“Being Loyal Citizens”

September 9, 2004 | 28 comments
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I have found that my children behave much better in Wal-Mart if we review the rules before we go into the store (no running, use inside voices, no pointing at morbidly obese people and saying, “Look, Mommy, that guy sure is fat!�). So, brief review: at Times and Seasons, we are polite, we avoid ad hominem attacks, we do not call into question each other’s righteousness, and we do not make comments about girth. (I will exercise no restraint in deleting comments that I feel violate our posting guidelines.)

Now then: Heber J. Grant Lesson 17. I don’t normally read these ahead of time, but our RS teacher (who I like) went to the trouble to send a reminder email, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Thoughts:

(1) Perhaps I am the last person to realize this, but: whenever the Church gives ‘who to vote for’ advice, policy issues are not generally mentioned, but rather the emphasis is on the personal integrity of the candidate. I think that I have heard this so many times that I have ceased to recognize how curious it is. We might expect the Church to say something like, “vote for the candidate who will fix the health care mess� or “vote for the candidate who promotes X, Y, and Z to fix the economy,� but instead, we are reminded to vote for those of good character. Do issues matter? And how, exactly, barring the announcement of major scandals, are we to assess the personal character of the candidates? Can I really know who is more likely to act with integrity?

(2) Excepting the lengthy quotation from D & C 134 (depending, of course, on how one interprets that passage) and the very last line of the lesson (“Uphold the right, though fierce the fight�) one could conclude from this lesson that a latter-day saint is to sustain and uphold her/his government in all circumstances, righteous or not. For example, during World War II, President Grant made the following statement: “Our brethren and sisters are found on both sides of this terrible struggle. On each side they are bound to their country by all the ties of blood, relationship, and patriotism . . .� I think the most logical interpretation of this statement is that the German saints owed a patriotic allegiance to Hitler’s regime, although I can hardly believe that Pres. Grant would suggest such a thing. Anyone?

(3) The narrative at the start of the lesson ends with this: “At the time of President Grant’s service as an Apostle and as President of the Church, the Church’s population consisted predominantly of people in the United States of America. Thus, much of what he said about government concerned the United States. However, his teachings are statements of truth that can be applied throughout the world.�

Really? Is this a safe assumption to make? The previous paragraph concerned the inspired nature of the Constitution. As far as a I know (and I am sure one of you will correct me if I am wrong), no other country’s founding document has been labeled inspired by the Church. I wonder if it is, in fact, true that Pres. Grant’s statements would/could/should apply to the situation in other nations.

(4) I wanted to shout a big ‘amen’ to the statements in the middle of page 161. I frequently feel that the sentiment in many lessons and talks in the Church is a wink and a nod that we all really know–so we don’t need to say–that all good Mormons are conservative Republicans. (Just in case anyone is wondering, I am a Libertarian.)

(5) That measles line was beautiful. Do you think he is saying that it is unseemly for a saint to become too involved in politics? That that might constitute choosing the things of this world over the things of a better?

(6) Finally, the concept that “being loyal citizens” is, in itself a gospel principle is curious. Religious thought has generally focused on placing our primary loyalty to God, and not to the secondary loyalty that we owe to a state. Why is this topic emphasized in the Church?

(Many of you are probably irked that I didn’t link to the relevant parts of the lesson. I did this on purpose: go read the entire thing yourself.)

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28 Responses to “Being Loyal Citizens”

  1. William Morris on September 9, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Julie:

    I totally agree about the measles line. I took it as a slap at partisan politics rather than as a call to not be involved in politics at all. Of course, how one is involved in politics with any measure of success and not engage in partisanship isn’t completely clear to me.

