Waters, Women, and Grief: Casualties and Consequences of War (Mosiah 29-Alma 4)

Monday, May 25, 2020

In this episode, we discuss King Mosiah's efforts to establish safety in a new form of leadership for his people, moving them from a government ruled by a king to a government ruled by elected judges. Unfortunately, we also see first-hand how these well-intentioned changes ultimately lead to contention, dissent, and war. We discuss the casualties of war both human and non-human as we explore the concept of ecofeminism for the first time. We also sit with the Nephite community in as we watch them try to work through their grief. Thanks so much for listening to this episode and joining in the conversation!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. Read more about it here.
  • Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Read more about it here.

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:

  • Mosiah 29:13
  • Mosiah 29:16-17
  • Alma 2:12
  • Alma 3:2
  • Alma 3:3
  • Alma 4:2
  • Mosiah 29:26
  • Alma 3:6-7
  • Alma 3:14-19
  • Alma 4:3

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is the Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Mosiah chapter 29 through Alma chapter 4 for the dates May 25th hrough the 31st. We're so glad you're here with us today.

E: Welcome back friends! Today, we're going to spend some time talking about violence, the connection between women and the earth, and how to work through grief after war. So the chapters are reading today focus on King Mosiah’s wishes for his people and his process of setting up a new government to protect them after he dies. But sadly soon after his death, the Nephites experience dissension and a really horrific war. 

E: When we started in chapter 29, King Mosiah gets all the people together and he says, “Look, let's try something new and let's not have a king at all. You all remember King Noah and we cannot have that happen again. Let us try and appoint some judges instead. And let's draw from all of the people, use your voices to elect judges, because when we have bad kings, a lot of bad things can happen.” And what I love about this chapter that Mosiah starts out in is that I feel like he's trying to recognize the messy complexness of humanity. He's trying to say, “Not everyone is going to be like me or my dad, King Benjamin. So I want to leave you with a system that protects you and sets you up for success moving forward.” 

C: One of the verses that really beautifully demonstrates what King Mosiah wanted for his people is in chapter 29, verse 13. He says, “If it were possible that you could have just men, meaning righteous men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God and judge this people according to this commandments, yeah, if you could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people, I say unto you, if this could always be the case, then it would be expedient that you should always have kings to rule over you.”

E: But in the next few verses that follow, King Mosiah sadly points out that, unfortunately, this is impossible. You're not always going to elect great kings who stay righteous and who labor alongside the people like King Benjamin and King Mosiah. In fact, he says, “This is why you shouldn't have a king to rule over you. For behold, how much inequity doth one wicked king cause to be committed. Yea, and what great destruction!” Exclamation point. 

C: Which are rare. 

E: It is rare! And I think he's just trying to drive home the point, don't forget how wrong things can go when you have wicked, unrighteous people in high powers of leadership. Don't forget how they can exploit you and put you under heavy burdens and heavy taxation and how they can just make your lives absolutely miserable, and destroy all of the piece that we've worked toward in our country.  

C: One thing I also love about this chapter is the imagery that King Mosiah draws from King Benjamin, his dad. He kind of reiterate some of the things that we absolutely loved about King Benjamin. He says, “I've done everything that I can to serve you. I've done everything that I can to do right by you.” And it kind of felt like just a little bit of King Benjamin for president was back, and it was the best thing ever.  

E: And I think this whole emphasis that King Mosiah places here on trying to set up a peaceful future for his people, that's why it just feels so sad when that's not their lived experience in the next few chapters. It's so heartbreaking because we can really see all of their human fingerprints all over the scripture story. I think these people want to believe in something better, and I want it to work out for them as much as I'm sure as they want it to work out for them, too. But it's important to remember here, too, that if Channing and I were writing the scriptures, people would probably say a lot of the same things that we're saying about these ancient civilizations. These aren't just isolated events of people who move through periods of peace and war. Because present day people, we do the same thing. We move through times of peace and war, sometimes we can see the possibility and the potential, and sometimes we forget it. And sometimes the decisions of one person or a group of people can negatively affect an entire community. 

