I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

I Have a Question

“Should we offer a blessing on the food when we are in restaurants?”

Glade F. Howell, coordinator of the Utah/Ogden Division of the Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion There are some obvious and immediate questions to this inquiry such as how, when, and under what conditions. Are you able to leave the situation so that you can talk about the gospel if it were to come up, or are your acts too pious and thus onlookers are repulsed or offended? Can you sit at a table, bow your head, and say a vocal prayer? Can one pray silently with eyes open? What really makes a prayer or blessing on the food valid? Wherein lies wisdom? Can or should a rule be made for this subject?

For a start, we need to look at what the Savior has said that might apply: “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” (Matt. 6:5.) This seems to say to let our prayers be gentle, persuasive, but always respectful of the dignity and experiences of others. We can also say, yes, we have been reminded through the centuries by the scriptures and the prophets to pray often and to give thanks for our herds, flocks, and for all the good things of the earth. But where and how?—that is the question. Will some person interpret a public blessing on the food as “sounding a trumpet in the streets”? (Matt. 6:2.)

My father used to pause in the fields at noonday by a sage brush or rock pile to give thanks for our lunch; or while driving cattle, he would pray vocally. It was more than just an utterance of thanks; there was a feeling deep within my father as he expressed gratitude for the good things of the earth. Other times, as at a dinner with members of a cattlemen’s association, no prayer was offered—but I knew Dad had blessed his food, though his eyes remained open and there was no bowing of his head, lest he bring offense or be regarded as the Pharisees. I remember my father always left a situation where he could teach again. He was not an extremist, though a very devout man, and was always held in highest esteem by his colleagues. They all knew his principles, that he was undeviating in his course but always tender, sensitive, and not offensive.

I know of people who, for a few seconds, simply survey their food, admiring its beauty and aroma, and sense gratefully the fact that they have it, and in an instant express silently within their own minds a prayer of “Thank Thee, Heavenly Father, for this food.” It seems to me that this is also a sensitive solution to the problem.

We should recognize that prayer is a sacred expression, normally reserved for private places (our churches, homes, etc.) where we can control the spirit of the occasion. Prayer is also a very personal expression, and it would seem that private prayers should be just that—private. But I also know that, on occasion, a more obvious indication of a personal prayer, perhaps by a bowed head for an instant, has opened up a gospel conversation with a companion.

In summary then, I would say that we should most certainly have within us a spirit of thanks, of gratitude—even the spirit of prayer—when we sit down to eat. Yet the question is whether this private spirit of prayer should be expressed publicly. I would conclude that we should strive to have the Spirit with us to bless us to be wise not to offend—to act in propriety. If we have the Spirit, we will know by what manner we should bless our food, regardless of what environment we are in.

As a member of a congregation, what are my responsibilities during prayers?

John H. Cox, president of the London England Stake Last year my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a royal garden party on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, London, at the invitation of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. For me the most impressive moment of that event was the entrance of the queen herself. The hubbub of the guests immediately subsided, and as she stood on the terrace, with the bands playing “God Save the Queen,” there was a reverence present that pervaded the entire assembly. I had heard the national anthem many times in my life, but this was the first time in the actual presence of the monarch. The occasion had a special poignancy. I was inspired, and I prayed for the welfare of my country and its leader.

The Saints in Britain had a similar experience at the area conference held at Manchester. As President Joseph Fielding Smith was about to leave the meeting, we all rose to sing, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” That too was an inspiring moment, an outpouring of the Spirit, during which faith and devotion were greatly enhanced.

Now let us try to imagine how we would feel if, having sung a hymn and prepared ourselves spiritually, we were to witness God himself entering or departing from one of our church meetings. I wonder what rapture would fill our bosoms as we contemplated the living God.

When we address our Heavenly Father in our public prayers, asking that his Spirit or influence be present with us, it is in the faith and expectation that our requests are heard. Receiving the influence of his spirit is the key to meaningful participation; it is our most basic responsibility during group prayers. The presiding officer in the meeting will listen to the whisperings of the Spirit in calling on the spokesman, who then will rely upon its promptings in all that he says. Then, as we encourage the Holy Ghost to enter into our hearts, all conditions are met for a blissful moment of inspiration.

