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The 96 Theses: Suggestions for Improving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 49-60

Rule of Law

A recent comment at Dave's Mormon Inquiry  has me thinking about the rule of law.  Just like a speaker in sacrament meeting opens with a quote from Webster's, I will defer to Wikipedia for a definition:  "The rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure decided by government. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance."

The Rule of Law is a governing principle that most of Western civilization is based on.  One of the biggest political problems in the modern world is that there are so many nations and ethnic groups that don't have the rule of law as a cultural tradition.  I won't go into details about that specifically, but suffice it to say that the middle east, south america, africa, and most of asia would be much more peaceful and stable places if they had a consistent belief and practice of the rule of law.

Unfortunately, Europe and North American countries do not have a lock on rational political behavior.  I am increasingly saddened that the current Bush administration is doing away with many of the safeguards of the rule of law.  As someone who has voted for republican candidates since I first voted for Bush Senior in 1988, I am fearful that the begining of the end of American world power will be traced back to Bush Junior's seemingly lack of respect for the rule of law and of personal civil liberties.

But this is a New Order Mormon blog, not a political one, so let's now think about the rule of law in relation to the church.  Even though we give lots of lip service to living "eternal laws", the church really has no tradition of following "written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure decided by" the church's governing councils.

Instead, everything comes down to "follow the prophet".  While that may make a maudlin Primary song chorus, it is not a proper base for a system of life-governing principles.  Take the Word of Wisdom for example.  In the original "revelation", it is only given as advice, not commandment.  Later, God tells a different prophet that it is now a commandment.  The history of the church is replete with examples of God changing his mind.

Does God follow the rule of law, or is it more likely that men purporting to speak for God are really just petty despots, desperate for unquestioning followers?

Comments

Equality

Nice thoughts, -Domokun-. Glad to have you back here guest blogging. I think Joseph Smith gave the answer in his letter to Nancy Rigdon. You remember her: the buxom 19-year-old daughter of Sidney Rigdon who spurned Joseph's request that she become part of his holy harem. In a letter in which he tried to guilt her into reconsidering her refusal, he told her that whatever God requires at the moment is right regardless of what God may have said before (I'm paraphrasing, but trust me, I am doing no violence to the concept). In other words, God is not bound by law but is the author of law--whatever God says is right. And, of course, God's will is made known through His prophet; ergo, whatever the current Prophet says is right, regardless of what may have been said before. Indeed, this concept has support from Ezra Taft Benson's 14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, the first of which, iirc, says "the living Prophet is more important than the standard works." Yes, you have hit it right on the head, my friend. The stability of the law in this scenario is dependent in the stability of God. But the God of Joseph Smith and Mormonism appears to be arbitrary, capricious, and whimsical, judging by the history of doctrinal changes you touch on in your post. With a whimsical God, the "rule of law" becomes a mere plaything in the hands of the living prophet. Is that a problem? I think so. My true-believing Mormon friends seem undisturbed by it.

Lunar Quaker

Not only that, but to be included in the inner circle of the righteous, one must adhere to the "unwritten order of things."

-Domokun-

Yes, I was thinking abut the "unwritten order of things" as well. If it's unwritten, it must be a test of discernment. Somehow that reminds me of how Maoist China seemed to work, too. Those who couldn't intuit what Mao wanted were cast out of the ruling elite.

I also wanted to bring up the inconsistency between bishops in different wards. There needs to be a written, public, "order of things" the church adheres to. The CHI doesn't count, since it's not public, and lay members can't "call" an ambitious bishop or SP on their personal hobby subjects, such as denying a TR for pepsi drinkers or for those who fail to reach 100% home teaching. Also, for those who have read the CHI, it's more like CYA instructions for the corporate church than a real practical instruction manual for local leaders to help the people the ward.

Nom de Cypher

Great minds think as one, it seems. I was writing a similar blog entry today. Personally, I'm baffled by the seemingly contradictory notions that, on the one hand, we must follow the living prophet, and on the other that "we don't need very much revelation". I guess I'm further confused as to where to go for an answer to this seeming dilemma. It seems that scripture says trust the scripture, and the living prophets say to trust the living prophets.
And they wonder why we find it so hard to live this life.

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