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Political Tuesday: Declaration of Belief: Lesson 3 (1949-50)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 04, 2012

Lesson 3 – “Governments Instituted for the Benefit of Man” – (D. & C. 134:1, 2)

Elder G. Homer Durham

For Tuesday, January 24, 1950

Objective: To show that governments exist for the benefit of man when founded on the free exercise of conscience, right and control of property, and protection of life.

Modern Attempts to Secure Peace

The quest for peace is eternal. Men in all ages have sought peace from the ravages of war. Perhaps in no age has the yearning for peace been more real than in our own day. It is curious to note that international conferences held during peacetime for the purpose of preventing war actually – in our generation – date from the year 1899, the first Hague conference. The organized governments of the world meet together frequently nowadays under the charter of the United Nations or by other means to discuss their problems. Men seem to have placed the task of securing peace directly in the hands of the public official. This makes government a means to an end. To put it another way, modern man is attempting to use government as the instrument for securing peace just as a farmer might use a shovel as an instrument for digging an irrigation ditch. It takes a good shovel to make a good ditch. Only a proper kind of shovel will do the work intended. The same is true of government. What about government and the conditions of peace? What kind of government is needed to achieve peace?

Declaration in Regard to Government and Peace

Even though the Declaration regarding government and laws in general was written in 1835, its meaning is crystal clear today, in regard to the question of government and peace. The Declaration begins with a clarion call (verse one): 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.

This verse raises four general points. First, governments are believed to be instituted of God. They are, therefore, worthy of human support. They are not necessarily evil – the fruit of apostasy – as our early opponents frequently charged the Latter-day Saints with believing. Governments are for the benefit of man. Man is not to be a slave of his government.

Second, the verse raises the question that, although governments as institutions were “instituted of God” for man’s benefit, are all governments worthy of being classified in this category today? Are all the present systems of government worthy of the origin, “instituted of God”? answers will subsequently be given.

Third, the verse lays down the glorious principle that men are responsible for good government. It is up to us. This responsibility takes two lines: We are all responsible for making laws and administering them for the “good and safety of society.” This makes us doubly responsible for good government in our society.

Fourth, the question is raised, what is the “good and safety of society”? The Russians assume certain things to be for society’s ultimate good and safety; the Japanese make contrary assumptions. The British may pursue objectives in a different way, while the Americans yet choose the written Constitution and the devices peculiar to that instrument. What can be concluded from these four main points?

How Good is Modern Government?

The following suggestions are made. Governments were instituted of God in the beginning. The Latter-day Saint doctrine on this point is that the first government was the government of God. This was a pure, unselfish, holy form of government in which the free agency of man was a fundamental principle. Our doctrine further declares that apostasy from this original form of government took place with the result that it was modified into the various man-made forms that we have today. Accordingly, the present governments are good only to the extent that they conform to the standard pattern represented in the government of God. The fact that men are responsible for good government and the good and safety of society, simply means that it is the task of citizenship to see, so far as it is possible – recognizing the freedom of all men to choose – that government conforms to the basic standards required of the Lord. The basic criterion in this standard is the great doctrine of the free agency and liberty of man. On this principle we believe the world was organized and founded. Men should use their freedom, accordingly, to see that governments are worthy of the classification, “instituted of God.”

Conditions of Peace

What then are the conditions of peace in society, accepting the necessity of government, recognizing the free agency of man, and the task of administering the laws for the good and safety of man?

Section 134, verse two, reads as follows: 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. This verse contains what may be called “the conditions of peace.” Let us list them:

1. Free exercise of individual conscience.
2. The individual right and control of property.,
3. Protection of each individual life.

The Declaration of Belief makes it mandatory that every loyal latter-day Saint recognize these three basic rights as the condition, not only of peace, but as the standard of his behavior toward all men. Likewise, all men are entitled to these rights, black, white, bond, free, male or female. At all times, any Latter-day Saint must stand firm for the principle of the free exercise of conscience by all men, the right and control of property by an individual, and the protection of life on the part of any of God’s children whether he be an Australian Bushman, a Chinaman, or a man named Jones, with dark or fair skin, in Kansas City or Salt Lake City, Utah.