  2. Frank McIntyre on September 9, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Here is the “entire thing”.

  3. tyler durden on September 9, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    we had this lesson a few weeks ago in my priesthood quorum. i found myself awfully confused as the same members would say “all good mormons will ALWAYS support their respective governent” and then bring up book of mormon examples of persons who righteously defied their government. and then returned back to saying that all good mormons will always support their government.

    church leaders today often praise the early colonial rebels who conspired and dissented against england to create “the only nation with freedoms that would allow the restoration to happen”. how does this square with grant’s teaching that good latter-day saints will never conspire against their government?

    benson and other cold-war church leaders were very open about the evil’s of communism. how should latter-day saints the living behind the iron-curtain respond?

    church leaders and other latter-day saints praise helmeth huebner, the lds teenager in nazi germany who, along with his teachers-quorum pals, began an underground pamphleteering group against hitler. he was later turned in by his local branch and beheaded by the nazis. should we be praising and admiring actions that go against the teachings of the prophet?

  4. Frank McIntyre on September 9, 2004 at 7:23 pm

    Does the Book of Mormon contain lots of examples of people rightesouly defying their government?

    Abinadi and Alma senior come to mind. Captain Moroni made some noises in that direction when he thought Pahoran had gone soft on the war. Am I missing some?

    I suppose that Laman and Lemuel claimed the right to the government, and so in that sense Nephi (and the ensuing generations of Nephites) were rebelling against this claim of government which they felt was unjust. But that would seem a stretch.

    Perhaps if President Grant were here he could straighten us out about under what circumstances it is right to oppose one’s government. I think Section 134 hints at these things in verse 2:

    “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.”

    But it would appear, both from D&C 134 and the 12th Article of Faith, that order and law are very important parts of the Gospel. Notice this passage about slavery in 134:12:

    “… we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.”

    I suppose that this means that even some very bad things (slavery) are sometimes not a sufficiently important cause to hijack the central goals of the Church. God, of course, knew that slavery in the U.S. and much of the world would soon grind (bloodily) to a halt. So it may have been a bad idea to enmesh his young Church in that battle when they had other work to perform. Likewise, the Church maintains a pretty strong degree of political neutrality nowadays, perhaps so that it can focus its resources on the things only this Church can do.

  5. Nathan Tolman on September 9, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    In answer to point 2

    As far as anyone knew, the European part of the war was going to be more or less similar to WWI. Most German solders were fine, patriotic men who (like the rest of the world) had no idea what was going on. The biggest question in my mind is how this applied to the small amount of Saints in Japan, because Japanese atrocities were well known before WWII.

  6. Mark B on September 9, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    I remember a class with Prof. Lamond Tullis back in the early 1970′s. He had met some young men, revolutionaries in some South American country, who were members of the Church. When he asked them about the 12th Article of Faith, they told him: “You’ve already had your revolution.”

    Of course, there were some of us who felt that if we didn’t actually need a new one, it would have been good to make some substantial changes in the direction things were going back then.

  7. Wilfried on September 9, 2004 at 11:15 pm

    In my contribution “Mormonism in a European Catholic country: Contribution to the social psychology of LDS converts” in BYU Studies, vol. 24 (1984), 61-77, I reported on an inquiry among the Belgian members as to (among other things) their political allegiance and their attitudes of citizenship. It was interesting to discover that a large number of the members 1) had lost a feeling of loyalty to their country before their conversion (which was a factor in their openness towards the Church, since allegiance to the country would entail allegiance to the social and religious traditions of the country) or 2) lost this feeling of loyalty as part of their conversion to the Gospel, because they could not identify any more with the ideological or political families that make up the country.
    The lesson on “loyal citizenship” most probably caused some uneasiness among members in certain countries outside the U.S. In Belgium the church is considered “Cult N° 52″ according to a Parliamentary investigation. A loyal citizen is supposed to accept that conclusion…

  8. Mark N. on September 10, 2004 at 12:45 am

    Excepting the lengthy quotation from D & C 134 (depending, of course, on how one interprets that passage) and the very last line of the lesson (“Uphold the right, though fierce the fight�) one could conclude from this lesson that a latter-day saint is to sustain and uphold her/his government in all circumstances, righteous or not.

