This week’s City Weekly cover story explores how the faithful of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can find support for some radical beliefs within the teachings and scriptures of the church. One of the most seemingly contradictory beliefs to find support tin LDS theology is that of anarchy.
Anarchy is not exactly the kind of thing one would expect to find support for in any organized religion. But for “Steve,” an LDS convert living and studying in Texas, who asked that his real name to be withheld, LDS theology is all about ditching the “archy” of a formal organization and going with the spirit. Steve, a convert to the church who now regularly contributes to the LDS Anarchy blog, argues that the point lost on many is that anarchy doesn’t mean a free-for-all.
“We’ve been conditioned to say anarchy is chaos, that someone must be in charge,” Steve says. “In my mind, the people in charge were the ones that told you that.” By anarchistic thinking, people naturally understand how to work with one another and don’t necessarily need a top-down administration to tell them how to live their lives. He likes to offer the example of a four-way stop sign.
“If one day someone just takes the four-way stop away, I’m not just going to blow through there -- I still don’t want to wreck my car. I’m going to enter that intersection carefully.”
For Steve, the church has numerous anarchistic points going for it within LDS scripture and scholarship. Here’s a short reading list:
* The famous Joseph Smith quote, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
* If anarchy in your mind doesn’t conjure images of a post-apocalyptic bedlam where hooligans roam the streets eating people and setting things on fire, then you may have taken comfort in 3 Nephi Chapter 7 from The Book of Mormon, in which a kingdom of even wicked people lived in a natural state of anarchy where even these hooligans had “in some degree … peace in the land.”
* Captain Moroni from The Book of Mormon is also a champion of anarchist thinking, Steve says, quoting the war hero’s epistle from 60 Alma Verse 36: “Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain, I seek not for power, but to pull it down.” Moroni stands out in the scripture for famously threatening to fight his own government for neglecting to provide food to the troops.
* Doctrine & Covenants Section 58 Verses 26-29 is also a good foundation for LDS anarchists to remember that blind authority undermines a person’s free will and agency “… he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward … For the power is in them, herein they are agents unto themselves … But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded … the same is damned.”
* Perhaps the leading church figure who gets the biggest proverbial high-five from the anarchist camp is Hugh Nibley, the famed BYU scholar known for his linguistic prowes s -- he was fluent in five dead languages including Coptic, Egyptian and Old Norse -- and for his archaeological and historical approach to studying LDS scripture.
Nibley famously challenged that the suffix “archy” is tied to power and authority. “The suffix archy means always to be first in order, whether in time or eminence; the point is that there can only be one first,” Nibley wrote in Patriarchy and Matriarchy
“To be first is Satan's first principle: ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’” Nibley challenged “archys” as divisive measures that separate humans from one another “decoying us away from our true dedication to that celestial order established in the beginning.”
* Doctrine & Covenants 128 Verses 37 and 46, also contain words of wisdom for Latter-day anarchists who take comfort in knowing that God does not “… exercise control or dominion or compulsion …” upon the souls of the children of men,’" Steve writes via e-mail. “His dominion [the kingdom of God] is everlasting and operates "… without compulsory means …, " meaning it operates by virtue of the consent of the governed.”
For Steve, this hits the heart of how a hierarchical church can be built on a foundation of anarchist ideas that spurn blind obedience.
“In anarchy, no one desires to be led because people lead themselves. Can I lead myself to follow after someone? Sure,” Steve writes. “In anarchy, only the wisest and most skilled men and women will be chosen to fill leadership positions because no one will follow them out of some sense of duty or obligation.”