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Recent events have brought more attention to some Latter-day Saints who have referred to the US Constitution as "divinely inspired." When did this belief originate? What scriptures do they refer to as the basis for this belief? What exactly does it mean, and how does it differ (if at all) from the belief that the scriptures are divinely inspired?

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    Well this (if true) might take the cake for weirdest theological position I’ve ever heard of :)
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 23 at 13:26
  • @LukeHill you might have to give the cake back =). It's not quite so weird in context Jun 24 at 3:11

2 Answers 2

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This belief can be traced to 1833 where in D&C 101:77 it states

77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

Elder Dallin H Oaks expounds on this belief in the article the Divinely Inspired Constitution (which while stating his opinion-not official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint doctrine, probably reflects many LDS member's beliefs as well)

...

The United States Constitution was the first written constitution in the world. It has served Americans well, enhancing freedom and prosperity during the changed conditions of more than two hundred years. Frequently copied, it has become the United States’ most important export. After two centuries, every nation in the world except six have adopted written constitutions, and the U.S. Constitution was a model for all of them.

...George Washington was perhaps the first to use the word miracle in describing the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. In a 1788 letter to Lafayette, he said:

“It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well-founded objections.”

It was a miracle. ... It was a miracle that the Constitution could be drafted and ratified. But what is there in the text of the Constitution that is divinely inspired?

Reverence for the United States Constitution is so great that sometimes individuals speak as if its every word and phrase had the same standing as scripture. Personally, I have never considered it necessary to defend every line of the Constitution as scriptural. For example, I find nothing scriptural in the compromise on slavery or the minimum age or years of citizenship for congressmen, senators, or the president. President J. Reuben Clark, who referred to the Constitution as “part of my religion,” also said that it was not part of his belief or the doctrine of the Church that the Constitution was a “fully grown document.” “On the contrary,” he said, “We believe it must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world.”

... On my list there are five great fundamentals.

  1. Separation of powers. ...
  2. A written bill of rights. ...

The Declaration of Independence had posited these truths to be “self-evident,” that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” and that governments are instituted “to secure these Rights.” This inspired Constitution was established to provide a practical guarantee of these God-given rights (see D&C 101:77), and the language implementing that godly objective is scriptural to me.

  1. Division of powers. ...

  2. Popular sovereignty. ... The sovereign power is in the people. I believe this is one of the great meanings in the revelation which tells us that God established the Constitution of the United States,

“That every man may act … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land.” (D&C 101:78–80.)

...

  1. The rule of law and not of men. Further, there is divine inspiration in the fundamental underlying premise of this whole constitutional order. All the blessings enjoyed under the United States Constitution are dependent upon the rule of law. That is why President J. Reuben Clark said, “Our allegiance run[s] to the Constitution and to the principles which it embodies, and not to individuals.” The rule of law is the basis of liberty.

As the Lord declared in modern revelation, constitutional laws are justifiable before him, “and the law also maketh you free.” (D&C 98:5–8.)

emphasis mine

See also

  • Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution, also by Elder Dallin H Oaks, presented during General Conference, probably gives more weight to this being doctrine. A quote: "Our belief that the United States Constitution was divinely inspired does not mean that divine revelation dictated every word and phrase"
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    Well this is a great argument against Mormonism from me, I can just cite Lysander Spooner :)
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 24 at 4:36
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    Ironically, I think that he's wrong in saying that it was the first written constitution. I'm pretty sure that the Law of Moses would count, and it predates it by quite a bit...
    – nick012000
    Jun 24 at 8:15
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    @LukeHill unsure how citing Lysander Spooner (or anyone person) necessarily makes great arguments against any one denomination
    – depperm
    Jun 24 at 10:39
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    Does the fact that the US constitution is not actually the first written constitution make any difference?
    – terdon
    Jun 24 at 11:51
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    @terdon no, this article clearly states this is as his opinion based on his research. He could have easily over looked the mentioned constitution mentioned as it didn't last
    – depperm
    Jun 24 at 12:39
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I'd like to supplement the excellent answer by depperm with a few other scriptures and some theological background to address some of the discussion raised in the comments.

