Parts of two modern official Mormon180 documents come under consideration here. They are (1) “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” of 1995, issued jointly by the church’s First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles181, and (2) the “First Presidency Statement on Same-Gender Marriage”182 of 2004, issued by the First Presidency alone. Copies of the complete texts of these one-page documents are attached as appendices and should be read in full at this point before proceeding with this article.183 Both documents assume that “traditional” opposite-sex marriage of “one man and one woman” is an unmitigated and constant good in history and society—despite (1) the scriptural notion and the warnings of Jesus that one of the negative aspects of society, both anciently (as in the days before the flood of Noah) and in modern times, is “marrying and giving in marriage,”184 (2) the fetishization and politicization of marriage as a patriarchal preserve, and, for Mormons at least, (3) the reification of polygamy (specifically polygyny) as the righteous form of marriage185 intended to produce a super race.186 Specifically, we must consider the final paragraph of each of the two Mormon documents. That paragraph of the 1995 “Proclamation” reads:
“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
The final paragraph of the 2004 “Statement” reads:
“The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”
These paragraphs are obviously similar in that they appeal to government and the law for support of the doctrine set forth in the preceding paragraphs of the respective documents. They replicate in structure, intent, and wording the ideas that underlay the 1840 Hawaiian Constitution quoted above. Each is a call to arms—political arms. Both the “Proclamation” and the “Statement” are representative of the church’s definition of family and sexual relations, and both seek to exercise power and influence over the actions and policies of government. Both were written in response to the movement, primarily in the United States, for same-sex marriage. They first arose during the national debates over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) of the 1970s and 1980s. Both have been used to support passage of an amendment to the US Constitution to define marriage as “one-man-one-woman.”187 Their promulgators, First Presidency and the Council (or Quorum188) of the Twelve Apostles are, respectively, the two highest governing priesthood bodies of the church.189 Thus, both documents constitute exercises of the church’s power and influence “by virtue of the priesthood.” Both documents exist within a tradition of Mormon involvement in politics and law, including involvement in “moral issues” (polygamy190, Sunday closing laws, prohibition).191 In the context of these governing bodies, the rules and procedures by which they operate are not democratic but hierarchical. They are not elected by any process, democratic or otherwise, within the church. Mormon Apostle and member of the First Presidency N. Eldon Tanner, speaking to the subject of church government, stated:
“I would like to tell you something about the way the Church operates from headquarters. We often hear the Church referred to as a democracy, when in reality, instead of being a church where the gody is governed by officers elected by the members, the Church is a theocracy, where God directs his church through representatives chosen by him.”192 This position is in tension with the repeated declaration in Mormon scripture that the business of the church is to be conducted by “common consent,”193 and that “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church…without the vote of that church.”194 There are several corollaries to Tanner’s position, one of which is that the inner operations of the church are opaque to outside viewers, including most of the lay members of the church, even though they are required to pay tithing and other monies and offerings to support the church. The church, as a theocracy and an “establishment of religion” within meaning of the First Amendment, is, for example, like other churches, not subject to taxation or inspection by the government. In other words, tithe payers are not like taxpayers. The usual checks and balances that operate to keep civil government and corporations honest and transparent cannot be applied to the church as it “operates from headquarters.” While some meetings of the church are public, others are not, including those at which the general authorities make major policy decisions. This is to say that the “Proclamation” and the “Statement” quoted above, and products of these governing bodies, were not written or promulgated by democratic processes. Church finances are not publicly disclosed and are not made accountable to the tithe-paying members of the church. For example, when financial matters are discussed in the semiannual general conferences195, they are stated in only the vaguest terms. For example, in the church’s April 2005 general conference, the 2004 Church Auditing Department Report was presented to the membership for sustaining vote.196 The report was a mere three short paragraphs ending with this statement:
“As prescribed by revelation in section 120 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes authorizes the expenditure of Church funds. This council is composed of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. After receiving authorization to expend Church funds, Church departments administer approved budgets and expend funds in accordance with Church policies and procedures.
“Based upon audits performed, the Church Auditing Department is of the opinion that, in all material respects, contributions received, expenditures made, and assets of the Church for the year 2004 have been administered and recorded in accordance with appropriate accounting practices, approved budgets, and Church policies and procedures.”
No actual figures or analyses are presented, and the “appropriate accounting practices,” auditing procedures, approved budgets, and “Church policies and procedures” are not defined. D&C 120 consists of a single sentence in this regard, which states that the tithes collected as per Section 119 should be “disposed of.” Section 119 is the “law of tithing” which states in seven verses that tithes (i.e., 10% of one’s “interest”) should be paid to the church but does not prescribe auditing details, practices, or procedures. Further, because the “representatives” of God are chosen by God (i.e., by each other), the lay members do not choose them, nor can they remove them. Policy is set and executed from party central—“headquarters” in Tanner’s expression. Herein lies a major difference between the church and secular government—and a compelling reason to keep the two separate. Presumably, members of the church understand that the church is a theocracy, not a democracy, and they accept this condition as part of their right to “worship how, where, and what they may.”197 But decisions taken in the non-public counsels of the church to affect and influence government and law, like all other such decisions, are not subject to the usual scrutiny and reporting required of businesses, governmental entities, and other public and legal organizations. The members and the authorities of the church do not exist in a relationship of discourse but of authoritarian hierarchy. This discontinuity of methods and mindsets raises serious questions whenever efforts are made to blend them.
It is therefore appropriate to interrogate the strategy of such appeals to government and law within the context of Mormon doctrine and to raise the question of why the church would feel it necessary to make such appeals at all. Why, in the examples of the “Statement” and the “Declaration” cited above, would it be necessary at to appeal to “officers of government” to preserve the “legal status” of marriage if the pulpit is persuasive and the authority of the church leaders unassailable? The answer is multifarious, but it comes down to a simple metonymy: Shylock must be made a Christian—and Portia as the judge must do it. And as will also become apparent, these two documents are a metonymy for a larger inquiry into all such statements, not only in Mormonism, but also in Christendom generally, and even beyond that to all religions that seek assimilation with the state. Jesus expressed it this way: “And the Lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be full.”198 The power of church and state combined has an enormous seductive power. As Hegel noted, “The State is as God walking on Earth.”199 When the church, as the self-declared “kingdom of God,” seeks to adopt the power of the state, the church is admitting that God is not walking with that “kingdom.”
The foregoing analysis raises no challenge to either the “Statement” or the “Proclamation,” on the basis of the “freedom of religion” of individual Mormons to believe and practice what they wish.200 However, to argue, as do Mormons and their allies, that the separation of religion from government is somehow immoral, amoral, or anti-religion is to argue that religion cannot subsist—cannot be full or whole or proper—without government. The argument cedes to government the power to define, delimit, and finish religion.201 So, also, does the argument that some issues are “moral” issues instead of “religious” issues and therefore beyond the “wall of separation.” All issues that affect human freedom are “moral issues.” Indeed, whenever one party seeks to limit another party’s freedom by law, that action becomes a “moral issue.”