It also means that we must insist on having laws made and administered which recognize these same principles. The good and safety of society depend upon securing these rights in both domestic society and international society. They are the conditions of peace, foreign and domestic. In this connection, it is interesting to observe that only recently, in fact since World War II, has modern man given any great public attention to the question of the international rights of man. The American Constitution led the way with certain declarations for individuals. Before the Constitution, there was the Declaration of Independence, itself, and the constitutions of the thirteen original states, all approximately in the year 1776. Now, mankind’s attention is turning to the knowledge that all governments, not only the America, the British, and other well-known supporters of liberty, but all governments must protect basic, individual rights as an essential condition of peace.

There have been many proposals as to how peace and good order might be realized. Since the fourteenth century many schemes have been proposed by such great figures as Pierre du Bois, Sully, William Penn, J.J. Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, William Ladd, Woodrow Wilson, and others. Most of these proposals have been predicated upon the assumption that the formation of a league, confederacy, or other political structure, is an essential condition of peace. The League of Nations, 1919-1939, and now the United Nations, represent the culmination of this type of thinking. Currently, this school of thought continues vigorously with a group favoring the establishment of a “world federal government” based largely upon American experience.

Another body of informed opinion believes that only with the employment of the scientific method in human affairs, political, economic, psychological, and social, on a wide front, can the departure of war be hastened.

We know, by scientific observation and common experience, that foreigners and new-born babes alike can be absorbed into, and trained within, a given culture, say in a period of fifteen years. An American babe taken from the hospital at the time of its birth and transplanted to Russia, and a Russian babe similarly transplanted to America and raised by Americans, would, in fifteen years, have acquired the main trappings of American or Russian culture and be indistinguishable from its fellows. This fact suggests the scientific possibility that, should every home now existing in the world be converted to the ideal of world citizenship, and, should there be method and knowledge available in every home adequate to the task, we could train all the children born, commencing tomorrow morning, to be citizens of the world instead of citizens of single nations. The job, granted the assumptions, could be pretty well completed by 1965. Why cannot we?

There are certain “cultural” universals known to all mankind, well-known to modern science. All get hungry; require affection; desire privacy; seek self-expression. As Stuart Chase wrote in a recent survey conducted for the Social Science Research Council in the United States: “Where are the men who can transcend their own cultures and really labor in the Lord’s vineyard serving all mankind?”

Modern social science has revealed that it is very difficult for the people of one culture to even communicate successfully one with another so as to be understood. Americans expect everybody else to understand their particular method and mode of expression. How do you translate “Hi ya, chum” into Russian or Chinese; and if it is translatable at all, would it have any meaning to those peoples? The current disagreement between Russians and Americans as to the meaning of “democracy” is only a case in point. Where are the men who can transcend their own cultures and really labor in the Lord’s vineyard for the good of all mankind? Our L.D.S. missions, inspired by a deep and reverent faith, have taken elders throughout the world who have sought out the blood of Israel and all others who will accept the gospel. Facing the facts of mankind’s sickened attitude towards war, the impact of modern science and technology in shaping the world’s diversity slowly towards a common culture, the conditions of peace set forth in the Declaration remain fundamental. Men, groups, and nations will always resist force. If the area of freedom of conscience, alone, can be widened in the world, the channels for applying religious faith and scientific principle by voluntary means will remain open.

In the year 1620, a group of people seeking “peace” drew up the Mayflower Compact, aboard ship, before landing at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts Bay. Says the Compact:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, … haveing undertaken for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutualy in therrpesence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience …

The Pilgrim Fathers, accepting the Mayflower Compact, were willing to agree and combine together for their common good. An important basis of successful peace, in American government, thus began.

