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Mormons’ respect for government

Some have publicly worried that a political leader’s Mormon faith could lead to decisions in the Church’s interest at the expense of the country’s well-being. MormonVoices has no political position, makes no endorsements, and has no information or opinion on the decisions or philosophies of various Mormon leaders and candidates from various parties. However, an examination of Mormon doctrine and scripture shows that fears that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will influence political leaders are unfounded.

Separation of religious and civil authority:The Book of Mormon relates many details about an ancient culture in the western hemisphere, including its government structure. The need for separation between political and ecclesiastical authority is a common theme. For instance, when the church’s high priest was troubled by internal dissenters, he asked the king for help disciplining them. The king flatly refused to judge them for crimes that were religious rather than civil in nature. The high priest then received divine guidance in how to handle such cases in a strictly religious manner. (Mosiah chapter 26.)

Necessity of checks on civil authority: The Book of Mormon also approvingly describes a political system that, although placed in a very different context and culture than most modern governments, shares features considered essential in modern democracies. An outgoing king was concerned that an unrighteous individual could eventually become king, harming the peoples’ liberty and well-being through inappropriate use of state power. The people therefore adopted a hierarchical system of judges to wield state power, with the specially-noted feature that a panel of higher judges could remove misbehaving lower judges, and vice versa. (Mosiah chapter 29.)

Rule of law necessary for peace and public order: Later in the Book of Mormon, the self-correcting system of judges was overthrown by secret societies who murdered government authorities and caused havoc throughout society. The loss of “the regulations of government” was a tragedy to ordinary citizens who weren’t seeking for coercive power over others. The Book of Mormon’s narrator describes how natural disasters were explained by God to be a necessary corrective for those who had “destroyed the peace of [the] people and the government of the land.” (3 Nephi chapters 7 and 9.)

Mormons are specifically commanded to respect the law: Although members of the church had already experienced some persecution and were to experience much more, in 1831 Joseph Smith delivered a revelation from God specifically directing them that “no man [should] break the laws of the land” and to “be subject unto the powers that be.” A later public declaration from Joseph Smith stated that “[Mormons] believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates; in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Mormon culture has long included a strong current of pride in being good and loyal citizens. (Doctrine and Covenants section 58, Article of Faith 12.)

Mormons profoundly respect the Constitution and seek wise leaders: In 1833, when church members were suffering additional persecution, Joseph Smith delivered another revelation in which God specifically approved the Constitution of the United States. This answers the conspiratorial accusation sometimes made that Mormons want to set up a theocratic government; to do so would be specifically against their own scripture. The revelation also advised the people to “[seek] diligently” for honest and wise men to hold government offices. This was long before women were able to do so; Mormons now interpret this to include both genders. The revelation makes no distinction between Mormons and non-Mormons who would serve wisely and honorably. (Doctrine and Covenants section 98.)

The modern model of separation of religious and civil authority: Echoing the Book of Mormon passages listed above, Joseph Smith wrote a long statement setting forth the view church members should take toward government, not just as a practical matter, but as a matter of obeying God’s will in upholding government. All are “bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments.” “Sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly,” and “sedition” here would almost certainly include the sort of behavior that some fear from Mormon elected officials–undermining public interest by taking direction from the church, etc. Very simply and directly, Joseph Smith declared “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government.” That statement alone precludes the sort of meddling that some fear from Mormon leaders. Moreover, fearful accusations that the Mormon church exercises inappropriate power over its members are contradicted by the following: “we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them.” (Doctrine and Covenants section 134.)

These and numerous other passages show that Mormons’ view of government is shaped by scripture that they take to be binding commandments from God. MormonVoices hopes that those spreading or reporting on fearful accusations against Mormon leaders or candidates will understand from these passages that most of those suspicions contradict established beliefs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not attempt to influence or control its members who also hold positions in government.

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