Chapter 3: Basic Constitutional Doctrine: The Separation of Powers “The Priesthood should never be dishonored by bringing to bear any of the power thereof in a mere Gentile political question. If there is not merit enough to furnish sufficient argument to sustain themselves let them fall.”202
In the United States, the line demarcating these respective spheres of action are matters of constitutional law, including freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly, and so on that have been dealt with at length in many other venues.203 The “separation of church and state” is concomitant with the “separation of powers” in the structure of the Constitution. The idea of the Framers and of the Federalists, and of Locke and Montesquieu before them, was that in order to keep power in check, the powers must be separated far enough from each other so that they could speak truth to and against each other. James Madison stated it felicitously in Federalist No. 51:
“But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”204 This is so because of the “encroaching spirit of power” and the nature of all power to aggregate. Men are not angels, as the Book of Mormon admits: “The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever….”205 The American Founders, like the writers of the Book of Mormon, believed in the continuing general immorality—wickedness, in scriptural terms—of mankind. The “city on a hill” built by God must await the coming of the Millennial reign of Christ when the “earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”206 “Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come.”207 It would not come in this fallen, telestial, “lone and dreary” world, whose prince in the devil.208The answer was to admit this, accept it, and then design a political system that would compensate for such realities as far as it could while keeping apart from religion—and religion apart from it, thus to preserve religion “pure and undefiled” and its adherents “unspotted from the world.”209
The same principles are true with regard to the separation of church and state, and for the same reasons. The church can never speak truth to the state—call it to repentance in ecclesiastical language—if the church itself is part of the state, has a vested interest in the state, or dictates to the state—and vice versa. Put another way, the church will never call itself to repentance because it believes (has faith) that it is always righteous—just as the state does. Like the government, it never admits that its own wickedness, the “wickedness of the church,”210 is the problem, or that God’s vengeance would descend first upon his own house.211 “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come [present, past, and future],”212 as Joseph Smith said, but “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.”213 Faith and knowledge are never the same.214 The church must stand separate and apart, as Zion, to which the righteous and those seeking refuge may flee away from the wicked and corrupt “world,”215 which the scriptures frequently call “the arm of flesh.” “I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh, for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”216 The time will come, say the prophecies, when the whole world will be at war, and only that Zion will be safe and the only people who will not be at war with one another.217 If the church is so melded with the world that it cannot thus stand apart, then it is no Zion, and it is nonsensical to speak of Zion to which anyone may flee or be gathered out of the world—not the other way around.218 This is the exact image created again and again in the Jewish scriptures of the difference between places: “He measured it [the temple] by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred [reeds] long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.”219 Jesus spoke of it as the distinction between Caesar and God.220 He also cautioned, regarding marriage and the “one flesh” of husband and wife: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”221 James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, Thomas Jefferson’s secretary and later successor to the presidency, referred to both passages in calling for absolute separation of the church and state as the very definition of “religious liberty.” But in his reference to the latter, in order to make his point indelible, he reversed the image:
“Ye States of America, which retain in your Constitutions or Codes, any aberration from the sacred principle of religious liberty, by giving to Caesar what belongs to God, or joining together what God has put asunder, hasten to revise & purify your systems, and make the example of your Country as pure & compleat, in what relates to the freedom of the mind and its allegiance to its maker, as in what belongs to the legitimate objects of political & civil institutions.222
“The church, in sum, must stand “independent above all other creatures in the world.”223 And the separation of it from the government must be “pure and compleat.” For Madison, it was God who “has put asunder” church and state. Of this principle he could not brook “any aberration.” The scriptural images are stark and clear on this point. Echoing Jefferson’s “wall” image, he defended the introduction of a “religious liberty” bill in Virginia thus:
“This act is a true standard of Religious liberty: its principle the great barrier agst usurpations on the rights of conscience. As long as it is respected & no longer, these will be safe. Every provision for them short of this principle, will be found to leave crevices at least thro' which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster, that feeding & thriving on its own venom, gradually swells to a size and strength overwhelming all laws divine & human.”224 Madison used the same “great barrier” metaphor in his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in Virginia” of 1785, and he used cognate metaphors such as “line of separation” and “wall of defence” in other writings.225 Mormon scripture requires that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”226 Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were of the same mind on the separation of church and state—a fact to which their writings attest multiple times. Thomas A. Metzger, citing Pierre Manent, defines the basis of this understanding based on liberty and equality by noting that—
“Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau turned political philosophy from a theological and rational discussion of the moral ends that the polity should embody into an attempt to derive the principle of popular sovereignty from the nature of an object that actually was metaphysical even though regarded at the time as factual: the identical condition of all human individuals when they lived free, equal, motivated only by natural impulses, and outside the presence of any political authority (‘the state of nature’)…. [P]olitical norms came to be derived less from this metaphysical object and more from another one, the teleological direction of history.”227 This is the ideology that became the politicial-social-legal foundation of the American constitutional revolution and of the Federalist. Hence, there arose the “godless Constitution”228 stating that all civil power derives solely from the consent of the governed, of “We, the People.” It is essential to bear these basic lessons in mind because there arises a fundamental conflict in Mormon theology, which on the one hand declares that the Constitution was inspired and designed by righteous men whom God specifically raised up for that purpose (and hence is for all people).229 D&C 98:5 declares: “And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me [God].” Yet on the other hand Mormonism insists that the “natural man is an enemy to God,” has always been, and always will be because he lives without God and Christ (religion, theology, metaphysics) in the world,230 and promising that the inhabitants of America will be protected “if they will but serve the God the land, who is Jesus Christ.”231 Men are not angels, and so the Federalist insisted that constitutional government alone was both necessary and sufficient. Mormonism, in comparison, insists that both constitutional government (the “inspired Constitution”) and religion are necessary—indeed, the “inspired Constitution” grew out of religion and was a religious concept.232 Here, in this Gordian knot, lies the basis of the conflict between faith and law.
Hence, the question posed hereregarding that conflict—and this point is essential—would stand even if there were no ideal or doctrine of the separation of church and state or the separation of powers. It would stand even in a totalitarian monarchy where all power resided in one man. The typical church-state debate notes that “the very meaning of a line in the law is that you may intentionally go as close to it as you can if you do not pass it,”233 and then asks, How close has the church (or the government) come today? How close can it come? How close should it come? Where will the line (or the wall) be tomorrow? This study does not retrace that ground except tangentially. Rather, the present question asks, Why would the church even want or need to approach the line at any time, any place, under any circumstances? Why not simply do as the early Mormon pioneers did when they migrated to the Great Basin and depart the field altogether? Why not confine the practice of religion to purely doctrinal tenets?234 For Joseph Smith said, “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.”235 Those who quote this passage often emphasize the “how, where, or what” portions, all the while forgetting the emphasis on the others: “Let them worship….” It is akin to the early “Mormon Creed” from the days of Joseph Smith’s ancestors through to his successor, Brigham Young: “Mind your own business—and let everybody else do likewise.”236 The sentence, “let them worship how, where or what they may,” is also often read as simply meaning freedom to believe or not to believe, to join or not join a church, or to change one’s religion—in other words, as basically a matter of passive conscience. This might be a fair reading if by “faith” one means the same as mere “belief.” It cannot, however, be true in the Mormon context where, as we have seen, Joseph Smith taught that faith is a “principle of power,”237 and that power of faith, like God whose gift it is, is self-sufficient, “all in all.”238 It needs no other power to potentiate it.239 It is far more than mere passive belief, for even the devils believe.240 If anything needs to be “added to” faith, it is virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.241 But faith, for modern Mormons then, has become not just about “minding your own business.” Politics, law, and going to law—the creation of a sacerdotal state—which are all about minding everyone’s business, are not these things. Brigham Young echoed this sentiment for conduct both within church circles and in the public square:
“It is earnestly desired that all difficulties originating in political differences should be buried in eternal oblivion; never permit Gentile political warfare to enter into your private circles, to cause distrust, engender strife and division in your midst. Never, no, never disgrace the Holy and eternal Priesthood of Almighty God by using or exerting that influence and power to further any such purposes, let them stand or fall by their own intrinsic merits.”242 Young’s images demonstrate the separation of the two-sided wall with his concern on the one hand for strife “in your midst” and the outward “Gentile political warfare” on the other. His use of the “influence and power” of the Priesthood echoes the words of Joseph Smith in D&C 121. More recently, Mormon apostle Russell M. Nelson, speaking of religious freedom in an increasingly globalized and globalizing world, put it this way: “Politics and religion will always approach issues from different platforms. Politics is based on negotiation; religion is based on truth and faith. The world of politics is one of compromise. That process can succeed as long as non-negotiable truths and correct principles are honored and upheld.”243 He further said:
