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Political Tuesday: Declaration of Belief: Lesson 7 (1949-50)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 02, 2012

Lesson 7 – Achieving the Kingdom of God – (D. & C. 134:10-12)

Elder G. Homer Durham

For Tuesday, May 23, 1950

Objective: To demonstrate that the kingdom of God will be achieved by preaching the gospel throughout the world.

Change versus Loyalty

How can change be reconciled with stability? Is it possible for “things to remain the same” and at the same time improve? Obviously not. There are many injustices that need removing: slums to clear; lands to develop; lands to conserve and husband; hungry people – most of them in Asia – to feed; truth to be known and lived everywhere. At the same time there are many values to be retained and not lost. How shall change be made? When is a particular change desirable? The ideal of a kingdom of God on earth involves change; an improvement from the world as we find it to a better world. Can the kingdom of God be achieved in the world? Is it possible for an American to remain loyal to the American government while working for the establishment of a kingdom of God? What about a Canadian’s loyalty to the Crown? The Mexican’s? Russian’s? Swede’s? All the rest of the peoples of the earth who have loyalties to one of the sixty-odd national States?

There can be no doubt of Latter-day Saint doctrine with regard to citizenship and loyalty. the twelfth Article of Faith incorporates the basic view:

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

But the eleventh Article of Faith also states that we “claim the privilege,” with all other men allowed the same right, of worshiping as individual conscience dictates! And supposing that conscience dictates that the kingdom of God and its government should be established?

Authority to Be Exercised by Religious Societies

Verses ten, eleven, and twelve of the Declaration of Belief Regarding Governments and Laws offer a great deal of help on this problem, as well as on those of the preceding lesson (verse nine) and the denial of religious influence to civil government. Verse ten declares:

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.

This states a number of conditions of “political pluralism” – the device whereby differences can exist side by side, an E Pluribus Unum – and shows how the freedom thus afforded can be used to bring about improvement by common consent. Verse ten denies to organized religions the powers that would make life miserable in its physical aspect. It claims for them, however, the right “to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies.”

What does this mean? If we take Latter-day Saint practice, it is liberal indeed. Members are rarely disturbed, even if they ignore the Church, violate its teachings, yet accept its services, while refusing to contribute a nickel to the light bill for the ward meetinghouse. On the contrary, the active membership of the Church devote most of their spare time and much of the time other people devote to business, profession, and personal affairs, to urge the privileges of church activity upon the inactive, non-supporters – through ward teaching, stake missions, quorum and auxiliary visits, adult Aaronic Priesthood committees. Excommunications and disfellowships occur generally only when the parties have indicated their real intent and desire for such action, either by word or deed – and then only after formal procedures approximating jury trial with adequate counsel and defense.

On the other hand, verse ten definitely states our belief that no Church has the right to try men for their property, life, or personal rights, “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.”

If only the modern, materialistic, non-Christian societies were bound by such limitations! These limitations recognize the eternal, fundamental nature of free agency, of freedom of conscience. the Church can only excommunicate and withdraw its fellowship and when is this done, judging by our own practice? Only with regret, and in recognition of the fact that some individual’s freedom of conscience has led him or her to the point where the step is desirable for all concerned. This is free organization in its essence, a symbol of the great pluralistic world-society envisioned by Brigham Young as the kingdom of God.

When to Appeal to Civil Law

How, then, shall civil government function? Shall the essential civil, as well as religious loyalties, be maintained that the early verses of the Declaration affirm to be so essential? (See verses one, two, and three.) Verse eleven gives the important clue:

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.

Grievances are to be settled by the civil law “where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same.” What if such laws do not exist? Verse two indicates that such rule of law is the essential condition for peace and safety in society – and should therefore be worked for. In other words, here is change, improvement. Civil government can (1) approximate the kingdom of God; and (2) provide the essential conditions for its achievement if such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual:

1. The free exercise of conscience.
2. The right and control of property.
3. The protection of life.

“In times of exigency” men are justified in working for such rule of good law “in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government” From all corners? No, only “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.” and, although not expressly stated in this verse, it is clear from the earlier verses and the texts of our history that the aim and object of any such action would be for the purpose of creating or bringing into line, a sphere of civil order commensurate with the historic ideals stated in verse two.

The Pattern for Establishing God’s Kingdom

With the vision and objectives of religious freedom and civil order thus laid down, we see clearly the pattern for establishing the type of world society reflecting the nature of God’s kingdom. So, verse twelve declares:

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.

While maintaining the right to proselyte, note that we also maintain the right of any individual to refuse to be proselyted! Nor do we interfere with familistic or compulsory social relations “contrary to the will and wish of their masters.” Why? Because this would thereby “jeopardize the lives of men.” And the right to live, to life itself, we recognize as fundamental (verse two again).

