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Is Glenn Beck Attempting to Fulfill the Mormon 'White Horse Prophecy'?

Oct 5, 2010 – 9:12 PM
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David Knowles

David Knowles Writer

(Oct. 5) -- Is a prophecy known to few outside of the Mormon faith motivating Glenn Beck's crusade against President Barack Obama's administration?

That's Washington reporter Dana Milbank's conclusion. In an article published Tuesday at The Huffington Post, Milbank details the history of Joseph Smith's so-called "White Horse Prophecy."

Though two of Smith's followers are said to have heard him deliver the prophecy in 1843, it was not actually written down until the 1850s, when the men were elderly and Smith had passed away. In 1855, Smith's successor, Brigham Young, distilled the prophecy into the following line:
When the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they [American citizens] will have to call for the 'Mormon' Elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forth and do it.
As Milbank notes, within days after Obama was elected president, Beck began frequently invoking the very same language when assessing the state of the country:

"We are at the place where the Constitution hangs in the balance," Beck told Bill O'Reilly on Nov.14, 2008, just after President Obama's election. "I feel the Constitution is hanging in the balance right now, hanging by a thread unless the good Americans wake up."

Hard to argue that's entirely coincidental. But as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Beck is hardly the first Mormon public figure to invoke the phrasing of the prophecy. Orrin Hatch, a repeat guest on Beck's program, is also fond of characterizing the U.S. Constitution as "literally hanging by a single thread," as he did during his 1999 run for president. Not every Mormon politician is guided by the prophecy, however.
"I haven't heard my name associated with it or anything of that nature," Mitt Romney told The Salt Lake Tribune [in 2007]. "That's not official church doctrine. There are a lot of things that are speculation and discussion by church members and even church leaders that aren't official church doctrine. I don't put that at the heart of my religious belief."
Church members are no stranger to the prophecy. For decades, it has been repeated by Mormon leaders, even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' official line is that it cannot be verified that Joseph Smith ever really issued it in the first place.

Of course, the "hanging by a thread" metaphor is not just the property of Mormons. Rush Limbaugh, who is reported to be a Methodist, characterized American democracy the same way after Congress passed health care reform in the spring.

But for the Mormon religion, the U.S. Constitution is revered as product of divine inspiration, tantamount to a religious document. Said Smith:
"The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land."
As Religion Dispatches writer Joanna Brooks argued, Beck's own reverence for the Constitution may stem, in part, from his Mormon faith.

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"It is likely that Beck owes his brand of Founding Father-worship to Mormonism," Brooks wrote, "where reverence for the founders and the United States Constitution as divinely inspired are often-declared elements of orthodox belief."

Of course, over the course of its history, the LDS church has often found itself at odds with other Americans over the matter of whether its practices, such as plural marriage, violated the U.S. Constitution.

Given the historical basis of Mormonism's relationship to the U.S. Constitution, then, it is perhaps not so surprising that Beck seems ready to ride in on a white horse and save the day. But look out, here comes Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to knock him off it.

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Filed under: Nation, Politics, Surge Desk, Barack Obama