“Therefore, care must be exercised to assure that government remains truly neutral in matters of religion, not only in lip service and constitutional guarantees, but also in impartial application of the law. Individual and institutions are naturally inclinced to seek preference over others, but the state must not yield to those inclinations. To discriminate in favor of one religion, using nonreligious labels such as ‘culture’ or ‘history,’ is to discriminate in against others. If the state allows dominance of any one religious institution over another, discrimination results, allowing unequal treatment and regrettable restriction of other religious societies.244 Using the powers of law and politics to enforce religion by the fiat of the church’s priesthood, then, by defining what are the politically “non-negotiable truths and correct principles,” is the essence of “priestcraft,” which Mormon scripture defines as the situation when “men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”245 Getting gain and praise of the world are demarcated specifically as the actions of the apostate church.246 Priestcraft is, among other things, the love of the “vain things of the world,”247 which include pride248, religious persecution249, love of glory250, using God’s name without authority251, and—most importantly—Satan’s tempting of the people to seek power and authority.252 Anyone who practiced priestcraft was condemned because he “endeavored to enforce it by the sword, and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction,”253 and bring the “whole church under condemnation.”254 In a dire prophecy about the destructions of the “last days” and the “great apostasy,” Jesus speaks of priestcrafts as being among the things that will cause people to “reject the fulness of my gospel.”255
The enforcement of religion by state power (“the sword”) is seductive when the tenets sought to be enforced are held in common by a majority of the people—in other words, when those in the minority are forced to become teneted. The result is the creation of heresy, the diminution of freedoms, and persecution.256 The danger of such enforcement can best be illustrated by the example of a tenet not shared by the majority. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young allegedly taught that the moon and sun are inhabited, the former with people of uniform size who look like Quakers.257 Joseph Smith also taught that the earth’s north and south poles are slightly elongated or bulging like bumps or knobs.258 If their followers attempt to enact laws that require other who know better to believe these things, or to prohibit others from believing if they wish, then they are misusing the law for a religious purpose. What happens when the edifice of religion begins to slip, evolve, shrink, or otherwise change from what it has traditionally been—when the secular begins to occupy more and more of the field once commanded by the sectarian? “What then must we do?”259 Joseph Smith, who was periodically involved in politics and law, said:
“It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. ‘Tis right, politically, for a man who has influence to use it, as well as for a man who no influence to use his. From henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get. In relation to politics, I will speak as a man; but in relation to religion I will speak in authority.”260 The distinction between speaking “as a man” and speaking “in authority” is an important one in Mormon culture, and it is at once both doctrine and sophistry. In February 1843, Joseph Smith, who is honored as The Prophet in Mormondom because he was its founder and “first elder,”261 corrected a couple who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet,” instead explaining that "a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such.”262 This is generally understood as his making it clear that not every word and deed would be determined by God or should be construed as such. Even so, Mormons recognize their prophet as the one—and the only one—who is authorized to speak for God, to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”263 In that same year, Smith famously said: “The Lord has not given me a revelation concerning politics. I have not asked Him for one.”264 On their face, these statements seem straightforward enough: Religion and politics operate in different spheres, and the actions of church authorities in the one should not be automatically taken as endorsing actions or ideas in the other. Indeed, James B. Allen writes:
“During the nineteenth century Church leaders sometimes took a stand with regard to presidential candidates, but when they did, that stand reflected what seemed to be in the best current interest of the Church. It did not reflect any effort to equate political action with religious doctrine, but rather was simply a pragmatic effort to promote the well-being of the Church as an organization.”265 The “Statement” and the “Declaration” discussed earlier are, of course, something more than this. Allen further documents that throughout most of the twentieth century, at many points when the church was involved in political and legal issues, it was repeatedly at pains, often through its own Salt Lake City Deseret News, to disclaim any official effort to promote political uniformity or influence the way Mormons voted. This is still the case. The church’s official Web page contains a carefully worded and forensic statement of the church’s “political neutrality.”266 But Allen’s point about political action being related to the “well-being of the Church as an organization” deserves further consideration. Traditionally, this meant, among other things, the use of the First Amendment petition power to seek assistance for the church where the leaders felt it had been wronged. Where the church needed an internal “cleansing” from the wrongdoing of a member, the remedy was excommunication.267
The fact that such constant high maintenance was needed is due to the reality that within Mormondom, and despite Smith’s claim that a prophet is only a prophet “when acting as such,” the people often tend to take every word from their leaders as gospel, and to obey slavishly. This is done in all seriousness and is often remarked upon, even with considerable humor, among Mormons. A. Theodore Tuttle, a general authority of the church, told this story in general conference:
“The last time I spoke from this pulpit I explained a special need to help local missionaries from some of the missions in South America. In most of these countries the annual income averages less than 10 percent of what it is here. I explained that these young people had already sacrificed much, and that they would need additional financial help from those of us who could easily share. I didn’t really appeal for funds. I outlined a need.
“This is my first opportunity to express thanks to so many for helping these missionaries—even without being asked! I can’t imagine what would have happened if we had actually asked for help! One lady wrote, “You so carefully avoided asking for funds that you also avoided telling us where to send them.” I should repent of that. I’m really hesitant—but you all know where Church headquarters are!
“Some letters came to me personally…. [recounting donations]
“The shortest letter read, ‘Per your instructions last general conference. Sincerely. …’”268 The ineluctable conclusion is that any involvement of the church or its leaders is not for the faithful a neutral act. A mere “explanation” is likely to be interpreted by the faithful as an “appeal” and a call complete with “instructions.” This is probably to be expected in any structured and authoritarian theocracy. When the subject is related to well known doctrines and practices—the financial need of missionaries269, prohibition270, Sunday closing laws,271 prohibiting liquor-by-the-drink, prohibiting pornography and sleazy nightclubs, including prostitution, abortion, equal rights—that have their grounds in established doctrine, it is even more to be expected—especially if the church labels the matter as a “moral issue.” However, when less established ideas are involved, any activity, including going to law, might be suspect, and action certainly should be circumspect. Speaking at Brigham Young University in 1968, Hugh B. Brown, a member of the church’s First Presidency, said: “Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy variation of political belief. Do not have the temerity to dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent.”272
This warning becomes important because in recent decades, the church has increasingly become involved in legal and political matters where there is no specific text or practice (“revelation” in Mormon parlance273) to which to refer. Justification for such activity has often been made by extrapolation, inference, and analogy.274 By ecclesiasticalizing everything, the boundaries between church and state are erased. It is often based on ideas such as those contained in Psalm 127:1: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” The house and the city are seen as the polity with which the Lord, acting through the church, must be intimately involved. Often, this is combined with an appeal that the United States is a “Christian nation.”275
Of course, going to law is not the activity of Mormonism alone. The Catholic Pope uses all his influence to ensure that the constitution of the European Union includes reference to God “in order to preserve Europe’s Christian heritage”276—part of the reason for which is to shore up the church’s declining membership.277 American evangelist Pat Robertson uses his influential television network to advocate the murder of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez278—a practice prophesied but roundly condemned in scripture.279 Going to law breeds this kind of misguided hubris because it is the equivalent of sending gunboats to back up the missionaries in a foreign land.280 It is what happens when the pulpit fails, or is perceived to fail, when “the word” no longer has the power of God to convert,281 and the faithful begin to perceive, often in desperation, that the state (or the corporation or the club) is in reality the only perpetuity. It is the result of, and results in, substituting religious education and “school prayer” and “creationism” for real education in civics and science and the diversity that globalization inevitably brings. Professor Lynn Davies makes a pointed argument in this regard in terms of the effect of political and economic conflict on education, where the result is:
“disruption, loss of physical and human resources, hardening of attitudes to the enemy, to the outgroup…social inequality or polarization; dominant forms of competitive and macho masculinity and militarism; and hardening of ethnic or religious identifications rather than the encouragement of hybrid identities.”282 Davies warns of the “narrowing of horizons” and “smallness” that often result from the “illiberal and intolerant education” of fundamentalist religious schools and the “religion-based classification of civilizations” and peoples.283 The “macho masculinity” which Davies identifies is often coextensive with the religious “patriarchy” under scrutiny in subsequent portions of this study.284 Such fundamentalism often translates from the educational sector into the political sector where it creates divisions of people along reductionist and essentialist lines.
On November 7, 2005, the US federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warned a large, liberal Southern California church that it was at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon delivered two days before the 2004 presidential election. The sermon, which imagined a dialogue between Jesus and the then presidential candidates, in which Jesus warned and admonished them, opposed the recent US wars in Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iran, and Iraq, including remembering my name all those associated with the church who had died in the wars.285 The IRS warning alleged that it was a result of the IRS reading of a newspaper article that reported the contents of the sermon. The IRS initiated a formal examination of the church. The church, through its attorney, responded: “It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season.”
“[The church’s attorney] said that the IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting. ‘They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election.’”286 “I’m appalled,” said one church member. “In a government that leans so heavily on religious values, that they would pull a stunt like this, it makes me heartsick.”287 A representative of the church said, “ The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American.”288 Such IRS threats against churches have increased sharply in recent years.
