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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Theological question a reporter should ask Romney.

With Mitt Romney off and running to be president, here's my advice to political reporters who want a question to ask him about the way his Mormon faith might inform his politics: First, do some background reading on Joseph Smith's prophecy that the U.S. Constitution will one day "hang by a thread" and that elders of the Mormon Church will come in to rescue it. Six other Mormon Church presidents — who are considered "prophets, seers, and revelators," just like Joseph Smith — have also used this image, and it's a perennial fixture of popular Mormon discourse about politics. Romney must be familiar with the image — you don't grow up Mormon in America without hearing it — so I'd be curious how he interprets it.

In 1991, Brigham Young University president and former U.S. solicitor general Rex E. Lee — Samuel Alito's boss — cautioned BYU students not to jump to hasty conclusions about what "hanging by a thread" means. He then added:

Even though we have not been given the exact meaning of the prophets' statements about the Constitution hanging by a thread, the scriptures do define the conditions on which freedom in the land of America ultimately depends. I am satisfied that whatever else may eventually hang in the constitutional balance, this much is clear: The continuation of the blessings of liberty depends finally on our spiritual righteousness. As the Lord told the Jaredites in the Book of Ether [one of the books in the Book of Mormon], this is a "land of promise." And "whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, . . . if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." If the people fail to keep this covenant, they "shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity" (Ether 2:9-12).

Ask Romney about that. Lee was offering a restrained interpretation of this bit of Mormon theology. How does Romney's view compare?

An unfair question? Too arcane? I don't think so. This a place where church doctrine directly addresses the U.S. Constitutional order. It suggests not only a theological interpretation of politics but a potentially theocratic politics that may well be contrary to liberal democratic pluralism. Can American Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Unitarians and Pagans and atheists and others participate in a national "covenant" with "the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ"?

Do I think a President Romney would spend much time thinking about Mormon eschatology? No: I actually think his father's more moderate Mormonism rubbed off on him more than he can afford to reveal, making him more pragmatic and calculating and less idealistic or ideological. (Or so I hope.) But if his faith — by which I mean his own religious tradition, not his pandering to the social views of conservative Evangelicals and Roman Catholics — matters in the presidential race, it matters especially on those points where his tradition has something very particular to say about the purpose and fate of the U.S. government.

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 7 October 2006 at 11:30 AM

Previous: 'Eyes on the Prize' returns to TV tonight.
Next: This week at Lappe on democracy.





October 8, 2006 06:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Did you read Dobson on Romney?

Falwell doesn't think Mormonism won't be a problem for Romney apparently.
Keep up the great blog!


October 9, 2006 12:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

For readers of the Article VI Blog, where my post is discussed in the final six paragraphs: It is entirely appropriate for reporters and voters to ask about a candidate's religious views when those views are directly related to the nature and purpose of the government. I agree that it's not relevant to the presidency of a secular state whether Romney's views of the godhead are compatible with orthodox Trinitarianism. But if a candidate believes that members of his church are divinely ordained to step in and rescue the U.S. government from a constitutional collapse of some sort, that's a pretty germane belief to discuss.

As for my "attitude" toward Romney, I wasn't hostile to Romney when he was first elected governor of Massachusetts as a moderate, reform-oriented Republican, but when he began bad-mouthing the state that elected him, and when it became clear that he was much more focused on running for president than running the state, it's true that my regard for him tanked.

As for Mormonism itself, I do not believe the distinctive religious claims of the LDS, but I am in no way anti-Mormon and maintain strong and close ties to my Mormon family. (This site is also featured on the blogrolls of several LDS blogs, including Times and Seasons and Dave's Mormon Inquiry.) In case you were wondering!


October 10, 2006 09:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

More at Article VI.


October 10, 2006 11:14 AM | Permalink for this comment

As a fairly mainstream Mormon that's often been exposed to the 'constitution hanging by a thread' concept, I've always viewed it as a prophecy that Mormons would some day help others rescue the constitution from those who would destroy democratic government in the US, and have never heard consistent explanations of the exact circumstances that would lead to that. I would think it could be a positive thing to have a candidate with a tradition (faith-based or otherwise) of support for the law of the land, rather than a threat.

FWIW, I'm sure Dobson doesn't consider himself anti-Mormon either. Interesting that he can't force himself to say much good about Romney, other than that he is attractive and his wife is beautiful. There's a deep thinker at work!

