Lloyd D. Newell, “‘All Are Alike unto God’: Equality and Charity in the Book of Mormon,” in Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by Its Precepts, ed. Gaye Strathearn and Charles Swift (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 196–210.
“All Are Alike unto God”: Equality and Charity in the Book of Mormon
Lloyd D. Newell
Lloyd D. Newell was an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University when this was published.
The very existence of the Book of Mormon is evidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, everywhere, not just for a chosen few. The book itself is living proof of the claim made on its own title page—that Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, manifests “himself unto all nations.” After prophesying that the resurrected Christ would show Himself to the Nephite nation, not just to those in Jerusalem, Nephi taught that all people have equal potential for salvation and exaltation: “[The Lord] inviteth . . . all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). Consequently, Book of Mormon prophets can often be found speaking boldly against those who “persist in supposing that [they] are better one than another” (Alma 5:54).
Hundreds of years later, Mormon wrote to his son, Moroni, that charity, the pure and universal love of God, is what inspires us to treat each other equally: “I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a prefect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation. For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:17–18). God is both omniloving and omniscient. He knows and loves all His children with perfect understanding and compassion.
Equality and charity are two expressions of the same principle—both require humility and meekness; both are central to the message of the Book of Mormon. With distinct clarity, the Book of Mormon teaches over and over again that “all are alike unto God,” and this simple truth is the antidote for many of the pride problems that keep people from coming unto Christ and from extending service and love to all of His children. Whenever an individual or a nation achieves greatness in the Book of Mormon, it is because the people are free with their substance and treat each other as equals. In contrast, the many tragic pitfalls of pride that the Book of Mormon outlines can be traced to a person or persons withholding charity and thinking they are above another. Alma’s deep sorrow was because of the “great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted” (Alma 4:12). In the kingdom of God, righteousness and devotion are what matter—not prestige, power, or possessions. Love, compassion, and abundance of heart characterize the real Christian, not acquisitiveness and selfishness. The Book of Mormon declares that the true Saints of God are those who put “off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) and become “new creatures” in Christ (Mosiah 27:26)—”submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love” (Mosiah 3:19).
One group in the Book of Mormon who seemed to achieve this state, at least for a time, were the members of the Church during the first few years of Alma’s service as chief judge. They were prosperous materially, but they “did not set their hearts upon riches.” The spirit of equality and charity they exhibited to all, “whether out of the church or in the church,” is a worthy example to the Saints of God today (see Alma 1:25–30).
Equality and Charity in the Church
As members of the Lord’s Church, we are a congregation of equals. As in the Church in Alma’s day, the teacher is no better than the learner, the leader no better than those who are served (see Alma 1:26). We each have individual interests and strengths, unique talents and gifts, and we have our share of weaknesses and foibles. The purpose of the Church is to make us better, to give us opportunities to fellowship with the Saints (see Ephesians 2:19), and ultimately to bring us to Christ. In this regard, we are equal. Even when members of our Church have attained notoriety in their professional, public, or private lives, they come to church on Sunday as every other member of the congregation—in need of the Lord’s grace and prepared to partake of His sacrament. An eminent professor may sit in the congregation and listen to a thirteen-year-old give a talk on faith. A corporate executive may sit in counsel with a plumber who is called to preside over him. Though an individual member may have outstanding skills and experience as an administrator or teacher, he or she can’t demand more attention, garner special favors, or change a Church program. The civic leader, the school teacher, the prominent business person, the retail clerk, and the professional athlete are simply members of the household of faith—and all are alike.
No one is above another in the kingdom of God. We serve in callings for a season and then are released. We serve humbly in whatever calling may come through the Lord’s appointed representatives. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained the importance of every calling in this way: “We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: ‘Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees’ (D&C 81:5).” 
So we speak in Church one week and then clean the chapel or shovel snow off the sidewalks the next week; sometimes we teach a gospel lesson, and other times we listen as others teach; we preside in council with members of our branch, ward, or stake, and when released, we sustain others who preside. All the while, we see each other’s weaknesses and foibles, even in our leaders, yet we choose to love and sustain them anyway as they serve worthily and faithfully in callings. This process elevates all members of the congregation and affirms the doctrine of equality and unity. We recognize that some have more and different talents than others, but we believe everyone is capable of serving in some way.
