If you’ve ever seen a picture of a Mormon temple, or driven past one, you may have noticed a statue of a gold man on top of it. He’s blowing a horn. Who is he and what is he doing on those temples?
The statue is of an angel named Moroni. Before he was an angel, he was an ordinary man…well, sort of ordinary. He was a prophet, so that makes him fairly extraordinary, but he was a fully mortal man. He was the son of Mormon—yes, that Mormon. The one the Book of Mormon was named after.
So why is he on the temple instead of his father?
Moroni lived in a very turbulent time. He lived on the American continent. His ancestors came to the continent by boat from Jerusalem just before the fall of Jerusalem. The father of the family that came was Lehi, a prophet whose life was endangered due to his prophecies of the fall and who was commanded by God to leave his home. Two of his oldest sons were…well, brats, really. Over time they progressed from brats to evil men, but that often happens, doesn’t it? The oldest was Laman and he became the leader of a group called the Lamanites, mostly as evil as he was. The youngest of the four original sons (two more would be born during the family’s travels) was Nephi. He and his older brother, as well as the two younger ones who would be born, were righteous. God chose Nephi to lead the righteous faction and they became known as Nephites. The two civilizations had been fighting for centuries. The Nephites kept trying to convert the Lamanites and the Lamanites kept trying to kill the Nephites. The Lamanite goal was not just to kill the Nephites, but to extinguish all record of them from the Earth.
God promised the Nephites that as long as they honored God, He’d make sure they didn’t all die. For a long time, that worked, but eventually, they wandered off the spiritual path. Mormon was the prophet when essentially everyone in the Nephite civilization had become unfaithful to their religion. Even though they were apparently not much interested in having a prophet, they did want a leader and they gave Mormon that role. They were forced into war against the Lamanites. Nearly everyone was killed in the ensuing battles and when it ended, the survivors hid in various places. Mormon did the best he could to look after his people, going out into the dangerous world to bring food and check on people. The Lamanites devoted themselves to hunting out the survivors and killing them one by one. Mormon himself was killed and his son, believed by many experts to have only been a teenager, assumed the role of prophet and leader. In time, he was the only Nephite left.
Can you imagine being a teenager and being the last good person still alive in your world—and knowing that there is a whole civilization hunting you out and trying to kill you? You’ll get an idea of how bloodthirsty those Lamanites were when you discover that when they ran out of Nephites to kill, they just started killing each other—in between looking for Moroni.
Mormon had, prior to his death, been working on abridging the records kept by the Nephites. Since the beginning of their time in the New World, their prophets had been instructed to keep records of the history and doctrines of their people. As you can imagine, the records, kept on metal plates, were pretty extensive. They needed to be brought down to a manageable size and since some prophets were better record keepers than others, Mormon was editing them and keeping only the important parts.
He died before he finished and Moroni took over. He finished the abridgement and also finished writing the history of his people. His additions are very moving. He had lost his entire family and all his friends. He’d seen his people destroyed and he had no idea what was going to happen to him. Angels came to minister to him on occasion, but essentially he was alone, slipping out at night to find food and working in the records during the day. It must have been a terrible time for him.
He admitted that once his work was done he didn’t really care if he lived or died or where he went because he was alone in the world. He finished his work and buried it in a hill. Then he slipped away under cover of darkness. Many years later, he returned, surprised to find himself still alive. He learned he was still being hunted down, but he risked digging up the records to check on them and to add some additional information. Then he buried them one last time and again left. We don’t know what happened to him after that during his lifetime.
We do know what happened to him after he died. He became an angel. When the Great Apostasy ended, God sent Moroni, fittingly, to tutor Joseph Smith in preparation for becoming a prophet. It was Moroni who showed Joseph where he had hidden the plates and it was Moroni who decided when he was mature enough to receive them.
Moroni’s appearance to Joseph Smith the first time ushered in the restoration and this is why he is honored with a place atop the temples. The trumpet symbolizes his announcement that the gospel has been restored to what it was when Jesus was on the earth. Mormons do not worship Moroni or his father Mormon—or Joseph Smith. These three men were prophets and Mormons view them the same way they and other Christians view the Biblical prophets. A Christian will honor and love