Soon We Can No Longer Meet in Public

About a month ago, during church, I got a text from my wife:

 

 

 

I was curious why they were talking about taxing religious people in Gospel Principles, but figured I could ask her after church.

It turns out, though, that the discussion had nothing to do with taxes; instead, a missionary in our ward had said that we were moving to a two-hour block supplemented by home-centered study in preparation for a not-too-distant future when it would be illegal for us to meet together at church. And my wife explained that no, that wasn’t going to happen.

We laughed about it, but didn’t think too much of it. After all, 18-year-old boys are susceptible to outlandish ideas (I was one, once upon a time). And my wife had countered him, so no harm, no foul.

Fast forward to this last Sunday, when I received this email from a friend:

 

 

 

 

One random missionary spouting off conspiracies is one thing; if my friend is getting it from normal, nonmissionary people, though, it would appear to be a thing.

Now in the past, I’ve asserted that the church won’t lose its tax exemption. (I’m right, btw.) And it inevitably gets the pushback that things are different this time, and that history and policy and IRS incentives have no bearing on the future. And I realize that, if I baldly assert that the government isn’t going to ban Mormons from meeting publicly, I’ll get that same pushback. (I’d be right, btw.) So I though I’d so something slightly more fun: I want to discuss the steps it would take for the U.S. government to ban religious meetings.[fn1]

Our starting point has to be the First Amendment to the Constitution. It provides that

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, …

Does the proscription on Congress prohibiting free exercise mean that it can’t ban religious meetings? Well, yes. But it’s really hard to find caselaw to support that, because, as far as I know, Congress hasn’t ever tried to do that. But we can find caselaw that indirectly says so.

In 2016, a district court in New York heard a religious liberty case with a particularly unsympathetic defendant. The defendant had been convicted of possession of child pornography a number of years earlier. As a term of his release, he wasn’t allowed, among other things, to access computers or associate with children under the age of 18. He violated those terms and, as a condition of bail, the magistrate judge forbade him from attending church where minors were present.

The court held that this condition unconstitutionally infringed on his free exercise rights. Any curtailment of free exercise rights has to be done “by the least drastic means.’ While forbidding him from contact with minors was permissible, preventing him from attending church wasn’t.

Now admittedly, this is a district court case. But it relied on Supreme Court precedent holding that, while prisons did not have to provide clergy for all prisoners, they had to offer comparable opportunities for religious practice.

If the government can only limit a convicted sex offender’s and a prisoner’s access to church services through the least drastic means, the government would have to have a really compelling reason to shut down non-prisoner, non-parolee church attendance.

Not that it matters, because the Free Exercise rules pretty clearly prohibit prohibiting religious meetings, but, in case we’re worried about being singled out, but the government can’t single the Mormon church out and forbid us, and us alone, from meeting. And there’s also an Establishment Clause tucked into the First Amendment. While Establishment Clause jurisprudence is chaotic and unsettled, there are a couple things it clearly does. “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” So under the Establishment Clause, Congress couldn’t pass a law just forbidding Mormons from meeting at church.

(The Free Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses also probably erect a barrier to such discriminatory laws, but you get the idea.)

But we can get around all of these impediments. We would just need to amend the Constitution to remove the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses! (And maybe the Free Speech and Freedom of Assembly ones.) And how do we amend the Constitution?

Well, the amendment has to be passed by two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate, then approved by three-fourths of the states. (Quick math: that means 67 Senators, 290 Representatives, and 38 states.)[fn2]

Can we get that many? Well, the vast majority of our Congresspeople are religious (or, at least, religiously affiliated): only one says she is religiously unaffiliated. And even if religiously unaffiliated means anti-religious (it does not), that doesn’t even pretend to approach the two-thirds-in-each-house requirement.

Congress is more religiously-affiliated than the general American population, but even among the rest of us, nearly 80% claim some type of religious affiliation.

So is the government going to prohibit U.S. Mormons from attending church meetings? I mean, sure, it could happen, but given the constitutional obstacles, I’m going to say the chances are really, really, really slim. I don’t see anybody clamoring for it. I don’t see a Congress or state legislatures who want to do it, or whose constituents are demanding it of them. And I don’t a Supreme Court (oh yeah, didn’t mention them yet: all are religiously affiliated) that’s would let such blatantly unconstitutional laws pass without such a constitutional amendment.

Which is to say, whatever the reason for the two-hour block, it wasn’t to get us ready for a day in which the government banned church attendance.


[fn1] I apologize that this post is 100% U.S.-centric; I suspect that similar analysis would apply to a large percentage of countries in the world, but I don’t have any expertise on the religious or constitutional law of most of them. But feel free to add the steps it would take in your country in the comments.

[fn2] It’s worth noting that merely amending the federal constitution would likely not be enough to allow governments to ban Mormons from attending church. Most, if not all, state constitutions also protect religious liberty, though the details and language differ from state to state. So, while the First Amendment applies to state governments as well as the federal government, even with it gone, states would have to deal with their own constitutions. Also, at least 21 states have mini-RFRAs, which provide an additional legislative level of religious protection.

Comments

  1. Or as I tell my friends and family and random co-congregants whenever this or similar topics come up:

    “I promise you, if the government tried that, I would sue on your behalf under the First Amendment, and I would win.”

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The victimhood complex of American religious conservatives knows no bounds, and creates all manner of lurid conspiracies out of thin air. I’ve heard this claim from an elderly Fox News addict in my EQ. Nobody challenges him publicly because we’re mostly Americans of Northern European extraction and thus allergic to confrontation, but there’s much rolling of eyes.

  3. Michael Wood says:

    Thanks for this analysis.

    In my ward, a former member of the stake presidency keeps peddling his theory that soon local units will have less contact with salt lake (hence the increased emphasis on revelation and the reorganization of the Elders Quorum). The thing is, teachers keep creating space for this kind of speculation because in the million meetings we’ve had about new changes, the instructors invariably ask, “why do you think these changes are coming now?” I’m so tired of classes devoted to speculative answers to “why” questions.

  4. Sigh. Some always are seeking after a sign or a miracle when we have a perfectly good reason already articulated by more than one apostle: “[A true believer] understands the difference between ends and means and sees that some Church aids are, in a sense, scaffolding for the soul, which scaffolding one day will be removed—like waterwings or training wheels” (Neal A. Maxwell, “True Believers in Christ,” BYU devotional, 7 October 1980).
    It may be that in the future there will be obstacles to regular weekly church attendance, but for now, removing the scaffolding is exactly that–getting the Saints to a point where they’re involved in and responsible for their own salvation.

  5. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think you’ve identified something important, Michael. “Why do you think these changes are coming now?” is the kind of low-hanging fruit type of question that lay instructors think might elicit some discussion, without really thinking through the types of responses they might get. It’s a loaded question that, mostly, points toward these kinds of answers (the end is near!). It doesn’t just create space for discussion, it creates space for a very specific type of discussion, which (as you mention) inevitably leads to Latter-Day speculation. I’m all for asking questions, and facilitating discussion, but there are better questions.

  6. I find psychology behind religion and belief just so fascinating. Particularly how we can have the same scriptures, same prophets and interpret things so differently. I lurk sometimes on conservative sites like LDS Freedom forum, and it’s so interesting and a bit scary. They are freaking out about the temple changes over there, think polygamy is obviously God’s true design because they are experts on women, and think any positive social progress is a sign of the times.

