Citizenship and Church Membership

By: T F Stern
T F Stern’s Rantings

This past week’s Sunday School lesson had to do with being a good citizen, regardless of what country you happen to reside. A friend of mine was teaching and directed his first question towards me because, as he put it, I was into blogging and would have something to say. He asked, “What does your membership in the church have to do with being a good citizen?”

My answer may have surprised him as he expected a politically charged response; instead I said the two worked hand in hand. The rest of the lesson was spent explaining the Church’s admonition to follow the laws of the land.

There was a brief commentary offered regarding constitutionality of laws followed by a statement which floated without discussion; that the final arbiter of constitutionality rested with the Supreme Court and we were to follow all the laws of the land which had been deemed constitutionally sound.

The rest of the lesson I spent holding my tongue, more accurately, biting my tongue as we were presented a Utopian pipe dream of how things ought to be. I saw no purpose in turning the short lesson time into a confrontation, something which drives the Spirit away; hardly the way the Lord would have differences of opinion expressed so I looked at the floor until the time was spent.

When I said being a good citizen and member of the Church were one and the same it was a true statement; but it requires a considerable understanding of both the Gospel and government, specifically this place we call the United States of America.

I first acknowledge that I am a child of God and all other humans on this planet have the same divine lineage; but here in America our founders recorded this thought process, setting our nation apart from all the monarchies in recorded history.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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.”

We have a constitutional republic, a marked difference from democracies wherein a majority of citizens can trample over the rights of an individual or group which finds itself in the minority. This idea doesn’t sit well with those in power; but the law of the land holds that inalienable rights, rights which sprang from God, cannot be infringed upon.

The principle of inalienable rights was expressed by Thomas Jefferson as part of our Declaration of Independence; however, others before him forged the pathway.

Frederick Bastiat, in The Law, “explains that, if the privileged classes or socialists use the government for “legalized plunder,” this will encourage the other socio-economic class to also use “legal plunder,” and that the correct response to both the socialists and the corporatists is to cease all “legal plunder.” Bastiat also explains in The Law why his position is that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies. When used to obtain “legalized plunder” for any group, he says, the law is perverted and turned against the only things (life, liberty, and property) it is supposed to defend.” (as summarized in Wikipedia)

It isn’t my imagination or even a stretch for the shallowest of observations; Bastiat regarded laws passed which violated inalienable rights as null and void. Since the only real purpose of government is to insure and protect individual inalienable rights from being trampled upon; hence his use of the term “legal plunder” for wealth redistribution programs which should more appropriately be called “theft” or “robbery” by government. Such “laws” are in fact violations of law, a mockery of the constitutional contract.

Violations of the social contract between citizens by those placed in positions of authority cannot be acknowledged as “constitutionally sound”, not even by the Supreme Court which discounts the notion, as set forth by many, that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in defining constitutionality.

Jefferson recorded, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Not even members of the Supreme Court can validate laws which are contrary to eternal laws as set down by our Creator.

Getting back to the Sunday School lesson…

One of the reading assignments started in Doctrine and Covenants 58: 21, reads:

“Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.”

The Utopian pipe dream presumes that all the laws of the land conform to eternal laws approved by God and are interchangeable. I’m guessing Joseph Smith never in his wildest imaginings would predict that one day the United States of America would see marriage as anything other than a husband and wife become the law of the land or foresee the Supreme Court putting their stamp of approval on abortion.

The next reading was Doctrine and Covenants 98: 4-10:

“And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.”

Whoa! Stop right there; in verse five the Lord, by way of his holy prophet clearly indicated we should follow those laws which are “constitutional”, laws which conform with protecting all individual inalienable rights, and finishes off with, “supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me”.

It seems to me, a simple student of human experience rather than a man of ‘letters’, we are not required to support or obey laws which run contrary to God’s eternal laws; but the discussion in Sunday School came to a different conclusion.

Our 12th Article of Faith explains:

“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a world wide church and so the broadest of interpretations must be applied so as to make it possible for individuals to be ‘good citizens’ and ‘good members of the Church’ while living in countries which have fewer individual freedoms than here in the United States of America.

Pardon me while I spit…

The people of Germany must be proud to have followed the laws of the Fatherland, the laws of the Fuehrer; all legal and approved by their final arbiters as their authorized government “legally plundered” any and all property from Jews, to include the taking of millions of lives, life being a form of property.

Thomas Jefferson asked:

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” (Works 8:404; P.P.N.S., p.141)

Our founders understood God’s eternal laws and promoted a form of government which would act in unison, man’s laws acting as a mirror to reflect our desire to be obedient as a nation to our Creator.

It has taken over two hundred years for those in positions of leadership to pervert the path upon which America drifts away from God’s laws, to a point where certain portions of government are in outright contempt of God.

Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a ‘declaration of beliefs’ which starts off:

“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.”

Drop down to verse five which I’d label as an ‘escape clause’:

“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.” (emphasis added)

I wrote about the use of ‘inherent and inalienable rights’ as placed next to each other in the same sentence as an aside some time back.

“In a footnote in “The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas” by Carl Lotus Becker, published 1922, we learn:

“The Rough Draft reads “[inherent &] inalienable.” There is no indication that Congress changed “inalienable” to “unalienable”; but the latter form appears in the text in the rough Journal, in the corrected Journal, and in the parchment copy. John Adams, in making his copy of the Rough Draft, wrote “unalienable.” Adams was one of the committee which supervised the printing of the text adopted by Congress, and it may have been at his suggestion that the change was made in printing. “Unalienable” may have been the more customary form in the eighteenth century.”

If…, my goodness that’s a huge word for only having two letters; If… governments protected the rights of all individual’s inherent and inalienable rights (with equity) was followed by, “and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected”.

That last part of the sentence was ignored during this past Sunday School lesson. Our being good citizens hinged on the presumption that government actually protected all individual’s inalienable rights with equity and so, “…thus protected” overshadowed the last two words of the sentence.

If your government is not upholding their end of the constitutional contract then it would appear individual citizens are not bound to uphold and support their government. Going a step further, citizens would not be seen as seditious, rebellious or unbecoming (in the eyes of the Lord or Church leaders) when their government no longer provides a proper environment which supports inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I like to think our founders understood that our constitution works much the same as any other contract.

Benjamin Franklin, had he been alive and present, probably would have stood up in Sunday School and said a few things worth hearing; and he’d have commanded the attention of everyone as he reminded them:

“Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”

I could go on and on; but to what purpose? The leaders of our Church, while acting in the capacity of diplomats of the Church, have given general recommendations pertaining to members conduct within the societies which they find themselves.

It is my opinion as an individual rather than a statement from one in authority, that each of us are individually accountable to the Lord for our actions as well as our inactions while here in mortality. If that means standing against our government, a government which has long abandoned any attempt to work in concert with the Lord’s eternal laws, then count me in with Ben Franklin, “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”

This article has been cross-posted to The Moral Liberal, a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government & The American Constitution.”

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