In fact, we may wear many hats in diverse roles at the same time as we interact with our family, friends, and associates. For example, as we shop for the family (one hat), we might interact with a local Church member working as a sales clerk (another hat). Latter-day Saints not only wear different hats within their professional and Church settings, but they should also wear some important hats within their community and nation. Beyond involvement in local school and community services, Church members throughout the world should be involved citizens of their own country, as much as time and circumstances allow.
God permitted his children on this earth to develop their own different forms of government, as witnessed in the great variety of political systems currently practiced throughout the world. The scriptures do not mandate one form of government over another, but they do record the dangers of some types of rule. For example, the prophet Samuel warned the ancient Israelites about the risks of changing their system of judges into a monarchy. (See 1 Sam. 8:9- 18; cf. Mosiah 29.) But the people wanted and received a king, who was selected and set apart by Samuel. (See 1 Sam. 8:19-22; 10:1.) Later during the New Testament period, Jesus told his followers to pay unto the Romans the taxes that were due. (See Matt. 22:17-22.) This counsel disappointed some of Christ's more fanatical, nationalist followers because they wanted Jesus to deliver the Jews from Roman rule. Eventually, Christ will establish his own millennial form of ideal government; in the meantime, we participate in our own national society as good citizens.
Christ's kingdom on earth will not be established by tax revolts, public riots, guerilla warfare, or mass armaments. Instead, his kingdom will be founded on the divine power of his priesthood. Priesthood is the source of God's glorious power, shared with men on this earth, to carry out the plan of salvation. Beyond ordinances and blessings, however, priesthood is also the source of the ultimate, divine form of government. President John Taylor claimed that the priesthood is "the legitimate rule of God, whether in the heavens or on the earth; and it is the only legitimate power that has a right to rule upon the earth; and when the will of God is done on earth as it is in the heavens, no other power will bear rule."
The Prophet Joseph Smith had also previously asserted this view in the tenth Article of Faith, saying "that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth." He hastened to add in the twelfth article, however, that until that time, "we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
Throughout the ages, the saints have struggled to not be of the world though they must live in it. (See John 17:11-16.) In other words, they have tried to live productively in imperfect societies while preparing for the heavenly society. In discussing the fundamental differences between heavenly and earthly governments, we should identify some responsibilities of government, the inspired nature and importance of separation between church and state, and the obligations of members of Christ's true church in their respective countries.
Some Primary Responsibilities of Human Government
There exists a primary difference between the gospel of Christ and the governments of men. While the Holy Spirit can transform the heart within man to make him an altogether new creature and better citizen, the state can only hope at best to shape outward attitudes and behavior so that people live peacefully together in a well-ordered community. In principle this is a worthy goal of the state that modern scripture approves: "We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man . . . for the good and safety of society." (D&C 134:1.)
What are some responsibilities that governments have as they strive to provide for the "good and safety of society"? Five priorities come to mind that seem to encompass the primary responsibilities of good government: support for the general welfare of the citizens, administration of fair justice for all individuals, defense of the rights and freedom of the people, encouragement of high morality and integrity among the society, and establishment of peace in the land.
Welfare of the Citizens
Good governments are designed to foster and protect the general welfare of their citizens. More than providing monetary or government assistance for individuals in financial distress, these welfare concerns encompass a broad range of physical, social, and vocational needs. President Joseph Fielding Smith once explained: "You must . . . bear in mind that the temporal and . . . spiritual are blended. They are not separate. One cannot be carried on without the other, so long as we are here in mortality." A good, humane government would recognize that an atmosphere must be provided where health and development can be achieved by its citizens.
Good government helps citizens avoid living the law of the jungle in their daily endeavors. Though they give up some individual freedoms, they gain more freedoms because they are kept from living in anarchy. President N. Eldon Tanner clarified the role of government regulations when he said, "The laws of God and the laws of nature and the laws of the land are made for the benefit of manfor his comfort, enjoyment, safety, and well-being." A good government should not feel obligated to fulfill every human need, but it should develop opportunities so that a person's basic physical and social needs can be met. It will also assist families and others in providing these needs for those incapable of obtaining them for themselves.