    Not being able to meet together is tame compared to their theories. You can really see how spin-off groups happen.

    I am not sure of the reason behind the changes, but we should just take their word for it that they are reorganizing things to be more efficient and fit modern families and sensibilities better.

  7. IIRC even during the fight over polygamy when the Church was disincorporated and its property seized (among other things), there was no restriction on meetings. High-level Church leaders were forced into hiding, yes; but at the local level, nothing like that occurred.

  8. My parents’ bishop and his first counselor believe in this theory! Bishop thinks it’ll happen like the Freeze in Ghana did. There’s a decent chunk of my parents’ ward that ascribes to this notion. It was jarring to go from my generally chill YSA ward to the way less chill conspiracy theorizing ward over winter break. Thanks for thoroughly debunking it. I think I’ll pass this post along to my family so, if the opportunity presents itself and they feel so inclined, they can explain to folks why this idea is nonsense.

  9. That’s cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

  10. Don’t forget freedom of assembly, also guaranteed in the first amendment

  11. (Don, I mentioned it parenthetically above. But I’m less familiar with the jurisprudence surrounding it, and didn’t feel like doing a ton more research, so I just name-checked it. But it’s an important point: the sketch I gave is just that: a sketch. The actual legal, constitutional, and social impediments to banning church meetings are far more complex than what I’ve sketched out, and what I’ve sketched out is an almost impermeable barrier to banning church attendance.)

  12. Last Lemming says:

    If anyone makes that claim in my ward (which is pretty conservative, but mercifully free of the paranoid fringe), I will simply ask if the Church has stopped building new chapels in the US. And if the answer is no, I will suggest that continuing to build chapels constitutes a misuse of tithing funds if the brethren truly believe we will not be able to use those buildings in the near future. (OK, I won’t actually say that, but I will wonder aloud why the building program continues.)

  13. Sam, of course, all of the impediments you have listed off assume that the basic norms and systems we have in place now maintain their integrity and there isn’t a big unprecedented shift, i.e., we are assuming that everyone keeps playing by the rules we have been playing by up until this point.

    (Even then I still don’t see a likely future where Mormon meetings are outlawed; I’m just saying.)

  14. Conrad, yes. They assume that the rule of law and constitutional framework that have guided our country for more than 200 years continue to exist.

    Honestly, though, in a post-apocalyptic rule-of-law-free future hellscape, we’ll have a lot more immediate concerns than where we meet Sundays.

  15. Sam, you are sadly mistaken. Our Glorious Leader, Donald J. Trump has recently intercepted a mass of building materials that were prepped by the Godless Liberals for building walls around every American church to prevent the assembly of His congregation therein. Our Beloved Trump proposes the most sensible redirection of these materials to a blessed and holy undertaking: to secure our Southern Border and keep the heathen at bay. Who can stand against Him but the wicked? Only the blind can miss this obvious sign of the End Times!

  16. The changes to the schedule actually facilitate more members of the church to meet without having to buy land for more chapels. With 3-hour church, a local meetinghouse has a fixed cap on how many congregations can meet there. With 2-hour church, you can now have more wards meeting in a single building. Occam’s Razor strikes again.

  17. Sam, there’s no need to be sarcastic. There’s a huge spectrum of possible shifts, sea-changes and erosions of existing legal and civil norms that could happen that fall short of a complete and total breakdown of our civilization, especially as we enter a future of extremely rapid cultural change. Look at other countries around the world–crazy things can happen, and fast. I think it’s naive to imagine that our country is somehow uniquely immune to that.

    I also think that you are overstating the consistency of US Constitutional jurisprudence over time–my understanding is that freedom of religion in specific has been interpreted fairly consistently, but as a general matter, major shifts in Constitutional approaches can and do happen.

    Again, I am not saying that I think it’s even remotely likely that we’re looking at a near future where Mormonism is outlawed. Just that the particular arguments you advance in the OP have caveats that are worth noting.

  18. The caveats are so far-fetched that even mentioning them without emphasizing the overwhelming absurdity of taking them as any kind of realistic possibility is itself misleading.

    But then, people that believe this are often the same people that believe not only that the white horse prophecy is real, but that it is just around the corner, that every federal, state, or local election that doesn’t go with their preference is another significant step toward it’s fulfillment, and that they personally will be involved in its fulfillment. It is deluded conspiracy-theory bunkum.

  19. Conrad, the challenge I have responding to the idea that sea-changes could occur is that they’re unfalsifiable. Yes, anything could happen, at least in theory. Trump could declare autocracy and rip up the Constitution and proclaim that we all have to live in gaudy black-and-gold apartment buildings. Religious extremists could take control of the government and require every school to teach the Bible and only the Bible. We could legalize all drug use.

    It all could happen, because theoretically anything could happen. But rapid culture shift =/= the whole government deciding that this religious liberty thing just isn’t cool anymore. In fact, to make that kind of shift would require precisely the steps I outline in the OP.

    Or maybe not—maybe there’s another way they could happen, a way that makes the assertion that we won’t be able to meet in public anything other than crazy-pants. And I’m open to a discussion of that (though there won’t be one, because there isn’t any way to get there). But I’m not open to the idea that because there’s a non-zero chance that anything at all can happen, the constitutional protections are irrelevant.

  20. Wesley Stine says:

    Interesting post, Sam. I 100% agree with you that this is not going to happen, though I disagree with some points of reasoning. First, the idea that the difficulty of amending the Constitution means anything – Constitutions (and laws in general) are difficult to amend, but easy to decide to ignore. It didn’t take any legislation for Gov. Boggs to order all the Mormons who stayed in Missouri to be shot. And while in theory, the U.S. Constitution takes an overwhelming national consensus to amend, in practice it only takes five people. If judges can interpret the Tenth Amendment out of existence, they can do the same with the First.

    They won’t – at least not to the extent these conspiracy theorists think. For one, there are too many Republican judges right now to allow it. More importantly, a blatant attack like that would wake us up and lead to immediate resistance. The Left is perfectly content to allow us to meet in peace while our acceptance of their worldview steadily grows and we are lead away carefully down to hell.

    I think that, in general, there are scads of people on the political and religion Right blathering about how “When they come for , we’ll resist them!” And they do this because it makes them feel brave, without doing anything brave in real life. So they go ahead learning their morality from Hollywood and sending their children to public schools where they’re stripped of their self-worth and dragged away by drugs and casual sex ]deleted]. Think about it from the Devil’s point of view: If the man you’re negotiating with offers you his soul and the souls of his entire family, why stop and say, “No, what I really want is your gun / flag / money / ward meetinghouse.”

    So conspiracy theories like this are a distraction, a way for cowards to feel brave and fools to feel like they’re in the know. I’ve got them in my ward, too: I have a friend in his 60s (I’m 22) who often tries to convince me of them. (This man is very kind and, personally, is a pillar of the church, though his family is a trainwreck). A few months ago he told me about how the de-emphesis of food storage is a sign of the times, vis: the catastrophe for which we’re storing food is still coming, but it’s too late to prepare physically; instead we should prepare spiritually and, when the time comes, everyone will rely on the charity of those who stocked up food when that was the word from Salt Lake.

