Monday, January 11, 2016

Ammon Bundy and the Paradoxes of Mormon Political Theologies

Ammon is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who has previously led a standoff with the American government; like his father, Ammon defends his actions through religious belief and justification. Most importantly, as a Mormon, Bundy mixes LDS symbolism with a libertarian language of disgust for the federal government. He claims he prayed and received inspiration that guided his activities: “The Lord was not pleased with what has happening with the Hammonds,” he said. His protest against federal overreach, he believes, is an extension of his Mormon faith. In another interview, Bundy explained: “I have no idea what God wants done, but he did inspire me to have the sheriffs across the United States take away these weapons, disarm these bureaucracies, and he also gave me a little inspiration on what would happen if they didn’t do that.” This is as much a religious mission as it is a political action. If Ammon followed the example of his father from several years before, then prior to their quest, he would have fasted and prayed for the “spirit of their forefathers to be with them.” Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has already condemned Bundy’s actions, many have pointed out the consistencies within his beliefs and particular moments from Mormon history. Some have even noted how this Mormon context is necessary to understand Bundy’s activities. Indeed, the Mormon past provides a lot of evidence for this interpretation, as there were plenty of individuals and moments that have demonstrated a penchant for violence within the LDS tradition. But this episode is also an important lesson in the danger of attempting to connect a straight line between traditions and individuals. Ammon Bundy is a product of Mormonism, but his Mormonism is also a product of his own making. His armed standoff is just another tale in the paradoxical history of LDS believers who have paved their own way by framing political beliefs through theological prisms. The Mormon tradition, like virtually any religious tradition, provides the material for both violent and pacifist strains, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to simply connect the dots between the LDS faith and Bundy’s actions. Indeed, forfeiting superficial appeals to strict coherency or literal continuity within a faith tradition allows the true elasticity and dynamism of Mormonism, not to mention American religion, to come into view. The name “Ammon” comes from the Book of Mormon, a scriptural text Latter-day Saints believe contains the story of an Israelite family who left Israel, settled in the Americas centuries before Christ, and established an extensive proto-Christian civilization. A son of one of the text’s most righteous figures, King Mosiah, the Book of Mormon’s Ammon spends his early years rebelling against the church. After being convinced of his wicked ways and converted to the gospel by an intervening angel, however, Ammon becomes an iconic missionary to the “Lamanites,” a neighboring and wicked tribe who had rejected God’s message...more

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