We will want to follow each word of the prayer, lending our support, contributing our faith, sustaining every desire, and, as we have been firmly instructed, confirming our acceptance at the conclusion with an audible Amen. (See Priesthood Bulletin, October 1973, p. 4.) No matter where we might be, whether sitting among the congregation, standing in the foyer, or perhaps watching the meeting on television, we will want to be totally involved.

Any doubts we may have had about the need for us to be in attendance would quickly evaporate in such an exercise of our faith. Our faith could also be channeled to the assistance of those who are to participate in the meeting, such as the conducting officer or those giving talks. “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings.” (D&C 108:7.) And our faith would be rewarded, for “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Ne. 18:20.) From that moment on we would not be concerned with the oratorical aptitude of the participants; rather, feasting upon the Spirit, we would “look unto [God] in every thought.” (D&C 6:36.) Such a oneness in a congregation would be highly inspiring.

Being conscious of the presence of the Spirit, we would be reminded of the Lord’s commandment: “Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary.” (Lev. 19:30.) Clearly, only a quiet, still, and contemplative attitude is appropriate. Heads should be bowed, eyes closed, and arms folded or hands clasped. One of the objectives in attending the meeting will be to pay homage to Him. “Wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul.” (2 Ne. 25:29.) This is the ideal state in which to listen and to learn. For new members and children, this “lesson” will be particularly beneficial. One day it will be their turn to be spokesman.

“Why is it important that we say amen aloud at the end of prayers and talks?”

Robert F. Clyde, president of Heber Utah East Stake The use of the word amen originated thousands of years ago. In fact, whenever the Church has been upon the earth, amen has appropriately closed both prayers and sermons.

In the Old Testament, David ended the 106th Psalm with the words: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen.” (Ps. 106:48.)

Speaking through Moses regarding the use of images in worship, the Lord said: “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.” (Deut. 27:15.)

In the meridian of time the Savior closed the Lord’s Prayer with Amen, and Paul taught it to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 14:16.)

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve has said: “There are about a score of instances in which the term is found in the Bible, nearly twice that many in the Book of Mormon, and nearly every revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants is so closed.” (Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1966, p. 32.)

The presiding Brethren of today have counseled as follows: “A noticeable decline in voicing the word amen at the close of prayers and talks is apparent among congregations of the Church. Amen should be voiced audibly by all members to indicate their agreement and approval of what has been said. A re-emphasis on joining in the amen is needed in all meetings and gatherings throughout the Church.” (Priesthood Bulletin, October 1973, p. 4.)

With all the instruction and counsel to conclude prayers and sermons with an amen, we need to rediscover the reasons behind the practice. Many people feel that when they are saying amen they are merely agreeing or expressing the term “so be it,” but actually it means a great deal more than that.

Basically, the Saints of God are a covenant-making people. We participate in a covenant at baptism, at the partaking of the sacrament, in the reception of the priesthood, in obtaining the endowment, and in the eternal marriage sealing. The congregational expression of the word amen is a form of covenant making in which we not only audibly express our agreement with what has been said, but promise to abide by the principles taught.

If we listen to a sermon or a prayer with the realization that there rests upon us some duty to confirm our own compliance by a vocal amen, we will accomplish several things:

First, we will concentrate more on what is being said, and as we hear references to principles previously understood and covenants made, there will be a greater rededication on our part. The things we pledged at the baptismal font, in interviews with priesthood leaders, and in the temple will be renewed in our hearts, and our efforts to be righteous will increase.

Second, it will often enable us to give often our pledge of obedience, for it was God who said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22.)

Third, our combined amens will foster unity and closeness within the congregation and spirituality will increase among our people.

To say amen is to follow the counsel of our inspired leaders for reasons that seem sufficient to God and therefore compelling to us. Such a course has always and will ever increase our own happiness.

A friend recently told me that members of the Church should resist paying income taxes because the federal income tax is unconstitutional. What can you tell me about this?

