Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
In the April 2020 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson observed that “the COVID-19 pandemic has put the whole world in commotion.”Later, in the April 2021 Conference, he declared, “We live in a time prophesied long ago, when ‘all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people’ [D&C 88:91]. That was true before the pandemic, and it will be true after. Commotion in the world will continue to increase.”Despite the growing noise and commotion of the world, President Nelson encourages us to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and to be still in order that we may “hear the voice of the Lord whispering His guidance, comfort, and peace.” Our Savior can help us find calm waters on these stormy seas, if we let Him.
As we witness and recognize the prophesied signs, conditions, and trials which precede the Second Coming of our Savior, we realize that His much anticipated return is not far distant. Although no one knows the exact day or year of His return, we are not left totally in the dark regarding the timing of His return, nor are we without divine teaching relative to the events and conditions which will precede His Second Coming. President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “The record of the Nephite history [The Book of Mormon] just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.”President Benson also taught, “I am a great believer in the Book of Mormon and feel strongly that it was written for our day and time. I have said to many people that a person will come to be better informed regarding what’s happening in the world today by reading the Book of Mormon than all the magazines and newspapers combined.”
We know from the Nephite record that many died during the destruction that took place in ancient America at the time of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, however many were also preserved and later witnessed the glorious appearance of Christ to the survivors of the great calamities. In General Conference, President Benson declared, “A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet.”Perhaps our diligent study and proper application of the Book of Mormon can lead us to our own Bountiful temple experience at the Savior’s Second Coming.
Accepting President Benson’s invitation to study the Book of Mormon with the intention of better understanding current events and how we might prepare both temporally and spiritually for our Savior’s glorious return, I have endeavored to identify the parallels between the years leading up to Christ’s first appearance to the Nephites and Lamanites and the conditions of our own day. My latest book, The Coming of Christ: Ancient & Latter-day Parallels, commences with Chapter 37 of the Book of Alma which took place about 73 B.C. and continues until the destruction that took place in ancient America at the time of the crucifixion of Christ about A.D. 33. Employing a chronological approach, each section of this study is comprised of commentary on the Nephite/Lamanite experience, followed by the Book of Mormon scriptures under review, and lastly, commentary on the latter-day parallels. This approach can help us better understand what is happening in America and the world today, thereby enabling us to learn from the Nephites’ experiences and better prepare ourselves for the coming trials.
Freemen Vs. King-men
Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate this approach to our study of the Book of Mormon is to provide an example. Chapter 20 of my book, entitled Freemen Vs. King-men, discusses how a group of Nephites developed a nefarious strategy to take control of the Nephite government by changing the laws of the land. Those Nephites who desired to change the laws ultimately wanted to change the form of government from a free government, such as a constitutional republic, to a monarchy ruled by a king, which is why they were referred to as “king-men.” The “freemen” were those who desired to maintain the rights and freedoms afforded by a free and righteous government, especially the freedom of religion. The king-men sought this change in government with the expectation that the newly enthroned king would grant them power and authority in his newly acquired kingdom.
The king-men were of “high birth,” which undoubtedly means that they were born into rich and powerful families that enjoyed elevated positions within society and were well-connected to certain government leaders and affluent merchants. Having tasted the benefits of wealth and position, they wanted even more power, as we have learned that power-hungry individuals are never satisfied with what they have and are often jealous of others who have more. For such individuals, the cravings for power and materialism can never be fully satiated (Isaiah 56:11).
5 And it came to pass that those who were desirous that Pahoran should be dethroned from the judgment-seat were called king-men, for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.
6 And those who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.
7 And it came to pass that this matter of their contention was settled by the voice of the people. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came in favor of the freemen, and Pahoran retained the judgment-seat, which caused much rejoicing among the brethren of Pahoran and also many of the people of liberty, who also put the king-men to silence, that they durst not oppose but were obliged to maintain the cause of freedom.
9 But behold, this was a critical time for such contentions to be among the people of Nephi; for behold, Amalickiah had again stirred up the hearts of the people of the Lamanites against the people of the Nephites, and he was gathering together soldiers from all parts of his land, and arming them, and preparing for war with all diligence; for he had sworn to drink the blood of Moroni.
We see this quest for power in our own government and society today, as some leaders crave the limelight and enjoy the perks of their public office, and some chief executives of multinational corporations use their wealth and position to garner ever greater power and influence in the political arena. Our nation’s history is replete with examples of tycoons, robber barons, and influential individuals exercising their financial power in search of government favors.
