Constitutional Government: A Divine Principle
Elder ElRay L. Christiansen
Assistant to the Council of the Twelve
ElRay L. Christiansen, Conference Report, October 1967, pp. 138-140
My brothers and sisters: The destiny of America can be realized and the work of the Lord can be accomplished only through the exercising of the guarantees given us in the Constitution of the United States.
As part of an official declaration setting forth the belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in relation to civil power, we may read the following in the Doctrine and Covenants:
Government Instituted for benefit of man
“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 . . .
“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” (D&C 134:1,5).
Power of government derived from will of the people
As you know, the government of the United States is a republic. The genius of this form of government is that the foundation of all law, power, and authority is derived from the will of the people.
Such a government is based upon a written constitution, which provides for three divisions of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, each independent of the others, having certain powers within prescribed limitations through a “built in” system of checks and balances, in order that the rights and freedoms of the people may be insured.
The leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taught its members ever since its organization to honor and respect the Constitution of the United States as well as the men who brought it forth and who were patriots indeed!
Joseph Smith described the constitution as a “heavenly banner,” a “glorious standard.”
One of our great international lawyers, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., at one time declared:
Constitution an inspired document
“. . . Out of the depths of eternal truth was born the Constitution of the United States . . . It is my conviction that God inspired the indicting of that document, the Constitution becomes sacred scripture to me. It is the greatest political heritage ever bequeathed by fathers to their posterity. God grant that we may preserve it.” (“Gratitude for our Heritage,” pp. 910.)
And the Lord himself has declared that “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this . . . purpose” D&C 101:79-80 And he said that it “should be maintained for the . . . protection of all flesh” (D&C 101:77).
Thus, under the guidance of the Lord was established a government based upon a written constitution in which were set forth the laws whereby its citizens were to maintain their freedom, freedom for us—
To pray and worship,
To own property,
To keep and bear arms,
To educate our children,
To assemble together,
To be tried by a jury,
To speak without fear of being cast into jail,
To go where we choose and do as we wish, so long as we do not jeopardize the rights, the welfare, and the safety of others.
Doubtless in all the world there is no document to compare with this “heavenly banner,” this “glorious standard,” the Constitution of the United States!
Good administration of government
But in any society, good government can be had only if administered by good men, selected by good citizens.
To be a good citizen, we should learn for ourselves what is set forth in the constitution. This knowledge can be obtained only through individual study of the document itself. We must not only study it, but we must also guard it. It was Daniel Webster who uttered these prophetic words: “Watchful guardianship over the Constitution is the proper means for its support.”
In addition to the love of God and the love of our neighbor (Matt. 22:37,39) and, as Jesus said, the love of our enemies (Matt. 5:44), there should be found in each of us a love of our country and of the constitution which binds it together.
Cherish constitution in the home
It is the obligation of parents to acquaint their children with this great document:
1. That they may have understanding of and appreciation for the principles that make their liberty and freedom possible.
2. They should be taught as well what their personal obligations will be when they become mature citizens of the United States.
3. We must see to it that they learn the factual history of our country.
4. They must be made to recognize and resist the constantly fomented ideologies that threaten the very life of our republic, the individual liberties of our people, and the God-given heritage of freedom. One of the greatest contributions of a free people is to transmit that freedom to their children.
We must remember that reverence for and obedience to law should begin in the home. President David O. McKay has warned that “no greater immediate responsibility rests upon the members of the Church, upon all citizens of this Republic, and of neighboring Republics, than to protect the freedom vouchsafed by the Constitution of the United States.” (The Improvement Era, May 1950, p. 378.)
In the face of the conditions as they are today, it seems imperative that individuals develop loyalty to their country and responsibility for their own behavior. Such attributes are ideally based on knowledge, which requires deliberate effort to obtain. Thomas Paine, one of the early patriots, reminded us that “what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Uphold the Constitution
We need not fear invasions from without, so long as we as a nation and as a people understand and uphold the Constitution of the United States, and reject not the God of the land who is Jesus (Ether 2:12). But if we permit ourselves to forget God, we have no promise!
Moved upon by the Holy Spirit, the Prophet Lehi prophesied this regarding America:
“Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever” (2 Ne. 1:7, italics added).
What a simple recipe for peace and safety in this choice land!
Pledge our sacred honor
Like the patriots of old who, under extreme difficulties and discouragements, hammered out our constitution, may we say of that inspired document:
“And for the support of this with a firm reliance upon the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our, fortunes, and our sacred honor.” (Declaration of Independence.)
I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.