Governments Instituted of God
President J. Reuben Clark Jr., General Conference, April 1935.
My brethren and sisters, in common with you I have enjoyed the quiet, the peace, and the hope of this conference. It is my earnest prayer-which I hope shall be fortified by-yours that I may say nothing today which will mar that spirit, but on the contrary will help to build it up.
Tribute and Counsel to Choir
I should like again to pay tribute to the beautiful music which we have had during this conference-the Singing Mothers, the Manti Choir, the Hawaiian Chorus, and now this morning our wonderful Tabernacle Choir. I can assure you that perhaps nothing we have ever done in the Church has been more effective in bringing before the people of the world a message of peace, of good will, of faith, and of hope, than the work of this choir. They, combined with the organ, speak with a spiritual authority which is felt by all of those who listen; and I am sure you pray with me that their work may be continued, that their ardor may be increased, but above and beyond all that individually and collectively their spirituality shall be built up. Because I wish to tell them and to tell you that their message will travel to the ends of the earth, as the Lord designs it, only if they shall live in accordance with the laws and the principles of the Gospel. It need not be thought by any of them that he is but one of a number, and therefore his life does not count; they live under as strict a law as the old laws of Moses, where the ills of one were visited upon the whole body.
So, to each and every one of them I lend not only encouragement, but I give to them a word of advice and caution: They must live in accordance with the principles of the Gospel if they are to perform the mission to which they are called.
Sustaining Governments and Laws a Fundamental Precept
I desire, my brethren and sisters, to speak upon a matter than which nothing is nearer to my heart in this world. I want to speak of it in soberness, in sincerity, and with all the earnestness I can command. The matter about which I wish to speak is the Constitution of the United States, and the Government provided for and set up under it.
The Twelfth Article of Faith reads:
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
That is one of the fundamental precepts of our faith.
Governments Instituted of God
At a general assembly held in Kirtland on August 17, 1835, the Saints adopted a series of statements regarding human government. They are wise and as far-reaching as the Articles of Faith themselves, and I wish to read some of the paragraphs therefrom. They were given after the mobbings, the plunderings, the assassinations of and part of our experiences in Missouri. They were uttered by a people, who, judged by human standards, had every reason to feel that their government had failed, and that they might not hopefully and successfully look thereto for their protection. The first paragraph of that Declaration (Section 134) reads as follows:
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man. . . .
Accountable to the Lord
Thus is declared in this first clause the origin of human government. The paragraph continues:
and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them. . . .
Therefore, every man who takes on a responsibility by virtue of assuming office in worldly government, is responsible to the Lord himself for the way in which he carries it out. I am sure there is here something to give pause to every Latter-day Saint who seeks the franchise of his fellow citizens in order that he may rule over them. This paragraph continues:
both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
So that, whether a man takes office in the legislature, or in the executive branch of government, or in the judicial branch, he becomes, by virtue of that assumption of office, responsible to the Lord himself under the decrees of this Church.
Paragraph No. 2 reads:
We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual. . . .
And I ask you to note the declaration which now follows these words, a declaration, I repeat, made after the mobbings and plunderings of Missouri, when apparently government had failed. A declaration made after the people had tried the United Order and had not been able to live up to it, made after they had been rocked and torn by hardships and persecutions, against which they should have been protected. The paragraph continues:
will secure to each individual, the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.
These are the great basic elements of free, ordered society and government.
Two Declarations of Equal Wisdom
May I place here alongside this Declaration of our own people, that well-known and inspired utterance of those who framed the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
These two great declarations, the one of the Church and the other of the fathers of our country, stand side by side, equal in their wisdom and in their present timeliness. Each was born of oppression and persecution.
Freedom of Worship
The 4th paragraph of that Declaration adopted at Kirtland reads as follows:
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others, That, my brethren and sisters, is fundamental with us. We are universal in our tolerance and in our respect for the opinions of others. We feel we may rightfully ask for the same consideration for ourselves.
This also was announced in our Articles of Faith, the eleventh article reading:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
The final clauses of the fourth paragraph of the Declaration read:
But we do not believe that human law has the right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrates should restrain crime but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
I will ask you to carry those last clauses in your mind until I reach a later portion of what I hope to say.
The 5th paragraph of this great Declaration reads as follows:
We believe that all men 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. . . .
In that Declaration the Church visualized not alone an existence here in the United States of America, but it visualized an existence in all parts of the world, as the Church has grown to be and to exist, and it laid down the rule of conduct by which all Latter-day Saints should be guided, no matter where they live or to what flag they owe allegiance. Thus the Church visualized its great destiny-a world-wide Church among all nations.
Personal and Property Rights Protected
This paragraph continues:
And that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.
I ask you to hold in mind that sentiment and that principle also.
I shall read only one more of the twelve paragraphs of the Declaration; I now read the 11th paragraph:
We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but 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 times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.
The foregoing were the declarations of this people on the principles underlying human government; this people still adheres to these principles.
Loyalty to Rule of Law
I pass now to the divine word regarding our own government. While the Saints were still undergoing suffering in Missouri, and after they had suffered much from the mobs who were driving them from their homes, and mis-treating and mal-treating them, the Lord gave a revelation to the Church, in the course of which he said (I am reading from Section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants):
And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you–
Notwithstanding all their sufferings, the Lord directs that they shall still have a loyalty to the rule of law. The revelation continues:
According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;
That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him . . .
Divine Word Regarding Human Government
The Lord is here declaring the scope and fundamental principle of the Constitution of the United States:
That every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.
