Never The Twain
A cautionary tale...
3 September 2003
In 1838, Joseph Smith, the handsome founder of the Mormon Church, hopped up on a barrel in a Missouri town square and yelled to the passing children and horses:
"If the people will let us alone we will preach the gospel in eace. But if they come on to molest us, we will establish our religion by the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean."
That said, he looked about himself with steely eyes, straightened his tie, got off his barrel, and shuffled off for a drink.
A few years later, things had really started to take off for Smith and Co. In 1845, the existence of the Mormon Kingdom of God was officially acknowledged by Apostle Pratt (no sniggering at the back!) who declared: "The Kingdom of God is come, even that Kingdom which will fill the whole earth and shall stand forever.
The revolutionary purpose of the Kingdom of God and its millennial plan is to reduce all nations and creeds to one political and religious standard..." - which sounds fantastic. If you're a Mormon. Failure to fall in line with the millennial plan, said Pratt, was to mark you out as an "inveterate enemy" of the Church. Sing out, brothers...
Lord, cause their foolish plans to fail / And let them faint or die...
For a few more years, the Mormons got on with the tiring business of marrying each other and reducing all nations and creeds to one political and religious standard; but it seemed to some that things were progressing a bit slowly, so in 1857 a bunch of Mormon militia took a bold step towards the establishment of a universal Mormon state by unsheathing their holy swords and murdering over one hundred non-Mormon men, women, and children in a wagon train heading for California.
"And let them faint or die..."
The Mormons called the killing an act of "blood atonement". Said Jedediah Grant (a leading Mormon of the day): "We have those amongst us that are full of all manner of abominations. Those need to have their blood shed, for water will not do, and their sins are of too deep a dye." And the leader of the Church, the notorious Brigham Young, just prior to the killing asked, "Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?" Yea! Greater love hath no man than to drag him from his wagon and hack him and his family to death. Most probably the children were weeping with thanks as they were getting hacked up. It's nice that such a pleasant happy scene has been given a lovely, pretty name: the Massacre at Mountain Meadows is how it is remembered. Except by the Mormons, who generally prefer not to.
So, did you enjoy your tale? You're probably thinking: "What? Mormons? Doesn't sound much like Mormons - hacking people to death..." Usually you think of Mormons as a nice quiet bunch of polygamous, secretly alcoholic, child-abusing lunatics. But they have a darker side. Each and every religion has within it the seeds of intolerance, because each claims to offer its followers "the truth". And as soon as you start thinking your truth is better than anyone else's - that's when the swords come out.
Jump forward a century and a half to Alabama, and the rumpus over the statue of the ten commandments...
Grown men thumping the pavement, weeping and praying to the Lord, as a lump of granite is wheeled out from the Alabama judicial headquarters. Tears and prayers and candles and shrieks and heads
shaking in disbelief. The Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America cries out above the hubbub: "The Supreme Court of the United States of America, and her sister federal courts throughout the land, have done all in their power to erase the name of Jesus from the hearts of our children, our schools, our work places, and the public square. They have declared war on Almighty God and we, the Church of Jesus Christ, will resist them..."
(How does it go? "We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.")
Republican Congressman Robert Aderholt had this to say: "To actually have the Ten Commandments carted out of the State Judicial Complex is a scene that one would expect to see in the former Soviet Union, not the United States of America. The federal courts should not be telling a state that there is no room for the public display of the Ten Commandments."
Listening to Congressman Aderholt, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Constitution of the United States wasn't a secular document. However, the constitutional secularism of the United States is perhaps its greatest (albeit sadly its most threatened) strength. The first amendment begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof..." In other words, America is not a Christian nation but a nation within which Christians are free to practice their religion, alongside individuals of all other faiths. Freedom of religion, said Thomas Jefferson, is: 'the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.'
Jefferson was often attacked by the clergy (who were forever fighting for the establishment of religion) for his insistence upon religious freedom: "they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of
But who's to say that tyranny has not already taken hold? The White House under George Bush is a House of Prayer, and America is 'one nation under God.' According to a recent Harris poll: 94% of adult Americans believe in God and 86% believe in miracles. And according to another poll, this time by the Pew Forum: 48% of Americans think the US enjoys special protection from God. (Christ Almighty, that's a scary thought. No less scary is the thought of Tony and George praying together, then unsheathing their swords and laying into the Musselmen).
The moment God is invoked in politics, the picture widens like a Rubens canvas and suddenly the saints and angels are trumpeting from the cloud-tops. Sticking their heavenly oars into human concerns, like the Judiciary. All perspective vanishes. A new agenda opens up - an agenda more sacred than life or death - the agenda of God.
"For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God" (Exodus 20:4).
As soon as a state becomes a religiously-run, then it defines itself upon its *difference* from others (its belief in the truth, its trust in the one true God, its special relationship with the Almighty) - not upon the *equality* of humankind. Non-believers exist simply to pity, convert or slay. God makes nice people do awful things. Even Mormons can cut children's throats in the name of God, and wage a Jihad.
God help us, but we're living in a Jihadic world, with each and every Jihad just as mental as the next...
The Jihad of Rev. Benham: "They have declared war on Almighty God and we, the Church of Jesus Christ, will resist them..."
The Jihad of George Bush Jnr: "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. May He guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America..."
The Jihad of General Boykin (a senior Pentagon official under Bush): "My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
The Jihad of Joseph Smith: "we will establish our religion by the sword..."
The Jihad of Osama Bin Laden: "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad...' (an ancient Islamic text, quoted by Bin Laden in a post-9/11 video).
This is why the shifting of the statue of the ten commandments out of the Alabama Judicial Complex is such an important act. It is a last ditch attempt to keep politics unholy, and God out of the courthouse. If the frothing evangelicals win their battle to get the commandments back in the lobby, then we might as well sit back and wait for the Spanish Inquisition to turn up. Dust off the old thumb screws and sharpen a few stakes.
If, however, we can honour the separation of Church and State, if we can keep that ugly lump of granite out of the rotunda, then we can move on to that other tiny little problem - the problem which will define the international political landscape of this century: the separation of State and Business.
Anyone for a new reformation?
For an interesting account of the Mormon massacre, see this essay by Will Bagley, author of 'Blood of the Prophets':
And for more on the fascinating character of Flip Benham, read this piece by the Rev. Carol Anne Lawler:
Benham's group, Operation Save America, is holding rallies this week in front of abortion clinics, churches and mosques to denounce abortion, the Muslim faith, and the Supreme Court's decision overturning the Texas sodomy law. In May, Benham attended Charlotte's annual Gay Pride Festival and screamed throughout an entire commitment service. He makes the words ‘Most people have enough religion to hate, but not enough to love’ ring true.