Even unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War


by Duane Boyce
“A critical text for anybody that wishes to understand Mormon thought on war.Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

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Book Description:

When carefully examined, both secular and scriptural arguments for pacifism ultimately fail. Once such pacifist arguments are considered, rebutted, and respectfully set aside, it is possible to construct a sound framework for a scriptural view of war, at least in general terms. Such a framework is not pacifist, but it is anything but aggressive, and includes the quality of heart—not to mention, the wisdom—expected of all disciples of Christ, whatever their task or circumstance. It was not an anomaly when the Lord instructed the Nephites to defend their families “even unto bloodshed;” comprehensively understood, the statement expresses a genuine, profound, and conceptually rich scriptural principle.

AuthorCast Interview with the Author:

Comprehensive Table of Contents:


Introduction: Thinking about War

The Plan and General Conclusions of the Book

Part 1: Just-War Theory and Pacifism: Secular Arguments

1. The Common-Sense Secular View of War

Just-War Theory
Just War vs. Justified War

2. Pacifism: The “Anti-Violence” Version

Getting Clear about Pacifism
“Anti-Violence” Pacifism
The Relational Foundation of Right and Wrong

3. Pacifism: The “Anti-War” Version

“Anti-War” Pacifism: Two Arguments
Four Problems
Secular Arguments for Pacifism: Conclusion
Pacifism in Latter-day Saint Thought

Part 2: Scriptural Arguments for Pacifism

4. Were the Ammonites Pacifists? Part One

The Received View: The Ammonites as Pacifists
Who Were the Ammonites?
What Were the Ammonites Like Before Their Conversion?

5. Were the Ammonites Pacifists? Part Two

The Ammonites’ Conversion
Refutation of the Ammonites as Pacifist Examples

6. On Righteousness, Discussion, and the Non-necessity of War

“Bad Guys and Other Bad Guys”
Can Conflict Always Be Avoided by Discussion?
War and Necessity

7. Self-Defense and the Lord’s Involvement in War

Self-Defense and the Righteous
Self-Defense and the Unrighteous
Scriptural Expressions about Defense
God’s Role in the Battles of the Righteous: The Importance of Context
How God Most Often Fights the Battles of the Righteous
Literal Cases of God Fighting the Battles of the Righteous
What Accounts for the Difference?
Predisposition and Its Effects

8. A “Narrative” Reading of the Book of Mormon: Part One

A Narrative Interpretation
Intellectual Soundness
Examining the Corollary of the Narrative Approach: The Example of Captain Moroni
Examining the Corollary of the Narrative Approach: The Example of the Lord’s Own Conduct
Examining the Corollary of the Narrative Approach: The Example of Nephi

9. A “Narrative” Reading of the Book of Mormon: Part Two

The Narrative Approach and Mormon
The Narrative Approach and the End of Nephite Civilization
The Narrative Approach and the Savior’s Teachings in Third Nephi
The Narrative Approach and Nephi’s Inauguration of Nephite Culture
Conclusion: On the Narrative Approach and a Pacifist Book of Mormon

10. Three Arguments for Pacifism

A Continuum of Acceptable Approaches to War
Doctrine and Covenants Section 98
A “Pacifist Manifesto”
Reproach without Evidence

11. Eugene England’s Anti-Violence Ethic

Nephi and Laban
Abortion and Capital Punishment
Old Testament Violence and the Prince of Peace
God’s Violence and Treating People as Ends
Ending Conflict

12. Self-Defense, Pre-Emptive Action, and Holocaust

A Historical Example
The Question of Holocaust

Part 3: Toward an LDS Theory of War

13. Getting Past Pacifism

Intellectual Explanation and Plausibility
Intellectual Revisions and Scientific Explanation
Intellectual Revisions and Scriptural Claims for Pacifism
Summary 1: Direct Claims Related to Pacifism
Summary 2: Corollaries of The Direct Claims

14. The Sermon on the Mount

Fundamental Texts for Fashioning an LDS View of War
The Sermon on the Mount: Introduction
Anti-Violence Readings of the Sermon on the Mount
A Third Reading of the Sermon on the Mount

15. Alma 48 and Doctrine and Covenants 98

Eight Features about War in Alma Chapter 48
Doctrine and Covenants 98

16. Two Modern Prophets

President Gordon B. Hinckley’s General Conference Addresses
President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1976 Ensign Message
A Pacifist Statement?
Unity of the Key Texts

17. An LDS Framework Regarding War

Zion and Non-Zion Societies
The United States
A Multi-Faceted, but Single, Gospel Outlook


Appendix 1: Considering the Size of the Ammonite Population
Appendix 2: The Promises to Nephi and Lehi
Appendix 3: A Sketch of Joseph Smith’s Divine Manifestations


Q&A with the Author:


Q: What prompted you to begin writing this book? 

