Church History Lesson 44 (Topical Subject)
As a member of the First Presidency, President Thomas S. Monson participated in a key meeting on October 28, 1988, that led to the opening of missionary work in East Germany and also opened the way for East German Saints to be called on missions. Chairman Honecker, the communist leader of East Germany, smiled and responded: “We know you. We trust you. We have had experience with you. Your missionary request is approved.”
For the first time in several decades, missionaries from the Church were permitted to serve in East Germany. At the same time, members who lived in East Germany were permitted to serve elsewhere in the world. The reason for this development was trust—that the leaders of that government knew that our members would not agitate against the system but would live as model citizens.
The fruits of this development continued until November 1989, when individuals were permitted to travel freely between East and West Berlin for the first time. Soon the infamous Berlin Wall was dismantled. Within a year the Communist regimes in East Germany and other Eastern European countries toppled. These changes opened doors for the gospel to spread even farther, and in the summer of 1990 missions opened in the formerly Communist countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
Peaceable Followers of Christ
The Twelfth Article of Faith states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Thus, no matter where they live in the world, Church members are taught to be good citizens by participating in government, voting, obeying the law, and strengthening the community. We are not a “socially active” Church in the sense of interfering with the politics or the forms of government in which we live. We are called to live like Saints—peaceable followers of Christ.
The principles of the U.S. Constitution were inspired of God. Thus, the Lord encouraged the Saints to “befriend” this document, which makes us all free: “And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land” (D&C 98:4–6).
The Lord made clear that, as far as earthly governments go, “whatsoever is more or less than this [the principles of the Consitution], cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free” (D&C 98:7–8).
PARTICIPATING IN GOVERNMENT
In August 1835, a general assembly of the Church at Kirtland, Ohio, unanimously approved a declaration of beliefs about government. This declaration is recorded in D&C 134. We would all do well to read this section verse-by-verse and contemplate what the prophets have declared about our relationship with our governments:
The purposes of earthly governments are:
— “For the good and safety of society” (D&C 134:1).
— “For the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty” (D&C 134:6).
— “For the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief” (D&C 134:7).
— “For redress of all wrongs and grievances” (D&C 134:11).
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “As Church members, we live under the banner of many different flags. How important it is that we understand our place and our position in the lands in which we live! We should be familiar with the history, heritage, and laws of the lands that govern us. In those countries that allow us the right to participate in the affairs of government, we should use our free agency and be actively engaged in supporting and defending the principles of truth, right, and freedom.”1
Supporting Leaders of Good Character
We should seek for and uphold leaders who “administer the law in equity and justice.” “We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign” (D&C 134:3).
“When the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:10).
In democratic governments, this would suggest voting with wisdom. In other circumstances, we can show our support for those leaders who rule with honesty, compassion, and with respect for the life, liberty, and happiness of the citizenry. And even in dictatorial situations (such as in East German) we can seek to be loyal and dependable citizens that can be trusted to exercise their faith with impartiality.
Even in free nations, we participate in government and political processes with the understanding that “the Church is politically neutral. It does not endorse political parties, platforms, or candidates. Candidates should not imply that they are endorsed by the Church or its leaders. Church leaders and members should avoid any statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of political parties or candidates.”2
“We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker” (D&C 134:6).
OBEYING THE LAWS OF THE LAND
In the summer of 1831, the newly-arrived Saints in Missouri were told to obey the law of the land: “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet” (D&C 58:21–22).
The Relationship Between Church and State
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that there should be no “establishment of religion,” which means a state-controlled church. Rather, people should be allowed to “freely exercise” their own religious beliefs. This same principle has been declared by the United Nations as a standard for all peoples, nations, and governments.
The Latter-day Saints “believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul” (D&C 134:4).
“We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied” (D&C 134:9).
STRENGTHENING THE COMMUNITY
Our Church leaders have said, “Members should do their civic duty by supporting measures that strengthen society morally, economically, and culturally. Members are urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.”3
There are a number of ways we can strengthen our community:
Serve others. It is vital that Church members serve in their communities. There are a myriad of ways to do so: service projects can be organized to marshal the manpower needed to fill a vital community need. And individual, informal acts of service to a neighbor or a group that needs our help can be equally of value. We can also serve in elected or appointed public service positions. The First Presidency has said: “We strongly urge men and women to be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment.”4
We should consider the example of Ezra Taft Benson. In 1952, while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Benson was asked by Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States, to serve as the nation’s Secretary of Agriculture. With the encouragement of Church President David 0. McKay, Elder Benson accepted the assignment and served well.
In his first general conference address after becoming Secretary of Agriculture, he said:
“I have been happy in the privilege to serve, in a small way at least, this great country and the government under which we live. I am grateful to the First Presidency and my brethren that they have been willing, not only to give consent, but also to give me their blessing as I responded to the call of the chief executive.”5
Support worthy causes or activities: The Saints are commanded to be “anxiously engaged” in good causes: “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:26–28).
Our lesson manual offers the following example of a a Latter-day Saint who made a significant contribution to her community and nation by supporting a worthy cause:
“While Dolina Smith was serving as Young Women president in the Toronto Ontario Stake in 1986, she asked an expert to speak at a fireside about the growing problem of pornography. Later she became involved with a nationwide group called Canadians for Decency, which mobilizes thousands of anti-pornography Canadians to contact their elected officials as specific concerns about pornography arise. . . .
” . . . In 1990 her involvement increased when she was named chairperson of Canadians for Decency. In this new role she has given numerous presentations before the provincial and federal governing bodies that make and change pornography laws. She has also spoken to many groups of citizens who work with local governments to clamp down on the spread of pornography in their communities.”6
Health services: Make clothes and food for people who are sick; take care of sick children in a hospital or in your neighborhood; take flowers to patients in hospitals who have no families; on special holidays, remember people who are sick.
Social services: Help organize or lead groups that help youth develop skills; demonstrate sewing, cooking, crafts, or other skills to those in orphanages and community schools or to those who are disabled; read to the elderly in a rest home; teach language skills to those who do not speak your language; read to the blind; visit and talk to elderly people in your own family and neighborhood.
Strengthening the Community Through Acts of Courtesy
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It is amazing what courtesy will accomplish. It is tragic what a lack of courtesy can bring. We see it every day as we move in the traffic of the cities in which we live. A moment spent in letting someone else get into the line does good for the one who is helped, and it also does good for the one who helps. Something happens inside of us when we are courteous and deferential toward others. It is all part of a refining process which, if persisted in, will change our very natures.”7
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said:
“In the Church, we often state the couplet, ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ . . . Perhaps we should state the couplet . . as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and involvement. Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right. . . .
“Members of the Church need to influence more than we are influenced. We should work to stein the tide of sin and evil instead of passively being swept along by it. We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it.”8
1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 87; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 72.
2. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders , 325.
3. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2, 325.
4. First Presidency letter, 15 Jan. 1998.
5. In Conference Report, Apr. 1953, 40.
6. Donald S. Conkey, “Together We Can Make a Difference,” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 68.
7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 70; or Ensign, May 1996, 49.
8. In Conference Report, Apt 1989, 100-101; or Ensign, May 1989, 80.