“If we keep the commandments we’ll be good citizens,” President Ezra Taft Benson has said. “We’ll exercise our right to vote. We’ll follow the counsel which the Lord has given in the revelations regarding our obligation to seek out ‘honest men and wise men’ (D&C 98:8–10) who will stand for principle, men who will put principle ahead of political expediency.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1950, p. 148.)
Why is it necessary that we be involved as contributing citizens in our communities? How should we be involved? And how can we prepare our children to be involved, contributing citizens? Taking time to answer these questions is part of our spiritual and civic duty.
“We have been blessed with the light of the gospel to lead us and to guide and direct our lives,” Elder L. Tom Perry has said. “Through our understanding and study of the scriptures, we have a knowledge of the laws of the Lord by which we should govern our earthly conduct. With this great blessing comes an obligation to be a part of the communities in which we live. Our influence should be felt to safeguard the moral standards in the villages, in the towns, and in the cities where our homes are located in all parts of the world. I challenge you to become involved in lifting the moral standards of the communities where your homes are.” (Ensign, May 1977, p. 61.)
Next to family and Church, the community probably has the most powerful influence on an individual’s moral sensibilities. The moral standards of a community determine the nature of the entertainment allowed and the type of magazines and books sold in the community. In fact, U.S. courts of law use prevailing community standards to judge whether or not materials are pornographic.
In the same way, the structure and administration of our school systems, as well as the courses taught, are determined largely by community values and standards.
If we choose to overlook or ignore our community responsibilities, we may well be abdicating control of the influences on our families to others. Our standards and values can be an influence for good in our community—but only when we become involved and share that influence.
“Ours was a somewhat exhilarating experience becoming involved in the community,” one father relates. “Fortunately, my wife had noticed a request for a zoning variance on the corner across from our children’s elementary school. A developer proposed putting a convenience store there on the site of a former gas station. My wife and the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) president began circulating a petition opposing this on the grounds that it would generate hazardous increases in traffic on the corner, especially in the mornings when the children were walking to school. Once I got involved, I realized that the convenience store proposed for the site sold lewd magazines and had video arcade games. These menaces became my focus, because of the potential for making the place a hangout for the wrong crowd.
“When the time came to present our views to the planning and zoning board, our hearts were pounding, but our statements were reasoned and fairly calm. The developer’s proposal was turned down. For those of us involved and for our families, it was a rewarding and educational experience.”
Reasons motivating our involvement will vary, but a concerned citizenry is the best guard against poor government decisions.
According to Elder N. Eldon Tanner, “a member of the Church can honor and sustain the law and make the greatest contribution to his country and to the welfare of mankind by:
“1. Obeying strictly all the laws of the land and teaching his children by precept and by example to honor and sustain the law and those in authority in the home, in the community, in the Church. …
“2. Using his best influence to improve the laws by all legal means at his disposal.
“3. Striving to elect good, honorable men to office and actively supporting them.
“4. Being prepared to accept office and serve diligently in the best interests of his community or country.
“5. Observing and keeping the laws of God.” (Instructor, Oct. 1963, p. 352.)
In recent years the First Presidency has frequently urged Church members as citizens to join with their neighbors in vigorously opposing such evils as pornography, abortion, and the availability of liquor to youth. Acting as concerned citizens (not as Church representatives) members have in many cases helped achieve tighter abortion laws and removal of obscene magazines in stores. Other members have acted to place curbs on young people’s access to liquor.
The key to positive, helpful involvement in the community is being well informed. A newspaper usually carries both local and national news and can be a valuable resource for families interested in current affairs. Many families use the dinner hour to discuss news events, referring to news magazines, television news accounts, or the newspaper.
As citizens, we are responsible for establishing a wholesome environment. To do so, we must ever be vigilant in watching legislation and the enforcement of laws. The time required to keep informed will pay large dividends for the family as well as the community. And much good can often result from even a little time invested—a letter to an editor or lawmaker, for example.
For a family in the eastern United States, such a letter to the town council was the beginning of considerable involvement. An issue troubled the family, and they wrote a letter to the town council. This led to further involvement. Within a year, the mother was elected to the council, where she served two terms, supported in numerous ways by her husband and children.
Because of the example of her involvement, her teenage daughter later proposed a program that the council sponsored. It was a “safe ride” program that enabled teenagers to telephone for a ride if they had drunk alcohol at a party.
Of course, some people have become so caught up in community causes that home and family have been neglected. Our families should always come first. Community involvement is only one way to discharge our responsibilities as parents; we should balance the time demanded of us by community involvement with that spent with our families. This may mean one or two fewer television shows watched or ball games attended—but that is a small price to pay for the potential good we can do.
Patriotism is love for the land in which we live. It is a virtue that extremists may have distorted in recent years, so it is not as universally appreciated as it once was. But it is a virtue that we should all nurture.
True patriotism is not merely a feeling, nor is it a passive belief; it requires active, involved commitment. “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (A of F 1:12.) It is our involvement that will plant the first seeds of patriotism in the hearts and minds of our children. These seeds will be sown as our children watch us:
Display our national flag on national holidays, showing respect for it at all times.
Take time on national holidays to actually recognize as a family what or who is being honored, rather than rushing off to the beach or to the mountains as if it were just another day off.
Teach about brave patriots who sacrificed to establish our nation.
Personally express pride and love for our country.
Discuss together the candidates and issues before elections, attend local government meetings, or write a letter as a family to an elected official regarding a matter of concern.
Watch television news and issues programs and read and discuss editorials.
Above all, let us not forget the influence our example has on our children. They develop attitudes of respect for law and country as they see us exercise our franchise to vote, observe traffic laws, and obey such signs as “Do Not Litter.” Example is one of the most powerful of teaching tools. As we strive today, despite limited time and resources, to be good citizens of our neighborhoods, communities, and nations, we will also be teaching our children the attitudes and skills they will need to improve our communities tomorrow.