This is an example of what happens when church and state climb into bed with each other: Those who wish to remain apart in order to speak truth to power cannot, for decisions about what may and may not be preached from their pulpits are made in the halls of government, not the rectory. The state ultimately controls and co-opts the church altogether so that it has the power to destroy the church. “The power to tax is the power to destroy,”289 said Chief Justice John Marshall in the early days of the Republic. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making any law prohibiting the “free exercise” of religion or the “freedom of speech.” But the church-state marriage has for so long demeaned the First Amendment and its “wall of separation”:between church and state that now it no longer protects any church in that free exercise or speech unless the church wants to support the government du jour and its chosen sins and enemies du jour as may be decided in the halls of Congress and the Oval Office from day to day. This is what happened to the Mormons when they were targeted for the practice of polygamy a century ago.290 When the law is gutted by some so that it protects only some, it actually protects none. Robert Bolt describes this situation accurately in his play, A Man for All Seasons, in this dialogue between Sir Thomas More and his son-in-law William Roper:
“Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ‘round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”291 And this marriage of church and state, this cutting down the laws to get at one’s own devil that Roper represents, comes about as a denial of the faith, or an admission that faith has failed—that the pulpit has failed and that churchmen must needs become the pulpit-masters of those outside the sanctuary and the congregation if they are to salvage their religions. Mormons still sing the beloved pioneer song, “Come, Come Ye Saints” with these lyrics:
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is well!292 If all is well, and if God will never forsake us, what need have we to go to law? To do so it to deny the “All is well!” Going to law is the best, shortest, and most authoritative way to ensure conformity and shore up activity, especially in a time when faith is flagging and the church faces a problem of retaining active members of the church.293 Making church doctrine legal sets up a “religious test” of what is ecclesiastically correct—a Shibboleth as the Jewish scriptures call it.294 It is the exercise of power and influence by the priesthood by means other than persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. John T. Noonan wrote:
“The central problem, I think, of the legal enterprise is the relation of love to power. We can often apply force to those we do not see, but we cannot, I think, love them. Only in the response of person to person can Augustine’s sublime fusion be achieved, in which justice is defined as ‘love serving only the one loved.’”295 In Joseph Smith’s words, also, the central problem of the priesthood enterprise is the relation of love to power—specifically love unfeigned to power. And it is a problem because power does not love love. At this point, a fair objection may be raised: In “going to law,” the church is in fact not mingling church and state or crossing the “wall of separation” at all.296 It is not seeking an “establishment of religion” or even making an argument about the “free exercise thereof.” It is not, in sum, breaching the First Amendment. In reality, the church is dealing more with the “freedom of speech” aspects of the First Amendment than the Religion Clauses.297 The church simply wishes to encourage and guide its members, as citizens, to let their voices be heard and their influence be felt in the halls of government—as is their perfect right—and to do the same itself, as an organization, pursuant to its official policy.298 It is a fine point that meanders along the sometimes thin line of the “serpentine” wall of separation. As Joseph Smith said, ““It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound.”299 Even with this objection duly noted, and obvious problems such as the meaning of “make popular” ignored, the basic question remains the same: Why does the church feel it necessary to do these things? Even if there were absolutely no legal, moral, theological, or philosophical objections to such activities—even if the church were openly and fully invited to undertake them—why would it? Surely, the church and any member are fully within the protection of the First Amendment “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”300 There is a long and harrowing history of the Mormons doing this, often without much success, starting with the earliest days of the church when early church leaders were active, forceful, and importunate in seeking redress at the feet of judges, governors, and lawmakers at all levels of government from numerous persecutions and injustices—an activity expressly protected by the First Amendment and encouraged by Mormon scripture.301 The obvious meaning of the language of the First Amendment is that in order to “petition for redress,” the church or its members must first be legally aggrieved—i.e., wronged, victimized, set upon by a closely proximate enemy. To be legally aggrieved means to have suffered an actual (not theoretical) wrong at the hand of another (such as a tort, breach of contract, assault, or defamation, or governmental or administrative action) for which damages and/or injunctive relief may be granted by a court.302 To seek “petition for redress” is a defensive stance and a legal definition:
“We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in time of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.”303 This must be contrasted with a moral or emotional grievance which may offend one’s sensibilities but for which no action lies at law because it is no legal grievance: “Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance?” Even in the case of a legal grievance, the posture of the church was to be defensive when it was under siege, i.e., aggrieved, by an actual enemy, as Brigham Young pointed out in 1865:
“We all believe that the Lord will fight our battles; but how? Will He do it while we are unconcerned and make no effort whatever for our own safety when an enemy is upon us? If we make no efforts to guard our towns, our houses, our cities, our wives and children, will the Lord guard them for us? He will not; but if we pursue the opposite course and strive to help Him to accomplish His designs, then will He fight our battles. We are baptized for the remission of sins; but it would be quite as reasonable to expect remission of sins without baptism, as to expect the Lord to fight our battles without our taking every precaution to be prepared to defend ourselves. The Lord requires us to be quite as willing to fight our own battles as to have Him fight them for us. If we are not ready for an enemy when he comes upon us, we have not lived up to the requirements of Him who guides the ship of Zion, or who dictates the affairs of his kingdom.”304
In those days it was commonly desired and taught that the church should distance itself from the government and its political power. Heber C. Kimball, a counselor to Brigham Young, said:
“I will tell you the day of our separation has come, and we are a free and an independent people, isolated a thousand miles from the Christian nation; and thanks be to our God for ever. And we are the people of God, and this is the dwelling of King Emanuel, in these mountains, and he will gather all nations unto us—those that will be gathered; and those who will not, he will compel them. The day has come when the people have got to bow the knee to God and pay tribute to him, every man and woman on this earth…. [I]t pertains to the calling of Bishops to deal in temporal affairs, to enable us to become an independent nation.”305 In the actions under consideration here, as represented by the subject statements in the “Proclamation” and the “Statement,” neither the church nor any member has been legally aggrieved. Rather than petitioning for the redress of grievances, the action urged in those documents is plain and simple political lobbying and intermeddling as the result of an offended sensibility that the agreed-upon definitions of “marriage” and “family” have been challenged. No actual marriage or family has been harmed or suffered damage—the perceived “grievance” is future, inchoate, potential only. Probably the purest example of this is when the church attempts to intervene in pending lawsuits to make its argument306 or file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to influence the court before any adjudication is made—i.e., before any party loses or is aggrieved.307 Why does the church feel the need to do this? Why is there a felt need to invent a grievance and form an alliance of churches to address that grievance at a vast expense of time, energy, and money? Eric Hoffer in The True Believer attributes it to a sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, and guilt:
“We do not usually look for allies when we love. Indeed, we often look on those who love with us as rivals and trespassers. But we always look for allies when we hate. It is understandable that we should look for others to side with us when we have a just grievance and crave to retaliate against those who wronged us. The puzzling thing is that when our hatred does not spring from a visible grievance and does not seem justified, the desire for allies becomes more pressing. It is chiefly the unreasonable hatreds that drive us to merge with those who hate as we do, and it is this kind of hatred that serves s one of the most effective cementing agents.”308 He notes further that faith, hope, pride, and confidence “are negative in origin. The exaltation of the true believer does not flow from reserves of strength and wisdom but from a sense of deliverance: he has been delivered from the meaningless burden of an autonomous existence.”309 The true believer is “free from freedom.” Mormonism early taught the same thing in terms of obedience and communal belonging. In 1855 Mormon apostle Amasa Lyman told the general conference:
“Well then, should we be subject to counsel, and be advised? Yes. Men here stick up their noses, and complain because they are required to be subject to counsel. Says one, ‘I know enough to attend to my own business; I don't wish any man to manage for me, I cannot endure it; I am too independent.’ Now you poor independent soul; you that are too independent to learn the truth; to be taught your duty; what independence have you got? ‘O I have the privilege of moving round in this breathing world as I please; and I wont be controlled?’ You wont; but I say you will, and you are controlled, and that is the very reason you say as you say, and do as you do, you are controlled every moment of your lives and still you say you are not. You are not independent, you never was [sic], and you never will be. That being does not exist within the range of man's history. The very principles upon which we exist make us the objects of dependence.310
This kind of thinking, the “command-obedience relationship that lay at the heart of premodern politics,”311 may be suitable even today within a particular church’s internal theocracy, but the whole project of modern political, social, and legal liberty, as Pierre Manent points out, is to “escape entirely from the clutches of this relationship.”312 Democracy accomplishes this by a “system of separations,” including the separation of powers and the separation of church and state, which democracy “confirms and multiplies” and civilization develops.313 This conflict between theocracy and democracy helps in part to understand the motivation of modern Mormonism’s involvement en masse in politics and government. This motivation arises out of the definition and nature of both law and faith, particularly as they are understood within Mormondom.
