We believe in Government

For some reason, one of my recent posts here on Latter-day Commentary attracted comments from several anonymous readers. The subject was Rules, religion and society. In one of the comments, the writer declared that God was an anarchist and suggested that I get myself a proper education on the subject. The other comment was from a well known tax protester.

While I appreciate these comments and I did pursue further knowledge in the links provided, my basic understanding of the subject has not changed. I suspect that neither commenter has the benefit of having read the inspired proclamations of modern prophets and apostles on how governments, though imperfect, are so much preferred to anarchy, which will never work.

What the LDS believe about government

Faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in government. From the twelfth Article of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” We do not believe that governments are perfect, or that they can be perfect in this world. Governments of man will eventually cease when the Savior comes to rule and reign.

Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants provides great detail on how we as a people feel about government. Verse one is a good summary: “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 not revelation

A very important and oft-quoted part of this section is found in verse five: “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside…” This section of the D&C was not revealed to Joseph Smith but was written by Oliver Cowdery. Joseph was not present when it was voted upon and accepted by the body of the church.

“It should be noted that in the minutes, and also in the introduction to this article on government, the brethren were careful to state that this declaration was accepted as the belief, or ‘opinion’ of the officers of the Church, and not as a revelation, and therefore does not hold the same place in the doctrines of the Church as do the revelations.” (D&C Commentary)

Mob rule worse than anarchy

Elder Erastus Snow explained: “Anarchy—shall I say, is the worst of all governments? No: Anarchy is the absence of all government; it is the antipodes [opposite] of order; it is the acme of confusion; it is the result of unbridled license, the antipodes of true liberty. 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.” (In Journal of Discourses, 22:151.)

Anarchy is not part of the kingdom of God. We do not espouse anarchy or believe that it can be successful. As long as there are evil men in the world, anarchy will not work for a society. God is not an anarchist. There is no absence of rule with God. In fact, He is the ultimate ruler. He is a benevolent ruler and the only one who can rule perfectly in this world or the next. However, he does set up governments on this earth and uses imperfect men to run them.

When the wicked rule, the people mourn

“Laws which are enacted for the protection of society have no value except when they are administered in righteousness and justice, and they cannot be so administered in righteousness and justice, if dishonest men occupy administrative offices. The Lord says ‘When the wicked rule, the people mourn.’ (D&C 98:9)

“Wise men, good men, patriotic men are to be found in all communities, in all political parties, among all creeds. None but such men should be chosen. . . .Without beneficent laws, righteously administered, the foundations of civilization crumble, anarchy reigns, decay and dissolution follow.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1928, p. 16.)

Obey, honor and sustain the law

President David O. McKay taught, “The three significant words used in the 12th Article of Faith, express the proper attitude of the membership of the Church toward law. These words are—obey, honor, and sustain. The Article does not say we believe in submission to the law.

Obedience implies a higher attitude than mere submission, for obedience has its root in good intent; submission may spring from selfishness or meanness of spirit. Though obedience and submission both imply restraint on one’s own will, we are obedient only from a sense of right; submissive from a sense of necessity.

Honor expresses an act or attitude of an inferior towards a superior. When applied to things it is taken in the sense of holding in honor. Thus, in honoring the law, we look upon it as something which is above selfish desires or indulgences.

“To sustain signifies to hold up; to keep from falling. To sustain the law, therefore, is to refrain from saying or doing anything which will weaken it or make it ineffective. We obey law from a sense of right. We honor law because of its necessity and strength to society. We sustain law by keeping it in good repute.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 28.)

Summary and conclusion

I have no wish to offend those who advocate anarchy. I have a lot of respect for individuals who have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their position in published writings and on the web. Nevertheless, I cannot accept that a faithful member of the LDS Church can believe in anarchy. We believe in agency and accountability, freedom and responsibility, but never anarchy.

I am convinced that if those who are activists in promoting anarchy have their way, mob rule will result. The anarchists will rejoice for a moment but will then mourn because their rights are not being respected by those they liberated from government. The wicked one uses those who have good intent in this area but are misguided in their understanding of human nature.

