I can’t believe you people.
I don’t normally go in for “Mormons vs. America” grandstanding. When I think about politics and the restored gospel, I’m far more interested in working through theological problems that are every bit as much present in our own faith as they are continuous with the whole Christian political tradition. I think setting up Mormonism as one more interest group fighting for its rights within the liberal order is silly.
But the heck with all that.
Yesterday and earlier today, you people–all of you members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–voted to hand the executive branch of this country powers over imprisonment, trials, secrecy, and much more, far beyond anything which the “wise men….raised up” for the purpose of establishing this country and this Constitution would have ever considered. You have voted to allow the President of the United States to suspend the writ of habeus corpus when it comes to prosecuting certain defendants (as identified by the president), to strip the jurisdiction of the country’s courts when it comes to dealing with certain defendants (again, as identified by the president), to say nothing of what the bill you helped to pass allows insofar as torture, detainment, arbitrary arrest, coerced evidence, and all the rest is concerned.
Yes, yes, I know. The war of terrorism is real. I’m not one of those who dismiss without a thought the civilizational aspects and stakes in this conflict. While I think any Christian ought to be appalled at the very idea of torture, I admit that intelligence gathering is almost by definition a difficult and dangerous process, and that grey areas may be necessary. I even acknowledge that the prospect of putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on public trial would be problematic in the extreme. But still….don’t you get it? When the executive branch has the power to identify a U.S. citizen as an unlawful enemy combatant, lock them up secretly, use illgeally obtained evidence against them, interrogate them in ways that get to be defined for the most part solely by the executive branch itself, etc., you have established a precedent that can, and probably will, be used at other times, in other contexts. Against “home-grown” terrorists, perhaps. Against people who provide “material support” to enemy groups. Against people with dangerous beliefs. Against religious crazies. Against, well….Mormons.
You all know what the latter-day prophets have said about the U.S. Constitution, right? You all know how bitterly Joseph Smith railed against local officials who winked at mobs and refused to respect proper legal procedures, refused to grant him fair trials, refused to require his enemies to produce real evidence (which is what habeus corpus is all about), right? You did learn all this in Sunday School, right?
(And no, Senator Smith, you don’t get off by whining about how you wanted to strip the habeus corpus provision from the bill before you ended up supporting it; your job is to legislate, not to play with fire while promising your constituents that the Supreme Court will force you to repair what you did to the Constitution today at some later date. That’s the way children talk, not adults.)
I focus on you 14 legislators (and send praises to Senator Reid and Representatives Mark and Tom Udall, Mormon politicians who decided not to play games with our freedoms) because, like it or not, the religion we share forces us to be invested in the United States and the U.S. Constitution. Whatever God’s purposes in guiding the families of Lehi and Jared, and Columbus, and the Pilgrims, to a promised land, it was not for secret trials with hidden evidence and coerced confessions. The Salem witch trials were not the pinnacle of American Zion.* Neither was Lincoln’s casual use of martial law. Neither was FDR’s internment of Japanese-American citizens. All of the above can be explained, of course; perhaps they can even be defended, as you all presumably would defend your votes in this time of paranoia and fear. But I strongly doubt Joseph Smith would be convinced by any such defense. Sorrowful to hear it, but not convinced.
*I owe these lines to Jonathan Green.