Lesson 44: Being Good Citizens

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), 255–59


Purpose

To encourage Church members to be good citizens by participating in government, obeying the law, and strengthening the community.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:

    1. a.

      Doctrine and Covenants 58:21–22, 26–28; 98:4–10; 134; Articles of Faith 1:12.

    2. b.

      Our Heritage, pages 133–34, focusing on Elder Ezra Taft Benson’s service as Secretary of Agriculture for the United States of America.

  2. 2.

    Review the material for this lesson in the Class Member Study Guide (35686). Plan ways to refer to the material during the lesson.

Note to the teacher: Governments and laws vary among different countries and cultures. Be sensitive to local conditions as you decide what to discuss in this lesson. In some areas it may be best to spend the majority of class time discussing the third section of the lesson. Avoid discussions that encourage controversy or criticism. Remember that Church leaders have always instructed us to work within the law to bring about needed changes.

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.

Explain that in 1952, while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Ezra Taft Benson was asked by Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States, to serve as the nation’s Secretary of Agriculture. With the encouragement of Church President David O. McKay, Elder Benson accepted the assignment and served well. In his first general conference address after becoming Secretary of Agriculture, he said:

“I have been happy in the privilege to serve, in a small way at least, this great country and the government under which we live. I am grateful to the First Presidency and my brethren that they have been willing, not only to give consent, but also to give me their blessing as I responded to the call of the chief executive” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1953, 40).

  • Why do you think Elder Benson was encouraged to accept such a responsibility?

Explain that Church leaders have encouraged us to be good citizens and to strengthen our communities and nations. There are many ways to be good citizens. These include participating in government or political processes, obeying the law, and serving in our communities. This lesson discusses the Lord’s teachings regarding government and good citizenship.

Discussion and Application

Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. Participating in government

Explain that in August 1835, a general assembly of the Church at Kirtland, Ohio, unanimously approved a declaration of beliefs about government. This declaration is recorded in D&C 134.

  • What are the purposes of civil governments? (See D&C 134:1, 6–8, 11. Answers could include those listed below.)

    1. a.

      “For the good and safety of society” (D&C 134:1).

    2. b.

      “For the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty” (D&C 134:6).

    3. c.

      “For the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief” (D&C 134:7).

    4. d.

      “For redress of all wrongs and grievances” (D&C 134:11).

  • What can we do as citizens to help fulfill these purposes of government?

Read the following statement by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve:

“As Church members, we live under the banner of many different flags. How important it is that we understand our place and our position in the lands in which we live! We should be familiar with the history, heritage, and laws of the lands that govern us. In those countries that allow us the right to participate in the affairs of government, we should use our free agency and be actively engaged in supporting and defending the principles of truth, right, and freedom” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 87; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 72).

  • How can we support and defend truth, right, and freedom through our participation in government?

  • Doctrine and Covenants 134 teaches that we should seek for and uphold leaders who “administer the law in equity and justice” (verse 3). What other qualities should we look for when choosing leaders? (See, for example, D&C 98:10.) How can we prepare ourselves to choose leaders wisely?

Explain that as we participate in government and political processes, we should do so with the understanding that “the Church is politically neutral. It does not endorse political parties, platforms, or candidates. Candidates should not imply that they are endorsed by the Church or its leaders. Church leaders and members should avoid any statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of political parties or candidates” (Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders [1998], 325).

2. Obeying the laws of the land

  • What is our responsibility regarding the laws of the land? (See D&C 58:21–22; 98:4–6; 134:5–6; Articles of Faith 1:12.) How can parents, teachers, and leaders teach children to obey the laws of the land?

  • How should we treat law-enforcement officers and other civil officers? (See D&C 134:3, 6.) How can we show our appreciation for their efforts?

  • What relationship should exist between religion and civil governments? (See D&C 134:4, 9. These verses teach that government should not impose laws upon religion unless religious exercise infringes upon the rights and liberties of others.) How can religion strengthen government?

3. Strengthening the community

Read the following statement from the Church Handbook of Instructions:

“Members should do their civic duty by supporting measures that strengthen society morally, economically, and culturally. Members are urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families” (Book 2, page 325).

Write Strengthen the Community on the chalkboard.

  • What are some ways we can strengthen our community? (Use the following information to discuss or add to class members’ responses. Write the headings on the chalkboard as you discuss them.)

