I was a fan of Rex Rammell earlier this year. He seemed like a clean-cut guy, I suspected he was LDS, and he was running for Governor of the State of Idaho. Best of all, Rammell had an interesting story. I felt he deserved to win. I mailed my $8 to him to get his DVD. I read some of the documents on his website.
He had a handful of opinions that sat well with me. We shared the same views on the Constitution, on gun control, and on government in general. There were also a few that didn’t sit well with me. I felt it was contrary to my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “deport all illegal immigrants”. I don’t want more nuclear power plants. I don’t think that it is appropriate to make an “Official Language”. Even when his reasoning for some of these things was sound (when you really dug for it!), Rammell’s bluntness didn’t seem right for the top office in our state. This leaves me trying to find the balance between substance and presentation.
“YEAH, I’D BUY ONE OF THOSE”
After Rammell’s Obama Hunting tags comment, I tossed my support for him out the window. It wasn’t the comment itself, either – yeah, it was a stupid thing to say, yeah, it wasn’t funny, yeah, I know he wasn’t really advocating being an idiot – it was his lack of apology and stupid defenses that made me gag.
According to Rammell, his response to a woman in the crowd who yelled “Would you buy Obama tags?” was “I’m sure we could sell some of those”, not “yeah, I’d buy one of those” as reported by the local paper. Having not been there, I am split on whether to believe a newspaper who seeks to thrill its readers and is eager to increase readership or a guy who made an embarrassing mistake and is eager to gain votes.
I’m inclined to believe the paper. Rammell’s first response to the scandal was:
"Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington D.C." (Idaho Statesman)
Perhaps this is just his sense of “humor”, but I along with scores of other readers and reporters wondered, “Why isn’t he apologizing and moving on instead of digging his hole deeper?”
Still, even if the remark was as Rammell said, would I want a politician in office who can make such a slip-up?
Now Rammell is stirring a new controversy. It probably won’t be all over the Huffington post and the New York Times like the last one, but its effect is far more serious in the scope of potential unwanted consequences. Boise-area news station KTVB reported today:
“Rex Rammell says he will hold a series of special meetings exclusive to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The republican says although the meetings are private, they’re not a secret.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate to speak to non-LDS people about LDS prophecies,” says Rammell. “I don’t see anything wrong with a person wanting to be a public servant and standing strong on faith-based principles."
The specific prophecy mentioned in the article is the well-known, oft-quoted (Beck, Skousen, others) one that, in its numerous variations, states:
“the Constitution will be hanging by a thread and that the Latter-day Saint elders will step forward and save it."
I should say right here, I am one of those who does believe the prophecy, attributed to the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. It is my duty to also say, however, that this comment has been disputed – he may have never said it, or if he did, he may not have said exactly this thing. Regardless, it seems to not even be an official part of Church Doctrine. It is not found in any official publication, except a quote in a Church magazine by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in “These Are Not Men To Be Conquered” which was published in 1980 in which he quoted President J. Reuben Clark, Jr who had said in 1942:
“You and I have heard all our lives that the time may come when the Constitution may hang by a thread. I do not know whether it is a thread or a small rope by which it now hangs, but I do know that whether it shall live or die is now in the balance.
“I have said to you before, brethren, that to me the Constitution is a part of my religion. In its place it is just as much a part of my religion as any other part. It is a part of my religion because it is one of those institutions which God has set up for His own purposes, and, as one of the brethren said today, set up so that this Church might be established, because under no other government in the world could the Church have been established as it has been established under this government.
“I think I would be safe in saying that my fellowship with you in the Church depends upon whether or not I accept the revelations and the principles which God has revealed. If I am not willing to do that, then I am not entitled to fellowship. Anyone else who fails to accept the revelations and the principles which God has revealed stands in precisely the same situation.”
I scrambled through my own collections of books and files, trying to find the original quote, but could not. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, nor does it indicate it does. As I said earlier, I believe it, and it also is probably not official Church doctrine.
Why am I concerned, then, if I believe this thing, that a politician wants to hold special meetings centered on this concept?
Whenever a group of people meet outside the established order of the Church to discuss religion, the inherent checks and balances of the Church are put aside, opportunities for power-seeking and “priestcraft” arise, and the potential for individual apostasy is greatly increased. This is why the church discourages external “scripture study” groups (outside Sunday school, personal study of scripture, seminary and institute, or FHE), and, in a similar way, why using non-approved materials for teaching in church (works of fiction by LDS authors, opinion books on points of doctrine, etc) is also discouraged. It is reasonable to suggest, also, that blogging my own opinions on Church doctrine is also dangerous.
