A Personal Response
Mitt Romney’s candidacy has once again caused the media to pull out the Mormon White Horse Prophecy. Despite its popularity among the media and other sources, the prophecy is nothing more than a fabrication, the work of a church member who told the story years after the death of the Joseph Smith and after the death of the other person he claimed was a witness to it. It was officially denounced in 1918 by the church but two church officials visited the man who circulated the legend before he died and questioned him extensively about it. The results of the interview are unknown.
The source of the legend is Edward Rushton, a teenager who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the proper name for the church). Joseph F. Smith, the prophet in 1918, called the story ridiculous and “a lot of trash.” He believed the story was created about ten years after Joseph Smith died. One modern researcher, Don L. Penrod, believes Rushton told the story as a way to make himself important, a closer friend to the prophet than he really was. Historical research shows Rushton was not on Joseph Smith’s list of appointments for the day the prophecy was supposed to have been given to him and to one other man, Theodore Turley; nor was he present on the second date, two weeks later, when the prophecy is said to have been repeated. The written version of the event is in the shaky hand of an elderly man, whose family, believing him, may have pressured him into writing it down. Penrod also found there are additions and changes in another handwriting. The revised copy is the one we currently have. Read more about what Mormons actually believe concerning the Constitution and the Mormons.
The White Horse Prophecy was supposed to concern horses of various colors, each color representing a group of people. The white horses represented the priesthood of God—Mormon men—who would save the nation when the constitution hung by a thread. (Prophets have spoken of the Constitution hanging by a thread, but not in the context of this so-called prophecy.) People would gather in the Rocky Mountains, where they would become wealthy while everyone else coped with wars, anarchy, and suffering. It said a Russian Czar would lead the charge against the righteous of the world.
While this is merely odd, other portions of the document were obvious fabrications. The word Jap was used, but this word was not used in the United States at that time. Nor would Joseph Smith said the blacks were worried about being re-enslaved, since they had not yet been freed and the prophecy didn’t say they ever would be. Nor were France and England fighting Russia at the time the prophecy was said to have been given. Vocabulary is also an issue in the revelation. The revelation used the word “Mormon” to refer to members of the church, a term Joseph Smith disliked and refused to use—he preferred the word “Saints,” which Mormons today continue to prefer. He also never used the term “Heathen Chinese.”
More importantly than all these incidental clues, however, is the statement made by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith at the same 1918 conference in which the prophet denounced the legend. He explained that the method in which the so-called revelation was given was simply out of line with the way revelation is received. He pointed out that anyone who had studied the scriptures and church teachings would not even need to ask him if it were true. Revelation is not revealed in darkness and kept secret.
The purpose of revelation is to help God’s children prepare for the future. For a prophet to receive a revelation and keep it a secret, except from two men who had no reason to be told, would render the revelation useless. It is never given merely to entertain or to inform the prophet alone. Revelation must be presented through the proper channels.
An article by George Cacobe (The White Horse Prophecy) demonstrates that according to Mormon scriptures, prophecies, to be considered valid, must meet three unbendable standards:
1. They must come from the prophet himself.
2. They must be told to and approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. The First Presidency consists of the prophet and his two counselors. The Quorum of the Twelve is made up of twelve apostles. Together they are the highest-ranking body of the church.
3. They must be presented to the entire church for approval.
Obviously, those procedures were not met in this situation, automatically invalidating the claim. Cacobe points out that only two revelations have been canonized in more than 100 years. Although prophets can present new revelations from God, most often their primary responsibility is to testify of Jesus Christ and to receive revelations concerning the direction of the church.
Mormons accept the Biblical teachings on prophets. In the Bible we learn that God will do nothing except through His prophets and that His church is built on a foundation of prophets and apostles. God has always communicated to His children through His prophets, in order to avoid the confusion that comes when a multitude of people claim to know what God wants the church to do.
From time to time God has spoken on the role of government through revelation. Mormons believe in supporting and honoring governments. In a statement of thirteen articles of faith, Joseph Smith wrote:
“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law (12th Article of Faith).”
Mormons believe the churches must remain politically neutral except in areas that directly impact the normal areas of religious concern, such as morality and freedom of religion. They do not support or reject candidates for office, nor do they support a specific party. Mormon leaders at the highest levels have belonged to both major US political parties in modern times.
As part of a detailed statement on political neutrality, the official church leadership says,
“The Church does not:
- Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
- Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
- Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.
The Church does:
- Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.
- Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.
- Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Church.
- Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church. (See Political Neutrality.)
While some have tried to portray the White Horse Prophecy as some sort of proof that the church is behind the Romney candidacy, it is important to note that neither Romney nor his father believed in the prophecy and the church itself does not believe in it. The church is a world-wide church with world-wide interests, none of which include placing Mormons in office. Their focus is on doing God’s work, and that is done through religious means, not by placing people into political positions. There are Mormons in office who represent both political parties and among those, some hold political views that align with the few political stances of the Mormons and some hold opposing viewpoints. (Immigration is an example of this.) The church does not control these leaders and they do not punish them for opposing Mormon stances on issues. Mormons are far less involved in government issues at the official level than are many churches. They do not invite political candidates to speak in church meetings and full-time, high ranking church officials are prohibited from openly supporting a candidate, in order to avoid influencing the votes of members.
A recent Pew survey of Mormons showed that many Mormons were somewhat concerned about having a Mormon president. They are aware they will be held accountable by the public for every decision a Mormon president would make, even if it had nothing to do with their faith. His choices could make international missionary work more complicated. Mormons generally prefer to be defined by their religious leaders and their own beliefs, not by church members who have no authority, but who are mistakenly perceived as having authority within the church. For that reason, few are anxious to vote for a Mormon just because he is a Mormon—most Mormons evaluate the Mormon candidates in the same way they evaluate other candidates.
“The need for civility is perhaps most relevant in the realm of partisan politics. As the Church operates in countries around the world, it embraces the richness of pluralism. Thus, the political diversity of Latter-day Saints spans the ideological spectrum. Individual members are free to choose their own political philosophy and affiliation. Moreover, the Church itself is not aligned with any particular political ideology or movement. It defies category. Its moral values may be expressed in a number of parties and ideologies.
Furthermore, . Some may even mistake these voices as being authoritative or representative of the Church. However, individual members think and speak for themselves. Only the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles speak for the whole Church.” (See The Mormon Ethic of Civility.)
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.