Friday, September 11, 2009

Lessons from the Morianton-Lehi land war

Recently in my scripture study I ran across the story of the contention between the people of Morianton and the people of Lehi. It seemed so bald and straightforward to me that I found myself wondering just why Mormon included it. It didn’t seem to have any particular lesson to it. We don’t get any “and thus we sees” to help us navigate it and make sense of it.

Just so that you have it clear in your minds what this story is, I’m including it here:
25 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges, there would also have been peace among the people of Nephi had it not been for a contention which took place among them concerning the land of Lehi, and the land of Morianton, which joined upon the borders of Lehi; both of which were on the borders by the seashore.
26 For behold, the people who possessed the land of Morianton did claim a part of the land of Lehi; therefore there began to be a warm contention between them, insomuch that the people of Morianton took up arms against their brethren, and they were determined by the sword to slay them.
27 But behold, the people who possessed the land of Lehi fled to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong.
28 And it came to pass that when the people of Morianton, who were led by a man whose name was Morianton, found that the people of Lehi had fled to the camp of Moroni, they were exceedingly fearful lest the army of Moroni should come upon them and destroy them.
29 Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward.
30 And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented) but behold, Morianton being a man of much passion, therefore he was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much.
31 And it came to pass that she fled, and came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni all things concerning the matter, and also concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward.
32 Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.
33 Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.
34 And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.
35 And it came to pass that the army which was sent by Moroni, which was led by a man whose name was Teancum, did meet the people of Morianton; and so stubborn were the people of Morianton, (being inspired by his wickedness and his flattering words) that a battle commenced between them, in the which Teancum did slay Morianton and defeat his army, and took them prisoners, and returned to the camp of Moroni. And thus ended the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
36 And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands. (Alma 50:25-36)
As I was trying to derive some kind of lesson from this, the main thing that comes to my attention was this little story about Morianton’s maid servant and her courage to flee after being beaten. And she didn’t flee to just any place, she fled to the army of Captain Moroni.

Why didn’t Morianton follow her when she fled? I can think of two possibilities. Had he washed his hands of her? I doubt it. I can’t see a person like Morianton letting a servant go so easily. Losing a servant is a loss to the household. Someone has to do the work the missing servant used to do. The other possibility that I can think of is that Morianton had beat this servant girl many times before and she had fled many times before and had always eventually returned. I bet that he didn’t follow her because he expected she would eventually return. Except this time she didn’t. This time she spilled all his plans to the very people Morianton’s people feared.

The obvious lesson here is that if you alienate the people who serve you, they leave and mess up your plans by telling them to your enemies/competitors.

Well, that’s a great lesson for business people, but what about the rest of us?

The next thing I noticed was that it says that Morianton was “a man of much passion, therefore he was angry…” This gives us a little more to work with. His passion (anger) was what got him in trouble. And anger was what got his people in trouble too in their arguments with the people of Lehi about whose land was whose. If they hadn’t gotten so angry that they wanted to kill the people of Lehi, then a lot of trouble could have been prevented.

So it seems like in the problems between the cities of Morianton and Lehi and in the problem Morianton with his servant there was a lot of anger and overreaction. Compare that to Captain Moroni, who wanted to assist the people of Lehi, preserve the liberty of the land, and wanted to stop Morianton and his people in their flight. It seems like he wants to stop the overreaction and smooth things down. This seems to show us that when there are arguments we need to be very careful not to overreact because overreaction really does make things worse.

