Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hear No Evil, Stop No Evil

After my Memorial Day post about President Monson', summary...of Mormon belief following the Persian Gulf War was shared on the Facebook group "Mormons for Ron Paul" by Rock Waterman, commenter Deb protested the article with the following:

Not sure I want to climb on that slippery slope with you Brother Waterman. If President Monson was in charge of the US troops, as was the case with Captain Moroni, I might agree with some of this article. But the President of Christ's church plays a completely different [role]. Reread the 12th Article of Faith and you will see that he IS maintaining true doctrinal [principles]. I believe in Christ and I know that President Monson is the living prophet today and I support him completely.

A rather pedestrian mindset in the world of Latter-day Saints, actually. One I've come across numerous times in my seven years in the church. And one that is entirely missing the big picture.

Deb brings up the twelfth article of faith, something I posited may have been the inspiration behind Monson's unflinching support of the war. So let's have a look at it, shall we?

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

On the surface, this verse could be read as vindicating Monson's blind patriotism. We're subject to our rulers and we've got to honor the law, right? But with no context whatsoever (it's merely part of a 13 article list of different latter-day beliefs), it would be wise to provide some, would it not?

First, we must take the Articles of Faith for what they are--Joseph Smith's best effort to hone down some core beliefs in an explanatory letter to newspaper editor John Wentworth in 1842. They are not direct words from the mouth of the Lord, so we are putting our faith in Joseph's hands to do the best job he can to represent the church's position accurately--not an easy thing to do, even for the founder of the church himself. Keep in mind the words of Don Bradley, who in his analysis of "Joseph Smith's Unfinished Reformation" in Sunstone Magazine observed:

Prior to declaring these “grand fundamental principles,” Joseph had attempted to define Mormonism in doctrinal terms in D&C 20, the Lectures on Faith, and the Articles of Faith. But each of these inevitably failed to provide a timeless or final definition of the faith’s essence. The task of capturing Mormonism in a creedal statement was Sisyphean, because Mormonism was more committed to the principle of forever acquiring truth than to any particular formulation of the truth. It was a circle no static set of doctrines could square.

It's clear the Wentworth Letter was one of Joseph's best attempts to pin Mormonism down into creedal statements, but as we read here, the nature of the religion itself makes that almost impossible. So while there's nothing necessarily wrong with the Articles of Faith, and they were agreed upon to be put into the scriptures in 1880, it is debatable whether they could be considered "revelations." At most, they are very basic revelations that are dependent upon other revelations for support and clarification.

Secondly, to better understand the twelfth article, it may be more helpful to look at what it doesn't say than what it does. Upon reading it again, I have a few immediate questions:

  • In what ways are we subject to our leaders? All of them?
  • What is meant by "law"? Any law anyone wishes to make or the more specific law of the land expounded upon in D&C 98 and implicitly mentioned in D&C 134?
  • Does it make sense that God would want us to honor (to hold in high respect) and sustain (to support) laws that take away the inalienable rights of men? Are we to respect and support a dictator who, for example, slaughters his own people simply because we happen to reside in the nation he rules?

I believe that further revelation clarifies all these questions, and that it all points to the fact that...OF COURSE GOD ISN'T ASKING YOU TO SUPPORT EVIL! I mean, really, do we even need scriptures for this? I assume such an admonition wasn't included in the Ten Commandments because God thought it was so obvious it was simply understood. But I suppose not. So let's get out our scriptures.

I've already gone over Section 98, so let's look at the other. One thing you'll notice about Section 134 is that it looks quite a bit like the Articles of Faith. It has almost the same number of verses, and each begins with the phrase "We believe." In the subheading we learn that it is "a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a general assembly of the Church held at Kirtland, Ohio, August 17, 1835." So while 134 isn't given from the mouth of the Lord either, it certainly gives a lot more context. It was almost as though the council foresaw the confusion Article 12 would spawn, as they inserted a preamble stating: "That our belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume, our opinion concerning the same."