    In conclusion, I think the belief that the Lord has made this change through his Prophet to prepare us for the coming ban on Sunday meetings serves a few purposes – 1) it helps us feel good about belonging to a Church that receives revelations, 2) It makes us feel brave for confronting non-existent dangers, 3) It distracts us from the real dangers, which our destroying the majority of our youth. Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!

  21. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    The thing about conspiracy theories (if that’s how we would classify this particular scenario) is that they are generally immune to reason. Those who cross the bridge to believing in impending doom typically burn it behind them. The very premise of a conspiracy theory is that the believer is in possession of some esoteric knowledge which is, by it’s very nature, not widely held. Throwing reason and logic at them only serves as evidence that their beliefs are, indeed, esoteric and reinforces the validity of those beliefs. (And yes, you could use the same argument for why many people stay in the Church). So, while I think Sam’s outline of very logical reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned about this sort of thing happening anytime soon is quite thorough and convincing, it’s not surprising that others will easily find loopholes. Could it be that arguing against this ‘myth’ actually reinforces it through a recursive process whereby we create the very thing we are trying to resist?

  22. I confess that I simply cannot understand this us vs “the Left” worldview. It is so bizarre and so foreign.

  23. Sam, I don’t know that I am talking about the insane “literally anything can happen” set of possible outcomes here. I agree with JKC that we can round off the likelihood of those to zero.

    But I do think that the legal and procedural barriers to change (for good or ill) that we have get most of their effective force from the cultural norms that back them up. As long as there’s a general consensus in dominant culture that church meetings can’t be outlawed, it’s never going to happen because we have built legal and procedural systems to enforce that cultural consensus pretty closely. If that set of cultural norms shifted dramatically, I’m not convinced that the legal and procedural barriers would hold. And I don’t think that circumventing them would entail a full process of amending the constitution–I think the reality would look a lot more like erosion and circumvention until the legal and procedural barriers became effectively toothless.

    The fact that policymakers and their primary constituents in the US are overwhelmingly religiously affiliated means that we are not looking at that happening in the short-term, but I do think that various kinds of rapid cultural change are not-unlikely, and that the medium-term future probably holds some real surprises. I’m not convinced that the structures that you have outlined in the OP would hold against rapidly-changing cultural pressures (especially since cultural norms–the religious affiliation of representatives and SCOTUS judges–are actually an integral part of those structures).

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to give craziness fuel to paranoid religious conservatives by any means, but arguments that boil down to “that will never happen because it is against the rules” have their limitations.

  24. Braaaaiinnnnns says:

    Sam forgot the upcoming zombie takeover, thus undermining his entire argument. They’ll be coming for our brains, and although we’ll be unable to get to our meetinghouses, we’ll be secure in our boarded-up houses with our manuals in hand, working through our #10 cans of hard red wheat.

  25. Honestly, Braaaaiinnnnns, I can never remember whether we’re pre-zombie-Millennialists or post-zombie-Millennialists. I feel like the zombie takeover has probably already happened, though, clearing the way for the Second Coming.

  26. Wesley Stine says:

    I wouldn’t quite call it “us vs. the Left,” because that implies our side is somehow fighting, too. The Left is running the game, the rest of us are just reacting, and the reaction usually consists of blowing hot air. It’s sad.
    And if you think the ability of Republicans to win united government in 2016 means that the Left isn’t running the system, ask yourself which of the Left’s accomplishments have been reversed since then. The enemy knows that it’s useful to let us think that we’re opposing them when we’re not, whether that’s Mr. Trump blowing hot air (which is 90% of what he does), or III%ers congratulating each other for pledging that they will not obey an order to force Americans into concentration camps, or Mormons chattering about how their Prophet is preparing them for a day when they won’t be allowed to go to church.
    There are plenty of real evils in the world. Conspiracy theories distract us from them, and they’re popular because we like to be distracted.

  27. To drive the tangent even more, technically we believe that we’ll be living with zombies in the millennial era. Can we have a law-like analysis of what laws we’ll need to manage the no longer dead?

  28. it's a series of tubes says:

    Mormon – LDS Freedom Forum is a lot of things, but “conservative” it most certainly is not.

  29. it's a series of tubes says:

    *Mormom* :)

  30. Frank, my friend Adam Chodorow (ASU) has written about that in his article Death Taxes and Zombies. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2045255

  31. As a trusts and estates lawyer, I can only imagine the chaos that the zombie apocalypse will cause to my practice area.

  32. …I can’t believe that I have been practicing trusts and estates law for a decade and I have never come across that article.

  33. Actually, Sam, you mixed up your pre-‘s and post-‘s. We’re post-Zombie pre-Millennialists.

  34. Thanks, Mark. One of these days I’ll figure out the pres and posts.

    Unless the zombies get me first.

  35. Last Lemming says:

    With regard to the “us vs. the Left” worldview, here’s Elder Christofferson quoting Hal Boyd of the Deseret News:

    Deseret News opinion editor Hal Boyd cited one example of the disservice inherent in staying silent. He noted that while the idea of marriage is still a matter of “intellectual debate” among elites in American society, marriage itself is not a matter of debate for them in practice. “‘Elites get and stay married and make sure their kids enjoy the benefits of stable marriage.’ … The problem, however, is that [they] tend not to preach what they practice.” They don’t want to “impose” on those who really could use their moral leadership, but “it is perhaps time for those with education and strong families to stop feigning neutrality and start preaching what they practice pertaining to marriage and parenting … [and] help their fellow Americans embrace it.

    That’s right, he wants the “elites” (a euphemism for “the Left” in polite conservative circles) to preach what they practice. I agree with him. But it implies that by doing so, the world would come to more closely imitate the “elite” lifestyle (meaning the reality of it, not the caricature presented in Sunday School lessons), not distance itself from it.

  36. Aussie Mormon says:

    Frank, since this article is about being able to meet is church members, I think a bigger zombie issue would be whether zombies get live or proxy baptised. Though I guess that would depend on the particular flavour of zombie we are talking about.

  37. Wesley, I’ve moderated your most recent comment. (I’d moderate your first, too, except that it has elicited some amount of discussion; I’ve partly edited it, though.) While I’m happy for robust debate, I’m not open to attacking broad groups of people. Please don’t do that again.

    A quick substantive response, though: I’m definitely part of the “Left” that you’re condemning, as are the vast majority of my friends and colleagues. And you know what else? Almost all of us are religious, and almost all of us are pursuing the common good.

    Ultimately, though, this post isn’t about left vs. right, or about the degradation of morality or society or whatever. What is it about? A stupid (though apparently wide-spread) conspiracy theory.

    And zombies.

  38. While I agree with your overall conclusion, which is that the reason for the schedule change has nothing to do with an imminent change in our ability to meet as saints, I think your arguments against it overlook history.

    I think anyone that lived in Germany during the 1920-30s would disagree with your outright dismissal of how rapidly a government can change its stance on religious freedom.

    I’m also reminded a bit of Alma 9:4.

    Again, I do NOT believe in this conspiracy theory that’s currently running through the church, but I do think our freedoms are not as certain as you pretend.

  39. Dr Cocoa, invoking Nazi Germany is almost always an internet discussion loser.

    But do me a favor: lay out an alternative version of how state or federal government could ban religious attendance in the U.S. I’ll wait.

