What did the Lord mean when He said, “I, the Lord God, make you free?” Freedom has been defined as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” 1 Are we doing all that we should to preserve freedom wherever we live? Since the dawn of time, the Lord has desired that His children would be free to exercise their agency and choose the path they would follow.
In August 1833, in consequence of the persecution directed at the Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, the Lord stated His will concerning freedom for His children and especially for His Church as it moved forward through those dark and difficult days:
“And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. …
“And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
“I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free” (D&C 98:4, 7–8; emphasis added).
Our Responsibility to Preserve Freedoms
The Lord has placed upon His children the responsibility of preserving their precious freedoms. Mosiah urged his people to accept responsibility for their government and their future with this counsel: “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).
What are the obligations of Church members today to encourage freedom among all people where they live?
Do not forsake the Lord, and support righteous laws.
In the days of wickedness caused by Amalickiah and his followers, Captain Moroni raised the “title of liberty,” praying to the Lord that He would preserve their land as “a chosen land, and the land of liberty” (Alma 46:17; see also Alma 46:12–16). Upon seeing the title of liberty and hearing Captain Moroni’s invitation to covenant with the Lord, the people “came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God” (Alma 46:21; see also Alma 46:19–20).
What behaviors in our own lives indicate our willingness to never forsake the Lord our God? Are our freedoms sufficiently important to us that we would figuratively “come running” in support of righteous laws or proposals wherever and whenever they appear in our community or nation?
Be humble and keep covenants.
In the early days of the restored Church, the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, had sacrificed to construct the first temple in this dispensation and were enjoying the spiritual blessings of that holy edifice. The Lord had earlier declared that the Saints would eventually gather to Independence, Missouri—the City of Zion (see D&C 57:1–3). The move would be difficult and costly, but it appeared that an improvement in economic conditions in Kirtland would help the Saints prepare for their departure. However, at the same time, many members of the Church were caught up in land speculation that resulted in increased greed and debt. Greed led to apostasy and then to conflict that greatly weakened the kingdom.
As a consequence of their transgressions and of deep cultural and religious differences, Church members encountered difficulties with the Missouri citizens. Some Saints were at odds with each other because they were unwilling to consecrate their properties to the Lord as He had commanded them and as they had covenanted to do. Their pride and failure to keep their covenants in those matters caused the Lord to withdraw His blessings, thus resulting in the loss of their properties and their civil freedoms. In that time of trial and need, the Saints learned the difficult lesson that the Lord removes His protecting hand when His children do not keep their covenants (see D&C 101:1–2, 6–7).
Uphold the law of the land, and seek leaders who are honest and wise.
To the Saints in Zion the Lord said: “The law … maketh you free. … And good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:8, 10).
In modern scripture the Lord’s prophets have clearly stated the proper role of governments:
“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 no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:1–2).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (A of F 1:12).
The Lord has also decreed: “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).
Citizens of every land, where permitted, should vigorously cherish their right to vote and should act upon that privilege at every opportunity by supporting wise and honorable candidates. Good and wise leaders elected by and working cooperatively with responsible citizens will seek to protect their freedoms. Failure to actively support such candidates with one’s vote may result in leaders who are elected, as Mosiah said, by “the lesser part of the people” who may “desire that which is not right” (Mosiah 29:26). What a sacred privilege and responsibility is ours to participate with other like-minded people to ensure that basic freedoms are preserved wherever we reside.
Citizenship and Freedom in a Global Society
Children at the Wimbledon Park First School in London, England, have declared that a good citizen is someone who:
Has empathy for other people.
Cares and shares.
Does not judge others based on their color or appearance.
Cares about the community and the world. 2
These British schoolchildren are wise indeed.
The Lord holds us accountable for establishing governments and freedoms in our society wherever we live (see D&C 134:1, 5), and we live to the extent possible under law. Preserving freedom of religion, speech, and assembly begins in our homes and in our families. As parents show their own love and respect of these liberties, children will also adopt them.
Prophets have taught that the influence of parents and the home is immeasurable in establishing standards that will bless every nation. President Gordon B. Hinckley, while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught, “I know of no better way to inculcate love for country than for parents to pray before their children for the President and the Congress or the [King or] Queen and the Parliament of the land of their citizenship.” 3
President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982) of the First Presidency referred to the role of parents with this counsel: “Children who are taught obedience, to honor and obey the law, to have faith in God and to keep his commandments, will, as they grow up, honor their parents and be a credit to them; and they will be able to meet and solve their problems, find greater success and joy in life, and contribute greatly to the solution of the problems now causing the world such great concern. It is up to the parents to see to it that their children are prepared through obedience to law for the positions of leadership they may occupy in the future, where their responsibility will be to bring peace and righteousness to the world.” 4
President David O. McKay (1873–1970), then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, counseled: “The home is truly the cell-unit of society; and parenthood is next to Godhood. The relationship of the children to the parents should be one which would enable those children to carry out ideal citizenship as they become related to the State and to the larger forms of society. The secret of good citizenship lies in the home.” 5
Oh, that the people of every land might be free! May we as Latter-day Saints remember the lessons not only from Church history but also from events in those countries wherever we may live. The prophets have consistently taught that righteousness in our lives and in our homes, together with obedience to the laws of our country and the laws of God, will bring His blessings and will be the foundation of civil and political freedom.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (2003), “freedom,” 499.
See United Kingdom and Ireland Primary Schools, http://www.timeforcitizenship.com/teachers/citizenship_main.asp.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1963, 127–28.
“The Blessings of Obedience,” Improvement Era, June 1970, 32.
In Conference Report, June 1919, 77.