C: I feel like this is something that we experience really acutely as feminists, because we want change and we want big change. And it's just so, so, so very slow. And this is often due to the fact that a lot of us can't get on the same page, and that's not necessarily to say we're right and they're wrong, but being human is hard and communicating is hard, and we see those issues play out here in the text. And so in the text, when we get outside of chapter 29, we move into Alma, where we see a couple of new characters come in. And one of those characters is named Amlici. And Amlici is kind of set up as the antagonist in the story. He's angry about things that are happening in the community. And he ultimately wants to draw people away from the church, and set himself up as a leader of the people. When the wider community doesn't really go along with this, he gets really angry, kind of in a tantrum is just like, fine. I'll take all my friends with me and we'll start a new community. And his friends are like, yeah, that's a great idea. How about you be our king? And they terrorize the Nephites and then they end up deciding that they're so mad that they go to the Lamanites, and they say, let's start a war, and the Lamanites are like, okay. 

E: And this is really how it happened. That was the conversation. 

C: Okay, to make a long story short, war has arrived to the Nephties.

E: The Nephites know what's going to happen. They know that the Amlicites and the Lamanites are coming to war against them. And so in chapter 2, verse 12, it says, “They did arm themselves with all manner of weapons of war of every kind.” And when I read that verse, my heart just sank. Knowing that just 2 chapters before was King Mosiah saying, “Hey, you can really make this work when I'm gone. Don't forget everything we've learned here. Don't forget all of the greatness and the peace that we've had.” And I just feel sad for these people because this type of violence is always a suffering, no matter whose side we're on. Both sides suffer.

C: So as we get further into the chapter, we find out that this war has a lot of casualties. About 12,000 Amlicites died and about 6,000 Nephites died. And it could possibly be more than that. In Alma chapter 3, verse 1, they say, “The number of the slain were not numbered because of the greatness of their number.” I think this passage gives us pause for thought because that number is horrifying. They were not numbered because of the greatness of their number. That's a lot of deaths. And if we read a little further in Alma, verse 2 says, “Now many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flock in their herds. And also many of their fields of grain were destroyed for, they were trodden down by the hosts of men.” I think these verses illustrate what the effects of this horrific and violent war were for all of the people involved. 

E: I wanted to read a passage from Rachel Held Evans book titled Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. And she has a whole chapter about what to do with the war stories that show up in scripture. And she writes about how she has a hard time coming to war stories, because she feels so emotionally tied to the people and the stories that are happening here that she's having a difficult time making sense of where God is in all of this, and why war happens. And this is something that she writes. “I waited for a word from God, but no word came. When I turned to pastors and professors for help, they urged me to set aside my objections, to simply trust that God is good, and that the Bible's war stories happened as told for reasons beyond my comprehension. God's ways are higher than our ways, they insisted. Stop trying to know the mind of God. It's an understandable approach. Human beings are finite and fallible, prone to self-delusion and sentimentality. If we rely exclusively on our feelings to guide us to truth, we are bound to get lost. When asked about stories of war, a reformed pastor and theologian declared without hesitation, “It's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.” This pastor's dispassionate acceptance represented pure committed faith, I was told, while mine had been infected by humanism and emotion. A good example why women should be kept from church leadership, one acquaintance said.” She goes on to write, “Brene Brown warned us we can't selectively numb our emotions, and no doubt this applies to the emotions we have about our faith. If we train ourselves not to ask hard questions about the Bible and to emotionally distance ourselves from any potential conflicts or doubts, then where will we find the courage to challenge interpretations that justify injustice? How will we know when we've got it wrong?” I find this story so powerful for many different reasons. One, because I identify with Rachel Held Evans here, feeling emotionally tied to war stories in really difficult ways because they prompt me to ask difficult questions about God when I see injustice happening, and when I see people being slaughtered and destroyed and dumped into the sea. And I wrote in the margins of this book, when we hear the pastor’s and the professor's responses that were like, God's ways are higher than our ways. Don't worry about it. The Bible or the Book of Mormon is absolutely correct as written. In my margins I just wrote, “Typical response.” Because I think that's those type of responses that are meant to keep us quiet and in our own box, not pushing out and challenging or looking deeper or more critically at these stories. And they also allow us to keep the stories at arm’s distance. They allow the stories to not elicit any type of emotion from us. And if we are unable to recognize sorrow and suffering and violence in the scripture, how much more difficult will it be to recognize that same sorrow, suffering, and violence in our everyday life? So in a strange way, we're grateful for the writers of this passage of scripture, because it allows us to practice being emotionally present with the violence, and sitting in the suffering with all of the people who are lost. And it also calls us to imagine what other casualties of war might there be.