Justice for All Individuals
Once a government has enacted legislation to support the general welfare of the people, it must be willing to provide fair and equal treatment for all citizensbe they rich or poor, male or female, leaders or subjects, young or old, healthy or handicapped. It must also be willing to enforce the laws by administering justice to lawbreakers. Justice is an eternal principle, and no nation is truly free without it. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that faith in God includes recognition "of the attribute [of] justice in him; for without the ideal of the existence of the attribute [of] justice in the Deity men could not have confidence sufficient to place themselves under his guidance and direction; for they would be filled with fear and doubt lest the judge of all the earth would not do right."
This principle also applies to the administration of justice within a secular government. If people do not have trust in the administration of justice and the system of judges in a country, they would lack the confidence to place themselves under the laws of the land, and thus the stability of the nation would be eroded. King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon recognized the importance of wise judges in government. He admonished, "Let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; . . . for we will appoint wise men to be judges, [who] will judge this people according to the commandments of God." (Mosiah 29:11.) Likewise, a good government must provide for the election or appointment and support of wise judges who will righteously administer justice.
Freedom of the People
In the premortal existence, we supported Heavenly Father's plan of salvation because we wanted the agency he offered us. The Creator intended for us to be blessed with the ability to freely choose the actions our life would take. Ideally, people in any nation should be free to believe and practice religion, to move to other locations and even leave their country, to work and enjoy recreation where they desire, to speak and write openly and freely, and to learn and study as they desire. We opposed Lucifer's attempt to usurp our options and we prevailed upon God to grant us the gift of freedom. On earth, however, we must struggle to maintain our freedom.
President Ezra Taft Benson has said: "Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise." He also warned the saints that "freedom must be continually guarded as something more priceless than life itself." A good government protects the basic liberties for its citizens so they can be free from abuse and tyranny while in this earth life.
Morality among Society
Throughout the ages our Father in Heaven has expected his children to live honest, moral lives. (See Ex. 20:3-17.) These values and the respect for life and the living are expected of individuals, communities, and whole nations. In a time when the separation of church and state is often interpreted as removing the hand of God from public or government affairs, our society is in danger of moral degradation. President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized the importance of incorporating high moral values in government when he said, "No government can remain strong by ignoring the commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai."
Clearly, good government must meet high moral and ethical standards itself and then encourage their development among society. Without such inherent goodness, the growth of any nation would falter. Elder David B. Haight has counseled that "the continued survival of a free and open society is dependent upon a high degree of divinely inspired values and moral conduct. . . . A great need today is for leadership that exemplifies truth, honesty, and decency in both public and private life." 8 Government leaders and citizens must work together to encourage these values in their society.
Peace in the Land
Ideally, governments should establish peace within their own boundaries and with other nations. The blessings of the gospel rarely flourish under nations that are constantly at war, especially if they are the aggressors. Jesus declared, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." (Matt. 5:9.)
He later admonished the Latter-day Saints, "Renounce war and proclaim peace, . . . lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me." (D&C 98:16-17.) Peace, along with law and order, brings stability and predictability among a society. Unfortunately, governments naturally rely on military strength to maintain peace instead of appreciating the peace that can abound in nations where righteous, hard-working, and freedom- loving citizens live. As President Joseph F. Smith taught, "Peace comes only by preparing for peace, through training the people in righteousness and justice, and selecting rulers who respect the righteous will of the people. . . . There is only one thing that can bring peace into the world. It is the adoption of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, obeyed and practiced by rulers and people alike."
Isaiah foresaw this formula for peace when he recognized that after the leaders of the peoples would come to the house of the Lord and receive his instruction, they would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isa. 2:4.) Lasting peace will come when governments learn to prepare for peace as their leaders and citizens practice the principles of gospel living.
