Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Liberal Mormon

Two years ago, over at A Liberal MormonDerek Staffanson posted a blog, Separation of Church and State III: Making a State Incognizant of Religion. Here's a taste of what Staffanson characterizes as an "ideal situation":
Government Oaths. Government has no place declaring in whose name government oaths should be sworn. Whether oaths of office or in court, those swearing people in should not include "so help you/me God" in the recitation. Individuals swearing those oaths are certainly well within their rights of expression to add personal invocations to the higher power of their choice, should they so chose. But making that invocation part of the administration of the oath is inappropriate institutionalization of religious belief on the part of the state.
The two preceding blogs are Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle, and Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both. Here's a snippet from Part II that cites Joseph Smith, which is accepted as Mormon scripture (Kirtland, Ohio, 17 August 1835, Doctrine & Covenants 134:4-5, 9):
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. (emphasis added)
[dot - dot - dot]
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
Note: Joseeph Smith (age 29) wrote this before the oppression imposed by the state of Missourri and in Illinois with the assasination of Joseph Smith, and later, imposed by the federal government during the Mormon resettlement in the Great Salt Lake Rocky Mountain Basin.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

My reading of several Mormons across the internet is that the final Joseph Smith quote here is often argued as Smith calling for a strict separation of church and state, or referring to "Making a State Incognizant of Religion."

But this would be taking Smith out of context. All he's referring to here is the state preferring one religion over another. You have to read the "whereas" part to get his true meaning.

The opinion of blogger Staffanson has no direct relation to the quotes from Mormon Founder Joseph Smith. This is a "formal" objection, that the quotes do not have a necessary linkage: Safferson is speaking of oaths, Smith is speaking of government in general not interfering with the freedom of religious conscience. Any connection is tenuous at best, not probative.

Considering that Joseph Smith ran for president of the United States [!], he seems to have more in common with Pat Robertson than Roger Williams.

When the Prophet realized that none of the leading candidates for the presidency would pledge to support redress for the Saints, he held a historic meeting in the mayor’s office at Nauvoo on January 29, 1844, with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and others. It was unanimously decided that Joseph Smith would run for president of the United States on an independent platform. Thus began one of the most fascinating third-party presidential campaigns in American history.

Joseph Smith’s Platform
Joseph wasted little time in preparing a platform for his campaign. He met with William W. Phelps and dictated to him the headings for a political pamphlet titled General Smith’s Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States, the foundation document for his presidential platform. The platform didn’t specifically mention the Latter-day Saints’ persecution in Missouri; instead, it offered solutions for many of the nation’s most pressing problems.

The most important plank in Joseph’s platform concerned the powers of the president. Joseph wanted to give the chief magistrate “full power to send an army to suppress mobs … [without requiring] the governor of a state to make the demand.”

Eliminating slavery was another important part of his platform. He wrote in General Smith’s Views: “The Declaration of Independence ‘holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;’ but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin.” Instead of simply calling for the abolition of slavery, Joseph Smith’s platform would have Congress “pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from members of Congress.”

The platform also proposed changes to Congress. Joseph wanted to reduce congressional pay from eight dollars to two dollars per day. He wanted to have only two members of the House of Representatives for every one million people.

In addition, Joseph favored extensive prison reform, forming a national bank, and annexing Oregon and Texas. He favored extending the United States “from the east to the west sea,” but only if Native Americans gave their consent.