C: Something that we found incredibly fascinating about some of the imagery contained in these war stories was the imagery of the earth. And this is a topic that we're passionate about learning and are interested in exploring more, and having a conversation about this. So what the text does for us is in addition to listing the human casualties of this war that the Amlicites and Nphites are having, it goes further and also lists the non-human casualties. And this is the first time on the podcast that we're taking an eco-feminist lens to the text. We're really used to looking at a story and picking out human characters, like Alma and Amlici, the Nephites, the Lamanites. But we rarely look beyond that. An eco-feminist reading of the text asks us to keep going. So in addition to human characters, we also look for the non-human characters that show up in this story. This is one of the first times that the land shows up repeatedly as a character in the narrative, especially since Nephi died. 

E: The first non-human character we see in this set of scriptures is the water. In Alma chapter 3, verse 3, it says, “And now as many of the Lamanites and the Amlicites who had been slain upon the bank of the river Sidon on were cast into the waters of Sidon, and behold, their bones are in the depths of the sea. And they are many.”

C: In the same chapter, we also see flocks and herds and fields of grain. Remember Alma chapter 3, verse 2, which we read before, but we're reading again because it has different imagery. It says, “Now, many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flocks and their herds. And also many of their fields of grain were destroyed for, they were trodden down by the hosts of men.” Now that we've identified the non-human characters of the story, we move our attention to a more subtle connection that's made in the text. Notice again, as we read Alma chapter 3, verse 2, who shows up alongside the flocks, the herds, and the fields of grain. 

E: It says, “Now many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flocks, and their herds. And also many of their fields of grain were destroyed, for they were trodden down by the hosts of men.”

C: Did you catch it? It's the women and children. The narrative makes the connection so smoothly that one can argue that it was unconsciously done. Women and the earth are deeply connected in our society and in our theology. Whether we realize it or not, this connection is easily missed without the lens of eco-feminism. So we've talked about eco-feminism a little bit, but we haven't defined it. 

E: Author Carol Adams offers this definition of eco-feminism. She says, “Eco-feminism identifies the twin dominations of women and the rest of nature. It argues that the connections between the oppression of women and the rest of nature must be recognized to understand adequately both oppressions.”

C: To summarize, eco-feminism focuses on the intersection of women's rights, roles, and experiences, and the roles, rights, and experience of the earth. 

E: Working with some of these ideas about eco-feminism, Channing recently wrote a guest post on Womb Sisters’ page. She says:

C: “We are often told to be in the world, but not of it, as if the world was a bad place to be. In an effort to focus purely on our spiritual and intellectual nature, we have forgotten how to honor the physical and wild parts of the self and the earth. Author Sharon Blackie states, ‘In Western tradition, reason and intellect are the unique and privileged domain of humans, superior to everything else in nature, everything which is physical, emotional, instinctual, and wild. In this tradition, women are linked to those inferior qualities of nature just as men are associated with the superior qualities of reason and intellect.’ Unconscious, as the sense of superiority may be the evidence of it is readily found today. Rivers are poisoned with dye just as the menstrual waters of a woman's womb are stained with shame. The cavities of the earth are stripped, ravaged, and exposed. How many abandoned mines riddle the body of mother earth? How many women share Me Too stories with her in the dark? Animals are cut up part and piecemeal for consumption, and are marketed to the masses by hamburger ads, featuring the mouths, legs, and breasts of women. This quote ‘man's world’ of progress at any cost has a dark underbelly. The legs it stands on are the oppression and pillage of the bodies of women, marginalized peoples, and the earth.” In this post, I am trying to make the connections between the way that the earth is treated and the bodies of women are treated. We can see a lot of correlations, and there are more than what I've listed here. What I find especially fascinating about the text is that the narrative does this for us also by subtly connecting the imagery of women and the imagery of the earth. Women, along with the other life giving and sustaining elements of society, are trodden beneath the feet of Lamanites during the war. We can see in Alma chapter 4 that the Nephites feel this loss acutely after the war ends. We can view this portion of the text as wisdom and a warning. These chapters seem to teach two lessons about human conflict. The first, the consequences of human action extend beyond the sphere of humanity only, especially in war. The non-human world is deeply affected by human conflict. Secondly, this account of war highlights our responsibility to both the divine in each other, and the divine in the earth. This is a story about people who do not, and the consequences they suffer because of their actions. 

