Recruiting Alma the Younger

Jacob Z. Hess

This last weekend, I caught a glimpse of Tyler Glenn and Dan Reynolds on the Love Loud Livestream singing a mock primary song, with words implying hypocrisy among those hold a different perspective on sexuality than they do, for not being loving like they are (like even a child should find obvious!) I couldn’t help but think about what it could have meant if – instead of using their enormous reach and popularity to foment discontent, resentment and suspicion, these famous rock stars would have found a way to uphold, sustain, and even defend their beleaguered former family of faith…in the very moment when Heaven Knows we need it the most.   

“It’s not more critique and attack we need right now,” I told a good friend recently who has stepped away from the faith. “What we need is an Alma the Younger.”

It would oversimplify the Book of Mormon account to describe Alma the Younger as growing up with a huge spiritual advantage due to his prophet father, since that same father once sat on a golden high priestly throne thanks to his willingness at the time to speak “flattering…lying and vain” words to justify the “riotous living” of a sexual free-for-all in his patron King’s court.  

It’s hard to imagine his son Alma being too young to avoid an influence from this period of his family’s life. So, even after watching his father’s heart melt from a martyr’s message, even after witnessing Alma the Senior’s willingness to give up that golden throne and be driven into the wilderness to follow a Jesus who required his heart…even then, something else pulled at little Alma’s core. 

Whatever conflict may have existed in Alma the Younger’s heart, he ultimately leveraged all his fame and inherited ability as a “man of many words” into the same path as his father once had – “speak[ing] much flattery to the people” in a way that “led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” More than simply persuade people to his own way of thinking, however, Alma’s couldn’t stand that others were teaching and believing otherwise.  So, he dedicated himself to “going about to destroy the church of God.”

I don’t know many today who proudly identify as Destroyers of Churches. But some are sure attempting a fantastic job of it.

Winning hearts. As any who have witnessed the Love Loud phenom know, the persuasive power of the rhetoric, music and emotional appeals is substantial.  Star-studded line-ups of celebrities, heart-wrenching stories of suicides, spontaneous weeping on stage, and statistics presented (always) in line with the same simple, compelling, enraging story.  

What chance do any of the thousands of Latter-day Saints in attendance have of seeing past the brilliance of the flattering pitch? 

About as much as the earliest audience of the Famed Alma the Younger: “And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.”

When all is said and done, when all the enormous praise (ala MTV/Billboard/media outlets) received by Dan and Tyler and other activists passes away, I fear this will be the historical legacy of their efforts – just as this verse describes.    

But it doesn’t have to end this way!  Because it didn’t for Alma the Younger: 

“And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God [with the sons of Mosiah]… and to lead astray the people of the Lord…behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them…”

And here’s where it gets really interesting. 

That mean angel. What that angel had to say to them was so astonishing, and alarming – that they all “fell to the earth” twice – with Alma himself becoming “dumb that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands.”

Imagine for a moment people’s reaction to a story like this showing up on their social media feed: “Man gets physically paralyzed after hearing shaming comments directed at him…police looking for verbal assailant to press charges.” Not only had this angel made Alma feel bad – his message was so unsettling, so shaming…that it knocked him out!!

What a terrible thing for that angel to do, right?! For such a crime, clearly there would clearly be no forgiveness in this social platform or the next. Never mind that the discomfort of this message ultimately led Alma to the most indescribably beautiful transformation imaginable – including being “filled with joy” – with “nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”

And “from this time forward” rather than continuing to be a “great hinderment” to the church, Alma became its veritable Tour to Force. More than simply another dedicated witness of Christ, he became one of the Mona Lisa’s of ministry and missionary work for the ages.

In a day where the church is being battered from many directions, I’ve sometimes wondered, “where are our Alma the Youngers?  Who are the voices that will be our own Tour to Force so desperately needed?” 

Heaven knows we could use that kind of added strength right now as a people – and the courageous voices sharing reasons to come back…But where are they?  And what would it take to recruit these dearly-needed Alma the Youngers of our day? 

