There’s been some national excitement around Utah Senator Mitt Romney the past few weeks. As one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to speak out against the actions of President Trump, he’s captured the attention of Americans across the political spectrum. And there’s even been some talk about Romney fulfilling an old legend.
KUER’s Lee Hale spoke with Benjamin Park, a professor of history at Sam Houston State University in Texas, about the “White Horse Prophecy” and what the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith has to do with all of this.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lee Hale: What is the White Horse Prophecy?
Benjamin Park: The White Horse Prophecy is a late, late, late reminiscence that was given by a man named Edwin Rushton, who lived in Utah. Around 1900 he goes public talking to people about a remembrance he had of talking with Joseph Smith way back in Nauvoo. So this would've been 60 years before. And how Joseph Smith prophesied that not only would the Saints eventually be kicked out of Illinois and be pushed out to the Rocky Mountains and become a powerful people — but he also prophesied of a day when the American government would be about to fall apart. The Constitution would be hanging by a string, and in old Bible-style fashion, a white horse, a savior will come in and save the American government and the Constitution.
LH: And it might not have ever happened? The prophecy might be wrongly attributed?
BP: Yes, very much. I think nearly all — actually, I will say all credible historians discount the reminiscence. This won't surprise many people who follow Mormon history, but there are lots of reminiscences that people give of Joseph Smith and things that he said early on that can't really be attributed. I mean, there's a lot of capital that comes from claiming that you've heard some secret teaching from Joseph Smith. This one, for a number of historical reasons, is not one of the few that could actually stand up to investigation.
LH:What do you think is attractive to Mormons about this idea of the Constitution hanging by a thread? That there might be a need for a Mormon savior to rescue it?
BP: I think it cuts at the heart of one of the central tensions of Mormonism from all the way back from Joseph Smith's time to the present. On the one hand, they love the American government and the American nation. They love the Constitution. They love the ideals upon which America was built. I mean, we are the American religion, after all. But at the same time, they're often frustrated with American leaders. I mean, the Church has a long history of persecution where they believe they were kicked out of a series of states before going out to Utah. And they've often been marginalized. There were a few moments where they felt that the answer would be outside of America. But in most moments, they believed that the solution was to save America, to redeem the Constitution. And so that's where this idea of the idea of the Constitution hanging by a thread, a thread never breaks, comes from.
LH: Now is an interesting time in politics in America, because there are probably some people who would agree that the Constitution might be hanging by a thread. Depending on how they view the president, some people feel like the Constitution is being challenged right now. Does that make it an attractive time for that prophecy to come back?
BP: Absolutely. I think you'll find most Latter-day Saints, especially in the Utah region, they're going to be pretty strident Republicans. And when push comes to shove, they'll probably continue to vote Republican. But they also have a typical cultural trajectory to where they don't feel comfortable with people like Donald Trump, who does not fit their typical belief of what a politician should be. So even if they support him at the polls, they're going to speak out. And I think you see this in people like Mitt Romney and Jeff Flake, politicians who are Latter-day Saints, who even if they vote along party lines, they're still going to speak out and present themselves as an alternative. So, while most Latter-day Saints in Utah will still probably support the Republican ballot and probably vote for Donald Trump in 2020, they're going to see Donald Trump and his activities as a larger bug— that there's much more corruption throughout American politics that still need to be saved, even if they're not going to consider any alternatives to Trump at the voting poll.
LH: Is Romney the white horse?
BP: I would tell people not to put too much faith into that. I think in general, Romney, like most Latter-day Saints, are going to fall along party line. And I would be very surprised if that doesn't happen. I will state that it's pretty interesting that the LDS Church never officially came out and discounted the White Horse Prophecy until 2010, when Romney was in the midst of starting his campaign for the 2012 election. And I think you could see the LDS Church realizing that we have a powder keg that could explode if we don't discount it. And so they actually put out a public statement saying that the White Horse Prophecy is is not a credible part of LDS doctrine.
Mormon culture influences nearly every aspect of life in Utah. But these days, many long-held values are being challenged, even by the faithful. KUER’s series “Latter-day” examines how Mormon culture is — and isn’t — changing in response.