Is there a prophecy that the constitution would hang by a thread and then be saved by the church or priesthood?
There is such a prophecy. In a 1950 General Conference address, President Joseph Fielding Smith quoted Elder Orson Hyde’s recollection of a statement by Joseph Smith. “The time would come that the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow and said he, if the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church. I believe this is about the language as nearly as I can recollect it” (Journal of Discourses 6:150). Other accounts have the Constitution rescued by the body of the Latter-day Saints, not just the elders. D. Michael Stewart has done some good research documenting this prophecy, which can be found published in the June 1976 Ensign (I Have a Question, last question).
The fallout of this prophetic statement has been two-fold: 1) it has led some to give credence to another statement referred to as The White Horse Prophecy, and 2) it has led to all kinds of speculation about presidential candidates rising up in fulfillment of the prophecy.
The White Horse Prophecy is a statement attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, but the statement is a muddled mess. In one version, he begins by saying he will prophesy esoterically, like John in Revelation. But he quickly labels his white horse as the saints in the Rocky Mountains. From there, he introduces an unidentified red horse that will assist the white in preserving the Constitution. England (there is no secret horse name for this people) is then brought into play as one of two places that will still be financially stable (the white horse is the other). Finally it ends with standard apocalyptic fare of the collapse of the United States government.
Joseph F. Smith spoke out against the White Horse Prophecy in General Conference.
“The ridiculous story about the ‘red horse,’ and ‘the black horse,’ and ‘the white horse,’ and a lot of trash that has been circulated about, and printed, and sent around as a great revelation given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a matter that was gotten up, I understand, some ten years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by two of our brethren, who put together some broken sentences from the Prophet that they may have heard him utter from time to time, and formulated this so-called revelation out of it, and it was never spoken by the Prophet in the manner in which they have put it forth. It is simply false; that is all there is to it” (General Conference, October 1918).
Many news sites and LDS bloggers have casually taken to referring to the prophecy about the Constitution as The White Horse Prophecy, which is quite unfortunate. The White Horse Prophecy contains some themes that Joseph Smith and other early leaders have spoken on, but it also contains some material that is original (and dubious). Additionally, the prophecy is inconsistent in form. It’s difficult to accept this prophecy as bona fide. For those elements that are repeated elsewhere, I find it’s better to use those other quotes than to rely on this one.
Still, having a legitimate prophecy about the Constitution hanging by a thread has lead to speculation about whether we live in the time foreseen, and who will rise up to rescue it. Such speculation seems to surge whenever we have a viable Mormon presidential candidate. Such speculation also seems to ignore the Mormon representation that’s already present in the houses of Congress. In the latest wave, Mitt Romney was raised as the champion who would finally have enough federal power and influence to restore order, while equally-LDS Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was often overlooked.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains its political neutrality with respect to candidates. In December 2009, the Church released the following statement:
“Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not endorse or promote any candidate, party or platform. Accordingly, we hope that the campaign practices of political candidates would not suggest that their candidacy is supported by or connected to the church.
“The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine” (Church Statement on “White Horse Prophecy” and political Neutrality).
If we really need to find a prophesied rescuer for the Constitution, Latter-day Saints should start by looking in the mirror. The verifiable accounts don’t speak of a white(-horsed) knight who swoops in and restores order. It simple says the saints, or the elders, will rise to the occasion. Similarly, it doesn’t specifically say anything about government offices. If we really want a leader that we can look up to, perhaps we should focus on Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Here’s an Elder who has led the charge to defend religious liberty. He has spoken recently to universities on the subjects of preserving religious liberty and religious freedom. He’s been speaking to colleges about the relationship between religious values and public policy for decades.
The history of Mormonism has been one of building communities and culture. We aren’t living up to our pioneer heritage if we isolate ourselves civicly and self-censor our political voice because our values come from religious principles.