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High-level overview on beliefs about the US Constitution

There are 5 verses in the Doctrine & Covenants that form the principal, direct, scriptural background to Latter-day Saint beliefs about the Constitution:

5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; (Doctrine & Covenants 98:5-6)

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77 According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

...

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (Doctrine & Covenants 101:77,80)

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54 Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever. (Doctrine & Covenants 109:54)

The earliest of these statements was written in August of 1833.

I also highly recommend the April 2021 sermon/article Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution by Dallin H. Oaks, a man who has served as a University President, a Supreme Court Justice for the state of Utah and, more recently, as an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Inspiration & Stewardship

Sometimes Christians hear that Latter-day Saints believe the US Constitution is Divinely Inspired and come to the conclusion that this means Latter-day Saints believe the US Constitution should be part of the scriptural canon. This is incorrect, but it is an understandable misunderstanding.

Latter-day Saints believe that God inspires people all over the world, and reveals truth to all who will sincerely & faithfully seek it (see Moroni 10:3-7). This means many thoughts, lessons, sermons, phone calls, and other day-to-day promptings are inspired, because God brought people knowledge, understanding, and insight, but it does not mean that all of it belongs in the scriptural canon.

One of the key principals of leadership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the concept of stewardship. This principal certainly has a Biblical basis (e.g. Gal. 2:7), and includes the belief that when God gives people a responsibility for a portion of the flock, they are entitled to revelation for that portion of the flock.

A Bishop can receive revelation for his ward. A Stake President (roughly comparable to a Catholic archbishop) for his stake. A Relief Society President or a Young Women President for those they oversee. Parents for their family. The prophet for the world. However, the Bishop is not entitled to receive revelation for the Stake President, and so on.

God is not going to reveal conflicting eternal truths to different people, but He may well give different guidance on handling a specific situation to different people in different circumstances.

If God raised up the founding fathers of the United States for the purpose of creating a free country and writing & implementing the US Constitution, then He certainly could (and I believe He did) inspire them in their frail, imperfect, human efforts to develop a system of government rooted in the belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights".

This means God provided enlightenment, direction, and insight to the people He had appointed to this role and responsibility in life. It does not mean the things they wrote are intended to give commandments or reveal the plan of salvation to all the world.

Although Latter-day Saint leaders speak regularly, including in global, general conferences, the process of canonization is usually slow, and material is only added to the scriptural canon with careful consideration and unanimous approval of the leaders of the church.

A discussion of Latter-day Saint beliefs about canon can be found here, including the statement:

from time to time the legal authorities of the Church will see fit to formally add to the collection of scripture.

The last time the scriptural canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was updated was Official Declaration 2, sustained in 1978 and added to the Doctrine & Covenants in 1981 (source).

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Conclusion

Latter-day Saints believe God inspired the founding fathers of the United States, including in their drafting of the US Constitution. Latter-day Saints do not believe the Constitution is inerrant, the product of plenary verbal inspiration, or canonical scripture.

Revelation received by God's authorized representative speaking to the world ("the prophet", "prophetic revelation") is seen as generally applicable and authoritative to all. I believe God is just as capable of speaking authoritatively today as He did to Moses or Peter, and as such, the scriptural canon is open. Latter-day Saints should be open to anything God has to say.

We also believe that guidance may be given to individuals in specific circumstances for specific duties. God solves many problems this way, but this is not how He reveals the plan of salvation or gives commandments to the world.


Disclaimer--these thoughts are products of my own study and do not constitute official statements by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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    Well this is a great argument against Mormonism from me, I can just cite Lysander Spooner :)
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 24 at 4:37
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    @LukeHill lol. I'll take Dallin Oaks over Lysander Spooner any day of the week =) Jun 24 at 14:15

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