E: And if you're still not convinced, and you think that we are trying to make this connection because we love women and we love the earth, well, you're right, but also King Mosiah has our back too, because in chapter 29, verse 36, he's telling the people, “all the wars, and the contentions, and the bloodshed, and the stealing, and the plundering, and the committing of whoredoms, and all manner of iniquities, which cannot be enumerated, AKA, the destruction of the earth -- all of these things ought not to be, and they are expressly repugnant to the commandments of God.” The point of all of this is, the point that we're trying to drive home in finding eco-feminism in this story of war, is that when we pay attention to women and the earth, their stories, like Rachel Held Evans writes, invite the reader to consider the human and environmental cost of violence and patriarchy. And in that sense, prove instructive to all who wish to work for a better world. And that's what we want. We do want to learn from  these stories to build a better world, but there's no building without the earth and there's no building without women.

E: In the same way that we're trying to make sense of the violence and war stories that are happening to the earth and the people, the people are also trying to make sense of what just happened, which brings us to the end of this section of scripture where the people are grappling with their grief and their anger that comes in the wake of war. 

C: It's a really powerful experience to be able to watch these people process their grief and the different kinds of questions and thoughts that they have as they're working through this grieving process. 

E:mOne of the first things that comes up in Alma, chapter 3, this is in the middle of the war story. They take a break. I don't know if they take a break from fighting, but the story takes a break. And the author spends multiple verses reminding us about how the Amlicites marked themselves with red in their foreheads, after the manner of the Lamanites, in order to distinguish themselves from the Nephites, which of course brings up the Lamanites’ curse. In chapter 3, verses 6 through 7, it says, “The Lamanites were dark according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brother and who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men, and their brethren sought to destroy them. Therefore, they were cursed.” There's a really long diatribe about how the curse was God-given. And the curse shows that the Lamanites, and the Amlicites now, have intentionally set themselves apart from God and apart from the Nephites. And I think what's happening is that the Nephites are trying to make sense of the slaughter that's happening during the war. And I think they're feeling a lot of anger and I think the thing that they turn to and lean on is, “No, look like they had it coming, because of this curse.” And this is a really dangerous line of thinking to get into. In chapter 3, verses 14 through 19, the author writes “Thus, the word of God is fulfilled.” Even though the Amalicites didn't know they were fulfilling God's word, they brought upon themselves the curse, and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation. And you get this really removed, really cold interpretation of war and why it's happening. Now let’s not forget that, yes, the Nephites were attacked, but they're trying to make sense of why they were attacked and why they were prompted to kill the Lamanites and the Amlicites. And the way that they make sense of this is by leaning on this curse that makes them bad people.

C: And I think it's important to remember that these are stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Probably ever since Nephi got to the promised land and Laman and Lemuel split up. This is an old, old story. And when people are hurting and struggling and working through difficult and hard questions, I think it's really natural to turn to stories that are close and familiar to us to try and make sense of the world.

E: Though, this is the story that the Nephites are using to try and justify the violence, and try and make sense of the violence, it's also important to remember that the story gets spun and used as racism against the Lamanites time and time again. And what makes it even more dangerous is that the Nephites read God into the story as if God is the one that gave the curse of dark skin and therefore is justifying the racism and the violence that is being heaped upon these people. And that's not the case. 