The highest form of noble government seeks peace for its own citizens and works for peace in and among other nations. An ideal government encourages high ethical and moral standards while allowing citizens to make decisions individually and collectively in governing themselves. The call for freedom (political, economic, and religious) should be heard throughout every land. Justice should be administered through fair laws and appropriate order among every society. Such just societies give all children of God good and frequent opportunities to provide for their physical and spiritual welfare. In these cases, they will be blessed regardless of the country in which they live.
Nonetheless, Joseph Smith also said, "It is not our intention . . . to place the law of man on a parallel with the law of heaven; because we do not consider that it is formed in the same wisdom and propriety . . . [It is not] sufficient in itself to bestow anything on man in comparison with the law of heaven, even should it promise it." Even the best of man's ways are not God's ways, explains LDS scholar Hugh Nibley: "The best of human laws leaves every man free to engage in his own pursuit of happiness, without presuming for a moment to tell him where that happiness lies; that is the very thing the laws of God can guarantee."
So, rather than walk after their own knowledge and desires, the righteous submit to government by God, the most just and benevolent of all lawgivers. His laws are based on eternal principles, which alone can properly govern the eternal and divine spirit of man. In addition, faithful followers of the Lord need to live as productive citizens of the world. To guarantee that they and the adherents of other religions have full and equal rights to worship God as they desire, a certain separation must exist between church and state.
Separation of Church and State
The separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, laid the earthly foundation for the restoration of the gospel in America in the nineteenth century. For this reason, Joseph Smith praised that great document as "a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. . . . It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun."
The separation of church and state is inspired wisdom for contemporary governments, since mixing religion with politics in a plural society almost always results in either corruption or persecution of religion. For example, the early Christian church fell into complete apostasy as it was integrated into Roman civil government and as some Catholic emperors sought to impose one set of dogma upon the whole society. Insulating churches from governmental interference helps insure that religion is not corrupted by the machinations of politics. As Joseph Smith revealed, people are only answerable to God and not governments as to the exercise of their religion and their rules and forms of religious devotion. (See D&C 134:4.)
In addition, early Christians, the Jews, some early Latter-day Saints, and adherents of many religious communities have been persecuted by other groups and some governments who claim religious support for their acts of aggression. Religious persecution is often a thinly veiled excuse to gain political power or to plunder personal property. As examples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the Mormons from Missouri occurred not because of doctrinal teachings or religious practices. Rather, many Spaniards were jealous of Jewish wealth and influence, and many in Missouri felt threatened by the Church's integration of ecclesiastical authority, local government, and economics. A church/state separation helps reduce the possibility and severity of religious persecution. As Joseph Smith taught, "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government." (D&C 134:9.) We hope eventually to be part of a theocracy with Christ himself as our supreme ruler. In the meantime we strive to maintain eternal spiritual values within the political system we live in.
Besides creating difficulty for churches, mixing religion and politics without the Lord's personal direction can also produce self-righteousness and hypocrisy in public affairs. Too often we see that religious attitudes and even scriptural authority are perfectly acceptable as long as they back up one's own political platform, but when the opposition uses similar arguments to support its position, politicians inevitably cry out for separation of church and state. One author wrote in Time magazine, "It is, of course, absurd to tell the church to stay out of politics, if politics is defined as that universe of activity in which people collectively decide what the public good is and how to pursue it. The church teaches moral principles and values, and these inevitably spill over to public affairs, sometimes into actual policy, like civil rights and nuclear arms. But political partisanshipchoosing sides in elections, endorsing or vetoing candidatesis another matter altogether."
The policy of the LDS Church concerning involvement in politics is that it may legitimately take a position only on moral issues and on social and political issues when morality and religious belief are challenged (as it has on abortion, gambling, and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment). It does not directly align itself with any political party or candidate. It encourages, however, the individual participation of Church members in governmental and political issues according to conscience. As an organization, to become an active participant in political partisanshipwhich determines the allocation of temporal, secular powerwould jeopardize the Church's spiritual integrity and independence.
