Did Jesus Foresee The US Constitution? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  May 30 2012 @ 11:17am

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Here's a sane perspective from a respected legal Mormon elder:

Reverence for the United States Constitution is so great that sometimes individuals speak as if its every word and phrase had the same standing as scripture. Personally, I have never considered it necessary to defend every line of the Constitution as scriptural. For example, I find nothing scriptural in the compromise on slavery or the minimum age or years of citizenship for congressmen, senators, or the president. President J. Reuben Clark, who referred to the Constitution as “part of my religion,” 6 also said that it was not part of his belief or the doctrine of the Church that the Constitution was a “fully grown document.” “On the contrary,” he said, “We believe it must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world.” 7

That was also the attitude of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He faulted the Constitution for not being “broad enough to cover the whole ground.” In an obvious reference to the national government’s lack of power to intervene when the state of Missouri used its militia to expel the Latter-day Saints from their lands, Joseph Smith said,

“Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. … Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.”

Smith knew whereof he spoke, of course. But it's great to have the LDS church on board with the Constitution as a living, evolving document. Does Romney believe that? Or is he an originalist? Another good question to ask him when dealing with the interaction of his religion and governance.

But then I look up a few references made in the piece to previous revelations, and it's hard to maintain a straight face. Note this from the "Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, 16 December 1833". Jesus tells Smith:

In order that all things be prepared before you, observe the commandment which I have given concerning these things. Which saith, or teacheth, to purchase all the lands with money, which can be purchased for money, in the region round about the land which I have appointed to be the land of Zion, for the beginning of the gathering of my saints; All the land which can be purchased in Jackson county, and the counties round about, and leave the residue in mine hand.

Like Matt and Trey, I love the idea of Jesus designating Jackson County, Missouri as the new Zion. But a new Zion is what America is, according to Mormons. And its Constitution was divine, because Jesus himself said so:

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

Here is Jesus explaining that he was behind the Founding Fathers and the Constitution (he also took pains to deal with a minor matter in the same revelation: "And again, I say unto you, it is contrary to my commandment and my will that my servant Sidney Gilbert should sell my storehouse, which I have appointed unto my people, into the hands of mine enemies.")

Christianity in this reading becomes something that endorses limited government, separation of powers and individual liberty. It is politically indistinguishable from the United States and yet it is a universal truth. And that truth must be spread around the world. Mormonism is perhaps the perfect religion for neocons to encourage in the citizenry. It mixes patriotism, liberty and American exceptionalism with the indispensable admixture of divine blessing.

It's also, of course, a mainstream Christian heresy. But only Ross Douthat seems prepared to call it that in public.

(Painting: a Christianist – not Mormon – understanding of the fusion of Christianity and American nationalism. See it in interactive form here.)