C: I think the additional implications of these verses are the fact that they have been taken from the text and out of the context of the text, and used to justify racism even today, even in modern times. And a concept that we explored in episode 2 was talking about solutions that we have when we come to troublesome pieces of the text. And one of the solutions was to look at it as a part of history, and then leave it in history. And I think that that's a solution that can be offered here. And the text actually teaches us this lesson, that this particular verse and this particular story belongs and needs to stay in the text, because this story is about how the Nephites are processing their grief. This is not a story about how God is punishing the Lamanites with a curse. And so it's important to remember that, and even more, it's important to remember to leave it there, and to speak up against those who would try and justify racism even still using these verses. When we read the story, I think a good question to keep in mind is the question of who is punishing who, and is God really involved. And I think Alma chapter 4, verse 3, has a really powerful answer for us. It reads, “And so great were their afflictions that every soul had caused to mourn, and they believed it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations. Therefore, they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty.”

E: We received a really insightful Instagram message this week from Sarah Evans at Bringing Up Betty. And she was actually commenting on a previous episode, but we think her comment is really relevant to this week's episode as the Nephites are trying to understand who's punishing who and where is God in this in this all. She writes, “In Mosiah 21, there are no direct quotations from the Lord. But it is what is recorded, more likely because that's how they felt. I wonder, if they could have heard His voice, if it would have been similar to the God who speaks in Alma 24. Maybe instead of saying, “The Lord was slow to hear their cries because of their iniquities. “ It should say, “It felt like the Lord didn't hear us or respond because we were still working through some of our own shame.” I think this is why President Nelson's message to Hear Him is so vital. It can be the actual difference between hearing him say, “I, the Lord God do visit my people in their afflictions,” and thinking to ourselves, “The Lord is slow to hear my cries. Must be because of my iniquities.”

E: I love what Sarah points out here. It's a good reminder of why close and careful readings of the scriptures are so valuable. What she's pointing out in her message is a subtle but really important point, highlighted by two very important words in the verse that we read. They believed. And at some times, our own beliefs that are clouded by grief or shame, that can block us from hearing the actual message that the Lord is trying to share with us. And for us, the readers, that too can make the difference between blindly agreeing with the bias perspective that they're offering from their place of grief, and instead working within the text to read the story that's being told between the lines. Brene Brown, who we've quoted before because she's just plain amazing, is a researcher on vulnerability and shame. And also the author of a couple of books, one of which is Rising Strong, and she shares this really insightful perspective. She says, “Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos, including emotional chaos. When we're in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn't have to be based on any real information. These stories are about self-protection. That's what human beings tend to do when we're under threat. We run. If we feel exposed or hurt, we find someone to blame or blame ourselves before anyone else can, or pretend that we don't care.” With this perspective of stories that we tell ourselves, the text actually gifts us with the third person narration. So we can see the Nephites working through this process with their loss. Remember, in Alma chapter 4, verse 3, it says that they believed that it was the judgments of God set upon them because of their wickedness. But the text never actually says that that's really the case. This objective perspective is something that we have the privilege of having as a reader from the future. And it wasn't a perspective that was readily available to the Nephites as they were working through their grief, but the ability to do this, or the ability to objectively identify the story that we tell ourselves about a situation, is a skill, maybe even a spiritual gift that perhaps could help us stop a cycle of continuing violence. We know that some of the themes of this episode can be really heavy and difficult to grapple with, and we appreciate the gravity of it, but we encourage you to sit with these stories and allow them to share the lessons that they want to share with you from the text. And we're grateful for the opportunity to discuss these war chapters, because unfortunately this isn't the first and it's definitely not the last or even the most violent war stories that we'll see coming in the Book of Mormon. But the conversation that we've had today kind of sets the tone and the foundation for conversations that will continue on in later episodes. 

E: And remember, after these people have worked through their own war stories and their lived experience of war, there's peace on the other side,

E: Thank you for spending this episode with us. As we got to talk about violence, we got to learn about eco-feminism and the connection between women and the earth, and also watch the Nephites try and work through their grief after war. 

C: We're really grateful that you're here, that you spent this time with us, and we're looking forward to doing it again with you next week. Until then, bye!

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