  40. BTW, don’t scrimp on the hyperinflation from paying war reparations, and from choosing to borrow rather than tax to fund a major war.

  41. And for what it’s worth, the rumor that’s been rumbling around my neck of the woods does not specify the why, just that it would be difficult for us to meet.

    Could be political, could be zombies, could be natural disasters, could be bologna.

  42. Wesley Stine says:

    Sam,

    I’m sorry to get carried away and cause offense – my tone is probably more appropriate for the Matt Walsh site than this one. I’m sure everyone here has a variety of opinions as to who or what the real dangers are (and my catchall term “the Left” did not go over well). I think we’re more likely to agree that nonsense conspiracy theories are harmful because they distract us from the real world while also helping us feel good about ourselves for are willingness to resist a threat that will never materialize.

  43. Thanks, Wesley. I’m happy to have you here, and definitely agree with you that crazy conspiracy theories are both unnecessary and a distraction from important things (in this case, I would argue that “important things” means developing and understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus).

  44. Sam, on the one hand I agree with you down the line. In substance and probability assessment.

    On the other hand . . .
    1. I think the nil probability assessment is a product of a century or more of Church efforts to normalize within North American culture, to be part of the mainstream of religious life that is so obviously protected. If instead you were to start with the way Mormons were seen in the 19th century, the way Jews were seen in parts of the 20th century, the way Muslims are seen today, the way indigenous people and their religions are seen in all these times, I think your arguments would be the same but your probabilities would not. We have shown an uncomfortable ability to associate terrorism or violence or other anti-social-norm behavior with religion, and when that happens arguments are made that in normal times we would think specious.
    2. For accident of place and time, I hear more about issues (for the Church, for religious people) _outside_ Western Europe and North America. They are many, impediments on meeting together among them.

  45. Chris, if we were taking Muslims, I think you’d find more of an attempt to discriminate (though even there, it’s not a bad on meetings—it’s discriminatory zoning and police infiltration of mosques that end up shattering community trust). But courts have been admirable in their willingness to stand up to these kinds of unconstitutional laws (and people like Carolyn have shown an admirable willingness to litigate the question).

    As for outside the US, yes. There are real issues with religious liberty in some other countries. But I don’t know enough about their legal regimes for even blog-level analysis.

  46. The validity and importance of the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment, seem to be all that most Americans can agree on nowadays. There isn’t going to a crackdown on religion, despite what the paranoid John Bircher loons think, who cannot be convinced that Democrats are not unrepentant Stalinists bent on turning the US into the Soviet Union.

  47. Agree highly unlikely. But I think you’re downplaying to the possibility of a constitutional amendment way too much, in spite of the math. If we get to the place where the vast majority of the electorate is atheist, I can see a population who believes protecting religion is not worth the costs, regardless of the history. E.g., why would we want to provide freedoms for churches anyway? So they could peddle their harmful homophobic/sexually repressed/mentally unstable/concern de jour views some more?

    Many decades down the road, though, if ever.

  48. Things that would change our Sundays: long term energy/fuel crisis or events, large scale natural disasters that change areas for long time periods, off-the-chart violence, frequent terrorist events, major economic depression, major or constant terror events, war(s). It’s not all political.

  49. Fixing mistake. Substitute severe man made disasters with long term consequences.

  50. I think the whole current “home centered/church supported” mantra is another example of how our leaders have such a hard time leveling with us. Everything has to be spun as a positive.
    Why not just level with us and say “Tithing revenue is down and we can’t afford to keep building new meetinghouses at the current rate so we’re cutting church down to two hours which will allow us to fit more wards in a given building. You can make up for what you lose spiritually by studying more at home as a family.” Honesty would be really refreshing!

  51. Just to throw something out – why are we assuming that the government will be the ones who make it unsafe to meet publicly? Could it not simply be widespread persecution that makes it unsafe? This is a different type of conspiracy, but seems to be another angle.

  52. Even if the US Constitution was amended to remove Freedom of Religion, it would still probably have the Right to Assemble. Even Godless Atheists like assembling.

  53. jimbob,

    But I think you’re downplaying to the possibility of a constitutional amendment way too much, in spite of the math.

    Right. Because it’s easy to get rid of amendments. In fact, you know how many have been repealed? In the history of the country? One.

    And its repeal didn’t take rights away from individuals—it returned their ability to drink.

    If anything, I’m understating the difficulty of a constitutional amendment. Over the history of our constitution, we’ve had 27. And only 17 of those have been enacted in the years after 1791. The last amendment came into effect in 1992; the ERA has been floating around, almost, but not quite, ratified since 1972. The Senate regularly can’t get a 60-vote majority to get past a filibuster, and uses reconciliation (which wouldn’t work with an amendment, in any event) to get laws passed.

    So I’m going to say, even if we someday arrive at an atheist supermajority—and not only atheists, but vehemently anti-religious atheist supermajority—in this country, there is almost no chance that a right that is both fundamental to our country and that has formally been in the Constitution since 1791, a right that is mirrored in most states’ state constitutions, and one that is central (along with free speech and a free press) to the American identity will be repealed.

  54. Sam, I think “almost no chance” actually overstates the probability to the degree that it suggests there’s a “chance” that this could happen beyond the mere theoretical. No, there is no chance, other than the metaphysical uncertainty inherent in the nature of speaking of the future, that religious meetings would be banned in the united states. It’s a delusional idea.

  55. What about martial law?

    A limitation or ban on travel distances or times could make travel to church either diffficult or even illegal for some people.

    I get the feeling The Donald is just itching for an excuse to declare martial law.

  56. What about martial law? What is the governing law providing for martial law? What are the circumstances where it can be declared? What freedoms can and can’t be curtailed under martial law? How could it be used to prevent worship?

  57. J. Stapley says:

    As others have said, there are some interesting antecedents if you want to stoke persecution fantasies, namely The Raid in the 1880s. That all centered around the *practice* of polygamy–voter disenfranchisement, federal prosecution (and mass incarceration), loss of property, church leaders on the lamb, etc. The Supreme Court (and President Oaks, it seems) concluded that the government could indeed enforce a prohibition on the practice of polygamy even if religiously motivated (similar to the ways religious human sacrifice can be prohibited, I guess). The practice these folks seem to think would be comparable today would be *assembling,* which as you state (and others have sustained) is clearly wackadoodle.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    These expressions of resolute faith in American rights are quite invigorating. As I read them, I hear fifes playing. My current work is in service of instruments that will remain in America’s arsenal decades after I am dead, and it is an act of faith and hope that that future nation will remain as worthy a steward of that might as it currently is. So I benefit from such affirmations as here expressed of the immutability of the American way of life.

  59. Jack Hughes says:

    As long as the Westboro Baptist Church still spews hate across America and enjoys unchallenged tax exempt status, we Latter-day Saints shouldn’t worry about the government coming after us.

    We already have enough baggage from historical persecution complexes. Why must we manufacture new ones?