Chapter 4: The Meanings of Law & Faith
Law, or what we think of as positive law—statutes, court decisions, rules and regulations, and the machinery that operates and enforces these—is all about evidence, what can be seen and proved, the percipient witness, facts. We exclude as “hearsay” things not directly perceived by the five senses of the witness. And in the criminal law we say, nulla poena sine lege—there is no punishment (no crime) unless it is written in the law. Evidence is what the scriptures call a sign: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.”314 As Mormon poet Carol Lynn Pearson writes:
Is not the need
Of this unbelieving world.
Though Christ Himself
Comes in evidence,
There will be many
On that day
Whose knee will bow,
Tongue will confess,
Will turn away.315
Faith is about something else; it is not about sight or proof but about the ineffable witness of the Spirit. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard…the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”316 “In this life we walk by faith, not by sight.”317 Once the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon had seen the finger of Jesus, “he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.”318 The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew they had seen Jesus: “Did not our hearts burn within us?”319 Faith and proof exist in difference spheres—indeed, are supposed to exist in different spheres. Thus, instead of concentrating on the “wall of separation” between church and state, we concentrate for the moment on the wall of separation between faith and sight, between belief and evidence.
My view is that the church has undertaken this maneuver, in the pattern followed by so many other Christian denominations320, out of a fundamental fear or disbelief in the strength of its own persuasive position and doctrine for the faithful—a fear that leads it to seek assimilation to the absolute power of the law in order to potentiate its message and cause it to become mandatory, to potentiate temporal power, shore up doubts, and guarantee its success in the marketplace. It is the fear that the church, as a “discreet and insular minority,”321 will lack the power and status to hold its own in the marketplace. It is fear that religion and its clergy are losing their accustomed place, status, accoutrements, and privileges in public life,322 and that the sheep no longer know the voice of the shepherd.323 It is the fear that asserts to powerful, prominent officials who block the work of the church: “Just remember this isn’t 1830, and there aren’t just six of us,”324 yet ignores the statement of power that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”325 It is, in effect, a denial of the faith and a modern reiteration of the ancient demand of the people: “Give us a king to rule over us”326 and to return to the security and comfort of the familiar bondage (both real and metaphorical) of Egypt.327 As often as not the people end up regretting the king they have chosen for ourselves.328 Going to law substitutes faith in the fickle state in place of faith in God “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning…from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong.”329 In essence, all this violates the mandate that priesthood power must inhere only in such qualities as persuasion and long-suffering, meekness, gentleness, and love unfeigned. It is a way of priesthood seeking for a non-priesthood sign330, akin to (but not being) the performing of some great miracle, so the people may know that they (the leaders, the priests, the churchmen) have come with power. As Robert Pirsig has observed:
“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow…. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”331 It is also, perhaps ironically, a denial of the faith in law, in the legal system, the rule of law, and the institutions of law—in fine, in the power of the law to do its job. It is the creation of a new and false faith or belief that law potentiated by religious interference can somehow do a better job, to control and teach what the other is unable alone to control and teach.332 It forgets that each has its own sphere of action.333
Going to law to prove, find, or enforce faith in God or godliness—a church-state ecumenism—violates the Biblical principle that the things of God are known only by the spirit of God.334 If attempt is made to do it by “some other way,” it is not of God.335 Nevertheless, as Franklin Steiner has written, “The Christian religion has always leaned upon the power of the state, especially when it wanted money and protection from criticism.”336 Mormonism, which claims to pattern itself on the pristine (Biblical) church, has offices such as the Twelve Apostles, citing such texts, for example, as Ephesians 2:19-22:
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
—and Ephesians 4:11-16:
“And he [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
This is the hope and faith behind “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”337 In other words, it is the job the apostles, prophets, and other church officers to bring the world the unity metaphorized by the single building, the one body, by means of the “work of the ministry” within the “household of faith.” But as John Rawls has argued in Political Liberalism, a “continuing shared understanding on one comprehensive religious, philosophical or moral doctrine can be maintained only by the oppressive use of state power.”338 This is the “fact of oppression.”339 It arises from the contrarian notion that a “democratic society is marked by the fact of reasonable pluralism.”340 This includes the “diversity of reasonable comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines” that are not transitory but are a “permanent feature of the public culture of democracy”—doctrines that are “conflicting and irreconcilable.”341 These are “part of the work of free practical reason within the framework of free institutions.”342 Hence, the Catholic Inquisition of the Middle Ages was “not an accident; its suppression of heresy was needed to preserve that shared religious belief.”343 To avoid this in a democracy, the maintenance of this diversity must be confined to “the domain of the political” and its values.344 “These conditions do not impose the unrealistic—indeed, the utopian—requirement that all citizens affirm the same comprehensive doctrine, but only, as in political liberalism, the same public conception of justice.”345 This distinction, between doctrine and the public conception of justice, and this essential tension, are maintained within Mormon scriptures and are the very thing that is threatened when the church seeks to use the law to maintain its doctrine “by the oppressive use of state power.” Marx and Engels, the founders of communism, noted ominously, “It should not be forgotten that law has not, any more than religion, an independent history.”346 In making moral duties into commands (commandments), “law resembles religion more closely than ethics, for religion also appeals to authority in the shape of what is decreed by God.”347 When the church goes to law, the action betrays a fundamental misunderstanding and disrespect for both freedom (law) and free agency (religion).348 And yet, for Mormons at least, the church must stand “independent above all other creatures [including governments and their institutions] in the world.”349
The images given in the Ephesians texts quoted above are to come to a “unity of the faith” (like Rawls’s “comprehensive doctrines”) by the teaching of Apostles and other officers “by the spirit.” To appeal to the state to accomplish with its power what the apostles and prophets are supposed to accomplish within the household of faith, through truth and love by the power of the Spirit, is to deny the faith.350 This is consistent, at least, with the Book of Mormon. The test given in the Book of Mormon for the survival of the nation is clear, singular, and concise—and it is no uniform rule of law: “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but [only, just, simply] serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ….”351 In his Lectures on Faith,352 No other “power or influence” is required except to serve Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith taught that faith is a “principle of power.”353 It is far more than mere belief, for even the devils believe.354 He said further:
“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things; it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.”355 Surely, “all earthly things” must necessarily include earthly power, law, and government—the state, that cluster of powers and authorities included in what the Book of Mormon calls the “arm of flesh.”356Faith on the one hand, and flesh (human power) on the other, are diametrical opposites because “man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ…for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”357 It also follows from this passage of the Lectures on Faith that without the “medium” of this sacrifice, or where this sacrifice is not made (as in the case of the assimilation of church and state power), men cannot “actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.” In Mormonism “moral agency” (sometimes called free agency) is a central doctrine.358 Personal agency is necessary so that “whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself…for behold, ye are free, ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for…God…hath made you free.”359 Every person is to “choose for himself.”360 Satan tries to destroy the agency of man.361 These sentiments are declared in a familiar Mormon song:
Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given:
That God will force no man to heaven.
