Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

What Is the Connection between Church, State, Freedom, and Disciple Citizenship?

            I studied Articles of Faith 11 and 12 this week. As you can see, these statements are about government, laws, freedom of liberty, and disciple citizenship.  These Articles of Faith are as follow: 

Article of Faith 1:11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Article of Faith 1:12: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

            I found several insights about government, freedom, religion, and discipleship that I would like to share with you. My first insight comes from Doctrine and Covenants 101:76-77. This scripture tells us that the Lord established the Constitution and commanded that it “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.” Verses 81-101 tell the Saints to importune their governments – local, state, and federal – for redress of their grievances. In the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that the Lord had a good reason for these instructions. Once the governments declined to help the Saints and denied their civil rights [with regard to the persecution in Missouri], “those officials were left without excuse, and the judgments of the Almighty which later came upon them during the Civil War, were justified.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the responsibility of taking the gospel to the living and the dead, and it has done so actively since 1830 when the Church was organized. Now there are circumstances beyond the control of the Church of Jesus Christ, and our leaders have suspended all meetings, closed the temples, and recalled the missionaries to their home countries. We understand that this is all a temporary situation, but we should also understand that the future work of the Church is in the hands of the Lord. We know that the Lord can do His own work (2 Nephi 27:21) and that He allows us to assist in it. As we watch the unfolding of events in these last days, we must keep our trust in the Lord and in His prophet.

            My second insight comes from Doctrine and Covenants 134. This scripture is a declaration adopted at a General Assembly in Kirtland, Ohio, on August 17, 1835. Verse 1 tells us that “governments were instituted by God for the benefit of man.” It continues by telling us that God will hold us accountable for the acts of the government. This includes the laws that are made and the way that they are administered. Verse 3 tells us that we should seek after and support men and women who will “administer the law in equity and justice.” The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual for verse 3 has a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson: “Not only should we seek humble, worthy, courageous leadership, but we should measure all proposals having to do with our national or local welfare by four standards.” He says that all proposals should be measured by (1) the gospel of Jesus Christ, (2) the Constitution, (3) counsel from the living prophet, and (4) the effect that the proposal would have “upon the morale and the character of the people.” This section and living prophets and apostles tell us that we have a responsibility to make sure that our elected representatives and their proposals meet with these four standards and to support representatives who have the courage to stand for correct principles.

My third insight comes from a quote in the lesson material. “Citizenship refers to the obligation of Church members to fulfill their duties to their nations and communities in lawful ways that are consistent with ‘their inherent and inalienable rights’ (Doctrine and Covenants 134:5) (Gospel Topics, “Citizenship”). As citizens we have the responsibility to be actively engaged in the political process of our communities, states, and nations. We should become informed on the proposed issues and decisions made. We have the blessing of additional knowledge about governments and life in general, and we have the responsibility to apply gospel principles to the issues. In addition, we are encouraged to consider serving in the governments of our local, state, and national governments. 

            Our local, state, and national leaders are counseling us to distance ourselves from other people to stop the spread of the coronavirus spreading through the world. Many of us have been told to shelter in place to protect ourselves and others from the virus. As part of the vulnerable population as to age and underlying health conditions, my husband and I for about ten days and are planning to stay home for at least ten more days. We appreciate everyone who is practicing social distancing in our behalf. Someone compared this counsel to stay home to that of the Israelites who were asked to look upon the brass serpent to be healed. Staying home is such a simple thing to do, but it can reap great benefits. If we are practicing good disciple citizenship, we will be following the counsel of the prophet and the orders of the various governments.

            My fourth insight comes from Doctrine and Covenants 98, which is a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, on August 6, 1833. The Saints in Missouri were being persecuted. The previous month a “mob destroyed Church property, tarred and feathered two Church members, and demanded that the Saints leave Jackson Count” (Section Heading). Yet, the Lord begins the revelation by telling the Saints to “fear not, let your hearts be comforted … rejoice … in everything give thanks” and wait “patiently on the Lord” (verses 1-2). This is excellent advice for all people during this time of apprehension about the coronavirus that is spreading throughout the world. This virus did not surprise God because He is all powerful and all knowing. We just need to put our trust in Him and listen for instructions in how to protect ourselves and our families. 

            My fifth insight comes from the same section – Doctrine and Covenants 98. This section testifies that Constitution supports the “principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges,” “belongs to all mankind,” and is “justifiable before [God]” (verse 6). It says that God makes us free, and the law makes us free (verse 8). In reality, God made us free in our pre-earth world when He gave us the “principle of agency – the innate freedom to choose” (“Why Religious Freedom Matters to Mormons”), and the Constitution and laws of the land protect that freedom. Our most important freedom is the freedom to practice our religion as we choose. “The principle of agency … underlies all of [the Latter-day Saints’] other vital teachings and doctrines. Human dignity and agency rest on freedom of conscience” (“Why Religious Freedom Matters to Mormons”). Freedom of Religion is sometimes called our “first freedom” because it comes first in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is also first because freedom of religion protects who we are at our core – our beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes.

            My sixth insight comes from a quote by Elder Quentin L. Cook, “All voices need to be heard in the public square” (“Religious Values in the Public Square”). All citizens have the obligation to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to their nations. Latter-day Saints are particularly obligated because we understand the importance of disciple citizenship. We have been counseled to seek out and support good and wise people to represent us and to “prayerfully study the issues and decisions” in our community and nation (Gospel Topics, “Citizenship”). The Church Handbook encourages us to “consider serving in elected or appointed public offices in local and national government” (Handbook 2, 21.1.29). Latter-day Saints have greater knowledge about the creation of the Constitution, and we are taught the importance of obeying laws and honoring political leaders. We should be at the forefront in making our voices heard. We can do this over the internet in blogs, articles, and other ways. We can send letters to the editors of newspapers. We can run for office and support others who run. We should be actively engaged in making policy.

            I applied the doctrines found in Articles of Faith 11 and 12 to the real-world problem of threats to religious liberty, which come from numerous directions. They come from members of other religions who try to force others to believe as they do, or simply persecute people who believe differently. They come from people who try to force people to abandon their religious beliefs to performs services that go against their religious beliefs – bakers, florists, etc. They come from people who have no religion and do not other people to practice religious beliefs in public places. They come from government officials who try to legislate religious beliefs.

            Latter-day Saints believe that “Religious freedom … is the human right to think and believe and also to express and act upon what one deeply believes according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience” (“What Religious Freedom Means”). This freedom allows all people to live according to their own beliefs – regardless of their belief. It is a basic freedom and a human right. Latter-day Saints defend the religious freedom of other people and groups because we know that we are protecting our own religious rights as we protect the religious freedom of others.

            As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have strong feelings about the importance of defending my religious freedoms. The history of the Church of Jesus Christ includes much information about how freedom was denied to the early members. Persecution and hatred drove members of the Church of Jesus Christ from Palmyra, New York, to Kirtland, Ohio, to several counties in Missouri to Nauvoo, Illinois, and finally to the Salt Lake Valley. Mobs burned homes, barns, and stacks of hay. They drove people from their homes in the dark hours of the night in the middle of winter without enough clothing to protect against the elements.

            The Church history is also my family history. I had numerous ancestors who were driven from place to place and finally cross the plains to find refuge in the Rocky Mountains. The need continues for us to defend our sacred beliefs and practices from desecration of unbelievers. The Broadway play about the Book of Mormon is just one example of how people make fun of our beliefs and one reason why I must stand ready to defend my religious freedom.

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