A few weeks ago, I wrote about Joseph Smith’s July 1840 prophecy, which reads:
“Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.”
I identified 13 current attacks on the Constitution and what might possibly cause the nation to crumble. The questions now are what do we do about it and where do we do it?
When my son played on a grade-school soccer team, the coach pointed out two kinds of soccer players – those who run to where the ball is and those who run to where the ball will be. Naturally a coach wants players who can hold their own “where the action is” but he also needs players who see and prepare for where the action will be.
Same with saving the Constitution. I see three theaters of action where the ball is currently in play …
- Obviously, the nation’s capital. Much action there and we will in time be more involved.
- The court system. We have very talented legal minds in our membership ranks to play a role.
- The public opinion arena. With both traditional and social media, we have previously unknown opportunities to share opinions and influence fellow citizens.
… and one under-appreciated theater of action where the ball definitely will be – state capitals.
Here’s why. Of the three ways the Constitution provides for the control of power, we hear a lot about sharing of power between three equal branches of government, but less often about the division of power between the national government and state governments.
The Constitution grants enumerated powers to the federal government and reserved powers to state governments, with each entity being denied certain other powers (e.g., states can’t mint coins or enter into treaties with other nations). No arguments for the most part. But the term “implied powers” and creative stretching of the General Welfare and Interstate Commerce clauses have led to an explosion of federal mandates, rules and regulations. The tremendous growth of the federal government, in addition to diminishing personal freedoms, is robbing state governments of their critical counter-balancing role.
I’m not arguing against the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution in which federal law supersedes state law on specific matters, but isn’t it apparent in the vaunted name of uniformity that differing local conditions are playing less and less of a role in the formation of laws? If every political issue could be solved with uniform nationwide laws, why have state legislatures? That, or at least the weakening of such, appears to be the power-centralizing goal of certain factions today. Thus will state governments, especially legislatures, become a critical theater of action in preserving the Constitution.
So, if the time ever comes when the leaders of the Church ask us to actively work in this arena, how might it unfold? Though we are only 2% of the U.S. population, we are uniquely positioned to assist the states in combating the encroaching and Constitution-defeating actions of federal government. We can move more quickly and effectively than any other religion because, as I’ve written before, we are vertical, geographic, and unpaid. No other religion compares.
First, we receive counsel and direction through a vertical line of authority from prophets down to bishops. When President Monson instructed California stakes to participate in a ballot measure to defend traditional marriage in 2008, we knocked on between 500,000 and 700,000 doors in our grassroots efforts … every Saturday … before lunch.
Second, we are geographic. Whatever your address, you know the meetinghouse to attend for worship services. You know what ward and stake you belong to – an existing faith family automatically wherever you may go.
And third, because our local leaders are unpaid, wards can smoothly join grassroots efforts with neighboring wards. Bishops don’t compete with other bishops. In other denominations, by contrast, where local leaders are the equivalent of small-business franchise owners, pastors are hesitant to organize on a wide basis because they fear someone, even from their own religion, might say, “You should come hear our pastor; he’s really good.” Preachers are prickly about poachers when their paychecks depend upon putting parishioners in the pews.
So, when the Prophet Joseph said we will be the staff the nation will lean upon, could he not as well have said we will be the organization the nation will utilize? And if “utilize” implies a unique trait, I suggest it is our ability for simultaneous nationwide application.
When we read the Prophet Joseph’s words, we often picture ourselves descending on Washington, D.C. to preserve the Constitution. We won’t have to. We will not even have to travel to state capitals to have an impact. We can influence state legislators in our own cities and towns. As President Uchtdorf taught, we lift where we stand.
Not counting Utah, there are over 1000 stakes and 7700 wards in America. In those 49 states, there are about 7300 state legislators and they are reachable for in-person discussion because they have field offices or, in the case of part-time legislatures, allow conversations at their places of business. And in over 90% of the situations, numerous members reside within a 5-to-10 mile radius.
The vast majority of state legislators want to protect states’ rights under the Constitution. They know federal government expansion has weakened the role of the states and that state governments have the most to lose in the future. (Which is also why the District of Columbia must never become a state as it would give the federal government a voice in both entities and that was not the Founders’ intent.)
Further, legislators in some states hear talk of secession. A Hofstra University poll last September found that 40% of the people would consider seceding from the nation if their presidential candidate lost. A lot of this, of course, was frustration and the temper of the moment, but it is worrisome that the idea has been placed on the table. If state governments themselves ever entertain the idea of secession, it wouldn’t take many defections to bring about the crumbling of the nation the Prophet Joseph worried about.
For these and many other reasons, state legislators will welcome shows of support and meaningful discussions to assist them in protecting their role as the legitimate power to counter-balance federal power.
If we are ever directed to meet with state legislators, it must not be as chanting demonstrators waving placards and signs. Rather, we will organize delegations of well-dressed, polite and knowledgeable members, plus friends not of our faith, to help those lawmakers resist the secessionist desires that would crumble the nation. They will hear the truly awake more than the woke.
Civil settings; logical persuasion; nationwide simultaneity.
Indeed, we will become the staff upon which the nation shall lean.Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and the author of “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon” available at Deseret Book.