There is something inherently contradictory in Mormon culture that I need help grasping.
Most recently we have seen one side of it manifest in a degree of patriotism and American exceptionalism. American mormons are typically very patriotic people. Aside from sending our kids to the military, we rank among the most patriotic in the country. Many of us believe that the Constitution is directly inspired by God and too many of us like to reference Christopher Columbus in the Book of Mormon — I’m still not sure we should be pointing that out. Hearkening back to the days of Brigham Young, however, there is conflict regarding this patriotism.
Now, I can’t promise to know the most about Utah or Mormon history, but my knowledge is this: the USA wasn’t backing the mormons in their pursuit of building Zion so they fled to Mexico to make it on their own. I don’t know if at some point they realized that Manifest Destiny was inevitably going to absorb them or that the economics of being your own State within a Nation are not ideal for any kind of society, but at some point, they wanted back in. And here lies the paradox:
We are known for being a particularly obedient society. The 12th article of faith defines this obedience in this sense. We support the rule of law and the leaders of the land to which we belong; whether its the United States of America, Nazi Germany or Tribal East Africa. We believe this to the degree that we can use it for an excuse to obey laws we don’t necessarily agree with. 14,000 mormons lived in Nazi Germany and I’ve never heard of a mormon uprising in Munich.
We also strongly believe that we are entitled to personal revelation to govern ourselves and our stewardships. Moses declared, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” There is an inherent strain of LDS thought that says we are subject to laws only until we are free from them through Christ’s second coming. This spirit has begun to bleed into our patriotism.
I see a lot of open disobedience to the laws of the land with the justification that these actor’s are instead abiding by a higher law. Cliven Bundy and Phil Lyman are anecdotes, but the amount of news coverage and soft, online support they have garnered has been building. My own representative to the United States Congress has reassured his constituents that his only goals as a legislator are defunding the EPA and repealing Obamacare. How’s that for “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law?"
So which one is it? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere in between, but the more often the church takes a side on political issues, the more often Cliven Bundys aren’t called to disciplinary councils, the more often LDS congressmen and women run and win elections on the mantra of “shrinking government to the size that we can drown it in the bathtub” the more I wonder about our heritage as a people of the 12th Article of Faith.