We believe in Government

For some reason, one of my recent posts here on Latter-day Commentary attracted comments from several anonymous readers. The subject was Rules, religion and society. In one of the comments, the writer declared that God was an anarchist and suggested that I get myself a proper education on the subject. The other comment was from a well known tax protester.

While I appreciate these comments and I did pursue further knowledge in the links provided, my basic understanding of the subject has not changed. I suspect that neither commenter has the benefit of having read the inspired proclamations of modern prophets and apostles on how governments, though imperfect, are so much preferred to anarchy, which will never work.

What the LDS believe about government

Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in government. From the twelfth Article of Faith: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." We do not believe that governments are perfect, or that they can be perfect in this world. Governments of man will eventually cease when the Savior comes to rule and reign.

Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants provides great detail on how we as a people feel about government. Verse one is a good summary: "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."

Section 134 not revelation

A very important and oft-quoted part of this section is found in verse five: "We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside..." This section of the D&C was not revealed to Joseph Smith but was written by Oliver Cowdery. Joseph was not present when it was voted upon and accepted by the body of the church.

“It should be noted that in the minutes, and also in the introduction to this article on government, the brethren were careful to state that this declaration was accepted as the belief, or ‘opinion’ of the officers of the Church, and not as a revelation, and therefore does not hold the same place in the doctrines of the Church as do the revelations.” (D&C Commentary)

Mob rule worse than anarchy

Elder Erastus Snow explained: “Anarchy—shall I say, is the worst of all governments? No: Anarchy is the absence of all government; it is the antipodes [opposite] of order; it is the acme of confusion; it is the result of unbridled license, the antipodes of true liberty. The oppression of a mob, where every man is a law to himself and his own right arm, is his power to enforce his own will, is the worst form of government.” (In Journal of Discourses, 22:151.)

Anarchy is not part of the kingdom of God. We do not espouse anarchy or believe that it can be successful. As long as there are evil men in the world, anarchy will not work for a society. God is not an anarchist. There is no absence of rule with God. In fact, He is the ultimate ruler. He is a benevolent ruler and the only one who can rule perfectly in this world or the next. However, he does set up governments on this earth and uses imperfect men to run them.

When the wicked rule, the people mourn

"Laws which are enacted for the protection of society have no value except when they are administered in righteousness and justice, and they cannot be so administered in righteousness and justice, if dishonest men occupy administrative offices. The Lord says ‘When the wicked rule, the people mourn.’ (D&C 98:9)

"Wise men, good men, patriotic men are to be found in all communities, in all political parties, among all creeds. None but such men should be chosen. . . .Without beneficent laws, righteously administered, the foundations of civilization crumble, anarchy reigns, decay and dissolution follow." (Conference Report, Oct. 1928, p. 16.)

Obey, honor and sustain the law

President David O. McKay taught, “The three significant words used in the 12th Article of Faith, express the proper attitude of the membership of the Church toward law. These words are—obey, honor, and sustain. The Article does not say we believe in submission to the law.

"Obedience implies a higher attitude than mere submission, for obedience has its root in good intent; submission may spring from selfishness or meanness of spirit. Though obedience and submission both imply restraint on one’s own will, we are obedient only from a sense of right; submissive from a sense of necessity.

Honor expresses an act or attitude of an inferior towards a superior. When applied to things it is taken in the sense of holding in honor. Thus, in honoring the law, we look upon it as something which is above selfish desires or indulgences.

“To sustain signifies to hold up; to keep from falling. To sustain the law, therefore, is to refrain from saying or doing anything which will weaken it or make it ineffective. We obey law from a sense of right. We honor law because of its necessity and strength to society. We sustain law by keeping it in good repute.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 28.)

Summary and conclusion

I have no wish to offend those who advocate anarchy. I have a lot of respect for individuals who have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their position in published writings and on the web. Nevertheless, I cannot accept that a faithful member of the LDS Church can believe in anarchy. We believe in agency and accountability, freedom and responsibility, but never anarchy.

I am convinced that if those who are activists in promoting anarchy have their way, mob rule will result. The anarchists will rejoice for a moment but will then mourn because their rights are not being respected by those they liberated from government. The wicked one uses those who have good intent in this area but are misguided in their understanding of human nature.


S.Faux said…
You state that D&C 134 is not revelation (as many others have), but I am unsure what that means. It is scripture, isn't it? Section 134 is a statement of belief, but so are the Articles of Faith. Were the AofF revealed in some sense? They seem very inspired, but so does Sec. 134 to me.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 3. in its section on REVELATION identifies 11 forms of revelation including the still small voice, gifts of the spirit, burning in the bosom, and the light of Christ. How are we so sure one of these processes was not involved?

If Section 134 is not canonized, shouldn't it be identified as such? I tried to create a strong argument for its legitimacy in my essay on Being Loyal Citizens. Heber J. Grant loved 134.

Even if Sec. 134 is placed in some "second" class, it still carries a lot of weight, and it should!!

I am open to instruction and correction.
Tim Malone said…
Hi S.Faux,

I had forgotten that you had written that wonderful essay on section 134. I went back and re-read it. I'm going to concede to your position that section 134 is scripture. Why? Because it was voted upon and accepted by the Church as such.

I thought about that as I was writing this post. I have half a dozen books on the Doctrine and Covenants. Almost every one of them includes this caution that it should not be classified in the same category of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph.

And yet, at least two Church Presidents have used it extensively in their teachings. Heber J. Grant and Ezra Taft Benson both felt very strongly about the principles contained in section 134. Just because it was written by Oliver Cowdery does not make it any less inspired and therefore revelation.

Your essay on Being Loyal Citizens is well founded. The re-reading was delightful. Thanks for the depth and detail included there.
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