  60. I think I’ve figured it out:
    The President of the Church receives revelation that temple goers should have as much commitment as the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s; which buried their weapons. So a new question gets added to the temple recommend interview which is “Have you buried your guns and any other military class weaponry?” It’s not a baptismal recommend question, just a temple recommend question.
    Multiple families then sue the church on the grounds of having received harm from no longer being in leadership positions, no longer being able to attend their granddaughters’ weddings, and their grandsons aren’t going on missions as was expected. In addition, they are victims of emotional damage due to their no longer fitting in with their fellow citizens in the way that they were able to before, and not due to any action they took.
    The Religious Right on the Supreme Court side with the families because of all of those places in the Bible where Jesus clearly stated the importance of being able to kill other people with as great as ease as possible, is a vital aspect to following Him; and the damage that religions with continuing revelation can cause on citizens right to the Freedom of Religion (ie, the religion they wanted was forcefully taken away from them).
    That way only religions which have continuing revelation can have their US based assets seized; and religions which have a closed cannon are not in danger of violating Constitutional rights.

  61. I think I just wandered into a mission time warp and am listening to members of a 70’s group southwest U.S.

  62. These people have no imagination in our ward we joked about virtual church.

    However, I can see these types of rumors being popular, especially in extremely conservative areas. BYUI religion classes seem to be focusing on defending religious freedom currently. I took an online class and had to fill out a survey which included quite a few questions regarding religious freedom. If the narrative is pushed that our religious freedom is being attacked then I would expect these type of rumors to happen.

  63. I wish the First Presidency would clearly say stop with the conspiracy theories. Just stop it. It’s not true. It’s us against them thinking that is not in line with the gospel.

  64. I do love the misspelling of “canon” in a farcical comment about guns.

  65. Howard MacKinnon says:

    Scenario: a would-be tyrant issues executive orders calling for “patriotic” state agents to take “extraordinary measures” to defend the country from [insert your favourite bogeyman here]. As a result, the supreme court suddenly has some vacancies which are filled by similarly “patriotic” judges. Constitutional protections are subject to their rulings and case law quickly develops to permit “reasonable limits” on these protected rights. A careful strategy of jurisdiction and judge shopping quickly expands the limits contained in these binding supreme court decisions. By the end of the tyrant’s first term, your constitution is no better protector of your rights than was the constitution of the Soviet Union or any other dictatorship.

    In Canada our constitutionally “protected” rights are already entirely subject to the whim of the Prime Minister. If his party holds a majority of seats in Parliament, which is possible to achieve with as little as about 30% of the vote, which translates into about 20% support from all eligible voters, he can use the “notwithstanding clause” (section 33) to enact whatever he wants, notwithstanding the fact that it violates these rights. Further, section 1 makes all rights subject to “reasonable limits” opening the door our supreme court often walks through to justify limits on basic individual rights to expand the power of the state and the special rights of politically powerful interests.

    The idea that the right to bear arms is any protection against the state’s erosion of individual liberty flies in the face of two facts. One, the history of the state’s success in incrementally eroding these rights to the point where it can confiscate almost 50% of our property in taxes and tell us what we can do and not do with the other 50% and people still sing the praises of living in a “free country”. Second, the matchless firepower of the state vs the unorganized and mostly submissive population would (and does) make short work of any rebellion. The US, where this right is most strongly entrenched, falls far down the list of the freest countries in the world giving more support to the argument that this right is not an effective deterrent to the state.

    The only effective protection for individual rights is the same as it’s always been, and it is weaker now than at any time in history, although it will not remain that way for long. That is, a frontier, an alternative, an escape. We’ve almost always been able to vote with our feet and simply leave an oppressive state. Europeans did when they migrated to the new world. Oppressed groups in America were able to flee to the west. Offshore tax havens allowed people to protect their property by taking advantage of states jealous of their sovereignty.

    Increasingly, technological progress is enabling us to transfer more and more of our lives, economic and social, to the virtual world where the physical coercion upon which political power depends is difficult to exercise. Cyberspace is the new frontier. The state’s fear of a mass migration to cyberspace is the only real protection for our rights. Ultimately it will be our only refuge as history shows that state power only ever increases. But when the level of online economic interaction outside state control inevitably reaches a critical point, the state will collapse. Hopefully when the state system falls it will be like how the iron curtain fell and not in a manner that takes our technological civilization down with it. I am hopeful.

  66. After living in several countries where the police knocking on the door of the place we were meeting and shutting everything down was/is a very real possibility, where energy crises are happening, where natural disasters do actually make it hard to go to church long term rather than merely inconvenient for a week or two, where multiple coups have happened, or where I know people who joined the church in countries where all branches actually have been shut down over extreme violence, I think the idea of USians fretting over this is completely ludicrous. Except in the case of the church closing down entirely in a failed state, people still managed to keep going to church as long as anyone else was there to meet with, through coups and energy crises and natural disasters and smaller groups meeting very quietly in private homes. It’s also an extremely US-centered attitude because it implies no one in Salt Lake cares about these things happening unless they might happen to USians.

  67. Julie A Fleming says:

    Conspiracies aside, this being, The Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints, one might benefit from the study of Acts, in the, Holy Bible. If we are to emulate and live the teachings, of Jesus Christ, we must look at the early church saints. No more than my personal opinion, but the direction we are being guided, seems to be, the church coming full circle, fulfilling the will of our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  68. Sam: again, we are essentially in agreement here. But your confidence in the status quo lacks imagination. For about 2 centuries, everybody was pretty sure states could regulate sexual mores under the Constitution, but then that changed. For almost all of those same 2 centuries, everybody was pretty sure that states could regulate abortions. But then that changed. And for 150 years, everybody was pretty sure the Constituion prohibited laws regarding workers’ rights, but then we changed our minds on that.

    I’m going to repeat so you don’t waste your time trying to convince me of something I already believe: our Venn diagrams of belief on this subject are nearly a circle. But at the same time, your confidence that long held views and interpretations and texts of the Constitution will not change from what they are now ignores a lot of history.

  69. jimbob, the difference, of course, is that all those examples have to do with defining the vague contours of the fourteenth amendment, so (1) it’s not about 2 centuries or 150 years, it’s more like one century and 50 years, respectively (2) it was ambiguous and unsettled whether the fourteenth amendment actually addressed these issues, so you’re overstating the alleged consensus that these decisions supposedly disrupted. The right of free exercise and the right of free assembly, by contrast, are explicitly addressed in the first amendment. It’s not that Sam lacks imagination; it’s that your imagination ignores key facts.

  70. “Well, the vast majority of our Congresspeople are religious (or, at least, religiously affiliated): only one says she is religiously unaffiliated.”

    that one is ex-mormon. we continue to lead the way in things

  71. “After all, 18-year-old boys are susceptible to outlandish ideas.”

    Proceeds to spout off outlandish ideas for the next 20 paragraphs.

  72. What kind of bizarre fantasy world do you have to live in to say that the guy debunking the cuckoo conspiracy theory is “spouting outlandish ideas”?

    (And, not that it matters, but it was 17 paragraphs, not 20.)

  73. thomasgshaffer, I think you mixed up “outlandish ideas” and “legal analysis.” But, of course, you do you.

  74. The unhinged people who so eagerly jump in support of the claim that Latter-day Saints won’t be able to meet in public usually mean this to be a dig at “secularism” or Democrats or “libruls” or President Obama. But in reality, if the US government were ever able to go through the steps Sam outlines to undermine the Constitution and ban Latter-day Saints from meeting in public, it would be an effort led and carried out by the American Evangelical politically right-wing Christians who are still the majority in this country despite their efforts to claim persecuted minority status. They are the demographic that wants to see Latter-day Saints suppressed or eliminated entirely. This has always been their position — that Latter-day Saints are not another group of Christians in the universal church or the greater body of Christ but actually heretics from hell who are harming the Christian cause and this country. (Even though they’ve cynically been using us for our money and boots on the ground in their various culture wars campaigns over the last two or three decades since we’re so eager to try to ingratiate them and we go along.)