Serve others

  • Why is it important that Church members serve in their communities?

  • What are some community service projects that you or other Church members have participated in? (Invite class members to share these experiences.) How did you become aware of the need? What did the group do to make the project successful?

  • What are some individual, informal ways that you or other Church members have given community service?

  • What opportunities for service exist in our community today? (For some suggestions, see the second additional teaching idea.) How can we become more aware of opportunities for community service? (Answers could include reading newspapers, discussing community needs in Church leadership meetings, and meeting with public officials to discuss how we can help.)

  • In what ways does community service benefit the community? What are some of the ways we are blessed when we serve?

Serve in elected or appointed public service positions

Read the following statement from the First Presidency to Church members:

“We strongly urge men and women to be willing to serve on school boards, city and county councils and commissions, state legislatures, and other high offices of either election or appointment” (First Presidency letter, 15 Jan. 1998).

  • What are some examples of public service positions in our community? How are people in such positions able to bring about good in a community?

Support worthy causes or activities

  • Read D&C 58:27 with class members. How can we become “anxiously engaged” in good causes in the community?

Share the following account of a Latter-day Saint who made a significant contribution to her community and nation by supporting a worthy cause:

“While Dolina Smith was serving as Young Women president in the Toronto Ontario Stake in 1986, she asked an expert to speak at a fireside about the growing problem of pornography. Later she became involved with a nationwide group called Canadians for Decency, which mobilizes thousands of anti-pornography Canadians to contact their elected officials as specific concerns about pornography arise. …

“… In 1990 her involvement increased when she was named chairperson of Canadians for Decency. In this new role she has given numerous presentations before the provincial and federal governing bodies that make and change pornography laws. She has also spoken to many groups of citizens who work with local governments to clamp down on the spread of pornography in their communities” (Donald S. Conkey, “Together We Can Make a Difference,” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 68).

  • What are some worthy causes we can support in the community? How can we appropriately fight evil influences in our community?

  • What are some challenges to serving in the community? How can we overcome these challenges? (One challenge may be scheduling the time we need to serve. One way to overcome this challenge is for family members or ward members to serve together, when possible. This allows a family to be together rather than apart while serving.)

Conclusion

Share the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve:

“In the Church, we often state the couplet, ‘Be in the world but not of the world.’ … Perhaps we should state the couplet … as two separate admonitions. First, ‘Be in the world.’ Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and involvement. Second, ‘Be not of the world.’ Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right. …

“Members of the Church need to influence more than we are influenced. We should work to stem the tide of sin and evil instead of passively being swept along by it. We each need to help solve the problem rather than avoid or ignore it” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 100–101; or Ensign, May 1989, 80).

Emphasize that as Latter-day Saints we should be good citizens regardless of where we live. Encourage class members to do what they can to support good government and strengthen their communities.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Report on volunteer services in the community

In advance, assign a ward or branch member to report on the structured volunteer services in your community and how to participate in these services. Or invite a class member who is involved in some type of community service to explain what he or she does.

As part of the discussion, emphasize that we do not need to wait for calls or assignments from Church leaders before we serve the community as individuals or a group.

2. Ideas for community service

If class members have difficulty thinking of ways to give community service, you may want to suggest some of the following ideas. As part of this discussion, have class members read Matthew 25:34–40.

Health services: Make clothes and food for people who are sick; take care of sick children in a hospital or in your neighborhood; take flowers to patients in hospitals who have no families; on special holidays, remember people who are sick.

Social services: Help organize or lead groups that help youth develop skills; demonstrate sewing, cooking, crafts, or other skills to those in orphanages and community schools or to those who are disabled; read to the elderly in a rest home; teach language skills to those who do not speak your language; read to the blind; visit and talk to elderly people in your own family and neighborhood.

3. Strengthening the community through acts of courtesy

Share the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“It is amazing what courtesy will accomplish. It is tragic what a lack of courtesy can bring. We see it every day as we move in the traffic of the cities in which we live. A moment spent in letting someone else get into the line does good for the one who is helped, and it also does good for the one who helps. Something happens inside of us when we are courteous and deferential toward others. It is all part of a refining process which, if persisted in, will change our very natures” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 70; or Ensign, May 1996, 49).

  • What opportunities do we have each day to show courtesy to others? (Answers could include when we are working, driving, shopping, or simply walking down the street.) How can courtesy strengthen a community?