SALT LAKE CITY (KSL.com) — Making some final pleas to Christian voters at a rally for President Donald Trump in Arizona on Wednesday, Utah Sen. Mike Lee compared the president to Captain Moroni from the Book of Mormon.
“To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends,” Lee said. “Think of him as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power but to pull it down. He seeks not the praise of the world or the fake news, but he seeks the wellbeing and the peace of the American people.”
Lee’s comments were a modified verse from The Book of Mormon, which is considered to be holy scripture to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The original verse read: “I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.”
In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni is a military commander who inspired soldiers to fight for freedom. The scripture states that if all men were like Captain Moroni, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”
When asked for a clarification on the analogy Lee’s spokesman, Conn Carroll, said: “Captain Moroni was a government official, not a prophet. He sought not power, but to pull it down. We should all aspire to be like Captain Moroni.”
But there were plenty of Latter-day Saints that didn’t like the comparison between the president and the Book of Mormon hero.
Ron Taber, president of Latter-day Saints for Biden Harris, wrote in a statement that Latter-day Saints for Trump, an official reelection coalition for the president, “have time and again exploited our shared faith. They have willfully used sacred symbols, including the temple multiple times, in their campaign material.”
Latter-day Saints for Trump initially used a picture of the Salt Lake Temple in promotional images. The organization has since stopped that practice.
“These are the moves of a desperate campaign, one that fails to understand that governing from the extreme right does not work for our United States,” Taber’s statement continued. “That families worry about achieving self-sufficiency in an economy pushed to the brink. That we need to follow the science and care for one another and our shared world. That morals, character, leadership, and policy are tied together at a fundamental level. That guarantees of liberty only protect us if they protect all of us.”
The analogy drew criticism from others as well.
“I can’t believe Mike Lee is now comparing Trump to a righteous leader from the Book of Mormon. What a disgrace,” tweeted Evan McMullin, a 2016 independent presidential candidate and member of the church, He received 21% of the vote in Utah. “Mike knows that Trump is a threat to the republic, but chooses to enable him anyway because doing so serves his personal ambitions in Washington. Utahns deserve better.”
Benjamin Park, an assistant professor at Sam Houston State and co-editor of Mormon Studies Review tweeted: “I didn’t think I’d have to say this, and I don’t feel like writing a whole op-Ed about it, but let me be clear: Donald Trump is not a Captain Moroni.”
Lee posted the video of his short rally appearance on his personal Facebook page and said, “Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were called onto a stage by the president of the United States and asked to speak with only a moment’s notice? … That happened today. It was quite an honor and a lot of fun. Thank you, President Trump!”
In the comments of his post, there was support for the comparison between the president and Captain Moroni.
“I agree Trump is like Captain Moroni. A warrior who cares about the freedom of his people,” Todd Wilson wrote.
Both parties have been courting the religious vote in Arizona — a state which has traditionally voted for the Republican candidate but polls show former vice president Joe Biden holding a 3.5% lead. And Lee used the rally to make pleas to multiple Christian religions.
“To my Catholic friends,” Lee said, “Think of Amy Coney Barrett and think of the Little Sisters of the Poor. To my protestant and evangelical friends, we have to remember that it is by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we’ve had four years of prosperity and peace.”