The “pastors of my people,” as referenced in the Book of Mormon, invooke a narrative of spiritual leaders falling into corruption. Nephi, drawing from Isaiah’s prophecies and elaborating on the brass plates, warns of these leaders’ failure, which resulted in the fragmentation of God’s chosen people: “Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people” (1 Nephi 21:1). Their actions, or lack thereof, indicate how their neglect allowed Israel to stray from their covenantal path, spurring Nephi’s support for his family’s departure from Jerusalem.
The gravity of the pastors’ misguidance is accentuated in Christ’s teachings within the same sacred text, as He clarifies the enduring nature of God’s promises and delineates the fulfillment of the law of Moses in Himself, establishing a new covenant while keeping past promises in place (3 Nephi 15:2-5). Their misleading of Israel serves not only as a historical admonition but also as an allegory for all spiritual stewards to uphold their sacred duties with righteousness, underlined by the recurrent scriptural theme of accountability of leaders, as further expounded in texts like Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 23. Just as the prophets warned, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:2), and as Christ rebuked, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13), these admonishments resonate through time, urging a sincere and selfless devotion to the guiding of ecclesiastical charges. These scriptures collectively warn against hypocrisy and the exploitation of religious authority, principles further expanded in the Doctrine and Covenants: “That [authority] may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to...exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:36-37).
The depiction of these truant pastors in the Book of Mormon offers a poignant caution to leaders across time: that a divine charge to shepherd is accompanied by an equally divine stipulation for righteousness, humility, and unwavering fidelity to the Lord’s covenants. Such spiritual shepherds are not only responsible for the immediate well-being of their flock but also bear an eternal responsibility for those souls entrusted to their care, with their own salvation tied to how earnestly they guide and protect the followers of Christ.