Making the pitch. I asked this question of two dear friends who stepped away from the Church in recent years.  Their decision involved a lot of thought and happened over time.  I don’t doubt that. In fact, it’s precisely due to their thoughtfulness that prompted me to ask if they’d be willing to hear out my “best recruiting pitch.”

If I was a talent scout for an “Alma the Younger” for our age, they would definitely be near the top of my list.  So would another dear friend who taught in the MTC while I was there – and who has become one of my favorite conversation partners (not despite our different views of the church, but because of them). And I’d have my eye on a third friend who was my roommate at BYU before later becoming estranged from the church with his wife.  

To be clear, the parallels to Alma the Younger are limited.  Each of these is seeking to raise good children (albeit “disabused” of their previous beliefs) – and has generally sought to be sensitive and careful with the possibility of destabilizing others’ faith. 

What they do have in common is reaching harsh conclusions about their previously beloved faith community that I believe are simply wrong (and not for all the same reasons they might anticipate). And that’s why I’m asking each of them for a fresh opportunity to make the case as to what they may have missed – inviting an audit + rethinking of some assumptions they have likely made along the way. 

Over the next seven months – from July to January – I’ll be publishing seven essays representing my best “recruitment pitch” to our Future Alma the Younger(s).  Although posted publicly for a broader audience, it is these three dear friends I’ll be thinking about when writing.

Not that any of them are PUMPED about what’s coming from me! (: Some have admitted to mixed feelings about my pitch…this again? Sigh.

Maybe this is one reason friends who leave the Church so often seem to lose interest in even having a relationship with people in the faith. Sensing some kind of fear (of attempted persuasion? of disagreement?), we try to be respectful and thus avoid much of saying anything as members. Communication shrivels to a dribble…

Is there a better way?

Unapologetic transparency. How about this: not hiding what’s really going on inside – on both sides. (Doesn’t that get just-so-old?!)  In this case, yes – I’m not going to lie:  I want to try and persuade you to consider another perspective. Openly. Transparently. Without apology.

Persuasion for me is not a “bad thing” – but rather, a crucial “social good”…and something we should welcome, value and preserve in society today. That’s something my friend Charles Randall Paul has taught me.

So, I’ll be making my very best case, with (I pray) a wisdom higher than my own, and a tongue of angels to lay this on your own heart.

That doesn’t mean you need to listen, of course! I suspect some will refuse to even read or seriously consider what I have to say – opting out of any back-and-forth together.

But, in fairness: what’s really the point anyway? They are convicted – and so are you…why, then, would two people like that even waste time engaging? 

Because that’s the only way we’re ever going to learn more! I’m convinced that friendly (but earnest) contestation is crucial to collectively discovering where we’re wrong – and what our blindspots are (including me!) 

But what if we never even have the hard conversations? Pretty hard to learn anything new…and that’s precisely where we all are. Because so many of us are so darn scared to share what we think – or too busy to take the time and bother with something “that might not even change anyone’s mind…”

So, what?! Where ever did we get the idea that two people who are deeply committed to different ideas shouldn’t bother spending time together – and hearing each other out!? 

Consider where this would leave us: Research has documented the degree to which spending time with people who think like us further galvanizes (and polarizes) our view exactly in the direction of our current thinking. It’s only when we seek out what Randall Paul calls “trustworthy rivals” in a practice of mutually respectful “contestation” that we have a shot at having our own deepest beliefs questioned – and even challenged.

But who wants that?

I do…we all should! And that’s what I’m asking for here: a shot to actually persuade you of something you haven’t yet seen. 

Imagine how grateful you be if it actually works! Wow, BFF’s forever, right!?

If I’m right about my larger convictions, think about it: Your Future Self would dearly want me to be effective in doing exactly what I’m about to do.

