The following article is an excerpt from the book Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel by Victor L. Ludlow.
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.
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.
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." 5 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." Government leaders and citizens must work together to encourage these values in their society.
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.
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.
Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel, 591-602.