11 thoughts on “We believe in Government”

  1. You state that D&C 134 is not revelation (as many others have), but I am unsure what that means. It is scripture, isn’t it? Section 134 is a statement of belief, but so are the Articles of Faith. Were the AofF revealed in some sense? They seem very inspired, but so does Sec. 134 to me.The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 3. in its section on REVELATION identifies 11 forms of revelation including the still small voice, gifts of the spirit, burning in the bosom, and the light of Christ. How are we so sure one of these processes was not involved? If Section 134 is not canonized, shouldn’t it be identified as such? I tried to create a strong argument for its legitimacy in my essay on Being Loyal Citizens. Heber J. Grant loved 134.Even if Sec. 134 is placed in some “second” class, it still carries a lot of weight, and it should!!I am open to instruction and correction.

  2. Hi S.Faux,I had forgotten that you had written that wonderful essay on section 134. I went back and re-read it. I’m going to concede to your position that section 134 is scripture. Why? Because it was voted upon and accepted by the Church as such.I thought about that as I was writing this post. I have half a dozen books on the Doctrine and Covenants. Almost every one of them includes this caution that it should not be classified in the same category of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph.And yet, at least two Church Presidents have used it extensively in their teachings. Heber J. Grant and Ezra Taft Benson both felt very strongly about the principles contained in section 134. Just because it was written by Oliver Cowdery does not make it any less inspired and therefore revelation.Your essay on Being Loyal Citizens is well founded. The re-reading was delightful. Thanks for the depth and detail included there.

  3. Tim, as I look over your blog posts here on this new Word Press site, I couldn’t help but see the “anarchy” category. I don’t know how I overlooked this post!

    I don’t recall if you and I have ever had a conversation about anarchy and its place in the gospel, nor do I know if you have looked over the articles I’ve written about it, but if not, I recommend that you do so. I admit, there are 30 posts on anarchy and its ties to mormon theology on the LDS Anarchy blog, but I think they will give you a better perspective than you currently have about the topic.

    At the bottom of each anarchy post is a link to the next one (it reads “Next Anarchism/Anarchy article:” and then the link), so you can read them in order. I’ll get you started:

    Biblical Anarchism

    That was my first post on anarchism and, in fact, my first post on the LDS Anarchy blog. In order to understand it, you’ll need to read the linked article by Stephen W. Carson. Then proceed to the next (LDS) anarchy blog post linked in the series and so on and so forth. Once you go through those posts, I would love to know if you can still say with surety the following paragraph you placed in your post above:

    I cannot accept that a faithful member of the LDS Church can believe in anarchy. We believe in agency and accountability, freedom and responsibility, but never anarchy.

    If you decide to read the posts, please drop me a line on my own blog somewhere and tell me if you’ve changed your mind or if you remain firm in this belief. I’m curious whether your views will be altered.

  4. Hi LDS Anarchist,

    One of the features I missed on Blogger was the list of all the tags I have used over the years on the side of my blog. I know it’s there but I had turned it off because it got so large and left me no room for all the widgets I added. Those widgets kept growing until they started to distract from the purpose of the blog.

    I took out all the widgets here on WordPress and put my blogrolls in separate web pages so now I have turned the tags back on. Like you, my eye is drawn to subjects about which I am most interested. I hope other readers have similar experiences and can quickly find those essays that are most interesting to them.

    You know, I think I perused a few of those essays when I first visited your site a couple of years ago. But at your invitation I’m going to re-read them starting in the order you suggested. Thank for the invitation. It may take a few days to respond because I want to fully understand your position on anarchy.

    I’ve got to tell you that the impetus for writing that essay originally came from a student in an English writing class that Carol and I took last year. He was so outspoken on the subject and so decidedly against the benefits that the rule of law brings that he offended many people in the class, especially the former military.