What best friends do. To those who do hear me out, I want to promise to reciprocate in my openness to hearing from them – especially over time. In this, we’ll be pursuing the spirit of a joint statement by (Marxist thinker) Cornel West and (conservative thinker) Robert George, where they call for a willingness and even an “eagerness” to participate in truth-seeking discourse:  “The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage — especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held — even our most cherished and identity-forming — beliefs.” [Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression]

George later described it this way: “we both recognize that if somebody does that — someone shows us that we’re wrong about something or we’ve drawn a conclusion that isn’t rationally warranted — that person is not our enemy. That person is our best friend. Even if it’s embarrassing to be refuted or contradicted in public, there’s still nothing more important than the possession of the truth” (emphasis my own).

I recognize that after many years of exploration, there can be a weariness of any such exchange between active and former members of the Church. 

For that reason, I’m grateful for those willing to hear me out in the months ahead.  

It was an angel who persuaded Alma to change course.  I’m no angel – but I’d like to give it a shot. 

16 thoughts on “Recruiting Alma the Younger

  1. I’m in. Let’s see if everyone can stay civil. Frequently, the comments reduce to adolescent obscenities, but I keep hoping…

  2. This past month my mother and I were reminiscing about a relative who, initially persuaded of the validity of loving all the lovable, decided to become a same-gender sexual partner to someone else. Alas, this relative then determined that they weren’t really wired to enjoy same-gender loving. When the relative ended the relationship, the former lover ended their own life. As I understand it, the despairing lover made it extremely clear who they blamed for their sorrow and sorrowing actions.

    Neither the relative nor the sorrowing former lover were believing members of the Church. And clearly this is just one story among many that could be told. I consider both of them to be beloved children of God, and I hope that in a future day they can forgive one another for the pain they mutually caused one another.

    It is useful, I think, to consider the five personality traits. Women tend to be more agreeable, a trait comprised of compassion and politeness. The compassion is laudable, but an excess of politeness leads folks to lie, hide their feelings, and avoid confrontation.

    I think the Love Out Loud folks are playing on the general agreeableness of Church members. If they cannot count on compassion, they seek to get them to be polite, quietly keeping silence. Those lacking politeness and compassion will often have difficulty seeming anything other than disagreeable and boorish naifs.

    So, women, beware the snare of politeness. Men, beware a dearth of compassion. Let us love with compassion and honesty. And let us not mislead or berate one another to disastrous ends.

  3. While I applaud the sentiment and effort, I fear that it will ultimately be fruitless. There is no substitute for a true encounter with the divine. Or, as I hope my epitaph reads, “A man with experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”

    Alma the Younger had an experience with the Divine. I don’t even mean the angelic appearance, because we know from Laman and Lemuel how the fickle minds of men can rewrite their own history if necessary. No, Alma the Younger had an experience with the Divine when he called out to the Son of God to save him, and the Savior did.

    Ultimately each and every one of us needs to be convicted of the awfulness of our situation and in that moment turn to Christ and find Him there. It is that personal relationship which is the only stable ground to build on. I wish you the best in your worthwhile goal, but it seems that the best we can do is to point out where the truth can be found and it is up to each individual to determine if they want to reach for it or choose another path.

    Almost as if it were perfectly designed in that way.

  4. If we get to choose and groom our future heroes, I would rather choose an already faithful and valiant person rather than a current enemy. But our God chose differently with Alma the Younger, and certainly, He knows better than me — he also chose Saul. I’ll sustain whomever our God selects, if He choose to do so. Can your approach of selecting an Alma the Younger work without necessarily playing to his or her pride and ambition? That would seem to be counter to correct principles.

  5. Uh…, Jake…. Why don’t you become an Al Jr. first?

    Not the pre-conversion Al Jr.

    Not the in-the-process-of-conversion-from-bad-to-good Al Jr. (You’re already good/great.)

    But the post-conversion _on-fire_ Al Jr. who preached to and held the attention of thousands and was the vocal instrument of the Lord pouring out His Spirit upon thousands?

    If you want to catch your friends on fire,….. lead the way! IE, lead by example. Let them see/feel/experience your fire. Got any videos or podcasts at the ready?