    That would seem to be the standard interpretation of Romans 13, wherein it is claimed by Paul that people in positions of political power are there because God put them there. It pleases me to no end, therefore, to read the JST version of the beginning of chapter 13 of Romans. If Joseph’s inspiration is to be trusted, the “powers that be” referenced in verse one doesn’t refer to heads of state at all, but to the leadership of the Church.

    We owe no loyalty whatsoever to an unrighteous political leader. God didn’t put him where he or she is, and if anything, he or she may be one of those that Satan has promised to “buy up”, insuring that a world of coercion becomes the norm of the day.

    I know who I plan to vote against. I just wish there was somebody out there worth voting for.

  9. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 1:42 am

    We owe no loyalty whatsoever to an unrighteous political leader. God didn’t put him where he or she is, and if anything, he or she may be one of those that Satan has promised to “buy up”, insuring that a world of coercion becomes the norm of the day.

    That brings an interesting question. When Christ said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Would that imply that Tiberius ( http://www.roman-emperors.org/tiberius.htm ) was a righteous political leader?

    In addition how can you judge a righteous political leader, especially if there is so much you can not know about him or her?

  10. Kevin Ashworth on September 10, 2004 at 10:20 am

    “[W]e do not call into question each other’s righteousness.”

    No need. If you post something that’s not conservative, you’re not righteous. Everybody knows that.

  11. Julie in Austin on September 10, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Nathan–

    There’s another interp. of the ‘render unto Ceaser’ discussion, and, although uncommon, I like it much better. The entire verse:

    Mark 12:17

    “And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”

    What “is God’s”? Everything. He created and allows us to enjoy all of it. What, therfore, is (with all respect to Clinton, here ‘is’ means ‘inherently belongs to’) Ceaser’s? Nothing. Conclusion: they aren’t obligated to Caesar.

  12. Chris Grant on September 10, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    Julie: Under your interpretation of Mark 12:17, why did Jesus bother having them fetch a penny and describe the image and superscription?

  13. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    Julie,

    Although in an ultimate sense you are right, as Chris points out, the entire context points to a different conclusion. When Christ raised the denarius (if I remember my Latin correctly) with the image of Tiberius or Augustus, he seems to be saying there are some things we should render to the state (admittedly the Empire had many differences with the modern nation-state), such as taxes and loyalty of a sort. Make no mistake, the Romans were brutal and often oppressive, but they were also the most advanced civilization in the area. The Jews, on the other hand were backward in almost every area, when compared with the Romans, except religion, and sometimes were even more brutal than the Romans were. Christ seems to be saying that we owe some degree of loyalty, even to oppressive regimes, not an all encompassing loyalty, “render unto God the things which are God’s,” but a loyalty none the less. For my two cents, I think Martin Luther King is a fine example of this kind of loyalty Christ was talking about.

  14. Julie in Austin on September 10, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    Chris–

    I think the point is a reference to the creation: people are in the image of God, while nothing more than a lowly chunk of metal is in the image of Ceasar. (It can also reasonably follow from this line of thinking that one gives oneself to God–in whose image one was made–while giving the money–made in Ceasar’s image–back to Caesar. Pay the tax, yes, but what is a small coin compared with a human? Not much, so still a backhanded insult of state power.)

    Nathan, I think my comments above relate to your thoughts as well. OK, fine, give Caesar the stinking coin, but give your heart and soul to God. I’m also uncomfortable with your justification of Roman rule. Those ‘backwards’ Jews didn’t bleed other nations dry to create an empire.

  15. Kristine on September 10, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    “Those ‘backwards’ Jews didn’t bleed other nations dry to create an empire. ”

    Um, yeah, that’s because they had killed everyone who was in their promised land.

    Which is not to say that I don’t agree that Chris’s idea is disturbing.