There was one other thing that I found. It’s this:
…the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty. (Alma 50:32)
Moroni didn’t want Morianton pulling the people of Bountiful into it. Undoubtedly Morianton would tell a distorted and one-sided version of the story to them and get them all fired up and convinced that Morianton was right and be determined to fight on his side. The puzzling thing to me was that I didn’t quite understand how this would lay a foundation for the destruction of liberty. Previously I thought it might have something to do with hedging up that north land so that the Nephites would be surrounded by enemies and have no place to flee. But it struck me this time that perhaps it had something to do with continuing a bad precedent. If Morianton succeeded in getting his way by stirring people to anger against his enemies, as a number of wicked men had done before him (Amlici, Amalikiah…) then it would seem like the only way to solve a problem and get your way would be to get more people on your side and go to battle. (Trying get more people involved and on your side tends to cause more problems and you get a scenario like in World War I in which people are pulled into a war because their allies are in a war. And we know that ultimately leads to a society consisting of two armed camps that fight until one or the other is completely destroyed.) Moroni was trying to preserve the precarious liberty that was based on a foundation of solving problems without fighting.

Another thing you could get from this story is the danger of gossip, no matter what level it occurs at. The People of Lehi had already come to the army of Moroni and told them their side of the story, and it must have been pretty convincing, since we are told “they were not in the wrong”, but note that Mormon doesn’t think it is important to tell us why the people of Lehi were not in the wrong, so we have no real data to judge by in order to see whether they were right or wrong. For all we know, Morianton’s people could have been in the right. And Moroni was worried that Morianton would gossip about the people of Lehi to the Bountiful-ites. And of course Morianton’s maid servant dished the dirt on Morianton and his plans. Without the details on everybody it is hard to make any kind of call and the best we can do is rely upon the good faith of the record keeper.

The good thing about Captain Moroni is that while he may have felt that the Lehi-ites were in the right, his intent was to preserve peace. This seems to have made him more impartial. So instead of trying to wipe out the Morianton-ites, he had them brought back. And his final solution is interesting—he has the Morianton-ites covenant to keep the peace. He doesn’t mediate or arbitrate and force a solution, he leaves it up to them to figure out a way to keep the covenant they had made to keep the peace because they are now morally obligated to do it as part of their duty to God.

This seems to be a story about the necessity of both individuals and peoples to control their tempers and passions. It also seems to be about the dangers of gossip, and it seems to provide a good model for how to deal with chronic physical abuse by escaping. It also reinforces the positive effects of making peace through making covenants.

Hmmm. This story was more sophisticated than I thought.


S.Faux said...

Thanks for your insights on this story. It is one of the few in the Book of Mormon that involves a woman, and so it is nice to know there is some deeper meaning.

Jettboy said...

This was a fascinating examination of a short incident. Thank you for your insights.

Morgan Deane said...

This was a great post. I agree that the story pivots on the character flaws of Morianton. I would also contrast him with Moroni. He was also a man of much passion, but he was able to have Christlike attributes like patience and charity. Those qualities tempered his passion, provide a strong contrast to Morianton, and help teach us how we can be passionate and Christlike at the same time. I may do a post on that added idea in the future.

Thanks for the great post!

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for the kind words!

Something I forgot to add at the end of my post was that the most fascinating thing about how the Morianton-ites and Lehi-ites chose to keep the peace and solve their original problem was that they chose to unite! This suggests that they merged their towns together to share the resources that they both wanted to access. This seems like an exceptionally positive solution, going completely opposite to previous tendencies to dissent and depart.

Justin T. Bailey said...

Yes, I found your blog 9 years later, but it did mention something that I just noticed while reading in Alma 50. In verses 31-32, i see it as saying that Moroni AND the people of Bountiful, were fearful that Morianton would go to the land northward and convince "them" to unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of the land.

From this, I'm thinking the "they" mentioned in the verses is an unknown-to-us people who lived in the land northward, one who already might have had uneasy dealings with the Nephites. After all, all the Lamanites are in the land south of Zarahemla. But the camp of Moroni, along with the army of Teancum, are stationed in Bountiful, arguably the safest place in all the land from Lamanite armies. Why have such a force there, if the Lamanites normally hit the south cities? Maybe they are there to watch over the people in the land northward. Maybe that's the reason why Mormon said that Morianton doing this would lead to the overthrowing of their liberty.