we are going to read this as a legacy of the power of the Word, and that is what we're going to take forth into the world, and that is how we are going to represent this story. Then we have the opportunity to kind of change the narrative now and not have it play out the same way the Nephites did. And I think it's one of the great gifts of the Book of Mormon.

(56:06-56:06) David Pulsipher: Very well said.

(56:07-57:13) Patrick Mason: All right, so we want to close by asking you, David, first of all, to thank you for this incredible conversation and helping us read through this story that I think lots of people wrestle with and are not quite sure what to do with it. And hopefully we've given some people some options here today. And I have to say, like, I mean, I've been thinking and writing about this story for a very long time, and I've still got lots of questions about it. Like, I think it's a story that wants me to keep asking questions. It's a story—I think that's what Scripture does, right? It wants us to keep wrestling with God and not sort of just sit comfortably like I've got it all figured out. Because it's a messy, conflict-ridden world out there, and we all encounter complicated ethical and moral circumstance. So thanks for helping us think through this. So we want to finish on the question that we always end on. And for us to hear from you personally, where do you go or what do you do to find peace?

(57:13-59:08) David Pulsipher: Well, kind of circle back to my definition of peace. For me, peace is when I'm aligned or our society is aligned with the will and the heart and the mind and spirit and soul of God in one way or another. So for me, The most important thing in my personal practice has always been to find time and space where I can refocus and re-center myself, to reconnect and re-commune with God because I suppose, like most people in the world, I'm just constantly being distracted from that. going after the shiny objects that are all around us in all sorts of forms. And it's when I get away from that that the conflicts within me and the conflicts around me disturb me. But when I am centered, when I can find a place in my heart and can take the time to really focus and meditate and and direct all of my, to draw my heart out, to have my heart drawn out to the Lord. That's when peace returns, and until my next distraction, but that's where I find it. And I have never I have never been disappointed. That's never when I can really get that focus. It always is there. And I'm always surprised, even though it keeps happening, I'm always surprised at how readily it is there when we turn to it.

(59:08-59:09) Patrick Mason: Fantastic.

(59:09-59:12) Jennifer Thomas: Jen, I think both of us are super hesitant to add to that.

(59:12-59:15) Patrick Mason: Yeah. Do you want to do you want to close us up?

(59:16-59:18) Jennifer Thomas: No, I want to say amen. That's what I want to say.

(59:18-59:24) Patrick Mason: OK, but we do need somebody to close. Do you want to?

(59:24-59:30) Jennifer Thomas: No, you go ahead. I'm about to cry.

(59:30-59:55) Patrick Mason: David, thank you so much for your wisdom and for all that you do in the world, really, to bring peace and be be somebody who tries to embody the principles of peacemaking that we learn in the gospel. So thanks for this conversation. And Jen, thank you for all of your amazing insights through this entire thing.

(59:55-01:00:02) Jennifer Thomas: I'm drafting on your book. That's all I have to say. I'm drafting on the OG wisdom found in the book you two wrote.

(01:00:02-01:00:31) Patrick Mason: That's very kind. Thanks, everybody, for listening today. We really appreciate it. We just want to invite you to subscribe to the podcast and also to rate and review it. We love hearing feedback from listeners, so please email us at podcast at mweg.org. We also want to invite you to think about ways that you can make peace in your life this week. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.

(01:00:31-01:00:46) Jennifer Thomas: Thank you for listening to Proclaim Peace, a proud member of the Faith Matters Podcast Network. Faith Matters holds expansive conversations about the restored gospel to accompany individuals on their journey of faith. You can learn more about Faith Matters and check out our other shows at faithmatters.org.

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