Duane:  Nothing is sadder than war, and yet nothing seems more common. Although it is tempting to just sit back and hope conflict will go away, there is really no hope for this. And that means disciples of Christ, in particular, must be extremely thoughtful on the subject. Is war ever permitted? If not, why not? And if it is, under what circumstances? What can possibly justify the devastation and human misery entailed by military conflict?

It is not difficult to find a multitude of mortals’ opinions on such matters, but for followers of Christ this is far from the main concern. Ultimately, to whatever degree we can discover it, we want to know the Lord’s own disposition toward violence and to embrace that. And that means we want to search the scriptures with care and to bring to bear every relevant consideration. We cannot assume that the matter is simple and that it can be settled with a quick verse or two. It seems to me that the issues are more complicated and subtle than that. That’s why my study led to a book rather than to an essay.


Q: A broad readership is always the most desirable, but is there also an intended audience for this book? And what do you hope they get out of it?

Duane:  At some point, almost everyone becomes intensely interested in the moral evaluation of war. It’s hard to say when that will happen, but I think most people face it at some point. This book is for anyone who decides it’s time to consider the matter comprehensively, from a gospel point of view. Comprehensiveness seems important to me. After all, it’s not hard to have a couple of passages in mind that seem to settle the question of war, but the problem is that others can have a different set of passages in mind that, to them, settle the question in a different way. I think many would find it helpful to read a book that tries to approach the matter more comprehensively than that.

In my view, all the relevant scriptural passages cohere in a unified framework about war. They actually don’t compete but genuinely synchronize in their collective illumination of this gospel topic. Anyone interested in how this is possible will be interested in this book. Or so it seems to me, at any rate.


Q: In this book you argue that the position of the pacifist is not tenable, either on secular or scriptural grounds. Why might a Christian be drawn to pacifism, and, conversely, why might another Christian be drawn to non-pacifism? 

Duane:  All disciples detest violence. It is in the DNA of Christian embrace. And that gives pacifism a natural gravitational force: its appeal is both intrinsic and compelling. But an equally intrinsic and compelling influence in Christian DNA is the love of our families, and of our brothers and sisters in general, and the obligation we feel to protect them from being brutalized and murdered.

The love of peace and the love of our brothers and sisters are both genuine and both exert a natural influence on disciples of Christ. People end up leaning one way or the other, but I think everyone actually feels the pull of both. Given the set of choices, the result is a genuine psychological and spiritual tension. Who doesn’t feel it?


Q: You spend a good deal of time in the book outlining "Just War Theory," a concept first articulated in the Christian tradition by St. Augustine as an attempt to describe the criteria that must be present in order for Christians to morally participate in war. Can you briefly explain how this might or might not intersect with LDS beliefs? Do LDS need Just War Theory in order to understand how to engage in war in the present time? 

Duane:  Just-war theory is valuable for two reasons. First, in any comprehensive look at war, it is important to consider secular arguments as well as spiritual ones. Just-war theory is a natural starting place because, as far as it goes, it captures most people’s intuitions, and is very helpful. Second, because its origins are Christian, its principles are not uncongenial to a Christian point of view and therefore the theory is relevant to any consideration of an LDS approach. To the degree it is possible to create an LDS framework about war, just-war theory can help in thinking about it. 


Q: Where do you see this book being positioned with regard to the ongoing conversation concerning LDS perspectives on war and peace? What original contribution does this book make to that conversation? 

Duane:  Given the tension identified previously, it is only natural that positions will coalesce around one pole or the other. The focus will be either on the evil of violence or on the necessity of defending human beings from brutality and murder. Both are legitimate, of course, so the real question is how to address both matters within a single conceptual frame. What point of view can give full weight to both considerations and simultaneously remove the tension between them? Creating that kind of frame is the purpose of this book.