  16. Julie in Austin on September 10, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    Ooh, Kristine, I can see how that would have sounded bad. I’m sympathetic to Gottwald (go figure–a libertarian who digs Marxist readers), and also the assimilationist and gradualist views of the conquest. Which isn’t to say that I don’t think any blodd was shed, but rather that the picture is murkier than the record would suggest (when isn’t it?).

  17. Julie in Austin on September 10, 2004 at 10:45 pm

    Also, Kristine, I was thinking about the time of Roman and Jewish interaction because that was the contrast Nathan set up.

  18. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 11:57 pm

    Julie

    Since when has pointing out good results been the same as justification? Indeed, “the bad conquerers” vs “good subject people” paradigm is just as simplistic and wrong as the modernist of “spreaders of universal enlightenment” vs “tradition bound and backward locals.” I am suggesting some conquests are historically ambiguous, combining both good and bad. In stating the good, one does not deny the bad or say the bad does not matter.

    For goodness sake, I said more bad things about the Romans than good things, and you did not pick up on that, but one mention of a comparatively backward Judea and all the sudden I am justifying Imperialism and saying disturbing things. I guess it is OK to put down conquers but to put down a subject people is wrong. Note what I said about the Romans both oppressive/brutal and they were the most advanced civilization in the region. The Jews in comparison to the Romans were backward, not that they were inherently backward. I mean this in the same way as saying the US is a more advanced nation than Ghana. Moreover, in my field, we could just as easily say the Han Empire (existing at the same time as the Romans) were more advanced as the natives of the south east, who they conquered and assimilated. How am I wrong here? If you really want to get into historiography, we can do that too.

    On loyalty:

    The topic is loyalty to the state and Julie initially said we owe nothing to the state, which is wrong in my opinion. She also pointed out we owe much more to to God, to which I agree.

  19. Nathan Tolman on September 11, 2004 at 12:22 am

    As you can tell this makes me upset. I am calmed down a bit and perhaps can get to what I really think. Perhaps what bothers me the most is that I get no benefit of the doubt. Perhaps my words were not phrased in the best way, but all the sudden I become of justifier of bad things and have “disturbing” ideas. BTW most intellectuals, that I know, use that term for people that justify mass murder, the Holocaust, etc., and I was hurt both of you would think of me in that way. Perhaps on this blog we should treat each other more like we are fellow brothers and sisters and less like we are students in the academy. We need some benefit of the doubt and some charity toward one another.

  20. Clark Goble on September 11, 2004 at 1:16 am

    Regarding “Tyler’s” question about Communism. As I recall under Pres. Benson the church worked very hard to get into communist countries and was rather explicit about members in communist countries supporting their government. I’m sure, if you looked up Church News from the 80′s, you could find some quotes to that effect.

  21. Julie in Austin on September 11, 2004 at 1:24 am

    Nathan–

    I don’t think it is quite fair to you to make a comment about the ‘backwardness’ of a race/nation and *not* expect to be called on the carpet for it. I feel that your requirement for charity was met in the fact that I didn’t resort to namecalling or bellittling of you or your argument (and I didn’t even come close to that other perennial T & S favorite: questioning your testimony), but rather suggested in a non-emotional manner that I didn’t agree with you. If we aren’t going to allow people to disagree agreeably, we might as well stop allowing comments. Isn’t that what they are for?

    I still object to your statement and its suppositions (both in general and in particular).

    It is unfortunate that you think my use of the word ‘disturbing’ implied that I thought you guilty of advocating mass murder. However, the assumption is so far beyond what I was thinking that I am not quite sure how to reply to it.