Of course, we also know that no member of the Church is perfect. We’re all on common ground as we try to overcome the world and move toward exaltation, and we’re all at different places along the pathway of spiritual development. President George Albert Smith said:
One of the beautiful things to me in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it brings us all to a common level. It is not necessary for a man to be a president of a stake, or a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, in order to attain a high place in the celestial kingdom. The humblest member of the Church, if he keeps the commandments of God, will obtain an exaltation just as much as any other man in the celestial kingdom. The beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it makes us all equal in as far as we keep the commandments of the Lord. In as far as we observe to keep the laws of the Church we have equal opportunities for exaltation. As we develop faith and righteousness our light is made to shine as a guide and blessing to those with whom we mingle.
The gospel teaches us that we need each other in order to become all that we’re capable of becoming. We need the growth that comes from using our agency to obey and endure faithfully, to serve and sustain humbly.
Leaders and teachers who understand this will not use their callings to draw attention to themselves. When we serve as the Savior would have us serve, our focus is on loving and blessing those we serve, on helping them come unto Christ. Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave us a vivid example of what dedicated service in the Church looks like in a gospel teacher:
A gospel teacher, like the Master we serve, will concentrate entirely on those being taught. His or her total concentration will be on the needs of the sheep—the good of the students. A gospel teacher does not focus on himself or herself. One who understands that principle will not look upon his or her calling as “giving or presenting a lesson,” because that definition views teaching from the standpoint of the teacher, not the student.
Focusing on the needs of the students, a gospel teacher will never obscure their view of the Master by standing in the way or by shadowing the lesson with self-promotion or self-interest. This means that a gospel teacher must never indulge in priestcrafts, which are “that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world” (2 Ne. 26:29). A gospel teacher does not preach “to become popular” (Alma 1:3) or “for the sake of riches and honor” (Alma 1:16). He or she follows the marvelous Book of Mormon example in which “the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner” (Alma 1:26). Both will always look to the Master.
We truly are all in this together. Yet while we are all “alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33) (and hopefully to each other), we are not equal in authority. At any given time, we defer to the leaders who have been called by God to have stewardship over us. Our very salvation depends on our freely following the counsel of living prophets, on our being submissive to guidance from the Lord’s authorized representatives. President James E. Faust has said, “To stay on the right track, we must honor and sustain those who hold the presiding priesthood keys.” Ultimately, however, we are all called by the same God, and we all answer to Him for the way we fulfill our calling.
President Faust continued: “We are reminded that many are ‘called, but few are chosen.’ When are we chosen? We are chosen by the Lord only when we have done our best to move this holy work forward through our consecrated efforts and talents.” Though callings come and go, while we have them they ought to be taken seriously. At some future day, we will each hear the voice of the Lord calling us to account for our stewardships. This accounting will occur when we are called up to “stand before [the Lord] at the great and judgment day” (2 Nephi 9:22). Elder James E. Talmage put it this way: “Of every one shall be demanded a strict and personal accounting for his stewardship, a report in full of service or of neglect, of use or abuse in the administration of the trust to him committed.” One bishop said upon his release, “I hope I’ve made a difference in the lives of the members of my ward. I hope I’ve helped bring them to Christ. I’ve tried my best and learned a lot. I’ve loved serving. But this is not my ward—it’s the Lord’s. I’m now happy to take my place in the congregation and follow the counsel of our new bishop.” As members of the household of faith and the kingdom of God on earth, we have countless opportunities to choose to serve and sustain, to lead and to follow. We thereby reap the spiritual growth, love, and joy that come of humility and consecration—all of which brings us closer to the Savior, individually and as a Church.