The matter of bond-servants “and human beings … held in servitude” no doubt had immediate reference to negro slavery in America, in 1835, the Declaration’s date. Notwithstanding, the advice and position are still sound. Should we seek today to interfere with the peasants and workers of countries which do not enjoy civil liberties similar to those of the United States? Preaching freedom of conscience with its political implications? If so we might possibly and unduly endanger and “jeopardize the lives of men” which the Declaration holds to be “dangerous.” What then can be the method of achieving, world-wide, the conditions of peace which are, at the same time, the basic conditions in human society for God’s kingdom?

The logic appears to be this: to preach the gospel whenever possible; the missions of the Church slowly expand as freedom expands. By wise non-interference where interference would lead to “jeopardizing the lives of men,” those men in foreign lands retain at least the modicum of security they now have. For the rest, we must have faith, that men, with physical life, must eventually seek freedom as freedom’s sphere expands in the world. And as verse eleven indicates, men are “justified in defending themselves” – not to expand that sphere, but to create and maintain it constantly. Where the gospel can be preached without placing life in jeopardy, “we believe it just” and we do so even in the absence of constitutional, limited government, as witness Hitler’s Germany and other regimes where we have maintained missions. As President Brigham Young taught:

As this Kingdom of God [referring to the ecclesiastical kingdom or the government of the Church] grows, spreads, increases, and prospers in its course, it will cleanse, thoroughly purge, and purify the world from wickedness … it will protect the people in the enjoyment of all their rights, no matter what they believe, what they profess, or what they worship. If they wish to worship a god of their own workmanship, instead of the true and living God, all right, if they will mind their own business and let other people alone (Discourses of Brigham Young, 1925 edition, page 674; 1941 edition, page 440).

Above all, as we read the Declaration of Belief, we should remember the grand objective of achieving the kingdom of God. We conclude with such a statement, again from President Young:

We have an object in view, and that is to gain influence among all the inhabitants of the earth for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God in its righteousness, power and glory, and to exalt the name of the Deity … that he may be honored, that his works may be honored, that we may be honored ourselves, and deport ourselves worthy of the character of his children (Ibid., 1925 edition, pp. 671-672; 1941 edition, pp. 438-439).

Questions for Discussion and Lesson Helps

Special Project: Without formalizing the preparation, when the class meets for the final lesson, introduce the subject matter by taking the following “poll” of the class: (1) How many present have sons, brothers, daughters, sisters, or husbands in the foreign missions of the Church (including the U.S.A.) at the present time? (2) Where are they located? (have each sister present make a brief, descriptive comment.) (3) How many present today, including those reporting already, have had their family represented abroad in the past? Enumerate the places and times. (4) how many persons present, themselves, have served in the foreign missions of the Church, in any capacity, either as member or missionary? (5) Summarize by enumerating the countries represented in the total poll.

1. How does the Declaration of Belief serve as a helpful guide to man’s freedom of conscience, when we are confused as to whether or not loyalty belongs to the Church or to the State?

2. How does the Declaration (in its principles) help both Church and State so that their demands on the individual need rarely, if ever, be confusing in terms of proper loyalty and conscience?

3. What “limitations” does the Declaration place upon the Church? Upon the State?

4. Is “limited government” a sound doctrine for both Church government and civil government? Why?

5. When, if ever, is the power of excommunication asserted by the Church?

6. When is it proper to appeal to the civil law?

7. Can civil government approximately, and therefore become “co-ordinate” with the Church in bringing to pass the kingdom of God on earth? (It is interesting to note that Arnold J. Toynbee, the great English philosopher-historian, in his book, Civilization on Trial (1948), holds to the fact that the proper view of civilization is to view this earth as a “province of the Kingdom of God.”

8. Viewing, in summary, the meaning of the Declaration, we see that both Church and State may qualify as instruments for achieving the better world, the kingdom of God on earth. To sum up, how, what, may (must) each do in order to so qualify, and then achieve, this great objective?



2 Comments »

  1. This is really powerful:

    “The logic appears to be this: to preach the gospel whenever possible; the missions of the Church slowly expand as freedom expands.”

    And the idea that there are limits to both civil and church government –

    This reminds me of the Gospel going forward into Eastern Europe and Russia by “lawful” means – the direct result, I believe, of faithful Saints and citizens in East Germany allowing for a Temple to be built in not-too-ironically named Freiberg. Then once the Temple was there, the walls soon came down. The Lord moves in mysterious ways indeed.

    Comment by Grant — October 2, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  2. I really appreciate your comments on these lessons,Grant. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 2, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

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