  75. Yeah, John, I can’t help but thinking that underneath some of these comments is something like “well, it was obvious that Obamacare was unconstitutional but the supreme court let it happen anyway, so ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN AT ALL!!!!!!!1!!”

  76. Tom Pastey says:

    This wild theory (which has not made it to my neck of the woods apparently) very much reminded me of an encounter I had with a man about 18 years ago who insisted that someone in the future (date unspecified, but it seemed that he believed he would live to see the day) church attendence would be mandatory. He was extremely vague on how or why a country with ever decreasing levels of church attendence would come up with the idea of compulsory Sunday attendence, but he did clearly lay out the effects: because Sunday attendence would be required, anyone who insisted on Church meetings on a different day (like Saturday) would be both persecuted and prosecuted, and this one be a great litmus test to distinguish the True Believers.

    And that’s what is an almost immutable law is the conspiracy theory: those that hold the theory are always directly negatively affected by it. I’ve never heard a group of left handers discussing how their is a secret plan to cut taxes on lefties in half, and never a theory by a bunch of sports fans about how the league colluded to make their team win. Conspiracy theories only exist within an existing belief in victimhood.

  77. Mr. Schmidt says:

    @JKC, I think that is mere speculation. What about those who think, “well, it was obvious that Trump should never have succeeded in his campaign for President, but that still happened … so …” Doesn’t quite fit the narrative you are envisioning, and assuming that you are just as disgusted at his election, and antics in office, as I am, may challenge some of your assumptions about anyone who might thing that the possibility of bad things happening is greater than we might like to believe.

    I’m not asserting that it is likely that Sam’s constitution-changing scenarios laid out in the OP can happen “because anything can happen” – but I think there have been several in the comments who have tried to point out that things can change quickly in ways that are assumed impossible just a few short months prior. To lump any who might try to understand the spirit of the concern, if not the specific nature of this particular conspiracy theory, into just those who hate that Barack Obama was elected and that the Affordable Care Act was passed, is frankly disappointing.

    @john f., what if some are concerned that it could come from right-wing evangelical christians just as it could from any left-wing types? Are they just as unhinged in that scenario? I thought the rest of your point was cogent and well-made.

  78. There’s something a little ironic, JKC, about attacking an the argument Sam’s ward member posited with the kind of invective you’re using. It’s condemning an overwrought argument with an overwrought argument. But then again, it’s your blog, so you do you.

  79. Mr. Schmidt, Trump’s election wasn’t an out-of-nowhere thing, though. It was unlikely, but he’d been floating the idea of running for several election cycles. 539’s model gave him about a 35% chance of winning (which means one out of three times, he wins). I certainly didn’t expect it, but it occurred within the constitutional framework, and didn’t represent any type of legal shift. In fact, elections almost always involve some kind of change, by their very nature, and often represent a significant shift (especially midterm elections in a president’s first term). Trump’s election—whether a surprise or not—doesn’t say anything about the likelihood of drastic constitutional change. And the courts’ responses to his unconstitutional actions suggests that the power of our constitutional system works to check impermissible laws, even with a unified federal government and an executive branch headed by someone who doesn’t know or care what the Constitution allows and forbids.

  80. Mr. Schmidt says:

    Sam, that’s good point. But as many have pointed out in the comments, constitutional change is just one avenue for “bad things to happen.” But, as the point of the OP was to debunk a theory within the context of going through constitutional challenges/within the existing legal framework, fair enough.

    Though, I must note, the theory being bandied about (which I must admit I have not heard in any social circles in my current ward or extended social network before this post – is it a “mormon corridor” thing?) does not specify that it would happen due to a constitutional/legal framework change. So, if we are to address this, looking only at what happens constitutionally and the existing legal norms is a bit myopic.

  81. Guys, I said “some” of the comments appeared to be motivated by “something like” that kind of reasoning. Not that everyone who buys into this wackadoodle conspiracy theory has that specific belief. The point is that they see what they perceive as a shift in culture or policy and conclude from that that therefore nothing is reasonably certain anymore than that the rule of law has somehow vanished.

    And you’re right, it’s pure speculation about their subjective motives, because their subjective motives are unknowable, and anything said about them is inherently speculative–unlike predictions about the future, which ought to be based on facts, not speculation divorced from facts.

  82. Wesley Stine says:

    John F.

    Not sure where your coming from with the idea that Evangelicals might do this to us. Yes, they persecuted us in the 1800s when they were actually America’s majority and we were more eccentric than we are now, but a l8t can change in a hundred years.
    I’ve associated with a lot of evangelicals in both political and non-political causes, and I’ve never felt cynically used. I’m aware there are still some who think we’re not Christians, but I’ve never been told that to my face. I think the relationship between our two camps (and with traditionalist Catholics) is improving greatly in recent years, as we realize how much we have in common.
    So no, religious people are not going to shut down our meetings (and neither are secularists).

  83. John Mansfield says:

    A couple comments above remind me again of a line in the 2012 Pew study of Mormons in America that caught my attention, but as far as I can tell didn’t interest anyone else: “Nearly two-thirds of Mormon college graduates (65%) view evangelicals as unfriendly toward Mormonism, compared with roughly half of those with some college education (52%) and roughly one-third of those with a high school education or less (35%).”

  84. Mr. Schmidt, this change couldn’t happen except through the Constitutional changes Sam mentions (whether from right or left — but since American Evangelical Christians are effectively a majority of the electorate, it is more likely to come from them since it is slightly more likely they could muster the types of majorities needed to amend the Constitution). Unless you’re suggesting a Mad Max scenario in which the United States is gone so nothing has to happen in a constitutional manner.

  85. I think it’s reasonable to worry about the populism, nationalism, and neo-fascism that are destabilizing a lot of democratic countries in many parts of the world. It’s reasonable to think about how these movements might threaten religious freedom.

    But that’s not what’s happening in the scenario that Sam’s OP relates. The premise is just nuts: the church changed its Sunday schedule from three hours to two hours in order to prepare for an apocalyptic catastrophe. The people who promote this kind of thinking are not afraid of religious persecution. They pine for it. They don’t find satisfaction in the daily life of a disciple, so they create fantasies of exciting disaster and desperation. It’s perverse.

    Sam’s explanation is useful. Extremists can be scary, and reason helps.

  86. To add to Loursat (and the OP): it’s also confounding that people would think that Pres. Nelson wouldn’t tell us that this Big Scary Apocalyptic Thing was about to happen, instead sending vague, ambiguous, coded messages that only the most faithful conspiracy theorist can unders . . .

    Oh.

  87. pconnornc says:

    I’ve been watching the comments for a while and trying to think of what could make church attendance “illegal”… I am 110% behind what Sam has written, but for sake of argument, could we envision a pandemic that causes public gatherings greater than a fixed number of individuals being “banned”? Again, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, just a creative thinker ;-)

  88. Mr Schmidt: it’s not entirely a “Mormon corridor” thing, as the ward mentioned in my comment is in the American Midwest. It’s definitely possible the people in my parents’ ward who believe this theory have connections there, though.