Q: If a person holds non-pacifist beliefs regarding war, does that mean such a person is "pro-war?" What are some of the elements of your position that you think pacifists misconstrue or misunderstand? Can the same be said for non-pacifists' understandings of pacifism? 

Duane:  As to the first question: Stated this broadly, it seems to me impossible for a disciple to be “pro-war.” A fundamental hatred of violence is a property of discipleship, and this means the proper default position is always one of vigorously resisting war as a solution to problems.

As to the second and third questions: I think mutual misunderstanding is unavoidable given the tension between detesting violence and loving those suffering from aggression. Whichever way we lean, it is easy to conclude that those on the other end just don’t appreciate what we appreciate. That’s why people with different views can be impatient with each other. It’s easy to see others as blind to what really matters. In my view, both really matter and no approach to war can be satisfactory if it does not give full weight to both. 


Q: Having devoted a lot of time to thinking about war and peace with regard to Christian discipleship, what would you say is the problem most difficult for Latter-day Saints to wrestle with? 

Duane: The most difficult problem is the tension I’ve mentioned. It occurs not only in our hearts, but in the scriptures themselves, which at times seem to prohibit violence and at other times to promote it. This seems contradictory. Are the scriptures themselves disconnected? It can seem as if they are, and, if so, we then seem doomed either to flip-flop between the competing views or to settle permanently for one but at the cost of minimizing the other. None of this seems satisfactory. Disconnected scriptures? Spiritual flip-flopping? Permanent underestimation of a legitimate scriptural perspective?

Fortunately, I think all of this unnecessary. In my view, the tension actually rests on a mistake. When we frame the issue more carefully it turns out that scriptural teachings about war fit together perfectly and they do so without minimizing anything. Appreciating the gospel message at a deeper level, the tension at the surface evaporates. To me the reasons for all of this are both fascinating and highly illuminating. It takes a book to show it (at least if we want to attempt anything close to comprehensive), but if I am right that the result is the removal of a common spiritual tension, the effort has been worth it.   


Praise for Even Unto Bloodshed:

“A careful and detailed argument against pacifism has long been needed, and it is hard to imagine someone doing a better job of it. The scholarship in this volume is impressive, and it is likely to be the definitive work on the subject for years to come. Truly a major accomplishment.” — K. Codell Carter, Professor of Philosophy, Brigham Young University

“The question of how (or whether) participation in war can be reconciled with Christian ethics has occupied the minds of such great thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, and Grotius. Latter-day Saints, however, have given little systematic attention to the matter thus far. But it’s time. This book brilliantly opens a long overdue conversation. Carefully and systematically weighing all of the relevant scriptural texts as well as applicable statements of modern prophets, it will be indispensable for all future Mormon discussions of the subject.” — Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, founder of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, and editor of Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

“Finally, we have a comprehensive and thorough discussion of war from an LDS perspective. Even Unto Bloodshed is a sustained argument that is impressive in what it delivers. It considers and rebuts a wide expanse of arguments regarding war, including time-honored claims by Hugh Nibley and Eugene England. The book brings to bear every important passage and narrative in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants and creates a general framework for thinking about war from an LDS perspective. The book is clear, careful in its analysis, and comprehensive in its approach. I highly recommend it!” — Royal Skousen, Professor of Linguistics, Brigham Young University, Editor, Book of Mormon Critical Text Project

Even Unto Bloodshed is a critical text for anybody that wishes to understand Mormon thought on war and stands as a much-needed reassessment of pacifist ideas.” — Morgan Deane, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture

I recommend this book as an excellent treatment of an LDS point of view of war. Boyce has clearly spent much effort in studying and understanding Book of Mormon and other texts bearing on war and violence and in studying and answering the arguments of those who feel it is a pacifist book. I suggest any that any interested Latter-day Saint buy it and read it. That includes teachers, parents, young people, old people. As for me, I am going to give it to our children for Christmas.” — B. Kent Harrison, SquareTwo

About the Author:

Duane Boyce received his Ph.D. at BYU and conducted his postdoctoral study at Harvard University. He has been on the faculty of BYU and is the co-author of four books. He has also published scholarly LDS papers in BYU Studies, The FARMS Review, The Religious EducatorJournal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, and Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. He is a Founding Partner of The Arbinger Institute, a worldwide leadership-training and consulting firm, and Executive Vice President of a large healthcare organization headquartered in California.

More Information:

322 pages
978-1-58958-630-7 (paperback)
Published May 2015

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