Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
“Being Good Citizens”
Participating in government.
Obeying the laws of the land.
Strengthening the community.
A study of this lesson will encourage us to be good citizens by participating
in government, obeying the law, and strengthening the community.
Scripture references for study:
Articles of Faith 1:12;
Our Heritage, pages
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 44 Handout (PDF)
Participating in Government
A general assembly of the Church was held in Kirtland on August 17, 1835,
to take into consideration the labors of a committee appointed by a general
assembly of the Church in September 1834, for the purpose of arranging the
items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ for the government of the Church. Oliver
Cowdery read to the assembly the article on Governments and Laws in General.
The article was adopted by the assembly and included the Book of Commandments
and subsequently the Doctrine and Covenants, now
Section 134. Though not given as a revelation,
it has been accepted by the Church as scripture.
Governments and Laws at LDS.org for additional background information on
- This is a remarkable statement on government when one considers what had happened to the Missouri Saints.
11. Governments instituted
by God for the benefit of man.
- WHAT ARE THE PURPOSES OF CIVIL GOVERNMENTS? HOW
DOES GOVERNMENT ACHIEVE THESE PURPOSES?
- For the good and safety of society (v1).
- Elder Erastus Snow: "...any and all forms
of government are better than none at all, having a tendency as they do
to restrain the passions of human nature and to curb them, and to
establish and maintain order to a greater or less degree. One monopoly
is better than many; and the oppression of a mob, where every man is a
law to himself and his own right arm, is his power to enforce his own
will, is the worst form of government." (JD, 22:151)
- It seems strange that Elder Snow says that any government is better
than none. But history is full of examples of where governments collapse
and mobs take over, primarily destroying the innocent. Sometimes a
bad government is path to a better government.
- The protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty (v6 &
- The lawless cannot continue unbridled. They must be caught,
prosecuted, and receive just punishment. If this is not done, then law
abiding citizens are left unprotected. If laws are not enforced then "peace
and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror" (v6).
- Though temporary and a most unusual situation, the 2005 disaster
in New Orleans brought on by hurricane Katrina demonstrates this fact.
For a short time, civil government all but disappeared. We watched on
television as some residents of the city took advantage of the
situation and looted stores in the city, not just for needed supplies,
but for everything from expensive clothing to electronics. We
witnessed the same thing years ago in Los Angeles following the
Rodney King verdict. There are those in society who cannot live
civilly unless boundaries are in place to restrain their behavior. Thus, the necessity for governments and laws.
- Laws were instituted for the express purpose of regulating our
interests as individuals and nations (v6).
- We have laws to protect not only our safety, but our interests and
property. Most nations have patent and copyright laws that protect the
creators. For example, we see in society today many who record and steal
major motion pictures and resell their bootleg copies for
profit. The film Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith cost over
$100 million to create, plus marketing costs. Major motion pictures
often require a major investment. If such films are pirated and the profit decreased,
the incentive to make such quality motion pictures will disappear. To justify
the piracy of this film, one website talked about the enormous revenues
being created by this film and then said, "Clearly, no one is going
to the poorhouse over Internet or any other kind of pirating of this
film" (Jeremy Goldkom on
may be true with Star Wars III, but many films have much smaller profit
margins. And whatever happened to basic honesty? What is the difference
between buying a bootleg copy for $1 or stealing it off the shelf of a
store? Governments are necessary to protect and regulate the interests
of individuals and nations.
- Sometimes there are too many laws, but the intent of most
laws is for our benefit and protection. Such laws include the respect for
property rights, establishment of highway rules, and the regulation of
- Protection of citizens in the free exercise of religious belief.
- We have a great blessing in the United States to have as part of our
constitution the following provision, "Congress
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the government for a redress of grievances" (1st Amendment,
Constitution of the United States of America). Many other modern nations
have developed similar provisions and traditions. There are still nations
in the world where free exercise of religion is prohibited.
- Though there continues to be ongoing debates in this country over what
the First Amendment means, we enjoy unparalleled freedom of worship. Never
have I been concerned over being able to attend church or express my
religious beliefs because we enjoy this great protection upheld by law and
- We can appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and
grievances where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or
- The government, usually the courts, is the place we can go to appeal
for wrongs committed against us. It may be theft of property, infringement
of our religious beliefs, protection of our intellectual property, or a
myriad of other wrongs. Government provides the structure for such an
We previously read, "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."
