Elder Mark E. Petersen
Of the Council of the Twelve Apostles
Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, October 1947, pp. 107-111
In the midst of the continuing international crisis, there is an ever growing feeling that America must do all within her power to preserve herself. Our leading statesmen have publicly declared that we can hope to survive as a free people only if we keep ourselves strong. Generally the references to maintaining the strength of our country pertain only to her military might. But the strength of America cannot be measured by her armaments alone, nor by her industrial power which produces those armaments. The strength of our land must be measured principally in the integrity of our people.
An America with powerful armaments and an unstable citizenry could not be sure of protection. The might of the Maginot Line was no defense for a France which had descended into moral weakness. America, under similar circumstances, would fare no better. Not even the atom bomb will save this land if moral decay is allowed to do its work.
FREEDOM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
We often speak of our freedoms. There is no freedom like the freedom of righteousness. The penalty of sin is slavery and death. He who is the victim of his own evil conduct is in reality much more a slave than the cowering subjects of the most dictatorial despot.
If America would remain mighty, she must have the strength of sobriety, of chastity and virtue, of honesty and integrity, and the power of true spirituality. If she would be strong, America must enjoy—in addition to her political freedoms, indeed one might say, as a condition to the perpetuation of her political freedoms—those other freedoms which are as essential to her welfare as any of the liberties listed in the Bill of Rights. Her people must strive for:
Freedom from unclean practices and unwholesome influences
Freedom from immorality
Freedom from intoxication
Freedom from the evils of divorce
Freedom from dishonesty in all their relations with each other, including business and labor
Freedom from delinquency, juvenile or adult, with its accompanying list of crime
Freedom from selfishness
Freedom from internal dissensions, subversive activities, rabble rousing, and class hatred
Freedom from idleness, and doctrines which persuade people that the government owes them a living, or that they can get more and more by doing less and less
And freedom from the ignorance that so often leads to regrettable practices
FACTORS WEAKENING AMERICA
How far have we gone in the preservation of these freedoms? To what extent have we jeopardized these factors which are so essential to a strong nation?
For one thing, as a people we are afflicted with an element of violence and dishonesty which is sapping our strength. Every five minutes, during 1946, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a serious crime was committed among us. There was one for every seventy-eight persons in the general population.
During that same year Americans spent twice as much money for alcoholic beverages as they did for education, and this year they will spend a comparable amount. Does this tend to national strength?
Also in 1946 there were twenty-seven divorces for every one hundred marriages in the United States. The disruption of so many homes in every state of the Union can have none other than a weakening effect upon our nation. If we may trust the statements of courts dealing with domestic relations, infidelity was a contributing factor in a disquieting number of these instances. Any tendency on the part of Americans to regard lightly their marriage vows is destructive of the moral stability of the nation. Indiscretions arising out of marital disloyalty lead to broken homes and broken hearts and in some cases to lives of shame and disgrace. Furthermore, they promote delinquency among children who thus become the victims of the sins of their own parents, being influenced by examples set before them by their elders who underestimate the great value and strength of virtue.
Among Latter-day Saint people, whom I have the honor to represent today, we teach a precept given through the Prophet Joseph Smith which reads:
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else (D&C 42:22).
What a boon it would be to all humanity if every man were moved by the spirit of this injunction.
INFLUENCE OF HOME LIFE
The strength of the nation is measured in a large degree by the home life of the individual citizens. What makes a home strong? It is character, and good character mean integrity, honesty, morality, the spirit of fair play, self-reliance, and an abiding faith in God. As we speak of the great men in history, we frequently refer to their home life, with a fireside about which the family met, a saintly mother, a period of devotion, the reading of the Sacred Word, a family prayer. Out of such an atmosphere our great men acquired an attitude of self-reliance, an enterprising spirit, a willingness to work, with honesty and integrity as guiding stars, and a due regard for the teachings of the Almighty. Is each American family today contributing in this manner to our national greatness? Are we strengthening the sinews of our country with homes like this, or are we content to settle back into conditions which lead to disruption of these foundation stones of a strong democracy?
THE GOLDEN RULE
Selfishness on the part of certain groups has led to internal dissensions, rabble rousing, and class hatreds, breeding a kind of disunity which is dangerous in the extreme. This type of thing has more than political or economic implications. It presents a serious moral issue—a problem of right and wrong. It has to do with the fundamental character of each person involved, with his honesty, his desire to be fair in his dealings. Are we in America willing to do unto others as we would be done by? Does the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12) mean anything to us when we apply it to our employment, or to our association with others in groups or organizations? The Golden Rule engenders strength; its violation breeds strife and weakness.
That we should work for what we get is a divine principle. When the Lord placed Adam, the first man in the earth, he commanded him to work for his living, to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow (Gen. 3:19). On Mount Sinai the Lord commanded men to labor (Ex. 20:9) Philosophies which tend to cheapen the doctrine that men should work for their sustenance detract from the stability of the nation. They also have a moral effect upon the individual, robbing him of his self-respect, and undermining his character.
RELIGION THE SOURCE OF VIRTUES
Political freedom means little; in fact it cannot permanently endure, without the strength of morality and integrity. It was George Washington who said that morality is a necessary spring of popular government. Yet, as Washington also reminds us, national morality cannot prevail in the exclusion of the principles of religion.
To be strong, America must possess those fundamental virtues, but to acquire and hold them, she must turn to their source—religion.
In this hour of danger, can we afford to overlook our greatest Benefactor, who is truly the Author of freedom as well as of religious faith? Can we forget that freedom is one of the fruits of religion, and that if we give up our faith we must expect also to lose the fruits of faith? Let us remember too, that faith in God is inseparably connected with sincere repentance from sin, and that as a people, to enjoy the fruits of faith—including continued freedom—we must live in keeping with the principles of revealed religion.
With our political strength so dependent upon our moral power, and that in turn resting upon our religious devotion, will we exercise sufficient faith to abandon those practices which are destructive of good character, and which tend to weaken us as a nation?
To receive blessings from God, we must be sincere in our devotion, and consistent in our faithfulness. We must choose whom we will follow, keeping in mind that we cannot serve two masters at the same time and be loyal to both (Matt. 6:24). There is no place for hypocrisy before the Lord.
AMERICA’S NEED FOR GOD
In this hour of peril, with devotion and sincere purpose, we as a people must turn to God, learn of his ways, and walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3; D&C 19:23). Then shall we know that obedience to revealed religion can make us strong.
A truly religious person will not dissipate his strength in sin.
But moved by the Holy Spirit in a life of righteousness, he will know the strength of being clean.
He will know the strength of being honest.
He will know the strength of sober thought and action.
He will discover the great strength to be derived through honest, sincere prayer. He will grow in power through observance of the Sabbath day. He will find strength in reverence for the name of the Lord.
He will become acquainted with the moving power of faith—even that faith which can move mountains, or soften the hearts of men, and bring about peace and common understanding.
He will know the strength of being kind as he learns to love his neighbor as himself.
He will know the strength to be derived through work and will learn the divine truth that the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer (D&C 42:42).
He will gain strength of character by giving value for value in every transaction, an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay in his daily occupation; full weight and undisguised quality at the trading counter, and will do unto others as he would have others do unto him.
He will be strengthened by the assurance that God is a reality—that he lives, and that he protects and prospers those who worship him sincerely.
America needs both strength and a continuation of liberty, and she may have them if she will but serve the Lord. If, as a nation, we so live, every American may feel secure in spite of world chaos, and may say with confidence in the words of David,
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1)