    (Here’s where I pitch another book. )

    “How to Win the Culture War” by Peter Kreeft. $5 used at Amazon.
    (avoiding link because 3 links trips spam filter.)

    Kreeft (who is Catholic) says everyone on God’s side has to be a _saint_, in the Catholic sense. IE, live holy and be holy, and let that light shine, and exercise the divine power that holy living brings. That visions-and-miracles kind of holy, … what Al Sr and Al Jr did post-conversion.

    snippets can be found at:
    http://peterkreeft.com/topics-more/culture-war_transcription.htm
    http://peterkreeft.com/topics-more/how-to-win.htm

    Pretty much a distillation of what we hear at General Conference.

    IOW, you have to be your first convert. Not convert-to-the-church level, I mean convert-to-Al-Jr level.

    In other other words: Aren’t you supposed to be the angel to your friends as was the un-named angel to Al Jr.? n’est ce pas?

    (Speaking of “YOU da angel!” what Gen Conf session did Elder Bednar say “You’re the angel!” when he was talking about how the Aaronic Priesthood held the keys of the ministering of angels? I’ve searched and can’t find it. Was it a BYU/YSA Speech/fireside maybe? Can some search-savvy guru please look that up for me? Thx.)

  6. Good points Bookslinger. Politeness, often seen as civility, binds the tongues of many, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. I recently took a cruise and met many people. One morning I sat down with a couple from Georgia I had met briefly before. We quickly established a certain level of intimacy as we shared brief details of our lives. We were joined by an Australian who began to make his views plain as he captured the conversation. He had traveled thousands of miles by air to visit the scene of what he deemed the disaster of the failing glaciers, clearly not considering his own carbon footprint of any concern while he decried the evil Americans who are apparently responsible for all the world’s ills from climate change to greed to lack of gun control. He seemed to take it for granted that our polite lack of argument meant that we agreed with him. After the couple and I got up and were out of the dining area the woman turned to me and said ‘I tote. Not now of course because guns are not allowed, but at home I do.’ She never said a word to interrupt the opinionated Ozzy or indicate that she felt he was offensive. Yet there was a look in her eyes that I believe he should have noticed. I made a few demurs to his accusations and I drew his ire.
    Whether it is politics, religion, or some other field of interest, most of us are unwilling to further disturb troubled waters in even casual relationships. It is risky to try to be an Alma the Younger, post angelic encounter unless we truly have the fire.

  7. The fire is the baseline imperative, to be sure. But it also helps to have a sense of how to talk and persuade. AtY had both. Sometimes we hide behind civility out of a sense that we may not be able to properly present or defend our position–so rather than “get into it,” we just try to smile politely and hope the encounter ends quickly so we can get back into our comfort zone.

    Live it and love it, for sure. Let your light shine. But once it’s shining, learn how to explain how, why, and where you got it from.

  8. Interesting way to frame our current issues!
    Just a scripture note, based on textual research into the dates, Alma Jr was probably about 50 years younger than his dad (A1 born 174 BC, A2 126 BC). Might possibly have been born during the wilderness captivity years, most likely later in Zarahemla, but was not around for the Abinadi conversion state to know his dad as other than a righteous church leader (although I’m sure he heard stories). I’ve always been intrigued that he was “one of the sons of Alma” (Mosiah 27:8) since we never hear about his brothers.

  9. Notice the difference in response when Alma encountered and angel and when Laman and Lemuel did. Alma goes through a searching and fearless moral inventory, a life review, the direct equivalent of a fourth step. Seeing himself as he is, he then turns to Christ for forgiveness.

    Laman and Lemuel turn to their own fears and desires. Laban is a mighty man, he can command fifty, yea he can slay fifty, and why not us? They also complain about Nephi’s youth, and their rights as eldest, the righteousness and virtues of Jerusalem, the pleasures they were forgoing due to the hardships of the journey, their disgust with Nephi’s disapproval of their pleasure seeking and partying. All of this is the opposite of what recovery calls, “Dismantling the grievance story.” Rather, the Book of Mormon is remarkably insightful here, showing human behavior at its most human.

