Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

By nature, newswriters abhor secrecy, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”) is the most secretive of America’s large  religious denominations.

Headquarters provides no information about church decision-making and finances. Believers are oath-bound to reveal nothing about temple rituals. In 1999 church authorities even won a federal court order to halt Internet postings from the secret “General Handbook of Instructions” that defines procedures and policies for local leaders.

However under Thomas Monson, president since 2008, "Handbook” material is now available to members and the public. Also during  recent years a “Gospel Topics” section on the church’s official website has posted revealing historical essays about founder Joseph Smith’s odd “plural marriage” (i.e. polygamy) practices, the ban on full membership for blacks (ended  in 1978), disputed matters regarding the Saints’ unique scriptures, etc.

On Sept. 26th, the Church Historian’s Press issued a first-class, lavishly annotated volume in its ongoing Joseph Smith Papers series: “Administrative Records: Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844–1846,” ($59.95). That title may not sound like anything to set journalists’ pulses pounding, but there’s a great story here. These legendary texts have been kept ultra-secret the past 170 years. And for good reason.

Background: In tumultuous 1844, Smith was assassinated while being held in jail for ordering destruction of a newspaper shop of dissenters  in Nauvoo, Illinois, who opposed his polygamy and political designs. At the time Smith was running for president of the U.S. after failing to get promises from the presidential candidates to protect his oft-persecuted flock.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Ideology or theology? Is it time for Western journalists to start taking ISIS at its word?

Ideology or theology? Is it time for Western journalists to start taking ISIS at its word?

So here is an important question facing journalists, diplomats and presidential candidates as they ponder the mysteries of the Middle East, at this moment in time. This is the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I explored in this week's podcast. Click here to check that out.

That question: Is ISIS a political state defined by a political system, by an ideology, in the same sense as the United States, France or Germany? Or, is the Islamic State best understood as a theocracy in which its political and religious institutions are wedded together, while operating according to laws and logic based on its leaders own understanding of Islamic theology and tradition?

Yes, ISIS leaders want land, oil, money, weapons and prisoners. But they also want converts -- other Muslims, for sure -- to their cause and their version of Islam, both in the regions they conquer as well as in the lands they threaten.

So ponder the opening lines of the recent ISIS statement (as printed in The Washington Post) in which its leaders claimed responsibility for the massacres in Paris:

In a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah, a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate (may Allah strengthen and support it) set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe -- Paris. This group of believers were youth who divorced the worldly life and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah's sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies. They did so in spite of His enemies. Thus, they were truthful with Allah -- we consider them so -- and Allah granted victory upon their hands and cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland.

The bottom line: Does this sound like political language?

The question, for journalists (and I assume statesmen as well) has become rather obvious: To what degree should the words of the ISIS leadership be taken seriously? When they say they are dedicated to building a caliphate -- an Islamic state for all of the world's Muslims -- to what degree should outsiders take that apocalyptic claim seriously?

Want to ponder a possible end-game here? Do the ISIS leaders plan to take Mecca from Saudi Arabia?

Please respect our Commenting Policy