To me, my brethren and sisters, that statement of the Lord, “I have established the Constitution of this land,” puts the Constitution of the United States in the position in which it would be if it were written in this book of D&C itself. This makes the Constitution the word of the Lord to us. That it was given, not by oral utterance, but by the operation of his mind and spirit upon the minds of men, inspiring them to the working out of this great document of human government, does not alter its authority.
Religion and the Constitution
The first Congress of the United States, when it began to consider the operations of the government under the Constitution, became impressed that there was not in that document, as originally drawn, any so-called Bill of Rights; there were in the document no provisions which should keep the people free, which should protect them in their daily lives, nor guarantee to them the great liberties which the Declaration of Independence declared were the heritage of men. Accordingly this Congress proposed to the original states the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and it is significant, I am sure, of the influence which the Lord was at that time bringing to bear upon the minds of men, that the very first clause of the very first amendment declared:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Thus the very first thing which our fathers sought to secure for themselves and for their posterity was freedom to worship as they wished. I do not need to call to your minds the trials and persecution which this people have suffered in the past, in order to bring home to you the conviction that nothing else in the great document, the Constitution, is so important to this people as is this guarantee of religious freedom, because underneath and behind all that lies in our lives, all that we do in our lives, is our religion, our worship, our belief and faith in God. We need the Constitution and its guarantees of liberty and freedom more than any other people in the world, for, few and weak as we are, we stand naked and helpless except when clothed with its benign provisions.
Endeavoring to Establish Modern Paganism
So well known is this, so thoroughly is it understood that the dictators of the world are now seeking to take hold of the religion of the people over whom they rule. They are doing away, or trying to, with the churches of Christianity. They are trying to establish, even in great and progressive nations, a modern paganism. That can never be done under the Constitution of the United States, and that is why its protection and preservation come to us as one of the most vital duties we can have in life.
Fundamentals of Constitution God-Given
One of the most important things that we can do for the Church is to stand behind the Constitution of the United States. That does not mean, and no reasoning person would suppose that it meant, that that Constitution may not from time to time be changed as the needs of the people would seem to require. But it does mean that that Constitution should be changed only under the urge of great necessity, and then only in accordance with its great underlying concepts. It does mean that the great fundamental elements of the Constitution are God-given, for he said so. It does mean to me as an individual that the Constitution of the United States and my adherence to it and support of it is a part of my religion.
I have about the Constitution that same sort of conviction that I have about the other doctrines that we are taught, for I believe its precepts are among the doctrines of the Church, and I believe that the Lord will change and modify from time to time those details of its provisions which are ancillary to its great principles; he will cause us-those who live under it-to modify it in accordance with our needs; but the fundamental principles of it we may not sacrifice.
Elemental Principles of Constitution
We may not abrogate the great principles that the majority must rule; that we shall live under a written Constitution; that we shalt be governed by people chosen by the free, untrammeled, and uncompelled will of the people; that there shall be an absolute guarantee of our personal liberties, as also of our rights to property, and to the protection therefor; that there shall continue freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion; that the punishment of common crime and misdemeanors shall remain the function of state, county and municipal government; that there shall be three great and wholly independent branches of government-the executive, the legislative, and the judicial; that the determination of the constitutionality of legislative acts shall continue in the judiciary; that no power shall exist in one branch of government to delegate its power and authority to another; that the rights and power of the executive branch of the government shall continue to be merely that of executing the aw; that the federal government shall continue to guarantee to every state a republican form of government. If time permitted I could mention other principles of like importance to these.
No Dictatorship in America
A proper understanding of the Constitution of the United States makes clear that, under it, there is no room in America for a dictatorship. There are those in subordinate positions in government, there are those among us, citizens of this country, who are looking forward to some sort of overturning which would make opportunity for the establishment of some other sort of government than that provided by our Constitution. It is my faith and belief that these overtures, these revolutionists, are but few, but they are attacking the citadel of our liberties, they are attacking the guarantee of the freedom of our worship, and the Latter-day Saints can not be numbered among them.
In Need of Convictions
Convictions are the great need of the people of the world today. Men need to be convinced of something. They need religious convictions, and it is not, in the first instance so important what those convictions may be, looking to the peace and ordered condition of the world. The people of the world need convictions regarding righteousness in civic and political life; they need convictions on the eternal verities of right and wrong. Great masses of people everywhere in the world are wandering aimlessly in their religious, in their intellectual, in their social, and in their civic lives, without any guiding principles; “every wind of doctrine” strains the moorings that have held them for generations.
This must be changed.
Our Opportunity and Mission
This great audience is a demonstration that among the Latter-day Saints there still remain convictions in all of the fields of human endeavor and activity which I have named. It is our opportunity to make of these convictions our glory. It is our opportunity and our duty to make of these the leaven that “leaveneth the whole lump.” In so far as we fail to do this, we shall fail in the mission which the Lord gave to us, and shall not reach the destiny which he has set for us.
My brethren and sisters, this nation of ours has a record of achievement behind it that we may not lightly cast aside, for it is builded upon the experiences of men during the ages that are past. Consider our growth and our development, consider what we are, consider how we have come to be what we are, contemplate this government of ours, this heritage which our fathers bought with their lives and bequeathed to us, and then do not lightly thrust aside the great fundamentals of our national life for something yet untried.
May the Lord be with us at all times, under all circumstances; may he bring into our lives a burning desire to uphold the Constitution, a living faith in its inspired origin, that we may always be found among those who shall support it to the last breath. May God give us this I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.