- Section 134 teaches us that we have responsibilities in relation to
civil government. WHAT ARE THEY?
- We are held accountable for our acts in relation to government,
including the creation and administration of laws (v1).
- We should seek after leaders who administer the law in equity and
- We are bound to sustain and uphold the government (v5).
- Sedition and rebellion are not appropriate (v5).
- It is not appropriate to mix religious influence with civil
government, where one religion is given an advantage over another (v9).
- As we discuss our responsibilities in relation to government, we need to
remember that we have been given certain boundries.
- Elder L. Tom Perry: "As Church members, we live under the banner of many different flags. How
important it is that we understand our place and our position in the lands in
which we live! We should be familiar with the history, heritage, and laws of the
lands that govern us. In those countries that allow us the right to participate
in the affairs of government, we should use our free agency and be actively
engaged in supporting and defending the principles of truth, right, and freedom."
(CR Oct 1987)
- As we participate in government and political processes, we
should do so with the understanding that "While
affirming the right of expression on political and social issues, the
Church is neutral regarding political parties, political platforms, and
candidates for political office. The Church does not endorse any political
party or candidate.
Nor does it advise members how to vote." (Church Handbook of
Instructions, Book 2: Administering the Church , p189)
- WHAT CAN WE, AS LATTER-DAY SAINTS, DO TO FULFILL OUR OBLIGATIONS AS
- We could probably come up with a lengthy list. Consider a few things
we should or might do to be good citizens.
- Obey the laws of the land.
- This is fundamental to being a good citizen (see further discussion
- We should seek after leaders who administer the law in equity and
- At a very minimum we should vote in each election, carefully
considering the candidates, their records, and their views on important
- If we are unable to find candidates that meet our criteria for
election, we truly should "seek" for those that meet our criteria. We should
look for good men and women who we might encourage to run for office.
- There may be times when we might run for office. It might not be
something as big as a U.S. senator or governor, but it we might be a
candidate for the local city/community council or school board.
- Become involved in the political process.
- This might include joining campaigns, working for political parties,
working at the polling place on election day, or supporting a petition
- Some years ago at our local party precinct meeting I was elected a
delegate to the state convention. As delegates we were responsible for
finalizing the state party platform and selecting candidates for statewide
election and electing delegates to the national convention. I also became
involved in the campaign of the senatorial candidate. The biggest thing I
learned from that experience is that a few people are really guiding the
political process in our communities, states, and the nation. We can make
a huge difference through active involvement.
- Attend meetings/functions where citizen input is requested. Since most
people avoid these activities, decisions are influenced by a minority of
- A few years ago there was an uproar in our children's school district
over some of the movies that were being shown in the classroom. The
district leadership was leaning towards an open policy allowing wide
latitude in movies and videos that could be shown in the classroom. Our
stake mobilized and packed the next school board meeting. Person after
person spoke up against the proposed district policy and persuaded the
board to limit the movies that were shown unless parental consent was
obtained. We can make a difference.
- Become involved in community efforts and associations that work for a better
community such as the school parent/teacher association, community food
bank, or civic clubs.
- "Members are encouraged to support measures
that strengthen the moral fabric of society, particularly those designed
to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society." (Church Handbook of
Instructions, Book 2: Administering the Church , p189)
- Keeping our own doorstep clean.
- Some years ago I had a discussion with a gentleman with whom I worked
with in the community. We were discussing the challenges and problems in
the nation and throughout the world. He reminded me that our first
responsibility is to keep our own doorstep clean. As noted above, we need
to obey the laws of the land. We need to take care of our own families and
provide for their needs. We need to care for our homes and neighborhoods.
If everyone took care of these basic responsibilities, the world would be
a better place. This is where we start and then expand our efforts of
citizenship from that point. What value are the efforts we make if we are spending
night after night with community councils, running campaigns, or working
at the food bank, if our families are falling apart at home? As with
anything, we need to set priorities.
Ministry of Ezra Taft Benson: A Latter-day Saint in Washington, D.C. at
Obeying the Laws of the Land
WHAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY REGARDING LAWS OF THE LAND?
