What is the Kingdom of God? If it were a political entity, how would it be organized? What sort of charter would it have? In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring at From the Desk, Nathan Oman discussed an early effort to think through these types of questions in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints known as the Council of Fifty. What follows here is a copost to the full interview, which is available here.
Believing that the Last Days were at hand, “Latter-day Saints expected secular governments to fail and that religious community would form the nucleus of a divinely inspired government to replace them,” Oman explained. The Council of Fifty was intended to be that nucleus–a shadow government of sorts to step in and take the place of existing political systems as they collapsed in the final days. While that sounds like a conspiracy that could lead to some dramatic stories, the reality was much more tame. “Practically, the Latter-day Saints were facing rising persecution in the United States and needed a forum in which leaders could discuss plans to deal with that persecution—and ultimately to relocate beyond the then-borders of the United States,” and they spent most of their time discussing “practical and political matters related to the Latter-day Saint community, particularly plans to quit the United States and settle someplace in the western interior of North America.”
Still, one interesting aspect of this Council of Fifty was their efforts to draft a constitution. When asked about why they felt that they should create one, Oman said that:
It’s not entirely clear. Mainly, one suspects that as Americans that members of the Council took it as axiomatic that any polity required a written constitution. There was no immediate practical problem to which the constitution would have been a solution.
Likewise, there was no polity in existence or in the immediate future that would have required a written constitution.
They didn’t make a significant amount of progress, producing a document that “consisted of an imperfectly specified system of judges and a great deal of largely horotory language. In short, the document that they produced couldn’t possibly have been used to completely specify a set of actually functioning set of institutions.” While they attempted to write it in the voice of the Lord, modeling it on Joseph Smith’s revelations since they “assumed that only a government inspired by God could be wholly legitimate” and as such, “they felt that any constitution for the kingdom of God needed to be a revelation,” they ultimately “expressed doubts that they had fully captured the mind and will of God.” In the end, “Joseph Smith claimed to receive a revelation in which he stated that the council itself was the constitution of the kingdom of God. By this he seemed to have meant not so much the institutional structure of the council but rather its collective membership.”
For more about this story, including some insight into the legacy of this effort to write a constitution for the Kingdom of God, head on over to read the full interview here.