The separation of church and state applies equally to both entities; that is, neither church nor state should try to influence the legitimate power of the other. The civil power of a democratic republic is derived from the people; the priesthood authority of the true church is bestowed by God. Man's ways are not God's ways. Just as a government should not dictate the dealings of a religious society, a religion does not have the right to try people for property or civil cases unless they concern religious leaders or members who have mismanaged church properties or demonstrated behavior contrary to civil and religious law. (See D&C 134:10.) Religious law and civil law should be administered respectively by the separate bodies of church and state. (See D&C 134:11.)
Some Responsibilities of Citizen-Saints
The Prophet Joseph Smith noted that all sectarian religions contain "a little truth mixed with error." The same can be said for all secular governments and political parties, since all promote some good causes and yet may also espouse some that conflict with religion. Because of the importance of governments in our lives and the good they can do, the Church advocates that individual members get involved in providing proper direction to their own governments.
Political participation is a matter of personal conscience: "It is not meet that I should command in all things. . . . 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." (D&C 58:26-27.) Almost every general election year, the First Presidency issues a formal statement forbidding the use of Church influence or property for the support of any political party or candidate. At the same time, they encourage members to support the party and candidates of their choice. Latter-day Saints have the privilege and a duty to become educated citizens, to seek for personal inspiration on where and how they can best help their society, and then to vote and participate in government.
In some third-world countries, many citizens think of Mormon missionaries as representatives of "Yankee imperialism." In fact, local Latter-day Saints are sometimes stereotyped as an extension of North American culture and influence. Church leaders throughout the world, however, strive to preserve and encourage local cultural traditions and values that are not antithetical to essential gospel teachings and Church practices. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Yankee denomination; it is a worldwide church with great racial and cultural diversity.
Just as we earlier asked, "What are some responsibilities that governments have to provide for the good and safety of society?" we should ask ourselves what we as good citizens can do to help our governments. The same five priorities come to mind as major responsibilities of good citizens: the general welfare of fellow citizens, the fair administration of justice, the rights and freedom of the people, the encouragement of morality and integrity, and the establishment of peace.
General Welfare of Fellow Citizens
Good citizens will help the government by encouraging it to fulfill its duties. In many nations, the citizens can become active participants in the circles of government leadership. They can also make their ideas and concerns known to their leaders, especially those elected by them. The United States was founded on and is still maintained by the voice of the people, and the concerted effort of people with a common objective can and does make a difference. Consider this counsel from former House Majority Leader Jim Wright: "If you are wondering whether or not it is really worthwhile to communicate your views to your own senator or representative in Congress, consider this fact: Others who disagree with you are doing so constantly. . . . Your congressman is one person to whom your opinion definitely is important."
Involvement in the communitythat is, assisting our neighborsis also important. If all citizens would try to help one another rather than assuming that "the government will take care of them," the work load and effectiveness of government agencies would dramatically improve. The best service is done one-on-one, but where we cannot meet others' needs, then the larger church services and state agencies can provide valuable assistance. We should try to remember that true service is only rendered after we demonstrate concern and love for others. As we do our own part in our small corner of the world and then encourage our leaders to do their part, we will often be amazed by the positive effect we will have outside of our own lives.
Fair Administration of Justice
Ironically, the seeds for much of the corruption or distortion of justice come from the people themselves when their selfishness or pride motivates them to take advantage of any weaknesses or loopholes in the laws of the land. Such people seek to manipulate, even murder, for personal gain and assume they can get away with something for nothing. They withhold evidence, lie, and cheat. Masters of white collar crime believe that as long as you do not physically hurt someone, deception in order to acquire wealth is acceptable. Racial or sexual bias can cloud judgments, and educational or social-economic discrimination can cause injustices.