OK. Since that's cleared up, let's look at some of the verses that apply here:

1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that the second governments stop acting in accordance with the "benefit of man," their divine purpose is nullified. And we are held accountable for our acts in relation to them, not in just following laws but in making and administering them.

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

Or in other words, a peaceful government is one that sustains the law sanctioned by God--that which derives from the Bill of Rights. In fact it is the only kind of government that can exist in peace. And since we are accountable, we'd better make sure our government is doing just that.

Also, will ya look at that--we believe "each individual has the free exercise of conscience." If Monson's observation that "you rarely find any Latter-day Saints in the role of conscientious objector" is correct, maybe they need to dust off the ol' Book of Commandments.

4 We 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.

Here we have an instance of something the law (note the use of the words "human law" as opposed to "law of the land") cannot do--specifically, suppress or dictate free worship. So if we believe that, what are we to do if such usurpation occurs? Sit back and sustain it? Are we merely allowed to believe that human law can't interfere yet have no prerogative to make sure it doesn't? That doesn't make sense.

5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

And here's the kicker. The first sentence (up to the first semi-colon) is perhaps the most important one in the entire section, yet what we usually get is the first part of it, ignoring the absolutely essential second clause. We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments. We are only bound to sustain our government while being protected in our rights--rights which are acknowledged by the law of the land (because it is of God). Anything "more or less than this cometh of evil" (D&C 98:7).

After reading this verse, I was naturally very suspicious as to how the modern church uses it. I typed in "D&C 134:5" into and clicked on all the links that came up on page 1. Surprise, surprise, the "while protected" line is barely made mention of. In the Doctrine & Covenants Student Manual, the heading for verse 5 stops after "reside." In the Triple Combination Index: Citizenship, the reference to 134:5 is preceded by nothing more than "all men are bound to uphold their governments." In a talk given by Russell M. Nelson in 1990, 134:5 is preceded by, "A saint is an honorable citizen, knowing that the very country which provides opportunity and protection deserves support, including prompt payment of taxes and personal participation in its legal political process." N. Eldon Tanner's 1975 talk quotes the entire verse, but goes on to advocate obedience to any law we are subject to; for "this is the attitude of the Church in regard to law observance." It sure is.

Now let's get back to what started this whole discussion--Thomas Monson's support for the Persian Gulf War, and compare it to the "Be A Good Citizen No Matter What" mantra the church has clung to for years. Both the Student Manual and N. Eldon Tanner appeal to Christ's statement, "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). But let's remember what Jesus was talking about here--tributes, or taxes. We can agree that taxes--or the concept of money as a whole--is something that can rightly be deemed "Caesar's," in the sense that it is of man. Thus I'm not urging anyone to avoid paying their taxes or break any other law that has to do solely with our own temporal affairs. But war is a different thing. We're talking about basic human rights here--people's very lives. To say that supporting a war is okay because it's one of "Caesar's things" is utter blindness. Governments can endow upon us taxes as they so decide (yet remembering that we as good citizens should be making sure those taxes are fair and reasonable); they cannot endow us or strip us from our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those are God-given. Any government that tries to remove these rights may be directly opposed, because those rights are "the things that are God's."

There's a terrific compilation of quotes from Joseph Smith on civic issues on the Latter-day Conservative website, if Section 98 and 134 aren't enough to convince you not to follow governments blindly. For example:

The Constitution tells us what shall not be a lawful tender… The legislature has ceded up to us the privilege of enacting such laws as are not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States… The different states, and even Congress itself, have passed many laws diametrically contrary to the Constitution of the United States… Shall we be such fools as to be governed by its laws, which are unconstitutional? No!