Robert F. Bohn, instructor of family economics and home management, Brigham Young University Since the original United States Constitution does not authorize the federal government to levy direct taxes (i.e., income taxes), a few extremists have refused to pay their federal income taxes, citing the Church’s belief in the inspired source of the Constitution as justification. (D&C 101:80.) To understand why the Church lends no support to those refusing to pay their taxes, let us first review the origins of taxation in America.

In the early beginnings of the United States, when the colonies were under the governmental control of Great Britain, the colonists protested the British taxation without representation as an infringement upon their liberties. Accordingly, the writers of the Constitution prohibited direct taxes by the federal government. Therefore, federal taxes during George Washington’s administration were imposed primarily on distilled spirits, tobacco and snuff, refined sugar, carriages, property sold at auction, bonds, and various legal documents. During the early history of the United States, the federal tax revenues were mainly obtained from customs and excise taxes.

It was not until the tremendous financial pressures caused by the Civil War (1861) that the Congress adopted the first of a series of revenue laws—among them, our first income tax. Due to the continued rise of our public debt during the war between the North and South, President Lincoln signed into law in July 1862 the most sweeping revenue-producing measure in the nation’s history to that time. The new law provided for progressive taxation, for levies on incomes, and for tax withholding. In addition to a variety of new taxes, the law also provided for the beginning of a permanent tax collecting agency—the forerunner of the present Internal Revenue Service.

The constitutional right of the federal government to levy direct taxes on the people was challenged many times in our nation’s history, and the courts ruled that direct taxes were unconstitutional. A classic example was in the 1890s when Congress passed a tariff law providing for a small income tax. It was challenged in our federal courts and was twice brought before the Supreme Court. The second time, in 1895, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, essentially saying that any income tax was direct and therefore unconstitutional; consequently, the Income Tax Division in the office of Internal Revenue was dissolved.

When William H. Taft became President in 1909, a new era was beginning and the United States needed more financial resources. Huge numbers of people were moving to the cities. As a result of the need for revenue and continuing clamor for tax reform, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was proposed to give Congress the power to tax the people directly. This amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress in 1909, but it was not ratified by three-fourths of the states until February, 1913. The 16th Amendment provides that:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

It is because of the 16th Amendment that the United States Internal Revenue Service has the constitutional right to collect federal income taxes. While many dozens of court cases have challenged the 16th Amendment, all have failed.

A fundamental and divine principle of the Constitution is that the federal government of the United States will be governed by and for the people it serves. Accordingly, an integral part of the inspired document’s ingenuity lies within its specific procedure to amend itself as the country expands and becomes more complex. When an amendment is properly ratified, it “shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution.” (U.S. Constitution, Article 5.)

Until the people of the United States repeal the 16th Amendment, the levying of federal income taxes is lawful and constitutional. Thus, Latter-day: Saints are committed to the payment of their legal share of the taxes as confirmed by the 12th Article of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” [A of F 1:12]

Because of the history just reviewed, some extremists refuse to pay their income taxes and eventually are placed in jail for their actions. Nevertheless, the Church authorities lend no support to these extremists, as was indicated by President Harold B. Lee at the October 1972 general conference when he instructed:

“Now there is another danger that confronts us. There seem to be those among us who are as wolves among the flock, trying to lead some who are weak and unwary among Church members, according to reports that have reached us, who are taking the law into their own hands by refusing to pay their income tax because they have some political disagreement with constituted authorities.” (Ensign, January 1973, p. 106.)

In the April 1973 Priesthood Bulletin the Church reaffirmed its position against those “who claim Church membership … making it appear as though their opposition to Federal tax laws is Church sponsored” by referring to President Lee’s aforementioned conference admonition and concluded with the following instructions to Church leaders:

“We ask priesthood leaders to be on guard against such persons. They are not to be invited to speak in priesthood or sacrament meetings, firesides, or other Church meetings in attempting to spread their propaganda. Priesthood leaders should also teach the necessity of abiding the law according to the revelations.

“The Lord has said:

“‘Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.

“‘Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet.’” (D&C 58:21–22.)