Jeremy Roberts:

October 10, 2006 12:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

It may not matter, but Joseph Smith probably never said that the Constitution would hang by a thread. Not, at least, according to Joseph Fielding Smith, Joseph F. Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. It comes from the "White Horse" prophecy. He did, however, say that the Constitution would be in danger. Not to split hairs, or threads, as it were.

Ray Swenson:

October 11, 2006 03:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

The canonical viewpoint of Mormons toward the US Constitution is found in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a set of revelations given to Joseph Smith and official Church positions. Section 134 can be found at, complete with footnotes cross referencing other statements in the D&C.

Section 134 and other official statements of LDS doctrine state that Mormons are pledged to support the constitutional government of the United States (where all but a few Mormons lived at the time). Other sections speak of the founding fathers as having been "raised up" by God and inspired in establishing the US and its Constitution. (Many historians have remarked on the amazing concentration of talent in that generation in a much smaller America) Mormons are exhorted to honor the "constitutional law of the land".

The only way the Constitution can be honored and supported is by following its precepts, including its combination of representative government, and the restraint on democracy imposed by a written constitution, incluidng the Bill of Rights, and the separation and balancing of power among the three branches of government, and between the Federal government and the States. Any attempt to concentrate power, to centralize it, to take it away from all the citizens, would be the THREAT to the Constitution which the supposed "prophecy" seems to warn against. Preservation of the Constitution, on the other hand, means preserving representative government, the protection of individuals agaqinst government power abuses, and the distribution of power among branches of the Federal government and with the States.

Therefore, the only way that Mormon elders could "save" the Constitution would be by participating in, and strengthening, the constitional government as it exists. The idea that some people seem to have that you could "preserve" the Constitution through some kind of seizure of power is screwy and self-contradictory. Any such "coup" would BE the threat to the Constitution!

Therefore, the ONLY way Mormons could "preserve" the Constitution when it is threatened is through the precise established republican principles that power constitutional government. Therefore, only Mormons working IN government (via election or appointment or employment) would be in a position to exercise any authority that would preserve constitutional government. Mormon Senators, Representatives, governors, judges and others would be the only ones who could do anything to save the Constitution, and the only way they could do it would be by obeying and honoring the Constitution and its principles. In other words, by being good citizens and government officials.


October 13, 2006 09:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think this is a fair question for Romney to answer.


October 17, 2006 09:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

A columnist for the Salt Lake City Weekly (an alternative newspaper) took up this issue back in July, but I'm only now coming across it. Ben Fulton does a little web research into Joseph Smith's "White Horse Prophecy" and concludes: "Just imagine the egg on the face of any opponent who attempts decoding the White Horse Prophecy while Romney coolly, calmly changes the topic."

("White Horse Mitt," Ben Fulton, Salt Lake City Weekly 7.13.06)


November 3, 2006 11:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

For the record, I grew up in a very Mormon family in Arizona and served a 2-year mission. I had never heard of the "White Horse Prophecy" until it was covered in a Wall Street Journal article today by Carrie Sheffield. I have no idea if it's authentic, but it is certainly not commonly discussed by Mormons (at least in my experience).

Regarding Romney, I think it would be unnatural for a non-Mormon not to wonder what role his religion would play in a possible presidency. I'm pretty sure he knows how to handle those questions considering his success thus far. From the little I know about him he seems like a straight shooter with a healthy backbone.

Because so many Americans view Mormons as somewhat of a mystery, I would be amazed frankly if he was elected president even if he ran the most solid campaign. It will be very interesting to see what happens.

C Thomson:

November 8, 2006 10:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

It seems to me that Mormons should be the most Libertarian supporting voters in the nation. That their President Bush is so insistent on protecting his in-power Repubicans at the expense of so many innocent soldiers and Iraqis is beyond me. Are you surprised that he fired Rumsfeld right after the election? Are you not amazed that he pushed a Constitution Shaking Anti-Habeus Corpus Law through the Senate and then took weeks to sign it?
This administration has indeed hung the Constitution by a thread. Fortunately, the American populous has voted out his underlings in the Congress. I would vote for Romney if he showed his true Libertarian Colors if he has them.
CT educator NYC/nowGA

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