Law must be sustained

by Elder Howard W. Hunter. Conference Report, April 1968.

In the world there are more than three and a half billion people. They are divided into groups, each under the domination of systems whereby they become subject to the supreme power of the land in which they live. In some countries this supreme power is vested in one person, the sovereign. Other countries have republican forms of government in which sovereignty resides in the people, and the supreme power is usually expressed by the legislative body. Regardless of whether sovereignty is administered by an individual or by the people, citizens become subject to that supreme power. They have the rights and privileges afforded them under the law, and they have the duty to comply with the provisions of the law. This is essential for the good of society, for the protection of life and liberty, and for the promotion and preservation of the happiness of man.

Law must be sustained

In a republic, the government has the sovereign right as well as the duty to protect the rights of the individual and to settle civil disputes or disorders by peaceful means. Citizens do not have the right to take the law into their own hands or exercise physical force. The sovereign laws of the state must be sustained, and persons living under those laws must obey them for the good of the whole. In this regard The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a strong position. One of the fundamental tenets of its faith is clearly stated in these words: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (Article of Faith 12.)

Those in the world who have a belief in God live under the unusual circumstances of a dual sovereignty. In addition to being subject to the supreme power of the state, they have a fealty to God and a solemn duty to keep the commandments given by him. This idea of divine kingship and a sovereignty runs through all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament.

The kingdom of God

In describing the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, Mark uses these words: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,

“And saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14–15.) Throughout his entire ministry, one of the main subjects of the teachings of the Master was “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Some scholars interpret the words “is at hand” as describing something to take place in the near future. It is their contention that the kingdom was not established on earth until the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out upon the multitude. They label this event as the beginning of the Christian Church. The facts, however, give basis for a different conclusion. There is ample evidence that the kingdom of God was established in the days of Adam, the first man, and has continued to the present day. The peoples of the earth, from the beginning, have had a duty to God as their king.

Dual sovereignty

Is it repugnant to the theory of sovereignty for a person or group of persons to owe fealty to two separate monarchs?-to have an allegiance to two separate and distinct sovereign powers? At first blush dual sovereignty would seem inconsistent, yet this has been the situation throughout man’s earthly existence. Such circumstances give rise to this query: If a conflict should arise with respect to allegiance, which should take precedence? A review of the history of mankind answers the further question as to whether or not there is a real conflict.

Bearing on this very point, an interesting occurrence took place during the ministry of the Master. It is recorded in three separate books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and concerns a controversy over a tax assessment. Judea was under Roman mandate, and the authority of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, had been curtailed under the Roman rule. The council was charged with the levy of taxes, but it did not have the power to decree capital punishment. This power was vested in the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Because the Sanhedrin was without authority as to capital punishment, those who were conspiring against Jesus conceived a plot to entrap him to give an answer that would constitute grounds to deliver him to Pilate on a charge of treason, a capital crime.

Question of allegiance

A tax had been levied on all persons living under Roman rule. This was probably the Roman capitation tax, or a poll tax as we would know it. The tax was not large, but a question of principle was involved. The Jews considered themselves as living under a theocracy, with Jehovah as king. They refused to recognize the Roman mandate. The question involved, therefore, was this: Can a Jew in good conscience pay the tax to the Romans, or must he fight for independence on the ground that God alone is the King of Israel? It became a question of allegiance to sovereignty.

The Pharisees who conceived the plan were anxious to take Jesus by surprise, so they stayed in the background and sent some of their young disciples and some Herodians to carry out the plot. The Herodians were not a religious sect but a political party. They were the followers of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, and supporters of the Roman domination. The Pharisees, of course, were resisting the Roman occupation of Judea. The design of these schemers seems to be that they would give the impression that a dispute had arisen between the young Pharisee scholars and the Herodians and they were coming to the Master for his opinion, to settle their differences.

Answer to Pharisees’ question

They approached Jesus respectfully and courteously and said to him, “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.” Matt. 22:16.) It would appear that these honeyed words were spoken to disarm his suspicions, so he would give them his confidential opinion for their guidance in a moral issue. Then followed the carefully worded question: “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” The question was maliciously framed so as to require an answer of “yes” or “no, either of which would give them the basis to destroy him. If he had said, “Yes, pay the tax,” he would have been called a traitor. It would have driven a wedge between him and his followers end created rebellion. If his answer had been, “No, it is not lawful to pay the tax,” they would have delivered him into the hands of Rome on the charge of treason

His adversaries intended that Jesus would be gored on whichever horn of dilemma he might choose. The interesting thing about his answer is that he did not evade the question, but he answered it clearly and positively without being caught on either horn. He said, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money,; And they brought unto him a penny. (Matt 22:18–19.) What is referred to as a penny was no doubt the current Roman denarius with the image of Tiberius or possibly Augustus. He wanted to point out to them the image of Caesar and the inscription that gave his name and titles. There was a common maxim that the one who causes his image and titles to be stamped on the coin is the owner of the coin and acknowledged as the sovereign. “And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. . . .” (Matt. 22:20–21.) They had acknowledged that the coin belonged to the Roman Emperor, and it being the current coin for the payment of tax, it showed the country to be uner the rule of Rome. “. . . Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21.) In other words, “Don’t be unjust: give to Caesar the things that are his; and at the same time don’t be impious: give to God the things that belong to God.”

Jurisdiction defined

The wisdom of this answer defines the limitations of dual sovereigns and defines the jurisdiction of the two empires of heaven and earth. The image of monarchs stamped on coins denotes that temporal things belong to the temporal sovereign. The image of God stamped on the heart and soul of a man denotes that all its facilities and powers belong to God and should be employed in his service.

The lesson taught by the Master is so clear that elaboration is not necessary, nor will I labor the point. The test to be applied in weighing allegiance to sovereignty, where dual sovereigns are involved, is a matter of wisdom. I submit that there is no real conflict which creates a serious question as to allegiance.

In the present day of unrest, the question might appropriately be asked, what do we owe to Caesar? To the country in which we live? We owe allegiance, respect, and honor. Laws enacted to promote the welfare of the whole and suppress evil doing are to be strictly obeyed. We must pay tribute to sustain the government in the necessary expense incurred in the protection of life, liberty, property, and in promoting the welfare of all persons.

Church belief on governments and laws

In the year 1835, 133 years ago, a declaration of belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding governments and laws was drafted and adopted by unanimous vote. It is incorporated as Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church. Although more than a century has passed, no changes or modifications have been made, and the statement stands as applicable today as the day it was written. If you will permit me to do so, I would like to recall a portion of this statement.

“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.

“We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

“We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

“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; but we do not believe that human law has a 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 magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

“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; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; 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.” (D&C 134:1–5.)

Allegiance to sovereignty

The statement continues, but I will not read further. These words point up the solemn obligation of government and the solemn obligation of those who owe allegiance. This is a day when civil disobedience seems to be prevalent and even advocated from some pulpits, but the position of this Church and its teachings is clear.

I know that God lives, that he is the supreme power of heaven and earth. I bear witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. My knowledge of these truths moves me to allegiance to divine sovereignty, also to sustain the law of the land. There is no conflict between that which is owed to Caesar and the obligation to God. May the God of heaven give inspiration and guidance to those leaders in the world who formulate the policies of earthly sovereignty, and also to those of us who are governed by those powers. May righteousness be placed in proper perspective for the good of every man. The statement of the Master should be our guide: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.) The honest search for righteousness and submission to the sovereignty of God answers the problems of Caesar. May the Lord bless us is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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