    Comparing the two very different responses to the angel shows that the difference is not the angel, but the life review, removing the beam from one’s own eye. “Then shall ye see clearly,” and not before. Patrick Carnes observed that “Heroes face their fears. Villains nurture their resentments.”

    This also correlates with “The sacrifice of a broken heart, and a contrite spirit,” which is a willingness to risk our wants and our preconceptions, rather than to huddle behind our wants and preconceptions, rather than face the prospect of having to sacrifice them.

  10. Regarding “the politeness trap” that Meg has spoken to, I think one of the major pitfalls of the social media age, has been the decline of being able to just disagree without disparaging the other person. Right now from the LGBT lobby including Dan Reynolds and Tyler Glenn, if you don’t support them exactly as they say to support them (Love is Love) then you are a hateful, racist, (add your own term here), bigot who must be silenced. I think the fear of being labled any of those terms slows or stops people from responding, or being that Alma Jr. You can stand for what is true and right, you can also do that w/o being a jerk. The truth is what it is — some things are no going to change, no matter how much wailing and weeping goes on in certain corners. Do not worry about offending people with the truth. Just speak it boldly, without apology and let the consequence follow. The Lord is always going to support you in standing for truth and righteousness.

  11. Jacob,
    Good write up and I appreciated Meg’s and Pat’s comments as well several others. Let us hope that you do not suffer the fate of Samuel the Lamanite, or worse, Abindadi!

    Your description of the mocking Primary song during the recent LoveLoud concert brought back feelings I had last year while watching the documentary “Believer” about the origins of LoveLoud. I had the solid impression that much of the concern and angst over a perceived lack of love had to do with the semantics of the word “love” itself. In the English language it has become too broad a term such that when one of its expressions is questioned, then every version of “love” is perceived to be under attack.

    As I am sure many of your readers know, the ancient Greek Bible texts use at least 4 different words that all translate into the English word “love”:
    Agape – Unconditional Love. Charity.
    Philia – Brotherly Love. Companionship. Friendship.
    Storge – Familial Love. Affection.
    Eros – Romantic Love. Sexual Intimacy. Eroticism.

    The Church teaches that all forms of love are good and should be maximized to their fullest, with the sole exception of Eros which is limited to the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman. This is one reason why when someone decries the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage as a display of “hate” or “anti-love”, it comes across to me as rather superficial.

    I assume the Primary song that was mocked was “Love One Another”. The irony is, of course, that the Greek text’s word for love in John 13: 34-35 that inspired this song is “agape”.

    Like most people, I have family members and close friends who are or were cohabitating – either in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, violating the Word of Wisdom to a great extent, imprisoned for the unthinkable crime of sexual abuse, etc. It has never been taught nor has it been implied that I should not “agape” every one of these individuals. Ever.

    I cannot help but think that Dan Reynolds’ disappointment in the Church when it expressed support for the stated objective of LoveLoud, but continued to confirm its doctrine about the proper confines for Eros, might have been mollified had he understood it in the context of love as expressed by the Greeks.

  12. You go Jacob.

    Though my experience here has largely been one of hearing from and preaching to the choir (so sorry for the overused idiom) I have to hold out hope that even one might be reached from time to time. I see so few venues to whisper or shout the good word.

    Plow the field as best you may. If any who come here seem in any way to have had their hard soil broken up by your attempts I will gladly follow with a seed, the gospel seed as pure and simple as I have power to express. When I think of the parable, I don’t think of the sower dropping a single seed in each described location; but rather sowing by strewing the seeds freely. So, if any here show signs that the seed has caught root at all, I will gladly add what drops of water and light I can from my own testimony as carefully as I can.

    And I have some confidence that there are many who comment here who possess great powers of both persuasion and testimony such as you convey. What better place to make the attempt?

    God speed.

  13. Lattertarian:
    “The fire is the baseline imperative, to be sure. But it also helps to have a sense of how to talk and persuade.”