I worry for Rammell, because he was a “normal guy” – raising his elk, living in the hills – and then he got into a disagreement with the government and began to see all the support he was getting, and seems to have been bit by the “fame and power” bug. Having been in similar positions before, I know how easily a person can get caught up into crowd-pleasing and trying to form an iconic image. I see this craving in Rammell in the way he organizes his website, the way he keeps posting documents of his own writing, and in the old-fashioned silly campaign costumes he wears.
If he is heading toward the “God and Guru” position with his politics, dabbling in the unofficial religious setting is dangerous.
CHURCH’S CONCERN WITH STATE
One point of doctrine related directly to politics is that the Church officially seeks to remain neutral on political issues. This has nearly always been the case in its support or opposition of candidates or issues that have arisen; the exceptions only being made in issues involving legislation that opposes the existing points of the Gospel – moral points like “gay marriage” and gambling. The Church is not a platform or force for politics and political change, but politics are used to defend the Church, it’s beliefs and it’s members. Maybe it’s better stated: The Church is not a tool at the hand of politics, but the Church – like all organizations and all citizens – may use politics to protect its safety and freedoms.
MY CONCERN WITH RAMMELL’S MEETINGS
Rammell seems to be ignoring several points that I think need to be addressed. These exclusionary meetings don’t follow logic:
FACT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does not exclude non-members from its meetings. (D&C 46:3)
QUESTION: Then why is Rammell holding exclusionary meetings? Are his political goals more “sacred” and special then church meetings?
FACT: If the “Constitution Hanging By A Thread” prophecy is part of official church doctrine, then the revelation was given to the leader of the church for the church. Being for the church, the actual act of saving the constitution would be performed under the direction of church leadership, and not through individual fanaticism.
QUESTION: By what authority does Rammell gather Elders in the church to fulfill this prophecy? (Easy answer: Rammell does not have the authority)
FACT: If the prophecy is not part of official church doctrine, then there is no reason to specifically target church members.
FACT: The “Constitution Hanging By A Thread” prophecy is public knowledge.
QUESTION: Why is this meeting for LDS church members only?
WHAT RAMMELL HAS TO SAY
As with most things Rammell, there are some answers, and they may be legitimate. From his Facebook posting regarding the meetings:
“In order to motivate my fellow elders in the LDS church, I have invited many to attend meetings to discuss Joseph’s prophecy and how we can help save the Constitution. Some people, LDS and non-LDS, think it is inappropriate for me to hold such meetings. I think that is ridiculous. I have and will hold meetings with all kinds of groups in Idaho. I will speak to each group on matters that are of interest to, and directly affect them individually. As such, it would only be appropriate for me to address Joseph Smith’s prophecy with people who believe he was a prophet.
Lastly, for those who think mixing religion and government is inappropriate, I would like to say, “America would not exist if it wasn’t for the divine hand of Providence in not only intervening to win the Revolutionary War, but in writing the inspired words of the Constitution. To think that we can save the Constitution without God’s help, when the government of the United States has become corrupt, is absurdity. We are in America’s 2nd Revolutionary War for our very freedom. We need God’s help and I am not ashamed to ask for it!”
Broken down, this seems to mean that Rammell wants to hold the meetings privately to avoid his purposes in the meetings from being interrupted by those who don’t agree with his personal religious beliefs and who might slow down or disrupt the meeting. That’s a fair enough reason, and it is certainly similar (in principle, not firepower) to what the Obama Administration did when it aimed less-lethal munitions at audience members in the “Town hall” Healthcare meetings. Given his past run-ins with the public “blowing his words out of proportion”, it isn’t surprising he wants to keep meetings over sensitive material semi-private.
I still believe, however, that Rammell’s private meetings to discuss doctrines (or what he perceives to be doctrine) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, especially in how they might support his ideas of government is a misuse of these doctrines, is taking advantage of members of the Church for his own private gain, is opening the door for personal apostasy, and already has painted the Church unfavorably in the public eye with his controversial Obama remarks and now his “Exclusive meetings”.
He could have certainly handled this better. If the meetings are “invite-only”, then why comment on them publicly?
After writing all of this, I’m still on the fence about Rammell. The news headlines and quotes about him – even from the least biased news services – paint him one way, but listening to him or reading the actual content of his blogging and website documents comes across completely different (once you get past his ineloquence). He hasn’t given his reason for wanting to hold these meetings. Maybe he’s trying to check his personal platform against understood church doctrine. Maybe he wants to see how some “constitutionalists” respond to his Republican stance.
Maybe he’s made so many enemies, he’s starting to feel lonely.
KTVB Boise: IDAHO CANDIDATE RAMMELL HOLDING LDS MEETINGS 12/22/2009
REX RAMMELL FOR GOVERNOR on FACEBOOK: The Constitution is Hanging By A Thread 12/21/2009
REX RAMMELL’S Ten Principles To Govern America 12/22/2009
Idaho Statesman CREDIT WHERE DUE: IDAHO GOP CRITICISM OF REX RAMMELL