D&C Section 134

In August of 1985, the saints held a general assembly of the church to discuss the Doctrine and Covenants and its contents. This section is described as a “declaration of belief regarding governments and laws” and it was accepted by a unanimous vote of the saints. It was given a preamble as well which said, “That our belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume, our opinion concerning the same” (History of the Church, 2:247). It is not direct revelation from the Lord, but as I understand it, there is nothing in this declaration that is against the gospel principles and it is fully in line with what we should believe as saints of God. As active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), saints have a duty to be aware and active in their communities as is possible. I have been fortunate to live in the United States, where we have many freedoms and liberties because of our government. I am very grateful for this.

The saints had been wrongly accused of many things in these first years of the restoration of the gospel. Among these false accusations, was one that said they were unsupportive of law and order. This declaration showed the world what the saints believed and how they expected government to work. This section begins:

1 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.
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.
3 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.
4 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.

I whole-heartedly believe that government is part of the plan of God. I believe that when Christ comes again, our government will be His government, which is perfectly righteous. I don’t think that any government that is instituted today, is the perfect government, because they are all man-made, but I know that some are better than others because of influences of the spirit on good people. Government helps us to establish and maintain the laws, so that we all can live in safety and peace, therefore it is necessary that we have some type of government. These verses declare that no peaceful government can exist unless the people are free to choose for themselves, have a right to property, and are able to protect life. When these things are taken away, the people become placed in some kind of bondage to another, which is never according to the plan of God.

In my study I found a quote by David O. McKay when he who eventually became President of the church. He said, “That government is best which has as its aim the administration of justice, social well-being and the promotion of prosperity among its members” (in Conference Report, April. 1930, p. 80). I like this quote because it is not social well-being or the promotion of prosperity, but it is “and” or both. The best government will seek to help its people in need and encourage prosperity. A nation can have both of these things, if done correctly, and we see evidence of this time and time again in the Book of Mormon. One example is of the Nephites, not long after Christ had visited them. In 4 Nephi 1 we read,

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
. . . 7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.
. . . 18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.
. . . 23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.

I believe that we can have people who are prosperous and who are common (not rich and poor), without taking away any freedoms. I believe that we can persuade men to choose to give of their abundance to the poor, without forcing anyone and taking that choice away. When people choose to give to the poor, everyone prospers, but when people are forced by things being taken from them, no one does.

The saints declared that governments need workers who will handle the laws with equity and justice, and that these same people should be chosen by the will of the people. It is the duty of every righteous man or woman, to seek out good and just leaders and help them to lead their country in the right ways. As far as America goes, I don’t think that enough people realize that if the voice of the people who are trying to live righteous lives, would be heard louder, our leaders would also be influenced to lead righteously. We have the ability to persuade those who are in government positions, if we stand up for what we believe.

In verse 4, the point is that religion is not a man-made institution, but an eternal institution from our eternal creator. As latter-day saints, we believe in the free exercise of religion, not just of our own, but of all religions that do not stop others from their rightful freedoms. We believe that nothing of man should be allowed to interfere with the institution of religion, or stop men from being able to worship freely as they choose. I love the last line of this verse, “the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” There are things that government is responsible for and should be, but forcing people to believe something or stopping them from freedom of thought and desires of the soul is completely wrong. I believe that all men should be allowed to worship freely, as long as how or what they worship does not stop anyone else from that same freedom.

5 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.
6 We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
7 We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
8 We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.

We have a duty to follow the laws of the land in which we live, but we must have the right to choose and think for ourselves. It is the responsibility of a government to have laws and to have consequences for those who choose not to follow the laws. As it says in the twelfth article of faith, latter-day saints believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”. There have been times when the laws of certain lands have taken away the freedom to follow the laws of God, and in these times, I believe it becomes a matter of sincere prayer to God for his help to be able to live His law. Sometimes it takes making a stand for a belief, such as Daniel who continued to pray even though he was commanded by his ruler that he must not pray to God. He was still allowed to choose and suffered the consequences of the law, but God protected him for following His law. I hope that I do not have to experience that kind of contradiction between the laws of this land and the laws of God, but I know that it is a possibility as we draw closer to the second coming. God will bless us if we do our best to obey his laws and live righteously.