Equality and Charity outside the Church
Feelings of equality and charity are not for members of the Church alone. As Church members truly cultivate these feelings, their love extends far beyond the boundaries of Church membership. True humility and meekness leads to a generosity of spirit that reaches to all of God’s children—everywhere. The Saints in Alma’s day “did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; . . . they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need” (Alma 1:30; emphasis added). King Benjamin taught, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Fellow beings clearly means more than the believers, more than active, temple-going Saints of God. Fellow beings implies all people. Benjamin taught that when you have “come to the knowledge of the glory of God” and “have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins,” then “ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 4:11, 16). Jacob similarly did not limit the charity he professed: “Be familiar with all and free with your substance” (Jacob 2:17).
As we strive to become more like Christ, we love and serve all of God’s children without regard to their race, religion, or socioeconomic status. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks similarly explained:
The Bible tells us how God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that through him all “families” or “nations” of the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:3;22:18). What we call the Abrahamic covenant opens the door for God’s choicest blessings to all of His children everywhere. The Bible teaches that “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29; see alsoAbraham 2:10). The Book of Mormon promises that all who receive and act upon the Lord’s invitation to “repent and believe in his Son” become “the covenant people of the Lord” (2 Nephi 30:2). This is a potent reminder that neither riches nor lineage nor any other privileges of birth should cause us to believe that we are “better one than another” (Alma 5:54; see alsoJacob 3:9). Indeed, the Book of Mormon commands, “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another” (Mosiah 23:7).
All of God’s children are alike with regard to opportunity and gospel possibilities: all will either have occasion to receive gospel truth here, or else that privilege will be granted hereafter in the spirit world. The gospel and its blessings are to go to all nations and lineages before the Second Coming of the Lord.
In the meantime, “we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 1:11). We have been blessed with the fulness of the gospel, but this does not make us superior in any way to those who have not been, as yet, so blessed. Actually, it makes us more accountable to the Lord (see D&C 82:3). No one will be eternally disadvantaged for failing to live a truth or understand a principle of which he was ignorant. God has grander expectations of those who have received the revealed witness and who have been blessed and prospered by it. We are expected—no, required—to be true to the light we possess, to live a life worthy of what our loving Lord has bestowed upon us. But we are certainly not above the countless other sons and daughters of God spread throughout the earth.
As partakers of the precious and transcendent gift of the gospel, we realize that this knowledge is ours to share. We, like Alma and his people, should be liberal to all, gathering ourselves together often to join in fasting and prayer in behalf of those who do not know the restored gospel (see Alma 6:5–6; see also Alma 5:49). The knowledge of our blessings and responsibilities should fill us with humility and love for those who are not yet partakers of the fulness of the gospel. Instead of arrogance, we feel a deep sense of accountability; in place of conceit, we experience a mighty change of heart and feel “to sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26). More than anything, when we live the gospel of Jesus Christ, we feel of His pure love and want others to feel that love from us (see Moroni 7:47). President Howard W. Hunter spoke of our responsibility:
We wish that men and women everywhere could understand and find the joy and peace that come from the knowledge that all people are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters—literally, actually, and in fact, regardless of race, color, language, or religious belief. . . .
We are reminded as we participate in conference of the deep commitment we have to our fellowmen, our brothers and sisters throughout the world. It is a commitment to share with them a gift that has come to us and the greatest gift we could give to them—an understanding of the fulness of the gospel. We are committed to declare to all the world that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of mankind, that he has paid for our sins by his atoning sacrifice, that he has risen from the dead, and that he lives today. Our responsibility is to help the people of the world understand the true nature of our Father in Heaven: that he is a personal God, a loving father, and one to whom each of us may go with our problems and concerns.
As we turn our hearts to the Savior, our hearts turn to our brothers and sisters of other faiths at the same time. We feel to extend to them the same brief but profound invitation the Master offered to two of His future disciples early in His ministry: “Come and see” (see John 1:38–39). Several years ago, Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy used these words to teach us about the abundance of heart that is manifest in those who truly come unto the Lord: “‘Come and see,’ and as you do so your eyes will be opened and you will really see, perhaps for the first time, who you are, and who He is. You will come to see yourself as a child of God, of divine parentage, possessed of infinite capacities to grow spiritually and become more like Him. You will come to understand that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth’ (Acts 17:26) and you will see all men everywhere as your brothers and all women as your sisters, with all that implies in terms of sibling responsibility.”