Today, 140,000,000 people, more or less, are willing to agree to live in peace in the United States, accepting the responsibilities of self-government and freedom of conscience. Can this be achieved world-wide? The essential conditions, set forth in the Declaration, should give us pause while challenging our utmost skill and ingenuity in the effort to apply them.

Questions for Discussion and Lesson Helps

Special Project: A ten-minute report on the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 and 1907. Material can be found in any encyclopedia.

1. What is the unusual significance of the Hague Peace Conference?

2. When is the preferable time for a peace conference, immediately following a war, to clean up the debris, or, in a period of relative stability when war clouds are not on the horizon?

3. What are the “conditions of peace” according to the Declaration?

4. To whom are governments responsible?

5. How can government’s responsibility to God be secured and maintained? (the specific answer is not printed in the lesson; it has to be thought out. It is an important practical matter. If the issue was left to your class to determine, what proposals, principles, practices would you recommend and order printed in your local paper, for example, as “ways and means” to keep government responsible to God? Later in the course, you can check your “policies” against the principles found in the Declaration.)

6. How can government’s responsibility to man be assured?

7. Besides periodic elections, what are some other devices whereby men can hold government responsible to the people?

8. How do you, the people in your class, keep the local school board, city council, county commission, state legislature, state highway department, the national army or navy, your national delegate to the UN, “responsible,” or do you even try? Elaborate some of the methods available.

Additional Projects: Assign three members of the class to investigate and report, briefly, but with specific references, mankind’s long struggle to achieve: (1) freedom of conscience; (2) individual property rights; (3) protection of individual life. How safe or secure are these rights in the modern world?

(See “Civil Liberty today,” Dr. G. Homer Durham, The Relief Society Magazine, May 1948, page 299.)



  1. Several things I found fascinating:

    There is a general expectation that ward members will be familiar with the philosophers and political theorists, upon which the world governments, at the time, were based.

    I was always amazed that my grandmother, who did not graduate from high school, but who took “civics” during the years she was enrolled, was the only one I could discuss political theories with. She was a Republican her entire voting life, but she and I could discuss Kant and Bentham, and how even communist principles laid out in Lenin’s original papers were in line with many church teachings. I was in an honors PoliSci program, and yet our understandings were fairly similar during my first year in the program.

    The use of the scientific method, as a means for hope that a single, worldwide government, COULD be established, as long as correct principles were taught and instituted by that government. The UN was seen as a positive step towards peace and a place to make mutually beneficial arrangements in the world.

    The class was asked to go back to the Mayflower Compact and the Government of God, and then see if the Constitution would naturally follow from it. It seems that inherent in this kind of group brainstorming that there was not just a possibility for people of differing opinions, and good conscience to both interpret things differently, but a question about whether the Constitution was the only inspired kind of government. It would be interesting to see if members today could even try to have a similar brainstorming session.

    Lots of things to think about here.


    Comment by Julia — September 4, 2012 @ 7:57 am

  2. This series is really fascinating. Elder Durham seems so positive that we can (and should) “combine together for [our] common good” as did the Pilgrim Fathers (and Mothers). And he questions whether it’s possible to apply this world-wide encouraging us to at least try.

    And by the way, as a flaming left-of-center moderate, I have no problem with the three basic principles of individual conscience, right of property, and protection of each individual life – even as I know we tend to bog down on the specifics in our modern world – as we always have. Yet we must keep on trying to “combine together” to figure it out as we have a sacred responsibility to do so.

    And I wish somebody in our Sunday School class would do a ten minute report on the Hague Peace Conferences.

    Comment by Grant — September 4, 2012 @ 7:58 am

  3. Amen, Grant!

    Wanna write it with me and we can post it on my blog (and yours too if you have one and want to)? I was planning to start working on a series of posts on things that “could be found in amy encyclopedia, that we haven’t bother learning about, now that we have Google.

    Comment by Julia — September 4, 2012 @ 11:09 am

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