Sunday, January 24, 2010

Julie M. Smith cringes at the Constitution being "inspired"

Over at Times and Seasons last week, Julie M. Smith said: "I cringe every time a Mormon brings up the notion that the Founding Fathers were inspired." Likewise the phrase, "the Constitution is inspired." And while she can't explain "exactly in what sense the Founders and/or the Constitution ... are/are not inspired," she says "the usual LDS reading makes my neck tense up."

I have a couple of questions for Julie. First, have you seen the 1991 book, Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, published by the BYU Religious Studies Center? The LDS viewpoint you scorn may have its roots in one or more of several dozen statements quoted in that book from a dozen Latter-day Prophets who all insist that the Constitution is "inspired."

Not flawless, "inspired." For instance, in all of my 40 years as a married member of the Church, I've never once heard a fellow Mormon claim that slavery or the right to vote should have remained as they were in 1787 because the Constitution is inspired. Not once.

Then there is the 1992 article, "The Divinely Inspired Constitution," written by a former BYU President and Utah Supreme Court justice who is currently an LDS apostle. Elder Dallin H. Oaks sees inspiration in what he calls "five great fundamentals" of the Constitution, the fifth of these being:

"The rule of law and not of men. Further, there is divine inspiration in the fundamental underlying premise of this whole constitutional order. All the blessings enjoyed under the United States Constitution are dependent upon the rule of law. That is why President J. Reuben Clark said, 'Our allegiance run[s] to the Constitution and to the principles which it embodies, and not to individuals.' The rule of law is the basis of liberty."

President Ezra Taft Benson has also quoted President Clark on this point:

"God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself." (Ensign, July 1972, p.59.)

"No loyalty to the man himself."

When we LDS say the Constitution is inspired, we are NOT demanding loyalty to any political leader. Cringing won't change it, the Constitution is inspired. I like how President Ezra Taft Benson put it during the bicentennial of the Constitution:

"I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land." (Ensign, Sept. 1987, p.11.)

I do hope the tenseness in your neck gets better.


Blogger Tim said...

I think Julie is talking about the cultural LDS interpretation, and not what these general authorities have said.
The Constitution (and I include the Bill of Rights in that) is very long. Many parts are good. Some, especially freedom of speech and religion, are essential (and I believe inspired).
But there are certainly parts of the Constitution that can (and should) be criticized, and not just stuff that has been corrected since the Constitution was written.
I've heard members of the church say "the Constitution is inspired, and therefore God wants us to (have the right to carry guns, use an electoral college when voting for a President, etc.)
I really don't know what God wants there, or if he even cares.
Personally, I don't think God cares that much about 90% of the Constitution--God primarily just wants us to be able to freely practice our religion.

1/24/2010 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous John Mansfield said...

Rex Lee's 1991 talk, "The Constitution and the Restoration" is a great one on this topic. Perhaps Julie's concern was something like this part from Lee's talk:

"A final area of constitutional interest unique to Latter-day Saints finds its source in the well-known "hanging by a thread" statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Similar statements have been reiterated by no fewer than six of his successors, including the current prophet. In a forthcoming book to be published by the Religious Studies Center, Professor Donald Cannon lists over forty instances in which these seven presidents have either used the 'thread' metaphor or something like it. But in none of those quotations cited by Professor Cannon has any Church leader ever been very specific as to the metaphor's meaning.

"Unfortunately, some members of the Church have been all too ready to offer their own explanations. The only thing consistent about these explanations is that in each instance, it was the Church member's own unresolved, often very private, grievance that supplied evidence that the thread was beginning to fray, sometimes beyond repair. Among some people, any problem from a tax increase to a failure to collect the garbage on time to a boundary dispute with one's neighbor is likely to call forth the observation that it is certainly easy to see how the Constitution is hanging by a thread. A companion assertion is that the election or appointment of certain persons, often the person making the assertion, to designated positions provides the key to preventing the demise of our constitutional system.

"In my view, this is another instance in which going beyond what our leaders have said can be misleading at best, and potentially fraught with mischief."

1/25/2010 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger cinepro said...

I think it's possible to find "the spirit" of the Constitution to be inspired, but not necessarily "the letter".

After all, if we worshiped it to such an absurd degree, we would never support man-made amendments. We would insist that all suggestions for changes come from the living Prophet.

1/25/2010 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

-------------- quote --------------
"From the general label 'divinely inspired,' some assume that the Constitution is tantamount to scripture, and therefore perfect in every respect, reflecting in every provision and every sentence the will of our Heavenly Father." (From Julie's original post, quoting Rex E. Lee.)

"It becomes a divine stamp of approval for ... the enslavement of human beings, the un-enfranchisement of women, the slow (and sometimes not-so-slow) genocide of Native Americans." (From Julie's original post.)
-------------- end quote --------------

This is a classic straw man argument, where arguments are made against a distortion of the other person's position, creating the appearance (only) of proving the other person wrong.

Arguments against the "perfect Constitution" are irrelevant because that view doesn't exist, not even among right wing extremists. I myself have associated with LDS right wing extremists for more than 40 years and I'm familiar with what they quote from the prophets and apostles. But I've never heard or read of a Constitutionalist making the argument that every sentence of the document came from God. Using that ridiculous straw man argument is a shameful fallacy.

1/26/2010 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


John Mansfield: I disagree with Rex Lee. I think the prophets and apostles have been sufficiently clear about the metaphor. For example:

"The Prophet Joseph Smith declared it will be the elders of Israel who will step forward to help save the Constitution.... Brethren, if we had done our homework and were faithful, we could step forward at this time and help save this country. The fact that most of us are unprepared to do it is an indictment we will have to bear. The longer we wait, the heavier the chains, the deeper the blood, the more the persecution and the less we can carry out our God-given mandate and world-wide mission. The war in heaven is raging on earth today. Are you being neutralized in the battle?" (Ezra Taft Benson, general conference, April 1965.)

Rex Lee either didn't read Ezra Taft Benson's many general conference talks on this subject or he just thought he was smarter than Benson.

1/26/2010 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve EM said...

I think it unlikely we could have sustainable freedom w/o the 2nd amendment, the application of which to the states via the 14th amendment only survives by one vote in SCOTUS in our day! If you want to know what the founders were thinking when they drafted the 2nd amendment, read the 3rd. Besides, I need guns to protect my food storage just to survive the apocalypse.

What does this have to do w/ NDBF?

1/27/2010 05:44:00 AM  

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