  89. Richard_K says:

    Why worry about the arguments against the constitutional rights to assembly or free exercise of religion. In U.S. v. Reynolds, the government simply seized all property belonging to the Church and revoked its corporate charter for failing to halt the practice of polygamy. That’s not legal theory, that’s American history. A repeat would certainly prevent Mormons from meeting much of anywhere other than their own homes. I guess the question is: The public and defiant refusal to comply with which law by Mormons would it take for history to repeat itself?

  90. Mr. Schmidt says:

    @john f. – No, I’m not envisioning a mad max scenario. Just thinking about how societies so often forget the lessons/sins of the past, and how things can change very quickly before one almost has time to comprehend a shift taking place. AfD in Germany is the first example that comes to mind.

    But, if the goal is just to point out that there is a conspiracy theory about why the change took place, and whether the First Presidency elaborated on the justification(s) for that change including preparing for a future where Mormons cannot freely assemble in the US, I agree that there is no justification for it.

  91. Mr. Schmidt says:

    *to clarify, AfD as an example of society forgetting the past.

  92. Wesley Stine says:

    I think that Richard_K has a good point – the events of up to 1890 prove that the Constitution can be stretched to support persecution of a group that defies the law for a cause that nobody sympathizes with.

    (And the Reynolds decision of 1877 simply upheld criminal penalties for polygamists, it was Late Corp. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States, decided in 1890, that disincorporated the Church and seized our property). While the first decision was unanimous, the second was not; three of the nine Justices thought that punishment went too far.

    The question Richard poses is “The public and defiant refusal to comply with which law by Mormons would it take for history to repeat itself?” In the US, the Church has done a very good job at obeying the laws since 1890, so I don’t think anything like this is in the offing. In countries like Russia and China, where for some churches simply existing is perceived as a threat by authorities, the situation is different, but there are very few of us in those places to begin with.

  93. Yeah, Richard_K actually doesn’t have a point that would extend to contemporary law. Utah didn’t become a state until [checks Google] 1896; prior to that, it was a territory. As a territory, it was subject to federal law, and Congress could disincorporate it legislatively. Today, I suspect the church is incorporated under Utah nonprofit law, and Congress lacks the legal authority to revoke its corporate charter. So the disincorporation of the church, and the escheatment of its assets, may well be history. But if you contextualize history into law, well,

  94. It wasn’t “secularism” or “libruls” or Democrats who disincorporated the church and forced it to escheat its property in the 1890s. If you’re looking to that as precedent, again, you need to look at American Evangelical Christianity for the source of the animosity, not “the Left” or anything like it.

  95. Wesley Stine says:

    According to the Mormon attorneys, Congress lacked authority to punish polygamists in the 19th century. But when there is an overwhelming consensus that something should not be tolerated, the authorities will find a way not to tolerate it. You’re right to call me out for contextualizing history into law – I think that the prevailing attitudes at each time in history determine how the laws will be interpreted to get the result that nearly everybody wants.
    Once again, no threat at present – Today’s Mormons simply don’t do anything that everybody else in the country is determined to put an end to.

  96. The fact that Sam, who is a LDS law professor specializing in religious taxation, appears to be unsure about the status of the church as a legal entity, reflects how un-transparent the church and its legal department have been about these basic organizational matters. It’s always been surprising to me that this isn’t common knowledge in the Church (or at least part of elder’s quorum lore).

    According to Wikipedia (citing a 1987 US Supreme Court decision), the church itself is an unincorporated religious association. Its assets are owned by various “corporations sole” and a variety of other non-profit and for profit corporations. And the church is incorporated in various other countries. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that US individuals are members of and hold offices in and that President Nelson is the president of is not a corporation.

  97. “The people who promote this kind of thinking are not afraid of religious persecution. They pine for it.”

    Bingo! They crave validation that they are Mormoning correctly.

  98. The issue in the polygamy cases was whether the first amendment created an exception to longstanding generally applicable laws against bigamy and cohabitation. Yhere is no remotely conceivable argument that attending church meetings could violate a generally applicable criminal law. The polygamy example provides no support for the conspiracy theory.

    Besides, even setting that aside, the decision was that while the government could prohibit bigamy and cohabitation, it could not outlaw religious belief in the principle. It follows even under the reasoning of Reynolds that it also couldn’t prohibit meetings where that belief was advocated. And if there were any question the fact that Neo-Nazis and the Westboro Baptist church are permitted to continue to meet puts any such question to rest.

  99. jimbob, the fact that you pause before dismissing the missionary’s paranoia speaks volumes (in fact you seem to be defending him slightly). The idea that Mormons in the US are going to have to worship in private and be forbidden from assembling is ludicrous and the product of irrational paranoia. You think that the big bad atheists are going to ban religious like the Soviets. Find me one prominent American atheist who proposes banning religion. The predominant narrative among them is that they support freedom of speech and freedom of religion but that religions should not have tax-exempt privileges and should be completely separate from public schools.

  100. Re-read my comments, Wilson. You’re tilting at windmills. I said nothing of the sort.

  101. John Mansfield says:

    Is there anyone who loves to repeat a conspiracy theory even half so much as a debunker does? Has anyone witnessed a collection of saints expounding on this “won’t be able to meet” theory to even a quarter of the length of the present collection of comments deriding such a theory?

  102. Ah yes, the I-can’t-believe-y’all-are-taking-about-this-thing comment. Thanks, John. Super productive.

  103. As creative thinker without a law degree and with a few pieces of a puzzle in my head but no coherent theory and poor persuasive skills wishes to enter the discussion.

    Obviously, a loss of first amendment rights implies destruction of the constitution and renders legal arguments without axiomatic foundation. How the constitution is to be torn up is not obvious but not unthinkable.

    At the helm of this nation is a madman who defies probability and almost everything else. Who is without morality or reason and has the maturity of a 13 year old throwing temper tantrums. Around him are too many impotent, spineless sycophants and critics.

    Recently elected to congress is his most articulate critic at one point, a skillful politician who happens to represent Utah and is a Mormon. Who has no further to climb up the latter of political power and little to lose.

    Can rights be lost due to oppressive government or due to no government and anarchy or due to some combination of both?

    The federal government is actually shut down, well half way shut down. Previously this has been a bluffing game. What if, instead of resolving differences and compromising, both sides dig in deeper? Are we already living through the first phase of the end of the American republic?

    Many republics have been overthrown, although we have been spared this fate for a long time.

    With sudden loss of government, a well-organized church with loyal adherents and resources could provide a skeletal government for their people for a time.

    Who controls our powerful military?

    Could an unstable stock market lose say 60-80% of its value and plunge us into another Great Depression? Does economic catastrophe destabilize nations?

    New technology with potentially powerful unintended or poorly understood consequences appear with dizzying frequency.

    Could the climate change more rapidly and unpredictably than expected?

    A terrorized minority of socially isolated immigrants, some legal and others not, now constitute over 10% of the population and are concentrated, among other places, in 3 of the 4 largest states.The animosity between them and the “lower half” of the majority who feel disenfranchised is growing.

    Is anybody keeping an eye on North Korea? Did they actually quit building missiles? Throw in a few presents, special delivery from them. Here or on their neighbors. Do our missile defense systems actually work close to 100%?