He’ll call persuade direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.362
Forcing men to heaven, and forcing the human mind, thus have everything to do with the sacerdotal state and its religiosity, for the law is “terror put into words.”363 This has nothing to do with pure religion, a basic tenet of which is the Golden Rule, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”364 Significantly, when covenants are administered in scriptural stories, they are voluntary—someone “enters into” or “takes upon himself” the covenant willingly.365 This Rule and practice are the theological counterpart of the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: “No state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” These are the mandates that make (or ought to make) the prohibitions of both the First Amendment and the “religious test” clause reciprocal—that make the “wall of separation” a two-way wall.366 Religion is not to be imposed upon; and religion is not to impose upon. As Frank Swancara writes:
“As long as there are laws anywhere which impose a religious test for public office or place any class under legal disabilities on account of opinions in matters of religion, the individuals proscribed are justified in believing themselves oppressed and insulted by those responsible for the continued existence of such laws and by those favoring the imposition of the disabilities.”367 With that in mind, we turn then to the question of why so many feel it is necessary for religious-moral assertions to be made parasitic upon the law in order to legitimate, potentiate, and empower them. It should not be so. When asked how he governed the church, Joseph Smith famously said, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves." A half-century later, another Mormon apostle and member of the church’s first presidency, addressing the possibility of statehood for Utah, expressed the idea this way:
“We do not believe that it is right to establish a national church. We do not believe it is the right of the church to dominate the state. We believe the two institutions are separate. At the same time, we believe that a man’s conscience, regulated by his religion, ought to govern him in all the affairs of life, secular and religious…. At the same time the machinery of religion the machinery of the state should be kept separate and apart….”368 Immediately following these remarks, Wilford Woodruff, the president of the church, said: “I feel disposed to occupy a few moments in bearing testimony to the principles presented unto us by Elder Penrose.”369 In recent times and in the same vein, another Mormon general authority, a lawyer speaking to other lawyers and Brigham Young University about lawyers’ codes of professional conduct, said this: “For you and me—for men and women at law who weekly covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to keep his commandments and to always remember Him—such codes should be unnecessary.”370 Going to law to enforce faith denies faith in the ability of correct principles to cause the people to govern themselves. It admits that codes and laws are necessary, even for them, because they have not truly taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ. It denies faith in the promise of God that “I will fight your battles”371 and that “I will go before you and be your rearward, and I will be in your midst, and you will not be confounded.”372 Fear, not disbelief, is the opposite or absence of faith, and such fear worsens into phobia.373 “God has not given us the spirit of fear.”374 In the end, it is intended that faith should be supplanted, not by political power, but by the perfect knowledge of God.375 Going to law, grubbing in politics, mucking about in power games—being thus both “in the world and of the world”376—brings out the worst in even the best.377 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,” Jesus taught, “neither cast ye your peals before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”378 “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”379 People love their wickednesses. They love Babylon.
Chapter 5: The Secret Combinations of Babylon
Mormon scripture teaches the need for the Saints to be separate from the world. “[C]ome ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things.”380 “Go ye out…from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.”381 These references to Babylon, both the biblical location and “spiritual Babylon,” are significant. The physical Babylon was the capital of Babylonia and was Nebudchadnezzar’s capital. It was founded by Nimrod and was the location of the Tower of Babel where occurred the “confusion of tongues.”382 Its chief building was the temple of Bel. Metaphorically, it came to represent worldliness and corrupt power, such as that of Rome and Jerusalem.383 In Mormon scripture, it stands for the present fallen, telestial, “lone and dreary world.”384 Hence, one will search in vain for any instance where Jesus instructed his followers or the church to infiltrate the government, to make it do their own proper work “of the ministry.”385 They were instructed only to go to government to importune for a redress of grievances against them.386 An entire chapter in the saga of the Book of Mormon tells of a people who fled their own Babylon—the Tower of Babel— in order to get away from the corrupt systems and institutions of power including oaths and “secret combinations,” that existed in it.387 Of them and such systems and institutions, the compiler of the Book of Mormon writes:
“Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be. Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning. Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved.”388 It would be difficult to imagine a more graphic description of the result when religion attempts to mix with secular power and ignore Paul’s express determination “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”389 What is wrong with “combinations”? Indeed, what are “combinations,” particularly “secret combinations” and “murderous combinations”? I noted in a previous article: “It is said of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, which describes the “man of sin,” that the third temptation of Christ was potestas politicas—political power.”390 In the New Testament story, when Satan carried Jesus to the high mountain, he “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” and tempted him thus: “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”391 Jesus answered: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” For the church to seek the power of the world’s kingdoms is to disobey this First Commandment.392 By this teaching, the church cannot serve political power and God at the same time. The church cannot combat Babylon by joining (combining with) Babylon—it can only flee. If it does not, then its combinations with Babylon become secret because they create a class of insiders, possessors of the secrets, as opposed to all other who are outsiders and who do not know the secrets. “Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land,”393 Combinations become murderous when these classes of people become unequal, as they inevitably must, because some possess superior and secret knowledge—and the concomitant power—and others do not.
When the church supported Proposition 22 (anti-same-sex marriage) in California394, for example, it placed those Mormons who opposed Proposition 22 in the untenable position of being caught between their church (and in fear for their membership) and their civic duty as they saw it. It supplanted “teaching correct principles” and “governing themselves” with unilateral “official” action, which demonstrated a fear and doubt of the ability of the people to understand “correct principles,” go to the polls, and govern themselves. It defeated the divine purpose of the “inspired Constitution” to ensure that “every man may act in doctrine and principles pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.395 And it spawned a murderous396 homophobia:
“The experience of homosexuals in California and elsewhere where the Church has undertaken to support legislation relating to marriage has been to see an increase in anti-homosexual sentiments in their own wards and stakes. Many homosexuals face similar negative reactions from family members as well.”397 The same increase of anti-homosexual sentiments occurred when the church attempted to intervene in the Hawaii same-sex marriage lawsuit and failed.398 Instead of an increase of faith399 or an increase of love400, both of which are mandated in Mormon scripture, there was and is an increase of homophobia—of murderous secret combinations—as the result of the church’s going to Babylon. Two centuries ago, James Madison observed this identical result in society where religion went to law:
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”401 Let us forget for a moment the debates over whether the US is or is not “Christian nation,” whether the Founders were or were not Christians, Deists, atheists, or anything else.402 In the context of the present discussion, NONE OF THESE ISSUES MATTERS, for regardless of how we describe or conceive of the state, whether great or small, it is still the state of Babylon and not the kingdom of God, and for the kingdom to run to the state—of any description—or to allow the state “get above you” or “come among you”403 is a denial of the faith that is the first principle of the kingdom.404 We may conjure any state we wish—the question remains the same: Why would any church that describes itself as the kingdom of God on earth405, that is supposed to stand “independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world,”406 to have faith in its prayers407, and to possess the power of God unto salvation,408 want to condescend to petition, assimilate to, rely upon, or borrow the light which is darkness409 of that state’s power? To do so would only dilute and corrupt the kingdom’s power and would constitute an admission of the kingdom’s failure—what the law calls an “admission against interest.” The church and kingdom do not (or ought not) to require any state to define, empower, or potentiate them. As the poet Randall Jarrell put it:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.”410
Going to law also denies the faith in another way, because it turns that endeavor into a kind of race or contest. The reasoning runs something like this: “Other denominations are doing it, and if we don't, we'll get left behind. Our agenda might not reach Capitol Hill, the White House, the voters, or the Court.” Participation in the democratic process seems like a natural God-given right. Samuel P. Huntington notes that throughout the world, a “strong correlation exists between Western Christianity and democracy. Modern democracy developed first and most vigorously in Christian countries,” and that it has been “especially scarce among countries that were predominantly Muslim, Buddhist, or Confucian.”411 Many advocates of the “Christian nation doctrine stop at this point by deriving from this reality the notion that if democracy arose in Christian nations, the church must therefore necessarily be present in the politics of that democracy. More specifically, however, Huntington notes that Western Christianity emphasizes the “dignity of the individual and the separate spheres of church and state.”412 In East Asia, for example, the Christian churches offered—and continue to offer—an institutional and doctrinal basis for opposing political oppression independent of the state.413 In other words, they are a check against the state.