It is no different today, as modern-day influence peddlers adversely affect public policy, erode our personal rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, limit free speech on the internet, contribute to political campaigns in exchange for legislation favorable to their financial interests, and promote foreign wars which serve to enrich them and their fellow investors. In light of recent political developments, and infringements on our freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, it is not difficult to understand why the Prophet Joseph Smith foresaw a day when our Constitution would “hang upon a single thread.”
Judicial Activism—Legislating from the Bench
Regarding those who are “desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government” (Alma 51:5), one of the more popular strategies employed by modern-day king-men to corrupt the Constitution, alter our laws, and erode our God-given rights is by means of “legislating from the bench.” For the past several decades the Supreme Court has been unwisely and unlawfully elevated to a status which the Founding Fathers never intended. In fact, the Framers regarded it as the least important and powerful of the three major branches of the federal government, however it has effectively become a “super-legislature” which regularly overrides Congress, state legislatures, and the will of the sovereign people.
Rather than limiting itself to interpreting laws passed by Congress in order to rule on cases which come before the Court, it has assumed the role of making laws, a role reserved exclusively to Congress by our Constitution on a national level and to state legislatures at the state level. Article 1, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Neither the President of the United States nor the Supreme Court possesses these law-making powers.
Despite popular belief, nowhere within the Constitution can we find language that grants the Supreme Court the power or authority to interpret the Constitution, that is, to define what it means for the rest of the nation, and it surely does not give the Court the right to legislate new laws or strike down existing laws that are beyond the purview of the federal government. On this matter, Thomas Jefferson said “to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions: a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an Oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privileges of their corps.”
This inherent fallibility of imperfect mortal judges was pointed out recently by President Dallin H. Oaks in General Conference, when he justifiably observed that “we do not see inspiration in every Supreme Court decision interpreting the Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson also wrote, “The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”On this same subject of judicial power, James Madison wrote, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates” over the other two branches of the federal government.Adding to this concept of the supremacy of the legislative branch, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous [meaning least powerful] to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.”
This notion or false doctrine of the Court’s power of constitutional interpretation, known as judicial review, found its genesis in 1803 in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison wherein the Supreme Court simply and arbitrarily seized power and arrogated to itself the authority to revise the Constitution, strike down laws under the guise of mere interpretation, and ultimately to usurp the legislative responsibility intended for Congress. Imagine as a newly hired employee, you brazenly and unilaterally dictate to your employer the scope of your own powers, duties, and responsibilities. This is essentially what the Supreme Court did in 1803 and continues to do today.
There are several reasons why the Framers did not want the Supreme Court to legislate from the bench, that is, to make law. First, Supreme Court justices are not elected, but are appointed and are therefore not accountable to the people.
Second, they are appointed for life, therefore can only be removed under very extenuating circumstances. Since the Supreme Court first convened in 1790, as of October 2020, there have been 115 justices and only one ever has been impeached. In 1804, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Associate Justice Samuel Chase, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
Third, the Constitution provides for a federal government that is characterized by a separation of powers which protects our republic from a consolidation of power in one branch or department. Granting the Supreme Court the right of judicial review would consolidate legislative and judicial powers under one roof. The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid this consolidation of power, as they understood that “almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39). Despite popular belief, the Constitution is not based on obsolete agrarian ideas, outdated economic principles, or antiquated technologies, but on human nature which is timeless.
Fourth, the Constitution is a federal compact between the “united” states and the national government which the states created. President Benson taught, “Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created.”The servant, the federal government, cannot be greater than the master—the states and the people, therefore the federal government, of which the Supreme Court is a branch, cannot rightly hold a monopoly on deciding its own powers and authority by way of constitutional interpretation.
The Framers did not want five out of nine unelected, unaccountable, lifetime appointees to determine law, public policy, or social values for the country at large. The primary responsibility of our Supreme Court justices is to mediate disputes between opposing parties such as the states and certain individuals. Most Americans appear to be unaware that Article III, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution only gives the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over cases involving ambassadors, public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state is a party. In all other cases, the Court only has appellate jurisdiction. This is extremely important to understand, as this same clause explicitly grants Congress the authority to both regulate and limit the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. In other words, if Congress does not want the Supreme Court to rule on a case, such as Roe v. Wade (which effectively and unconstitutionally overruled all state laws pertaining to abortion), it possesses the constitutional authority to preclude the Court from hearing such a case.
On a separate but related matter, it was an overreaching Supreme Court that distorted the so-called doctrine of separation of church and state to encompass the broader notion of separation of religion and state. The Framers were opposed to a state-sanctioned church as found in England, but they relied heavily on Christian principles when framing legislation, and encouraged a religious citizenry and the establishment of all churches in general. Our Founding Fathers knew that a religious and moral people were required for a constitutional republic to properly function within its framework of abundant personal rights and freedom.