The Lord invites all His beloved children to come unto Him, and so do His true followers. Elder Oaks, commenting on Nephi’s declaration that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33), further illuminated this truth:
“He inviteth them all.” We understand “male and female.” We also understand “black and white,” which means all races. But what about “bond and free”? Bond—the opposite of free—means more than slavery. It means being bound (in bondage) to anything from which it is difficult to escape. Bond includes those whose freedom is restricted by physical or emotional afflictions. Bond includes those who are addicted to some substance or practice. Bond surely refers to those who are imprisoned by sin—”encircled about” by what another teaching of the Book of Mormon calls “the chains of hell” (Alma 5:7). Bond includes those who are held down by traditions or customs contrary to the commandments of God (see Matthew 15:3–6; Mark 7:7–9; D&C 74:4–7;D&C 93:39). Finally, bond also includes those who are confined within the boundaries of other erroneous ideas. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we preach to “liberate the captives.” [History of the Church, 2:229.] Our Savior “inviteth . . . all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; . . . he denieth none that come unto him . . . ; and all are alike unto God.”
As Church members, we should reach out to all peoples of the world with love and friendship. Some of the ways we can do this are through Church welfare and humanitarian efforts, broadcasting and media outreach, missionary and service work, family history resources, and, most importantly, living personal lives of charity. As members of the Church, such outreach and exemplary living are both an obligation and an opportunity. President Hinckley said, “We have an obligation to reach out beyond ourselves to help those in distress and trouble and difficulty wherever they may be, be they members of the Church or not.” He also explained that where much is given much is required:
How blessed we are. How fortunate we are in our knowledge of these transcendent truths.
But may I say, as I have said in the past, our membership in this Church, with eligibility for all of the blessings that flow therefrom, should never be any cause for self-righteousness, for arrogance, for denigration of others, for looking down upon others. All mankind is our neighbor. When asked which was the greatest commandment of the law, the Lord said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. . . . [And] thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
Regardless of the color of our skin, of the shape of our eyes, of the language we speak, we all are sons and daughters of God and must reach out to one another with love and concern.
Wherever we may live we can be friendly neighbors. Our children can mingle with the children of those not of this Church and remain steadfast if they are properly taught. They can even become missionaries to their associates.
Equality and Charity in Our Personal Character
Unfortunately, the equality and charity that the Saints achieved in Alma’s day did not last in the Church collectively. But there is no reason these doctrines cannot become a permanent part of our personal character. As we truly understand the doctrine of equality and charity, we are changed. We draw closer to the Savior and more fully live His gospel, the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ and by His apostles and prophets. President Boyd K. Packer taught: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” The Savior drew upon the power of doctrinal truth to open our eyes and hearts. Alma likewise understood the power of true doctrine: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5). The virtue of the word of God changes lives. Doctrinal verities can open minds to see spiritual things not visible to the natural eye; they can open hearts to feelings of the love of God and to a love for truth.
For example, a teacher who has internalized the vital doctrines of equality and charity will treat class members like herself, not esteeming herself above her brothers and sisters in the congregation (see Jacob 2:17). A true disciple-leader will know that “none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart” (Moroni 7:44) and will have no desire to excel over his companions in the work of the Lord (see D&C 58:40–41). Truly understanding doctrine—and living it—does not elevate us over others and invite self-righteousness; it invokes true humility and charity that leads us to love and serve others.
Love is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of love’s greatest manifestations is humility. And one of love’s greatest inhibitors is pride. In the Book of Mormon—and most certainly in our individual lives—pride is an insidious, ever-encroaching, and pervasive plague. We cannot race against each other when it comes to righteousness; competition would only hinder our spiritual development. We are here to more fully come unto Christ and to help others do the same. Janette C. Hales of the Young Women general presidency wisely said: “A pattern of righteousness is worthy of duplication, yet there are those who suppose that our righteousness involves climbing some imaginary vertical ladder. We then think we hasten our progress by trying to get above or ahead of others. I believe this is pride. . . . Righteousness is reproduced horizontally, not vertically. When we establish a pattern of righteousness in our lives, we commit to our Heavenly Father to do all in our power to help others reproduce this pattern in their lives. This can happen over and over until, as it says in Isaiah, ‘the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness’ (Isa. 26:9.)”