  22. Nathan Tolman on September 11, 2004 at 3:17 am

    You did not call me on “backwardness” you said I was justifying the Romans.
    I’m also uncomfortable with your justification of Roman rule.
    If you were calling me on “backwardness” you might say “I think it is wrong to to call them backward,” or something like it, but you did not. I would concern this a charitable response instead of accusing me of something I never did. Moreover, I can not see how you can accuse me of doing something I was not doing and me not call you out on it. Even after I clarify myself, you still hold it against me. I tried my best to clarify the issue in my last post, but did not respond to me on this issue when I wrote extensively on it. You did not belittle my argument. You changed it into something it was not. I think you still treat it this way. Did you even bother to read my post or explanations? Is this not what they are for?

    As I stated before, As I said before it was a comparative statement, not a statement on nature. Is there not a difference between the two? In a comparative sense, show me how I am wrong. Certain nations are not as technically advanced as others. I can say “West was not as advanced as China for most of the history of the two regions. The West was backward.” In both cases I mean back wards as meaning one is not as advanced, in certain areas, as the other. ( What else would you call the Dark Age When Compared to the Tang dynasty for example?)

    I placed my statement on “disturbing” there for a purpose. The jump from “disturbing” to “justifying mass murder” is about the same as using “backward” and having it transform into “justifying Roman rule” and their “bleeding dry” of other nations.

    I do not know what else I can say on the issue. Please try to understand me, because you seem determined to force your meanings on what I said. I do not mind if you disagree, as long as you seem to understand what I am saying.. If you do not feel like you can respond productively to me on this tread, drop me an email. I would hate to hijack it more than it has been, but having people understand what I am trying to say is important to me.

  23. lyle on September 11, 2004 at 9:41 am

    While we are on the subject of being good/loyal citizens:

    I wonder what folks think of Pres. Hinckley’s address in this months Ensign.

    He says members _must_ be vocal & _oppose_ the evils in the world. While he doesn’t name anything _explicitly_, he seems to hint rather strongly.

    What say ye? And of the things on the list you come up with…why do some, esp. in the blogosophere, not take up his call?

  24. Kristine on September 11, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Nathan, I used the word “disturbing” (though I mistakenly applied it to Chris, when it was actually your idea I was describing), and I didn’t mean anything nearly as hostile as you apparently take the word to be. And rereading Julie, I don’t think she’s as hostile as you’re taking her to be, either–she’s asking you to clarify your ideas, and maybe explain or change your word choice. You’ve done that now, and the discussion can proceed. I’m not quite sure what there is to be so angry about. She really didn’t attack you, as far as I can see in rereading–she just disagrees with you.

  25. Kristine on September 11, 2004 at 11:26 am

    lyle–isn’t picking fights like that why you have your own blog? We’ll look forward to seeing your exegesis of President Hinckley’s article over there.

  26. Nathan Tolman on September 11, 2004 at 11:31 am

    Well Kristine, If you take it that way, I must of misunderstood. Thanks.

  27. Kristine on September 11, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    It’s easy to misunderstand, especially when everybody’s typing in a hurry and trying to do three other things at the same time. I said “disturbing,” without even really thinking about it, when I probably should have picked something less loaded. I’m sorry for that contribution to the misunderstanding.

  28. Ashleigh on September 12, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    I just got home from hearing this lesson, and while the teacher today was great, thank goodness, I have to say that I find the implications of this lesson difficult at best. I was asked to read the quote by Abraham Lincoln about “reverence� for the law, and the whole time reading it, I couldn’t help but think of some of the “laws� of AL’s time that most of us would now find problematic (a fine understatement, thank you). Laws that I feel no reverence toward.

    Frankly, I find the whole idea of loyalty to “government� problematic. To me loyalty is a very special even sacred thing that should only be given to the purest truths. How am I to bestow something as unswerving and precious as ‘loyalty’ on something as rotten and flawed as ‘government’, ANY government, but especially corrupt or evil government?

    I wouldn’t have as much difficulty with being told to be a ‘good citizen’. I think ‘good’ that leaves more wiggle room than ‘loyal’ for deciding for ourselves which laws are ‘good’ and worth our respect, and which are evil and are not. Or perhaps I’m wrong.

    A difficult subject for me.

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