- Years ago I interviewed for a job with a government agency. During the interview
it came up that I was a member of the LDS Church. The interviewer asked me
the following question, "If there was a conflict between carrying out U.S. law and instructions from President Kimball (Spencer W. Kimball was
president of the Church at that time), who would you follow?" I paused
before answering. The interviewer then said that I did not have to answer
the question. I think he was attempting to see how I would respond to
intimidation. A short time later I was offered the job which I did not
If I had been given the opportunity to answer his question I
would have responded with the following statement, "We
believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in
obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" (12th Article of
Faith). I would have explained that the history of the Church has
demonstrated loyalty to the laws of this nation.
D&C 58:21-22. Let
no man break the laws of the land.
- This verse further confirms the point I would have made with the
interviewer. As Latter-day Saints and citizens of our respective nations,
we have been commanded to obey the laws of the land.
- "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 134:5)
- Joseph F. Smith: "I wish to enter here my
avowal that the people called Latter-day Saints, as has been often
repeated from this stand, are the most law-abiding, the most peaceable,
long-suffering and patient people that can today be found within the
confines of this republic, and perhaps anywhere else upon the face of the
earth; and we intend to continue to be law-abiding so far as the
constitutional law of the land is concerned; and we expect to meet the
consequences of our obedience to the laws and commandments of God, like
men." (Gospel Doctrine, p406)
- In the latter part of the 19th Century, as the Church continued the
practice of plural marriage, laws were passed by Congress making the
practice illegal. The Church appealed to the courts and ultimately lost their
legal battles. In response to those rulings, President Wilford Woodruff
made the following statement in the Manifesto, "Inasmuch as laws
have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have
been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby
declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with
the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise."
(Official Declaration 1)
In a day when many treat some of our laws with contempt, it is essential
that we teaching our children obedience to the law.
- HOW CAN WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND?
- Set an example.
- How are we doing when it comes to obedience to the laws of the
- How fast do we go on the freeway?
- Are we 100% honest with our income taxes?
- Do we honor copyright laws?
- "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"
- Are we teaching our children to respect elected officials and law
- What kind of attitude do we present to our children when we talk
about the police?
- It has been interesting to observe the public views of recent
American presidents. I have heard many
Americans say that the president was not his or her president. Though we
may disagree with a president's (or other elected official's) politics
or lifestyle, he is the constitutionally elected head of state and as
such we have a responsibility to "honor" him "in his station."
- WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE ARE WE SENDING TO OUR CHILDREN WHEN WE DO
NOT FOLLOW THE ADMONITION IN SECTION 134? HOW MIGHT THIS UNDERMINE
THE COUNTRY WHEN SUCH ATTITUDES ARE PASSED ON TO OUR CHILDREN?
- We have every right and responsibility to disagree with an
elected official's policies or method of governance. In such
cases we should seek and support those candidates who are honorable
and uphold our views, but not take the level of political discourse
into the trash.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN RELIGION AND CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
D&C 134:4. Civil law
does not have a right to infringe on the free exercise of religion.
- As previously noted, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
- America was founded in part by those who wished to exercise their
religion without interference from the government. And a separation
of church and state is essential as long as religious practice does not "infringe
upon the rights and liberties of others" (D&C 134:4).
- For additional discussion on the concept of separation of church and
- As members of the Church we need to uphold these sacred principles
and respect the rights and beliefs of others. Our history demonstrates
what happens when religious freedom is restricted. The sad stories of
Missouri and Illinois should remind us to be tolerant of other's
- "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." (12th Article of Faith)
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Elder M. Russell Ballard: "In the Church, we often
state the couplet, ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ … Perhaps we should
state the couplet … as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’
Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate
diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and
involvement. Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or
bend to accommodate or accept what is not right. …
"Members of the Church need to influence more than we are
influenced. We should work to stem the tide of sin and evil instead of passively
being swept along by it. We each need to help solve the problem rather than
avoid or ignore it." (CR, Apr 1989)
Record your thoughts on the principles of government discussed in this
lesson. What might you do to become a better citizen within your community?
Resources Used In This Lesson
Conference Reports (CR).
Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith,
compiled by John A. Widtsoe.
Journal of Discourses (JD).
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
04 September 2017