    Joseph Smith sent some country bumpkins to England, and two or three educated/cultured guys, 12 in total, and they brought back thousands of converts. Granted, the soil was very fertile, but still….

    Today, the Lord sends out tens of thousands of 18 and 19 year olds all over the world. And I’m pretty sure that their raw natural ability to talk and persuade isn’t much better or worse than most of the 12 of the 1840’s.

    Those guys in the 1840’s went to a street corner or park, stood on a soapbox, probably literally, opened their mouth, started talking, about anything, and once your mouth is in motion, the scripture comes true… THEN your mouth is filled with what to say. the “segue” or transition then just comes naturally, you don’t feel “jarred” by it at all.

    The presence of the Spirit conveys the message, convicts the hearers, and motivates. What it takes is the guts to start talking, with the faith that the Spirit will operate, and the holiness/humility/etc that allows the Spirit to have full effect/sway.

    I’m sorely lacking in all three (faith/trust in the Lord, holiness, humility). And yet I’ve caught enough glimpses, sometimes when I’m even a reluctant participant, that I can tell that the Lord is waiting for me to fully surrender to Him, so He can open the floodgates and do His thing. In those cases, I can tell, it’s not because there is no fertile soil, it’s _me_ who is limiting what the Lord does. *I* am the weakest link.

    Kreeft, in the above referenced book, explains how that surrender-to-God (the literal technical meaning of the Arabic word “islam”) is the key to becoming a true saint.

    however, that “open your mouth (first) and it will be filled” has literally come true for me hundreds of times. just start talking, and your mind can just somehow switch to gospel-mode. And even in those situations, I realize, to my shame, that the Lord wanted so much more to happen than the mere placement of a pass-along card or a Book of Mormon.

    Our friends and our casual street contacts need more than some printed material handed to them. (It’s a start, but…) They need more than “bla bla blah”, even when “bla bla bla” is God’s 100% truth. they need us to “bring the fire.” And we need to be holy, at least as much as those 12 guys who went to England, to handle that fire.

    -We- have to be on fire before we can catch anyone else on fire. That’s proabably the main thing blocking the church’s growth-by-converts in North America. (That might even be the principal source of whatever youth retention problems we’re having, we aren’t catching all of the kids on fire.)

    That is what is decimating/destroying the mainstream/mainline churches: they have been coasting on their “social capital” and traditions for a long time, and they are running out of social capital, and failing to transmit their traditions to their young, as they have no fire. Evangelical/Pentecostal churches are doing a bit better, but are mostly just holding their own, maybe picking up stragglers from the mainlines.

    We are growing in North America, new units and stakes are forming, but our growth is no where near it’s potential, mainly due to lack of retention of born-in-church youth and of converts. We “should” be growing exponentially, but it is only straight-line growth.

  14. People are coming back to the Church all the time. We all know less active people who have started attending again. Many of us know people who were excommunicated who are now faithful. Even some who have resigned are rebaptized. There does not seem to be a shortage of people who fit that description. However, they are not being called to general leadership positions as Alma the Younger was. In any case, I look forward to your posts.

  15. Thanks for all the comments, everyone. A few limited responses:

    DD – I’m going to add an acknowledgment of this soon. I’ve been collecting examples I’ll link to. Thanks for the push-back.

    Bookslinger – great challenge for all of us! I’m inspired by your gentle encouragement. I really am. Thanks.

    Jonathan – None of what I’m proposing (or trying to do) do I see as independent of God…without His power and goodness, none of what I do will be worth much. “I’m the vine – and you’re the branches,” our Lord says, right?

    Meg- your fourth paragraph is one of the most insightful things I’ve read in a long time about the dynamics currently contributing to the Silencing (and Seducing) of the Saints. Thank you for sharing that.

    Anita – thanks for the historical push-back. I’d be curious what textual evidences lead to this conclusion. If Alma the Senior was a high priest, why wouldn’t it have been likely that he had children? I don’t follow – but am open to hearing more?

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