President Spencer W. Kimball described the “pattern of righteousness” expected of true Christians in this way:
First is love. The measure of our love for our fellowman and, in a large sense, the measure of our love for the Lord, is what we do for one another and for the poor and the distressed.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
Second is service. To serve is to abase oneself, to succor those in need of succor, and to impart of one’s “substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake.” (Al. 4:13.)
This is the highest Christian command and the surest manifestation of our devotion to the Lord’s ideals of living. Love is the measure of our faith and the substance of our discipleship. Our love for God is demonstrated in our actions and interactions with others. It is not that our good works save us, but our loving thoughts and deeds are an indication of what we are becoming because we have turned our hearts over to Christ. Those filled with this pure love also enjoy its accompanying virtues: happiness, generosity, kindness, compassion, and thankfulness.
Genuine love and humility creates in us an abundance of heart that will bless all with whom we come in contact. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin encouraged us:
Always be willing, even anxious, to help others. Nothing else you do will give you the same genuine satisfaction and joy within because, and I quote, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.) Ignoring the needs of others is a serious sin. Think of the words of Alma to the people of the Church in Zarahemla. He asked: “Will ye . . . persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches? Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; . . .
“Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” (Alma 5:53–55.)
King Benjamin taught that we must care for those in need—the poor, hungry, naked, and sick—both spiritually and temporally if we are to receive a remission of our sins from day to day or, in other words, if we are to walk guiltless before God (See Mosiah 18:29.)
The power of love and humility to transform (both us and others) is one of life’s sweetest joys. Love and humility, equality and charity, can work mighty miracles. When we are humble, we realize our dependence upon the Lord, and we have more hope. When we have charity, we are more patient, more tolerant, more forgiving, and more loving. President Hinckley said: “Love is of the very essence of life. . . . Love is the security for which children weep, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and the lubricant that prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death. How rich are those who enjoy it in their associations with family, friends, church, and neighbors. I am one who believes that love, like faith, is a gift of God.”
All love comes from God. The more we seek Him, the more we will feel His love working a mighty change in our hearts, and the more we will feel love for those around us. With all our hearts, we will know that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
 We get an additional witness of this truth in the New Testament: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12–13).
 This was in direct contrast to the religion of Nehor, which had just been introduced in the land and which taught that “every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people” (Alma 1:3).
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 71.
 George Albert Smith, in Conference Report, October 1933, 25.
 Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teaching,” Ensign, November 1999, 79.
 James E. Faust, “I Believe I Can, I Knew I Could,” Ensign, November 2002, 51.
 “The Honor and Dignity of Priesthood,” in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1965–75), 4:306.
 Conversation with the author.
 Joseph Smith, History of the Church, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:227.
 Dallin H. Oaks, “All Men Everywhere,” Ensign, May 2006, 79.
 Howard W. Hunter, “Conference Time,” Ensign, November 1981, 12.
 Alexander B. Morrison, “Come and See,” Ensign, November 2000, 12.
 Dallin H. Oaks, “All Men Everywhere,” Ensign, May 2006, 77–78.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand a Little Taller (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 329.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Closing Remarks,” Ensign, May 2005, 102.
 Boyd K. Packer, “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 79.
 See Henry B. Eyring, “The Power of Teaching Doctrine,” Ensign, May 1999, 73–75.
 Janette C. Hales, “A Pattern of Righteousness,” Ensign, May 1991, 83–84.
 Spencer W. Kimball, “Welfare Services: The Gospel in Action,” Ensign, November 1977, 77.
 Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Running Your Marathon,” Ensign, November 1989, 74.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “And the Greatest of These Is Love,” Ensign, March 1984, 3.