On August 17, 1835, a general assembly of the Church met in Kirtland, Ohio, to consider the proposed contents of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Because the Prophet Joseph Smith was visiting Saints in Michigan, Oliver Cowdery presided at the assembly. In the meeting, the Saints unanimously voted to include a declaration that Oliver Cowdery presented regarding the beliefs of the Church concerning government and laws.
Invite students to imagine that they are forming a new country. Appoint one student to be a leader in this new government. Invite that student to bring his or her scriptures to the front of the class. Ask the student leader the following question:
What laws would you like to enact for the people in this new country to follow? (You might want to write the student’s responses on the board.)
Ask the class:
What do you think of the laws your leader has established? How well do you plan to follow them?
What do you think is the purpose of a government?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 134 contains a document that declares the Church’s beliefs concerning governments and laws. On August 17, 1835, as final preparations were being made to print the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Oliver Cowdery presided over a general assembly of Church members. He presented the document, and the members in attendance voted unanimously to include it in the book. Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams, the Second Counselor in the First Presidency, were not present at this meeting. They were preaching the gospel in the state of Michigan. When they returned, Joseph Smith allowed the document to be included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Invite the student leader to read the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 134 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for why the Saints felt the declaration needed to be published. Ask students to report what they find.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 134:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along. Ask half of the class to look for who instituted the idea of governments and for the primary purpose of governments. Invite the other half to look for what God holds government officials accountable for. Ask each group to report what they find. As students identify the following truths, write them on the board:
Governments were instituted by God for the benefit of mankind.
Government officials are accountable to God to act for the good and safety of society.
In what ways can government leaders act for the good and safety of society?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for three rights governments should protect for each individual. Before the student reads, you may want to explain that the word inviolate means safe, or not violated.
According to verse 2, what rights should governments secure for their citizens? (“The free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” You may want to tell students that President Ezra Taft Benson said that “life, liberty, [and] property [are] mankind’s three great rights” [“Our Divine Constitution,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 4].)
What do you think it means to exercise your conscience? Why is it important to be free to exercise your conscience?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 134:4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for another right that governments should protect. (Before the student reads, you may want to explain that the word amenable means accountable and that a civil magistrate is a public official who administers the law.) Ask students to report what they find.
Why do you think it is important for people to be accountable to God, not governments, for the way they exercise their religion?
What do you think it means to restrain crime and punish guilt without trying to control conscience or suppress the freedom of the soul?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 134:3 aloud. Ask the class to look for something that citizens of some countries can do to help ensure that their government leaders will uphold the law. (To help students understand the verse, you may need to explain that a republic is a government in which the people elect leaders to represent them and that a sovereign is a supreme ruler, such as a king or queen.)
How can the “voice of the people” seek and uphold good leaders? (If necessary, point out that the phrase “voice of the people” refers to the practice of voting for leaders.)
Refer to the student you appointed to be the leader of a new country at the beginning of class. Invite the class to nominate more students to assist this leader. Then conduct an election so the class can elect two of the students who have been nominated. Invite these new leaders to bring their scriptures and join the first leader (the one you appointed earlier) at the front of the class. Ask these three leaders to explain what they have learned so far about their responsibility as government officials.
Ask the three student leaders to list some responsibilities citizens should have in their new country. Invite a student to list their answers on the board. Then ask the class:
What do you think of this list of responsibilities? How would you change this list?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 134:5–6 aloud. Ask the class to look for citizens’ responsibilities. (As the student reads, you may want to ask him or her to pause periodically so you can define the following words: inalienable refers to something that cannot be taken away; sedition refers to rebellion against government leaders; deference means compliance or submission; supplanted means replaced; anarchy means lawlessness—the absence of rules and government or rebellion against rules and government.)
According to verses 5–6, what responsibility do we have toward our government? (Students should express something similar to the following truth: We are to sustain and uphold the government where we live. Consider writing this principle on the board. Point out that this principle includes an assumption that our government maintains laws that protect us in our “inherent and inalienable rights.”)
Which article of faith does this principle remind you of? (You may want to invite students to read or recite the twelfth article of faith.)
How can we as citizens sustain and uphold the government? (Answers may include that we can obey the laws, encourage others to obey, serve in the community, show respect for government officials, and vote.)
To help students identify another truth about upholding governments and laws, ask the following question:
According to verse 6, how does God feel about our obedience to divine laws and human laws? (After students have responded, write the following on the board: God wants us to respect and obey divine laws and human laws.)
To help students answer the previous question, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how we should treat the law of the land when it goes against our beliefs:
“In the case of a conflict between the requirements made by the revealed word of God, and those imposed by the secular law, which of these authorities would the members of the Church be bound to obey? …
“Pending the overruling by [God] in favor of religious liberty, it is the duty of the saints to submit themselves to the laws of their country. Nevertheless, they should use every proper method, as citizens or subjects of their several governments, to secure for themselves and for all men the boon of freedom in religious service. It is not required of them to suffer without protest [the] imposition by lawless persecutors, or through the operation of unjust laws; but their protests should be offered in legal and proper order. The saints have practically demonstrated their acceptance of the doctrine that it is better to suffer evil than to do wrong by purely human opposition to unjust authority” (The Articles of Faith, 12th ed. , 422, 423]).
Invite students to think about people they know who obey these principles of sustaining and upholding their government and the law. You might ask a few students to share how these citizens uphold the government. Then ask students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals about something they will do themselves to sustain and uphold the government and the law.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 134:8 by explaining that governments have a responsibility to punish those who commit crimes and that citizens have a responsibility to help “in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.”
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 134:7, 9–10, 12 by explaining that Oliver Cowdery wrote that governments should establish laws that protect religious observance but that they should not favor one religion over another. In addition, he wrote that religious societies have a right to punish their disorderly members by excommunicating them or withdrawing their fellowship from them but that such societies do not have authority to make judgments or inflict punishments that would take their members’ property or harm them physically.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 134:11 by explaining that according to this verse, citizens should be allowed to ask their government for “redress” if they have been wronged. The word redress means to make something right. The verse also includes a declaration that citizens are justified in defending themselves and others when there is an urgent need and the government is unable to help.
Ask students to share what they appreciate about their country or community. Testify of the importance of sustaining and upholding governments and laws.