This much is argued, as noted, by James Madison in his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” of 1785 to the General Assembly of Virginia when that body proposed to enact a “Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.”414 Madison, one of the Framers and signers of the Constitution415 and the primary author of the Bill of Rights, wrote that arming such an establishment of religion “with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power” because the Christian religion “can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” Such would constitute both “political tyranny” and “spiritual tyranny” in an attempt “to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion”—an act similar to the Inquisition. The Bill, he wrote, “with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it [the Truth] with a wall of defense against the encroachments of error.” The heart of his opposition to the Bill lies in these key paragraphs:
5. Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy....”416 The italicized portions clearly indicate Madison’s argument: “going to law” in support of religion weakens religion and demonstrates a failure of faith in both the religion and in God (“its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author”) with the effect that those outside the church foster a “suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.”417 The “greatest lustre” of Christianity was in those pristine ages of its existence “prior to its incorporation with Civil policy.” This is significant for Mormons who believe that their church is the “restoration of all things,” including the primeval church as it existed in its purity as and when Jesus founded it.418 Indeed, the early church’s incorporation with civil policy is part of what Mormons call The Great Apostasy when the bishops of Rome and the likes of the Emperor Constantine and others co-opted the church and corrupted its doctrines by making it the state church.419 The resulting vast array of “Christian” churches, sects, and denominations that resulted from this process is characterized in Joseph Smith’s “first vision” thus:
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’”420 The Book of Mormon prophesies that in the modern world, the people generally will “dwindle in unbelief,”421 and that the consequent decrease of faith and righteousness is due to the “wickedness of the rising generation.”422 If faith dwindles, what straws are left to grasp at in order to shore up faith? The state, of course. Within Mormondom, therefore, it is a mark of the apostate church for religion to seek to assimilate itself to government and law. In this I follow Ernst Troeltsch, who writes of the development of this idea from the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and beyond:
“This meant in practice that the Church secured her own unity and stability with the help of the State, that above all she used the authority of the State to make her own power supreme with her own sphere, but that the social life itself was left to the care of the Emperor. Only by means of this theocratic principle did the Church attain a unity in doctrine and in Church order which she would never have attained without Constantine—a unity which was enforced by the power of the State, and not by the inherent logic of the ideas contained in the doctrine of the Church. By means of this principle the Church built up her constitution, acquired property, and gained her legal power which she used to complete and correct the legislation of the State.
“But in these ideas which it had evolved out of its own experience[,] the ancient world was able to transmit to the future those elements which the Middle Ages was to use in the development of a uniform Christian civilization.
“Indeed, the fiction of a Christian Natural Law, which makes it possible to regard the State and Society as though both were ordered by one Christian law, will be the means through which it will become possible to speak of a Christian unity of civilization at all, and it is this alone which makes men able to believe in such a possibility. This Christian Law of Nature also will likewise provide the daughter churches of Western Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism, with the means of regarding and shaping themselves as a Christian unity of civilization.”423 Obviously, this paradigm stands in direct contradistinction to the Biblical notion that the “unity of the faith” is to be achieved through the church’s inner government of apostles and prophets—and that alone.424 The “mother church” and the “daughter churches” together form that body of “Christendom” regarding which Joseph Smith was commanded that he should “join none of them, for they were all wrong.”425 Today when this body of apostate Christendom or its members run to the law and flatter government in order to supplant their lack of faith and their absence of godly power, one would think that Mormondom would beat a path in the opposite direction as fast as it could move. That such is not the case must surely sadden all who know its tradition. As Robert N. Bellah has pointed out, “Most Christian political theorists down through the ages have considered monarchy the best form of government (Christian religious symbolism would seem to be much more monarchical than republican), and the great republican theorists—Machiavelli, Rousseau, even Tocqueville—have wondered whether Christianity can ever create good citizens.”426 Indeed, Rousseau wrote: “But I am mistaken in speaking of a Christian republic; the terms of mutually exclusive. Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favourable to tyranny that it always profits by such a regime. True Christians are made to be slaves, and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in their eyes.”427 Mormon authorities uniformly cite Tocqueville, who was a contemporary of Joseph Smith, with approval. For example, former church president Ezra Taft Benson said:
“In the year 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French historian, came to our country at the request of the French government to study our penal institutions. He also made a close study of our political and social institutions. In less than ten years, de Tocqueville had become world-famous, as the result of the four-volume work that he wrote, entitled Democracy in America. Here is his own stirring explanation of the greatness of America:
“‘I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.’”428
But Tocqueville expressed grave doubts about the intermixing of religion and the state—i.e., beyond the pulpit. They key to the above passage is the operative phrase, “pulpits aflame with righteousness.” The pulpit is the obvious and proper locus of the church. Again and again in his great work, Tocqueville warned that by—
“allying itself with any political power, religion increases its strength over some but forfeits the hope of reigning over all. Hence any alliance with any political power whatsoever is bound to be burdensome for religion. It does not need their support in order to live, and in serving them it may die.”429 Tocqueville recognized the immense value of religion in inculcating virtues conducive to democracy and in fostering institutions that furthered its growth, but he insisted that religion and politics must each remain in its own sphere.430 He noted that—
“in times of enlightenment and democracy the human spirit is loath to accept dogmatic beliefs and has no need for them except in the matter of religion. At such times above all, religions should be most careful to confine themselves to their proper sphere, for if they extend beyond spiritual matters they run the risk of not being believed at all.”431 The idea that dogmatic religious beliefs must be kept to their own sphere will find some resonance, either positively or negatively, in Mormon culture. One of the most incessantly preached refrains in Mormon discourse is the need for the people to be absolutely obedient to their leaders. A frequently cited text is this from the Old Testament: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken [is better than] the fat of rams.”432 It is a text of tyranny and of murderous combinations, for the lesson is preceded by God’s commandment that his army, per Saul, “utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”433 But Saul “would not utterly destroy them” but spared some, and for his disobedience, God rebuked him with a lesson about utter obedience, Saul lost his kingship and fell out of favor with God,434 all because he acted as a humanitarian: “I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.”435
Shakespeare stated the correct relationship: “earthly power doth then show likest God’s / When mercy seasons justice”436—not the other way around. When things are reversed and godly power shows “likest earth’s,” the church is in trouble. “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he [not the world’s kingdoms] shall reign for ever and ever.”437 The church and its members are to act as a beacon shining on a hill,438 but that is not with the hope or expectation of making the state righteous.439 Rather, it is of attracting and gathering the righteous out of society—the wheat from the tares, the righteous from Babylon—those who wish to come to Zion.440
In sum, then, faith leads the faithful to God and Christ. Fear, on the other hand, takes us to church and substitutes the church in place of God and Christ. The church itself is a government of laws, rules, and regulations. It legislates, it adjudicates, it executes, it excommunicates. We become accountable to the church instead of to God and each other. Fear and doubt are means of control—the means of lessening freedom, whether in the church or civil society.441 The greater the means of control, the lesser the freedom of the people to “govern themselves.” The church assimilates itself to government and goes to law—its civil counterparts—so as to ensure that it does not become obsolete. In the process, it claims special rights to the protection and assertion of its feelings and values over and above those of any other group or minority, as well as special respect and deference for no other reason than that it is religion.442 As the church thus mirrors government, it takes on the faults of government. Those who err come not to be seen as sinners but as outlaws and traitors. The Sabbath becomes not a day of rest but a time to exchange one set of authority figures for another—and all in order to compensate for an all-pervasive fear. The churches seek more and more to assimilate to the tangible power of the state and to protect their fragile faith and sensitivities under the shield of the law, for, as Daniel Statman writes, “the special sensitivity of religious feelings testifies to the weakness, or the fragility, of the religious way of life, rather than to its strength.”443 Power more and more becomes the power of officialdom, and less and less “power in the priesthood.” The expected right of some members who call themselves the “Christian nation” to have things their way along is offended. As G. K. Chesterton put it: “The horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (some of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.”444 Paulo Freire notes that such “absolutizing of ignorance” is what “oppressor ideology” does:
[It] implies the existence of someone who decrees the ignorance of someone else. The one who is doing the decreeing defines himself and the class to which he belongs as those who know or were born to know; he thereby defines others as alien entities. The words of his own class come to be the ‘true’ words, which he imposes or attempts to impose on he others: the oppressed, whose words have been stolen from them…. Each time they say their word without hearing the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding.”445 This is the essential and absolutizing nature of patriarchy, of prophets who speak for God446, and authorities who have simply “got used to it,” who have already “done the thinking” and who know nothing that God says they are “not supposed to know.” If kept within the bounds of church activities, most liberal thinkers would probably say with Joseph Smith, “let them worship how, where, or what they may.”447
Chapter 6: Mormonism: The “Stone Cut Out Without Hands”
From its inception, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormons, has conceived of itself as the “restored church” and the kingdom of God on the earth.448 It is the “stone cut out of the mountain without hands” that the prophet Daniel saw, which would break in pieces all other kingdoms and eventually fill the whole world.449 Joseph Smith said:
“I calculate to be one of the instruments for setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the world. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel.”450 Such was, to him, the power of truth that was far superior to the power of the state (“sword or gun”). One of the symbols of the law and of religion-as-law is the sword.451 All nations would be under the necessity of obeying the gospel because of the prophecy that “[t]he time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just.”452 The kingdom of Daniel was “the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,”453 according to the word of God, which is “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow.”454 God created all things “by the word of my power.”455 As Joseph Smith said further:
“No unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing. Persecutions may rage; mobs may combine; armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say, ‘The work is done’….”456 Similar statements by church leaders, from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young onward, fill volumes and do not bear repeating here.457 The image is clearly that of a powerful kingdom which has been set in motion and is rolling forth inexorably to fill the earth, unstopped and unstoppable, hegemonic, the work of which “cannot be frustrated.”458 Joseph Smith said further: "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way."459 We could multiply many more examples of this same these of conversion by persuasion and the power of truth. These statements ought to be sufficient to indicate the idea that for Mormon doctrine, truth has its own power, sufficient in itself to establish the kingdom of God on earth—but only by “force of reasoning” and persuasion, not by compulsion. This tracks the pattern of parts of the Bible as well.460 But perhaps the most telling and hegemonic of these power-of-truth statements are those which identify “the strength” of God’s house and their duties; for example: “And the lord of the vineyard said unto one of his servants: Go and gather together the residue of my servants, and take all the strength of mine house, which are my warriors, my young men, and they that are of middle age also among all my servants, who are the strength of mine house….”461 These warriors—young and middle-aged men—are to accomplish a central work of the Restoration: “Behold, I have commanded my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., to say unto the strength of my house, even my warriors, my young men, and middle-aged, to gather together for the redemption of my people, and throw down the towers of mine enemies, and scatter their watchmen.”462 As we shall see in the discussion that follows, these males are foremost “among all my servants,” and certainly pre-eminent over women. This is no accident of language, and it has to do with the problems of the church “going to law.”
