Abraham fled Ur.
Moses fled Egypt.
Lehi fled Jerusalem.
The Pilgrims fled Europe.
My ancestors fled the United States (really, really briefly).
These people fled from what they viewed as corrupt societies. They fled oppression, slavery, and death. They fled to establish communities God directed them to build.
With that long tradition of fleeing, I think there are many Christians, including members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who would find this prayer (which we could call the Zoramite prayer) unobjectionable:
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children….
And thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell…we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren….
And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.Alma 31:16-18
The idea of election – that a select group of people are chosen by God while the rest fail to obtain salvation – is not unique to this prayer in the Book of Mormon. It is a strain of thought found throughout Christianity and, likely, other salvation-based theologies. It leads to efforts to isolate from those who threaten that salvation through corrupt teachings.
Yet the Zoramite prayer is followed by another. After Alma, a prophet and priest spent some time among this separated people, he said:
O, how long, Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?Alma 31:26
Why was Alma so upset by the Zoramite prayer? This is particularly interesting because when Alma’s own father was converted, he fled the city he’d been living in with his followers. Alma was familiar with the idea of fleeing to separate a group from persecution.
The answer is simple:
Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.Alma 31:27
The difference is the motivation for the separation, which determines the community that is built afterward. Alma’s father, the 19th century Mormons, the Pilgrims, Lehi, Moses, and Abraham fled to survive. Each group, with varying success, sought to build a community that cared for all its members. The Zoramites separated themselves to protect their pride and their wealth.
When should we separate from, or stop interacting with, others? This is poignant as we get closer to the election and feelings get more intense.
The Zoramites had it wrong. They separated themselves to protect their pride. Here is a critical portion of the prayer I left out:
Thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.Alma 31:16
The Zoramites rejected Christ. It is evident in the community they built, in which the poor build the place of worship, then are denied entrance. The evidence of election is the wealth of the upper-class, rather than the good works Christ commands of his followers.
Later, when the converted Zoramites are kicked out of the city, Alma’s people welcome them in, providing them with homes and protection.
And so, when I feel tempted to cut myself off from others – any individual or group – I ask myself, am I doing this so I can focus better on good works or simply to protect my pride? Am I protecting myself from abuse or simply resisting ideas that require me to change my behavior?
These are important questions. We don’t have the mental capacity or time to deal with everything out there. We need to separate ourselves from many things. But we need criteria to do so. Otherwise we risk creating the echo chambers that lead to stagnation and self-righteousness.