All citizens, and especially those who may serve the system of justice, such as police officers, lawyers, judges, jury members, social workers, and so on, need to be vigilant watchmen of society and the legal system to help insure that fair, equal justice prevails for all citizens. Any who abuse their positions of public trust must be held accountable in the efforts to make the world more a paradise than a prison. Furthermore, we need to remember too that any deliberate abuse of the system may avoid detection on earth but will bring the guilty before God's own judgment bar.
Rights and Freedom of the People
Governments must carefully use the power granted them by their citizens to protect the rights and freedoms of the people. When people give power to a government system, the government receives a sacred trust to use its power for the public benefit. Unfortunately, "we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." (D&C 121:39.) Hence, an ideal government should be democratic and representative in nature and include a system of checks and balances to safeguard against unrighteous dominion. (See Mosiah 29:25-29.) One primary duty of good citizenship is to work with the government to insure the rights and freedom of all our fellow citizens.
High Ethical and Moral Values among Society
Latter-day Saints, as citizens in many lands, should be actively involved in promoting the moral, political, social, and economic values that will create a better society for their families and facilitate the spread of the gospel to those willing to hear it. They are not to force their views upon others, even when they are in influential positions of political power or government, but rather they are to make sure that Mormon views and rights are fairly represented. The Prophet Joseph Smith concurred: "It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. 'Tis right, politically, for a man who has influence to use it. . . . From henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get."
Latter-day Saints should be confident catalysts in uniting all good people to support whatever promotes the public good (honesty, integrity, accountability, frugality, for example) and fight against whatever undermines public values (drunkenness, drug abuse, pornography, leniency toward crime, and so on). We are not of the world but must live in the world. We, therefore, want not only to preserve the privileges of our religion, but also to promote a better social environment for our brothers and sisters outside the faith, with whom we share our nation and our world.
Peace in the Land and in Our Homes
Peace in the land often begins with peace in the heart and the home. True peace in the heart and home comes only through righteous living. If all citizens so lived, war and strife would cease to exist. As the prophets testified, when people learn and walk in the ways of the Lord, "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isa. 2:4.) Although large-scale "peace marches" and publicity campaigns may move society a little closer to peace, ultimate peace will come only when peoples' attitudes are changed. The quiet work we do with our children and in the neighborhood can be more effective in the long run than joining the masses in a televised parade. Especially as more and more concerned citizens and involved Saints work together, larger and larger communities of people will work together for peace throughout the land.
More Nations Than One: The Gospel in Other Lands
The religious and political freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution were essential for the restoration of the gospel and the protection of the Saints during early Church history. They continue to provide important security for the formal "base of operations" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The same range of freedoms is not required, however, to successfully preach the gospel in other lands. Converts join and practice the faith in many countries where the Church does not even enjoy public recognition (much less a tax-exempt status). The missions of the Church work as best they can within each nation's culture and political system as missionaries gather the righteous out of the world into stakes of Zion.
In this light, we should remember the early missionary experience of Ammon in contrast to that of the other sons of King Mosiah. They traveled together to work among the hostile, apostate Lamanites, whose armies had often fought against their fellow Nephites. Ammon's brothers immediately set about openly preaching the word among the Lamanites and quickly found themselves in jail. Ammon, on the other hand, first offered himself to King Lamoni as a servant and won the king's confidence by faithfully obeying his commands. Later, through the conversion of both Lamoni and his father, King Limhi, the other sons of Mosiah were freed, and the gospel was spread rapidly among the Lamanites. (See Alma 17-23.) Although missionary success began slowly and under adversity among former enemies, it had lasting success, for "as sure as the Lord liveth . . . as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren . . . and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away." (Alma 23:6.)
Like Ammon of old, LDS couples with unique service assignments and special ambassadors from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles travel to foreign lands to initiate special projects and to establish formal relationships with heads of state. In addition to providing educational helps and material assistance, these special representatives establish contacts with government leaders to discuss the rights and freedoms of any Church members living in that nation. Eventually the hope is that the gospel will be securely founded and the Church be recognized as a legal entity throughout the world.
