Monday, February 27, 2012

The Mormon's "republican" (sic) Heritage

James R. Rogers in First Things explores Mitt Romney's suggestion that the Constitution might be "inspired by God."

Inspired by God? It sounds like just another sop tossed to Tea-Party constitutionalism, but Romney was in fact invoking a longstanding Mormon doctrine which views the U.S. Constitution as not only great, but literally divine.

A few years back, at the behest of a couple of fresh-faced missionaries, I read through the Book of Mormon. Its focus on politics surprised me. Of course, the Old Testament is a hugely political set of books, setting down God-given laws for Israel and directing her relationship with other nations, but Latter Day Saint scriptures carry accents quite distinct from the Bible.

A repeated theme is that this new “chosen land” of America is to be “the land of liberty” (Alma 46:17). Referring to America in 2 Nephi 10:11, for example, the text states that “this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land.”

So, too, the identification of national “liberty” with republicanism in the book (or at least with anti-monarchicalism) explains what otherwise would be a striking oxymoron. In Alma 46:35, the LDS prophet Moroni puts to death those Amalickiahites “who would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom.” The otherwise Pythonesque threat to kill someone unless he agrees to be free disappears if we understand the action is addressed to royalist rebels in a civil war. (Think of the loyalty oaths offered to defeated Confederates during and after the Civil War.) The “covenant to support the cause of freedom” is the repudiation of royalism for the nation.

A substantive commitment to republicanism is not controversial in the U.S. today. But our Constitution provides for republicanism not because it’s divine revelation, but because it’s consistent “with the genius of the American people” (Federalist No. 39) and with the American experience. LDS political thought, then, stands in a very different relationship to the American experiment than does, say, orthodox Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Methodist thought.
 Rogers thinks this kind of talk "raises honest and legitimate questions," although he is at pains to say it doesn't in itself disqualify a Mormon from the Presidency.   Rogers is bothered by the "divinity" aspect.  I am more impressed by the small-r republicanism of it all.   I'm used to the idea that Kings rule by divine right; I did not know the principle applied to team anti-monarchist as well.  May be Vox Populi does in fact equal Vox Dei after all.

H/T Margaret.  

1 comment:

Jimbo said...

Not sure, but I think this may be a confluence of American republicanism (most definitely small "r"} and religious cults. The latter, anywhere in the world typically depend upon strange (to the dominant local culture) beliefs and practices yet, because it is part of that culture, also reflects some part of the larger political culture. So, the totally bizarre credo and religious history of the Mormons could sit nominally (I would argue) with the American republican value system.