The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often referred to as Mormons, are often referred to as an “American” church. Of course, in reality, the church has spread world-wide, with more members living outside the United States than inside of it. However, the foundations of the church are found in the United States and the Book of Mormon concerns events that happened on the American continent. Some of the information floating around about Mormons and America are true and some are not. In this article, we’ll explore both the misconceptions and the realities of Mormon beliefs about America
Do Mormons really believe the American Indians are the descendents of the people in the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, starts with a family. This family, headed by a prophet named Lehi, came from Jerusalem just prior to the fall of Israel. They were escaping efforts to kill Lehi for calling people to repentence. God commanded them to leave and eventually they ended up somewhere on the American continent. The Book of Mormon does not specify where this place is, and, although there are many theories developed by researchers, there is no official revelation on the subject. Generally, revelation is reserved for things that impact our eternal salvation, and this does not.
The idea that the family of Lehi, and a few other groups who also came in ancient times, arrived on an empty continent, was never canonized—made official. Many Mormons, including prophets, personally believed it. The Mormons believe that where there is no canonized doctrine on a subject, we’re entitled to have our own opinion. Mormons celebrate the ability to think for ourselves. However, in recent years, researchers at Brigham Young University have done population studies based on information in the Book of Mormon and have come to the conclusion that the people who came to the Americas from Jerusalem could not have come to an empty continent. In fact, the Book of Mormon itself makes this fairly clear. There would have to have been others here, some of whom joined into their groups. The introductory material found in the book was written by Bruce R. McConkie and reflects his opinion, not official church doctrine.
It should also be noted that the Book of Mormon ends with a great battle that killed all but one of the Nephites, who are the primary authors of the book, and many of the Lamanites, who were usually, but not always, the antagonists. However, the final author of the book reported that when all the Nephites were dead, the Lamanites simply took to killing each other, being a bloodthirsty type. Therefore it is likely there was not a large population remaining when the violence ended. In addition, Jeff Lindsay, who has written extensively on this subject, points out that we don’t know the genetic make-up of most of the immigrants. For more on this subject, see his work on the Book of Mormon and DNA.
Do Mormons believe in the White Horse prophecy?
In December, 2009 and again in January, 2010, the Mormons issued an official statement saying: “”The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.” However, this rumor was refuted as far back as 1918, when Joseph Fielding Smith, who was then the prophet, explained that the church had researched the prophecy and decided it was not true. It did not follow the prescribed pattern for prophecies, which is that the prophet, who receives the revelation, then submits it to the apostles for agreement, and then it is announced to the church. This prophecy, which talked about political turmoil and the Latter-day Saints saving the constitution, was never given to either the apostles or the church as a whole. It was merely reported by a church member long after Joseph Smith was dead as being part of a private conversation. There is no way to know the context of the conversation. Since it was never canonized, it is safe to presume it was not meant to be prophecy. The statement from President Joseph Fielding Smith suggests the horses and the details of the last days were false. Whether or not other parts were also false is not known, but knowledgeable Mormons today simply give no credence to the false prophecy. Mitt Romney, Mormon candidate for president, has stated that neither he nor his father believed it to be true.
For more on the White Horse prophecy, read, “The White Horse Prophecy” by George Cobabe.
Do Mormons believe the United States has a special place in God’s plan?
Although Mormons do not believe the White Horse prophecy, they do believe the United States was a part of God’s plan and its founding was divinely inspired. As mentioned earlier, the Book of Mormon takes place on the American continent. Eventually, the records that became the Book of Mormon were hidden in a hill in Palmyra, New York by a man named Moroni, the last prophet of a great ancient nation. This place was chosen because God knew that the United States would one day come into being and would allow freedom of religion. The nation’s founding was prophesied by Moroni’s ancestors in the Book of Mormon. (See 2 Nephi 1:7.) Mormons believe many people throughout history, including early Protestant reformers, were inspired by God to work for freedom of religion so that the fullness of gospel of Jesus Christ could be restored to the earth. (Learn more about why a restoration is needed.)
Mormons believe the early founders were inspired to create a nation that would allow freedom of religion and this principle, of course, is critical if God is to be able to bring forth his gospel without interference from government. We’ve seen in history that the official religion changed whenever the ruler of the nation changed, and when kings and queens are permitted to choose the religion, God is not in control of His own church.
For this reason, the United States, and its Constitution, hold an inspired place in the teachings of Mormons. Mormons generally do not hold every word of the Constitution, in either its current or original form, to be divinely inspired. Joseph Smith said, “Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. … Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.” He referred to the lack of what became the fourteenth amendment, which was not passed until after the Civil War. However, Mormons do believe some portions of the Constitution are inspired, largely those that protect freedom of religion in one way or another. Dallin H. Oaks, a Mormon apostle, a former state Supreme Court justice, and an expert on Constitutional law, gave his personal opinion on what portions of the Constitution are inspired:
“I have always felt that the United States Constitution’s closest approach to scriptural stature is in the phrasing of our Bill of Rights. Without the free exercise of religion, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades after the Bill of Rights was ratified. I also see scriptural stature in the concept and wording of the freedoms of speech and press, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, the requirements that there must be probable cause for an arrest and that accused persons must have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and the guarantee that a person will not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “Reason, necessity, tradition, and religious conviction all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights.”
The Declaration of Independence had posited these truths to be “self-evident,” that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” and that governments are instituted “to secure these Rights.” This inspired Constitution was established to provide a practical guarantee of these God-given rights (see D&C 101:77), and the language implementing that godly objective is scriptural to me.” (See Dallin H. Oaks, “The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” Ensign, Feb 1992, 68.)
While each Mormon has his own opinions on which parts of the Constitution are inspired, it is understood by Mormons that it was inspired by God—at least portions of it—and that it was designed for the purposes of God.
If Mitt Romney becomes president, will he be required to put the church before the Constitution?
This question has arisen often during the presidential campaign. Some claim that Mitt Romney, Mormon candidate for president, has taken an oath to put the church before the nation. This is entirely false. The Mormons have issued the following statement on this subject:
“Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.
We have seen in recent times that Mormon politicians often taken divergent positions, sometimes in direct conflict with the teachings of their church. Positions taken by the church on issues such as immigration, gay rights, and abortion have been supported by some Mormon politicians and rejected by others, without penalty to the politician. They are elected to represent their parties and their constituencies, not the church. Each politician brings to the table his own values and those values often come from a variety of sources. Therefore, a person evaluating any political candidate needs to look at his personal beliefs and his previous actions, rather than at his religion. A candidate may or may not personally act on the teachings of his religion—only an evaluation of his actions and actual beliefs in a political setting can inform how he might legislate.
Learn more at the official site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”).