    His descriptions of anarchy, which he admittedly described as idealistic and not at all practical for today’s society, were extremely disturbing. His world consisted of a place where everyone did whatever they wanted and let everyone else do the same. He did not address what happens when such actions produce conflicts.

    I suspect that any disagreement that we may have up front probably stems from a difference in definition of the word anarchy. To me, it has a negative connotation in which people who do not have the best interests of society in mind take control of the restraints of that society for their own selfish purposes.

    I look forward to reading your essays and will look for the good that I am certain that you must be proposing is contained within your definition of anarchist.

  5. OK, LDS Anarchist: I read your articles and think I understand a little better what it is you are trying to advocate. I think we are in agreement that the day will come when world governments break down and we form into tribes or clans. I don’t know how long that period will last but several early Brethren described it in their writings. In addition, several LDS authors, including Anthony E. Larson, have written extensively how the events of 3rd Nephi chapter 7 will be replicated in our day. So yes, anarchy will come to pass before the return of the Lord, but once the Savior is here again, he will establish law and order – a theocracy will prevail.

  6. Tim, thanks for reading through all 30 articles! I’m impressed! But from your answer, I guess I was ineffective in explaining what anarchy is. You wrote, “So yes, anarchy will come to pass before the return of the Lord, but once the Savior is here again, he will establish law and order – a theocracy will prevail.” It seems to me that you are still equating anarchy with lawlessness and chaos, which is the opposite of what I was attempting, via the scriptures, to show. Also, it appears that you still believe that when the Lord returns, the Lord will establish something other than tribal anarchy. (See 300 + years of Nephite anarchy, for example.) What this means, I guess, is that those articles are not sufficient to teach the principle…it’s back to the drawing board for me… 🙁

  7. My bad…old habits die hard. No, really, I totally get what you were trying to say and I agree with it. There will be order in the tribes or clans that form after the breakdown of world governments. And yes, they will have their own laws or rules.

    And when the Savior returns, we read that not everyone will accept his theocracy. So there will still be nations, kindreds and tribes (I love that phrase) that will not accept his government over them, at least not at first. Are we agreed on this?

    I’m coming around to your definition of anarchy as being different from what I have thought it meant for most of my life, but I’m still not sure that I agree that what the Savior establishes is anarchy. I’ve always believed that he establishes a theocracy.

  8. Hmmm… I wonder what you envision the theocracy to look like. Here is the entry to “Theocracy” from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition:

    THEOCRACY (Gr. °Emporia, the rule of God, from Oe6s, god, and -Kparca, Kpam7v, to rule), a term applied to a form of government or to a state ruled by such a form of government, in which God or the divine power is looked to as the source of all civil power, and the divine commandments regarded as the laws of the community. The typical example of such a state is that of the Jews till the establishment of the kingship under Saul (see JEws).

    The interesting thing about the example drawn upon by the author of that encyclopaedia entry to illustrate theocracy, namely that of the condition of the Jews till Saul, is that that condition is actually tribal anarchism. For more descriptions of tribal anarchism, see also this and this. To see the graphics of the latter article, click here.

    So, what do you envision the theocracy of the Millennium to look like? A monarchy, a democracy, a democratic republic, or what?

  9. FreedomInYourLifetime

    Tim, you wrote this
    I am convinced that if those who are activists in promoting anarchy have their way, mob rule will result. The anarchists will rejoice for a moment but will then mourn because their rights are not being respected by those they liberated from government. The wicked one uses those who have good intent in this area but are misguided in their understanding of human nature.
    Let me assure you, good man, that I am convinced that a society based on voluntary interactions is the Lord’s way. I highly recommend
    Stefan Molyneux’s “Practical Anarchy” downloadable here as free PDF

    You can scroll down to any topic, like
    Violence, Education, Roads, Dispute Resolution and immediately get an answer to your question how these things can operate tons better than under a government.
    See how pure intelligence starts flowing into you dispelling doubt and confusion.

  10. Pingback: Can a Faithful Mormon Be an Anarchist? | Liberty Q&A

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