The law has no power to bring all nations to “see eye to eye” as foretold in the scriptures.463 True, the law can compel all to obey, to face the same direction, march with the same step, and to unite out of fear of punishment, but it cannot bring about the unity of hearts and minds and spirits contemplated as the result of faith. The law, by definition, is about dispute and contention. It consists in the rough-and-tumble of legislation and litigation. We know this from perpetually divisive and unsettleable disputes such as the definition of obscenity464 and the regulation of abortion.465 Societies that enjoy a “unity of the faith”466 have traditionally handled these sorts of questions within themselves. Indeed, the generation that formed the Constitution was the same. As R. Laurence Moore has written: “Contemporary studies that point to a strong correlation between religious affiliation and prejudice should remind us that religious tolerance was not the free gift of a dominant religious group, the Constitution notwithstanding, but instead the product of uneasy arrangements made between groups that did not love one another very much.”467 Asking the law to handle them, when the law is not the proper tool to do so, has produced endless contention and animosity—as witness the restless controversy over abortion and Roe v. Wade. Yet in the Book of Mormon story, Jesus says to his disciples: “There shall be no disputations among you.”468
The Biblical mandate prohibits “going to law”469 and “foolish strivings about the law” in order to enforce not only the tenets of religion but interpersonal disputes as well.470 Joseph Smith had absolute faith in the power of truth to “cut its own way.” So far as I can discover, he never went to Washington, D.C., or any other seat of governmental power to ask that his doctrines be enacted into law. He never counseled anyone else to do so. He only went to ask for help in protecting the lives and property of his people from depredations, to undertake a “pragmatic effort to promote the well-being of the Church as an organization.”471—to do, in other words, what the First Amendment expressly guarantees: “petition the government for redress of grievances.”472 He only said of his own people: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”473 In this, he mirrored Jesus who, so far as I can discover, never counseled his followers to approach the Roman Senate or the Jewish Sanhedrin with a view to legalizing his doctrines. In the Book of Mormon a military commander-in-chief, who wielded enormous power in war, declared: “I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for the honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.”474 At the conclusion of the war, he did not seek public office, instead, relinquished his command and went home.475
Chapter 7: TheBook of Mormon a Profoundly Political Text
Mormons have four books in their canon of scripture: the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”476 The title page of the Book of Mormon states that one of its central purposes is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Since its publication in 1830, and until recently, the “Book of Mormon” was the book’s only title. A few years ago, however, the subtitle, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” was added.477 This modern addition of the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" does a grave disservice to the Book of Mormon and does violence to the work of Joseph Smith. Certainly, the Bible teaches that the "testimony of Jesus" is the spirit of prophecy.478 But the Book of Mormon has always been such a testament even without the subtitle as its title page and text declare. The phrase “another testament” does not appear in the book itself and does not change or add to the substance of its text or message. It is a modern marketing device, added to address those who claim that Mormonism is not “Christian.” At first glance, it seems harmlessly superfluous—neither necessary nor sufficient. And this “correction” to its title, like the many corrections that have been made to its text, make it become, ironically, one of the “most correct[ed] of any book[s] on earth.” The problem is that this addition erases a major concept that was part of the Book of Mormon story from the beginning.
Since its inception, the Book of Mormon was always something else, or a part of something else, that until now has been of at least equal importance: It has always been a “voice of warning.”479 It has always been part of the message of the "restored Gospel" that the latter-day missionaries were to carry to the world, to warn the world of its impending doom in the “last days” because of wickedness of the world. Part of that mission was that “faith might increase in the earth.”480 The purpose of the book, as announced within the text itself and by countless sermons starting with Joseph Smith and his associates and successors, was to do both things—to bear witness of Jesus Christ AND to warn the world. Those two purposes are inextricable linked in its matrix. In fact, the book’s ancient compiler and abridger, Mormon, from whom it takes its name, writes to later generations (i.e., ourselves) about his work: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”481 The entire context of the chapter in which these words appear contains several other references to Jesus Christ and occurs in a dire warning addressed to “ye pollutions, ye hypocrites”.482 Thus, the two subjects—Christ and warning—are inseparable, and this is typical of the whole of the book.
In 1837, Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt (1807-1857) published in New York a widely circulated and famous pamphlet entitled, “A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People,” in which all of Chapter 4 is devoted to the Book of Mormon as part of the intended “warning.”483 It emphasized this early aspect of Mormonism, and it could even be argued that the “voice of warning” paradigm was in some ways more important than the “testament of Jesus”—or rather that it was the testimony of Jesus inflected for the “latter days.” After all, even if the Book of Mormon did not add its testament on that subject, the world would still have the testaments of the Bible, which, Mormon scripture declares, itself contains the “fullness of the gospel.”484 But the “voice of warning” is, in Mormon doctrine, something special and is intended to assimilate the message of the latter-days and the Restoration to similar kinds of prophetic warnings in the Bible.485 And it is most significant to note that the book contains, besides the usual Biblical injunctions found, for example, in the Ten Commandments, a vast number of political warnings. Indeed, it was common in early Mormonism to hear frequent dire warnings issued to governments, rulers, kings, politicians, officials, and the like. Hence, by choosing only one of these threads, the “testament of Jesus,” for the modern subtitle, the church has marginalized and made almost invisible the “voice of warning” thread. In August 2005 in his official “First Presidency Message,” church president Gordon B. Hinckley restated this shift in emphasis: “While the Book of Mormon speaks with power to the issues that affect our modern society, the great and stirring burden of its message is a testimony, vibrant and true, that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah….”486 The use of the subordinating conjunction “while” to create the dependent clause about the “issue that affect our modern society” in the quoted sentence serves to de-emphasize the “voice of warning” aspect in favor of the “testimony of Jesus” aspect.487 Why, then, has this rebalancing been done? The suppression or erasure of the “voice of warning” aspect of its message bespeaks a mindset that seeks to change the Mormon text to suit the moment and to pander to a certain audience, which is arguably not even its most immediate audience. It also diminishes one of the most important aspects of Joseph Smith’s work. It is a political maneuver that masks other agendas.
What, then, does the Book of Mormon warn about? A huge (some would say disproportional) burden of the text, simply from the standpoint of bulk or volume, is political. Vast chunks of the book deal with politics, government, law, war, and related subjects. The Book of Mormon is a profoundly political book. Former church president Ezra Taft Benson said: “From the Book of Mormon we learn how the disciples of Christ live in times of war.”488 The Book of Mormon also teaches a great deal about the tyranny and errors of the majority and of majoritarian politics:
“Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!
Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.
And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.
But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.
And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.
For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.
And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.
Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.