    I don’t even know what to say about Russia except I think we ignore/minimize their many shenanigans at grave risk.

    We have launched an irrational and inconsistent trade war with China that could devastate our economy and destabilize them severely. China has a long history of extremely bloody civil wars and now has advanced weapons.

    China claims control of the South China sea,The US Navy is sending warships there in defiance of them.

    We as a people, but not all, are ripe for destruction for our growing wickedness.

    Nobody knows the time or how the future national disasters will happen. Likewise. we cannot know that they will not happen. Probabilities don’t matter when it happens to you.

  104. It’s not hard to make a laundry list of potential catastrophes. (Though I honestly appreciate your efforts, Michael.) What’s hard is rousing ourselves to make the right response. Yes, the current partial shutdown of the U. S. government could possibly spin into a disaster. So what are we all doing about it? Have you called your senators and your representative to express your view?

    The real problem with apocalyptic looniness is that it makes us feel satisfied to hide in a bunker, or it scares us into paralysis. The observation that the people are ripe for destruction is a cop-out, an empty bromide, a self-righteous excuse, a piece of proud despair. As long as we’re breathing, there are useful things we can do.

  105. Recently I read a book about a person who survived a concentration camp where most detainees died. This made me thankful I was not in such a camp although sometimes my situation is very miserable. It also reminded me that most of human history is one of extreme suffering for very many people. Most of them could do little to nothing about avoiding their fate.

    My dad showed me a picture of the about 30 guys he trained with to operate smaller LCTs in WWII, taken at Pearl Harbor. He knew everyone of their names and where they were from (and for what many of them had been put into prison before being drafted into the Navy). I offered to help him track some of them down to reconnect. He feigned disinterest and I pressed him, it would be interesting and not that hard. He gave me a cold, hard look and said- “I was the only one in that picture to survive the war and I witnessed most of their deaths.” The only difference between them and my dad was blind luck or the grace of God. We won; for German, Japanese and Russian soldiers his experience was far more common.

    Today the most common personal tragedy for people in the age brackets from infancy to the cardiovascular disease age is traffic accidents. More than half of those deaths are people who did nothing wrong and were just minding their own business. But we still get into cars every day and we resist driver-less cars which could cut this number into a small fraction.

    Why would national or societal disasters be any different?

    The bromide you castigate is often the only thing one has left to do. Blogging is only a step above that cellar floor activity. What most of our elected officials are doing is also a cop-out, an empty bromide, a self-righteous excuse, a piece of proud despair. As long as apocalyptic looniness remains nothing more than bunkering bromides and verbal diarrhea I am fine with it and I enjoy the castigation of such, it being a little better entertainment.

    I did “express my view,” (not really) by voting in 2016. But I felt like my freedom was already in the toilet because of the extremely crappy candidates on the ballot. I “threw away” my vote for someone who had no hope of winning.Talking to these elected elites is close to useless. After over 100 responses on this blog, I remain unroused to anything resembling a right response.

  106. Michael, I did not intend my comment to be a criticism directed personally at you. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear.

    It’s true that we can’t eliminate tragedies, we can’t eliminate evil, and we can’t fix everything. On the other hand, there are some things that we can fix–we just don’t know before the fact which things are fixable, so we will often fail when we try to do something. Of course, we will always fail if we never try. Writing comments on a blog is a tiny drop in the bucket, just like everything else that I have the power to do, but it’s a little more than nothing. The same is true of contacting our elected representatives, flawed though they certainly are. Taking action is always a matter of faith and hope. That’s why I have so little tolerance for people, like the apocalypse kooks, who make a fetish of despair; they deny the heavenly virtues. The fight against despair is a fight that we can certainly win, because God’s love is constant.

  107. Bro. Jones says:

    I’ve always found it odd that the people most worried about Christian persecution don’t actually welcome it when it arrives. Jesus says point blank that believers will be blessed for being persecuted in his name, so I’d think the paranoid types would rejoice at actually being able to experience targeted religious oppression. (See also the ending of the original version of “The Wicker Man.”)

  108. The 2 hour block is a preparatory response the upcoming flooding caused by global warming. As the oceans flood the coast lines many chapels will become unusable. Those wards will now be able to meet in non-flooded chapels.

  109. They are rejoicing in this conspiracy theory, Bro. Jones. That’s Sam’s point.

  110. Wesley, John F. is correct.But the United States is not a banana republic. We are governed by laws which exist to protect groups of people from other people who don’t like them. Atheists believe religion is the cause of much evil( and they point to history. ) Evangelical friends dropped me as a friend in the 1980’s because I became a Mormon. I was told to my face that I was not a Christian and they were. I was told I was not “saved”.
    Hate talk radio took off, liberal bashing, trashing Mormons –the audience was primarily Evangelicals and this happened in the 1980’s.
    I told my college age peers at the LDS Institute that no, you are mistaken if you think we are part of the “Moral Majority”–the new Evangelical term for moral people making their voices heard in government. Atheists and Evangelicals and anyone else that does not like a group, will not stop anyone from meeting anywhere in this country because of our laws. There are Libertarian Atheists who feel very strongly that religion does NO good and people need to realize that. There are Libertarian Evangelicals who feel strongly that Mormons are misled and don’t want us doing missionary work. They even made films “The Godmakers” to warn people about us. There has been dialogue between the two since but there are many Evangelicals who still don’t feel good about us. Atheists and Evangelicals won’t be stopping us from meeting — because of laws. No one is above the law. Pres. Nelson thinks it’s time to be adult Christians who can stand on their own, regardless of Church, and be not moved. Who we are shouldn’t change because of how often we’re in a church building. He wants us converted, truly converted. We are the Church. It’s wherever we are. If for some bizarre reason there is no law anymore, the least of our problems will be whether we’re in a church building.

  111. Agree with mez and raise him one…

    My wife attends an evangelical church. One reason Romney lost the election to Obama was weak support from evangelicals, which my wife fought valiantly. Her preacher recently suggested that Christians need to change their image. They should not be viewed as judgmental, inflexible, hateful, etc. We should be known mostly by our humble works of service and love for people in the community. Especially the disadvantaged, downtrodden, etc. Time to climb down off the bully pulpit and express more love of neighbor by helping them, serving them, understanding them. That would include tRump’s base, liberals and anyone else. I don’t agree with everything he teaches- but he might be onto something here.

    BTW if tRump doesn’t make us into a banana-the-size-of-Jaredite-boat republic then what the heck does? Mad Max=Dunce Don. (Your political opinion may vary.)

  112. My only concern with this article is that it seems very US based. Since most of the church is outside the US and we have already had concerns in the past few years in Sierra Leone and China, it seems highly likely that most of the major issues are going to occur outside the United States first

  113. I have attempted to read all the remarks, but at my age there is only so much time left. :-) Being a Primary teacher, I have not participated in the Gospel Doctrine-spawned theories as to why the meeting change. But, I did hear that the teacher shut the discussion down with a simple statement: “The prophet said we need to spend more time fellowshipping, so he gave us some more time to do so.” I think that remarks shuts down all the theories. Members of my ward have gotten together and created study circles and singing circles, as the First Presidency has suggested, and one Sister is inviting a different family to dinner every Sunday. Our ward is finding ways to spend that extra hour in service and fellowship.