Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell's call for a meeting of Mormon elders to discuss the so-called "White Horse Prophecy" attributed by some people to church founder Joseph Smith has gained national attention.
As a result of media criticism that the meeting would include only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Rammell has decided to open that meeting, as well as others in east Idaho, to everyone.
After the story was picked up by Drudge Report on Tuesday, Rammell spent much of the day fielding requests for interviews from national media organizations, including MSNBC. The Drudge Report receives about 25 million hits daily and is one of the nation's most influential news outlets.
"The story's gone national. My phone's been ringing off the hook," Rammell told the Idaho State Journal on Tuesday afternoon.
Rammell, formerly of Rexburg, made regional news recently when he invited about 100 LDS men to a Jan. 19 meeting in Idaho Falls to discuss the alleged prophecy, which many LDS members believe Smith made in 1843.
Among other things, the prophecy, which is not accepted as church cannon, claims that during a future time of great confusion and chaos, the U.S. Constitution would hang "like a thread as fine as a silk fiber." The prophecy claims that elders of the church would step in to save it.
While the church distances itself from the alleged prophecy because there is no firsthand historical or archival evidence supporting it, many church leaders over the years have quoted from it, including Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses.
"The church does not invest any doctrinal foundation in the White Horse Prophecy," said Richard Bennett, professor of LDS church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University. "There are many LDS members who do, but the church tries to distance itself from that because it's not historically provable. There's no archival trail or evidence for it."
Bennett said the prophecy is part of a lot of Mormon folklore and literature and its popularity reached a peak about 40 years ago. "A lot of younger LDS members today would say, 'What is this guy talking about?'" he added. "Today it's kind of on the back burner."
Rammell is running against incumbent Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman in the May 26 Republican primary.
Rammell said he took some heat after initially inviting only LDS members to the meeting. He said his rationale was to first rally the people who were most likely to believe in the prophecy, and then move on to try to rally non-LDS members who might not believe the prophecy but would support saving the Constitution.
"I'd be honored to speak to people who don't know anything about the White Horse Prophecy," he said.
The Jan. 19 meeting in Idaho Falls, which will begin at 7 p.m. at the Hampton Inn, will be free and open to everyone, he said. Subsequent meetings in Blackfoot, Pocatello and Rexburg will also be open to anyone. The Rexburg meeting will be held Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel. No venue has been finalized for the Blackfoot meeting, which will be held Jan. 20. Rammell hopes to hold the Pocatello meeting on Jan. 22.
Rammell said some media accounts of the meeting falsely claimed he was going to speak about the entire prophecy, which is lengthy and covers many claims. In fact, he said, he only plans to discuss the part of the prophecy that deals with the Constitution hanging by a thread.
"I just strictly wanted to talk about the Constitution prophecy; that's the part I'm interested in," he said. "The media made it much bigger than anything I wanted to talk about. The next thing I knew I was riding a white horse and taking control of the country."
In the mid-1850s, two LDS men, Edwin Rushton and Theodore Turley, recounted a prophecy they claimed Smith had spoken to them in 1843. They wrote down their recollections of the conversation in the mid-1850s, 10 years after Smith died.
The main message of their account is that there would be great tribulation and revolution in the last days. The White Horse was identified as people in the Rocky Mountains, who, according to the prophecy, would save the U.S. Constitution and government during a time when it was in great jeopardy. The alleged prophecy claimed the Constitution would be saved by the combined actions of the White Horse and an unidentified but powerful group known as the Red Horse.
Ron Barney of the LDS Church History Department in Salt Lake City said the origins of the prophecy are dubious because it was recorded many years after the original conversation supposedly took place.
"It had some traction for some years but in the last generation a number of people have dismissed it because of the lack of a substantive source for its origin," said Barney, associate editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, a major church project to compile the earliest handwritten and published texts of the foundational documents of the LDS church.
Because the sources for the prophecy are weak, it will not be included in that publication, he added.
The church's public affairs department issued the following statement in response to questions about Rammell's meeting: "The so-called 'White Horse Prophecy' is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as church doctrine."
Rammell said he actually agrees with the church's stance not to have the prophecy included in church cannon because it hasn't been validated. "But that doesn't mean it's not true," he added.
He pointed out many prominent LDS leaders over the years have quoted the part of the prophecy dealing with the Constitution. He believes church elders will play a significant role in saving the Constitution, but he also believes they will be assisted by others who support it as well. That's why he plans to include non-LDS members who might not believe in the prophecy but support the Constitution.
"I have a lot of non-LDS supporters and they know my position on that prophecy and they still support me 100 percent," he said.
He believes the part of the alleged prophecy dealing with the Constitution is especially relevant today.
"Anybody who studies the Constitution has to know that (compared) with how it was originally written, it is literally hanging by a thread," he said. "I just do not believe it has been followed. The U.S. government is doing things it does not have the authority to do."