Here are two more (not from Joseph, but about something he said):

I heard the prophet Joseph Smith say if the people rose up and mobbed us and the authorities countenanced it, they would have mobs to their hearts’ content. I heard him say that the time would come when this nation would so far depart from its original purity, its glory, and its love for freedom and its protection of civil rights and religious rights, that the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread. He said, also, that this people, the sons of Zion, would rise up and save the Constitution and bear it off triumphantly.
-Eliza Snow

It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he [Joseph] said something like this–that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he, If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church. I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it.
-Orson Hyde (JD 6:152)

We can't pin down an exact quote, but it's likely that Joseph said something to the effect of: the Constitution will one day be on the precipice of extinction, and it will be up to the Mormons to save it. Now, based on the vanilla way we've been instructed by the Korrelation Kings from Salt Lake to never make trouble, can you honestly see the Latter-day Saints of today having the chutzpah to stand up to tyranny and prevent the annihilation of the law of the land? As long as we're taught that "what the law says goes," we'll simply be spectators watching evil overtake the earth.

We need to go back to our roots. We need to tune in to our common sense. We need to read our scriptures and actually hearken unto them. We need to channel the passion of Joseph Smith, a man who went so far as to advocate capital punishment for those leaders who neglected the Constitution, a man who was willing to die to protect the rights of the weak and oppressed.


  1. You are close but you fell flat when you argued for taxation as being legitimate. It isn't.
    Taxation is theft, plain and simple. To ignore that fact is completely disingenuous. The proof it is theft is that all governments use force to rob(tax) their subjects. If you don't 'pay' they will initiate force against you until you submit, are caged or are murdered. If that doesn't constitute theft what does?
    Theft violates the ten commandments and the commandment to love your neighbor and the golden rule.
    There isn't a government on the planet that isn't based on theft and many other violations of the commandments.
    What did Alma saying about being subject to other men? We read in Mosiah 23: 7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king. . . .
    13 And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

    Rulers are satan's way not God's. And theft is their main tool to gain power and control over their subjects.

    1. I don't necessarily disagree with this. Governments do abuse power, and taxation is one of the ways they do it. The Mosiah verses definitely ring true.

      However, I try to ground my musings in the real world as best I can. Taxation is one of those realities, like it or not. And that's the tone I read in Jesus' statement to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." He could have launched into an anti-government tirade and declared all taxation theft, but he did not. I think he discerned as well as anyone what was most important (goods of the first intent, such as life) and what was less so (goods of the second intent, such as money). I'd rather focus my energies on opposing governments affecting the things of eternity. Keep in mind I did not advocate wild and irresponsible spending (I'm a fiscal conservative), but I'm not going to be up in arms over the basic idea of the existence of taxation itself. I'm okay with public funds being used for firefighting, road construction, and other shared societal needs.

      If I were to write this again, I'd probably rephrase some things ("Governments can endow upon us as they so decide" does make it sound like I believe governments are the overseers of the people, when in fact I believe just the opposite), but the taxation issue will never be my cause celebre. In the end, money is temporary; life is eternal.

  2. Fiscal conservative? Well then as a "fiscal conservative" what percent of my money do you feel justified in stealing? 10%? 25%? 40%? And please show me where the ten commandments contains the loophole allowing you the permission to do so.
    Road building and firefighting don't require a violent, coercive system for people who want and value those things to make them happen.
    Jesus NEVER said anything was Caesars. Just made a statement designed to confuse both sides who were trying to trap Him. You really think he would make the case that Caesar, who was an evil, murdering tyrant, owned the people he ruled over by force?

    1. Whoa relax. You're creating a straw man, arguing against things I never said. No, I don't believe in stealing your money, nor do I believe in a violent, coercive system to be in charge of basic public needs. But somebody's going to have to pay for them. I'm not sure how exactly that could be done without some type of pay-in system, or a charity I guess. But no, not income tax.

      I never made any case for Jesus believing that Caesar owned people. Where did I write that? You're correct, Jesus was making a vague statement that was designed to throw off the tricksters. What I do see though, is an underlying message of "your money isn't the most important thing in the world." Not that I advocate government theft; I most certainly do not. I'm simply trying to keep perspective here. After all, the love of money is the root of all evil, and no matter how free we are to do as we wish with it, it's not going to make it any easier to achieve the kingdom of God.