Monday, December 2, 2013

Good Citizenship in All Times and in All Places

Our Sunday School lesson this week was on good citizenship. A little background: in our worldwide religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), there are more members outside the US than inside. The same Sunday School lessons are taught in every congregation around the world, within a week or so of the same schedule. So this wasn’t a lesson on being a good American, although it applies here as well.

This year’s class curriculum is on church history (the history of this religion, what led to its founding in 1830, and mainly what happened in the first few decades). The book of study for this year is the Doctrine and Covenants, a set of statements of revelation guiding the early leaders, often in answer to particular questions and circumstances, but also, as other scripture, applicable in our lives today as well.
So this week’s lesson was on Doctrine and Covenants Section134, written August 17, 1835. It is a declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, twelve verses long, about two pages. I’d like to first share some highlights:
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.
So, two things: governments can be a blessing for a society, for our good and safety; and we are accountable for the making and administering of laws to meet that purpose.
6        …[leaders are] 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…
In Spherical Model terms, laws protect us from the tyranny of anarchy—the southern (tyranny) hemisphere, the western (anarchy) quadrant. Include the limitation of government’s purpose, and we can avoid the southeastern (statist tyranny) quadrant as well.
There is another item of Mormon doctrine, from a list of beliefs called The Articles of Faith, referring to our status as citizens of nations in the world. This is Article 12:
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
As a people dedicating our lives to God, we are submissive to the governments where we live—even tyrannical governments, while striving to bring about as much freedom as we can.
The next verse of D&C 134 refers to the free exercise of religion, which I plan to spend a full post on soon, because of cases before the Supreme Court this year.
7        We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
So there is a two-part expectation of governments: they must protect the free exercise of religion, and they must not deprive citizens of the free exercise of religion. In return, religious persons will not hide behind their so-called beliefs to commit sedition or conspire against the government or the people.
This sounds very much like the two-part religious freedom included as the very first words in our Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So there must be freedom to believe as we choose, without special privilege toward any state-sponsored religion; nor can there be government interference in our religious practices.
One more verse, in case you wondered about the 2nd Amendment:
11    …we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in time of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.
If you’ve submitted to a government for protection, you have not relinquished your right to defend yourself at times when the protectors can’t get there. Someone breaks into your home, you don’t have to wait for the police to arrive.
Latter-day Saints force out of Illinois
cross frozen Mississippi
image from
It’s interesting to look at the times when these things were written. The Church was founded in upstate New York—in the area of Palmyra (which you can visit if you’re ever in the neighborhood of Niagara Falls). Persecution there soon led to a move to the area around Kirtland, Ohio. In just a few years, persecution there led to a move to Missouri. Persecution there soon led to a move to Missouri counties on the other side of the state. Persecution there—including an extermination order, which made it “legal” to murder Mormons in Missouri, not rescinded until just a few decades ago—led to a move to a swampland near Quincy, Illinois. The swamps were drained, and the city of Nauvoo was built, where the Mormons, in some isolation, thrived for a few years. (Some of my Mormon ancestors date to this period.) But persecution grew (are you seeing a pattern?) including the murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his Brother Hyrum. Promises of protection from the governor were broken, and by 1846 the Mormons were forced out of their homes yet again, in winter, across the Mississippi to Iowa and Nebraska, where they gathered in tents and dugout homes to survive until they could ready themselves to cross the plains, which they did in 1847, eventually arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, where the isolation for a longer period of time, in a place no one else wanted, allowed them to thrive.
The sesquicentennial of that trek across the plains was celebrated in 1997. There was a reenactment of people making all or part of that trek. A family (a mother and daughters—her husband stayed home on their farm) near where we lived in eastern Washington did the trek, experiencing as much reality as they could. She sewed her own tent. She dried her own buffalo jerky. She learned to drive a team of horses. (The originals drove mainly oxen, but for various reasons, sturdy horses were used in the reenactment trek.) I was asked to write about her and send her story to the media.
Pioneer Trek reenactment
photo from
Sometime after that I got a call from a reporter at Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper. The question the reporter had for me was about freedom of religion. This was America, where we had freedom of religion guaranteed in our Constitution since its beginning. How could the Mormons be treated this way? And all I could say was that this was the frontier, and a lot of wild things happened on the frontier that might not have been tolerated in the more settled parts of America.
It was at that time, while suffering persecution for their religion, with government entities failing to do their duty toward them, that the people declared their support of the principles of limited government to protect our God-given rights. The principles are true, regardless of whether the government is “true” to its proper purpose.
Back to the question of how to be good citizens:
·        Vote—if you’re a citizen, you are obligated to vote.
·        Attend precinct meeting—the grassroots meeting where you decide on what to contribute to the party platform and delegates for the next level. I believe that if we had a God-respecting person familiar with the Constitution at every precinct meeting, that would be very powerful for good.
·        Contact your leaders. For every contact, the legislator assumes there are 10 constituents who hold that opinion; for an in-person visit they estimate there are 100 others who hold that opinion. Be the one to do the contacting.
·        Help in campaigns.
·        Work at the polls.
·        Volunteer as a poll watcher.
·        Share information with your friends, in person or through online media.
This list is just participation in the world of government. Being a good citizen also includes respecting the law, living a moral life, and volunteering and serving in the community.
One way to prevent government from stepping in to “do good” is to be doing the good that needs to be done, using our free will, rather than government coercion. If we want to live in the northern freedom/prosperity/civilization part of the sphere, we need to live according to those principles.

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