It is unusual to find in recorded history a nation of people who enjoyed the privilege of self-government. It is even more of a rarity to find a nation which possessed this privilege along with the gospel of Christ. This unique combination of blessings was given to the Nephites just 125 years before the resurrected Christ visited them in 34 A.D. However, by the time Christ appeared, the Nephites had destroyed their government by the voice of the people.
In this dispensation, the people of this nation have been made beneficiaries of this same incomparable set of privileges. There is extensive evidence that we are in the process of destroying the government God has given us (as did the Nephites).
The scriptures indicate that when the Lord gives to a people both a knowledge of the gospel and the power of self-government, He also places upon them responsibilities of great magnitude with respect to their government. The gospel teachings provide an understanding of the proper function of government which lays an extremely important political duty upon those who have these teachings. While we may try to separate this duty from our religious obligations, a close examination of the central problem of government reveals it to be essentially moral or religious in nature.
The power to participate in the governing process is the power to determine under what circumstances it is legal to use force on our fellow men. Governments exist for only one purpose: to make and enforce rules governing human conduct. Every rule or law which is passed has attached to it a penalty. The penalty invariably takes from the disobedient either his life, his liberty, or his property.
Under a government subject to the voice of the people, the ultimate responsibility for laws, and therefore for determining when it is proper to kill a person, jail him, [p. XXX] or take from him his property, rests directly on the voting citizen. There is no other place to rest the credit or blame for what is done in the name of government.
This is a moral question of the most serious nature and for that very reason, it is also religious. Thus, the central problem of government, is a religious one, and anyone who assumes that he can form his political beliefs without consulting his ethics, which have their basis in religious conviction, is deceiving himself either about the true nature of government, or his moral responsibility for its actions.
The problem of government is also of interest to Latter-day Saints in connection with the privilege of holding the Priesthood. When we act through government, we are using physical coercion to compel our fellow men to do as we say, or forfeit their lives, liberties, or properties. It should be immediately apparent that we might direct our agent, the government, to use compulsion for wrong purposes, as well as for those which are right. If we do abuse the power of government, who will deny that this constitutes an exercise of unrighteous dominion?
Doctrine and Covenants Section 121 tells us, in effect, that if we exercise control, dominion, or compulsion in any degree of unrighteousness, and fail to mend our ways, amen to our priesthood. Thus, it is possible that we priesthood bearers are jeopardizing our callings by abusing the rare privilege of self-government.
The danger that we will abuse the police power any time that it is made subject to our direction is most likely for several reasons:
#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)
#When we use force upon each other through government, we do so without fear of retaliation or condemnation, so conscience alone remains to restrain us.
#We are easily deceived about government, because we are inclined to accept the following fallacies:
##Anything legal is also moral.
##We are not individually responsible for government action.
##A different moral law applies when men act in concert, than it does when they act alone.
Latter-day Saint scriptures indicate that it was necessary for the Lord to set this nation up as a free people before He could restore the gospel to earth. (3 Ne. 21:4) They also tell us that the Lord caused our Constitutional form of government to be established so that men could exercise moral agency. (D&C 101:77-78) To enable the Church to continue to exist, and to permit men to continue to exercise their agency in this land, it is essential that this government of freedom be preserved. For these reasons, if for no others, the Lord is deeply concerned about our political institutions and beliefs.
It is not surprising therefore, that the Lord has given us extensive instructions on matters of government. It is the hope of the author that those who read this material may find, as I have, that the words of God’s prophets, together with the United States Constitution, which He caused to be established, provide complete guidance on all important political problems.
If this is true, there is no reason why those who accept the words of the prophets, may not come to a unity of political belief, and thus put an end to that spirit of contention, which, if not checked, may produce serious consequences among us. President McKay has expressed the hope that this will occur. Said he:
::”Next to being one in worshipping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States. (Statements on Communism and the Constitution of the United States. Deseret Book Co., 1966 p. 6)”