It can sometimes feel difficult to respect our leaders who make choices we do not like, but as saints we need to be better than this. We should respect the office which these individuals hold, even when we disagree with their individual policies or decisions. For example, our president should be respected as the leader of our country. He should not be attacked as a person, because this is not a Christ-like thing to do. We do not have to agree with his decisions to respect him as our leader. Likewise, we do not have to agree with the decision of every law that is made, but we should respect and sustain it as a law. If we disagree with a leader or a law, it is our duty to do what we can to change what we do not agree with, not to disrespect or disobey.

Everyone one of us has responsibilities over something in our lifetime. For some it is nations and for others it is a home. We are all held accountable for how we lead and how we act in that responsibility. I have hope in the belief that those leaders who are unjust and unkind, will be held accountable for that in the eternities, because I believe in the justice of God. But as much as I hope for that, I must remember that I need to be the best leader in my home, so that I do not hold the same fate for making bad choices as well.

There is nothing wrong with punishment that is deserving for the crimes committed. Suffering for crimes is like the suffering for our sins that is an eternal principle. As a mother, it can be difficult at times to figure out what punishment is appropriate for the wrongs that are done in my home, but I know that there would be absolute craziness and a lack of respect for any rules if there were not any consequences. As saints, it is our duty to own up to our own mistakes, to take the appropriate consequences as they come and to repent fully for them. We do not consider ourselves above any laws. We are bound to uphold them as citizens of our countries. If we are striving to be honest citizens, then we will not do anything to stop another from proper punishment, and we will not cover up any crimes. We can and should still show love for anyone who has done something wrong, while allowing the consequences to be put into action. Punishment is in place for the benefit of all men and women.

9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but 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. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

There is wisdom in keeping the laws and rules of the land in the control of those who lead the land, and separately keeping the laws and rules of any religion in the control of those who lead that religious group. Although, I have a desire for all men to believe as I do and to worship as I do, that does not mean that the leaders of a church should have control over a land. We cannot learn and grow if we are not given the choice to worship freely. I am happy when there are good, religious individuals as leaders in the government, because a righteous influence for good is ideal. But the church should leave the control of government to those who have been chosen to lead it. Likewise, any government should allow the churches to lead their own churches, as long as there is nothing that they do contrary to the laws of the land.

11 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.
12 We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but 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.

Any person has the god-given right to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their own property. There are appropriate ways to deal with any abuse or attack that comes against us, and we should be wise in doing what is appropriate. Likewise, governments should have a responsibility to provide help in the appropriate situations. If, however, a government chooses not to help or is unable to help, when assistance is fully deserved, there is a right to our own defense against attacks.

As saints, we are believers in taking the gospel to the world. However, it is a gospel of peace and if preaching the gospel would put the peace or safety of others in jeopardy, it is not the right time for it. We do not believe that people should not be allowed to hear the gospel, but we will respect the laws of the lands. If we live righteously, and if as a church we are being strengthened and fortified, the Lord will open doors for the gospel in places where it has not been allowed before. I believe this is true.

I am so grateful for the safety that comes from having a government in place. I am glad that I live in a country that allows as much freedom as I have. I believe in laws and consequences and I know that we will be blessed by God for being good citizens where ever we live. I believe in freedom, and I am especially grateful to live where I can choose to worship freely and in a time when I do not need to fear for my life because of it. I am very grateful for the saints, who believed as I do now, and who endured through so many trials so that I could live the life of freedom that I have now.

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I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love the scriptures, but I am not a scriptorian. I've been told that I'm too "deep" for some, but if you are willing, I'd love to have others join me in my quest for a greater understanding of the gospel. Please feel free to leave me comments and hopefully we can help each other to learn.
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