David M. Kennedy, a seasoned diplomat and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was one such special ambassador of the First Presidency. In an essay, "More Nations Than One," Elder Kennedy expressed his views on establishing a world-wide Church under various forms of civil governments: "We now have church members and missionaries living in many countries. Some of these countries have strongly centralized governments, even totalitarian forms of government; some are democracies; some are socialist; some are communist. In terms of the gospel, the prime consideration is the [individual] free agency of man."
In other words, a full range of political freedom is not necessarily required for the exercise of individual conscience in religion. Elder Kennedy continues by listing five expectations and two limitations of any government that will allow religious freedom. As long as the government permits Church members to (1) attend church, (2) get on their knees in prayer, (3) be baptized for the remission of sins, (4) partake of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and (5) obey the commandments of the Lord; and as long as rulers do not force members to commit crime, or require them to live separately from other family members, a Church member "can live as a Latter-day Saint within that political system."
Individual members can still seek reforms in the system, but they cannot advocate them in the name of the Church or as a right expected for Church members. Just as U.S. members are not allowed to support political parties or candidates in the name of the Church, so members living under other forms of government are not to encourage political reforms or incite rebellion in the name of the Church. Regardless of the political system, the important expectation is that Church members can freely worship according to the dictates of their conscience and the guidelines of the Church.
By the same token, formal recognition of the Church as a legitimate ecclesiastical organization is not always necessary for the gospel to be preached and practiced. Members of the Church, both foreign nationals and native residents, live throughout the world in sometimes unusual circumstances. For example, in Saudi Arabia, a staunch Moslem nation, a fully recognized, fully organized stake of the Church is established, consisting of foreign workers. All Church meetings are held in individual members' homes because if they should demand the right to construct LDS chapels, the resulting political and popular opposition would destroy the Church there. In a similar situation in Egypt, the Church has sought but not yet received formal recognition from the government. Until such recognition is granted, as with the Jewish and Coptic Christian communities, the several branches of the Church are informally organized and free to meet. Since the Church cannot formally buy or rent facilities, individual members must do it. And so the work continues in whatever way it can.
We cannot explain why Heavenly Father places his spirit children in particular nations where they may not enjoy all political freedoms or Church blessings. The Lord, in his own way and timetable, is changing formerly oppressive governments into opener and freer societies, as was dramatically demonstrated in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. Ironically, foreign intervention or massive internal revolt did not bring about these changes. Instead, the people, armed with truth and hope made available through worldwide media and international contacts, demanded and received new forms of government. Fortunately, tolerant and far-sighted leaders were on the scene to allow and even encourage these drastic reforms. The people were able to work within the system to bring about change. Concerning the role of truth in bringing about change, Elder Kennedy counsels, "The truth does have a great impact and a good influence on the thinking of people, and with it they are encouraged to improve their lives."
Church members, wherever they are, should daily petition God to open the hearts of government leaders throughout the world so that restrictive policies will change and the doors for missionary work can be opened among all nations. Elder Kennedy counsels that a primary concern of Latter-day Saints "should be whether the teachings of the gospel are allowed to flourish or whether the people are forced to follow immoral or ungodly practices. If the heads of governments allow the people to believe in God and these other fundamental teachings I enumerated, . . . that's all we can ask for."
The safety and security of the Church within any political system is more important than the relative justice of the system itself, for only the gospel can redeem souls for eternity, and all secular governments will someday pass away. "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 58:22.)
In conclusion, Latter-day Saints have an obligation to be informed, active CITIZENS of their respective communities and countries where they can worship God, strengthen their families, and serve humanity. Although they should feel a primary responsibility to assist in building God's kingdom on earth, Mormons should also shoulder appropriate responsibilities within their local and national society. If they are going to "wear different hats" in life, they should wear them well as they continue through life as saints of God and citizens of the worldreaching out to help all our brothers and sisters.