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?