President Heber J. Grant was set apart as President of the Church in 1918, the year World War I ended. He served until his death in 1945, the year World War II ended. He led the Church throughout the economic trials of the Great Depression, which devastated families and communities throughout the world. As he encouraged and helped the Saints through financial depression, war, and recovery from war, governments were changing all over the world. These changes influenced the role government played in individuals’ lives, and they also affected people’s feelings about their governments.
During these challenging times, President Grant counseled the Saints to be active in addressing issues that affected their local, regional, and national governments. But he did more than give counsel; he fulfilled this responsibility himself. For example, despite his busy life as President of the Church, he worked vigorously to support Prohibition, a movement in the United States to outlaw the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
President Grant was loyal to the laws of his own country, and he taught that the Constitution of the United States had been instituted by God. “From my childhood days,” he said, “I have understood that we believe absolutely that the Constitution of our country was an inspired instrument, and that God directed those who created it and those who defended the independence of this nation.”1
At the time of President Grant’s service as an Apostle and as President of the Church, the Church’s population consisted predominantly of people in the United States of America. Thus, much of what he said about government concerned the United States. However, his teachings are statements of truth that can be applied throughout the world.
I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is the duty of every Latter-day Saint to sustain and live the law.2
Following is the declaration of the Church contained in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants, regarding our belief in governments and laws in general, as adopted by a unanimous vote of a general assembly of the Church over a century ago:
“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.
“We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same, and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people, if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.
“We believe that religion is instituted of God, and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
“We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.
“We believe that every man should be honored in his station: rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent, and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws, all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man, and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
“We believe that rulers, states, and governments, have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right, in justice, to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws, and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
“We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility, all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.
“We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered, and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members as citizens, denied.” [D&C 134:1–9.]
Please remember that this was published way back in 1835, as the position of the Church, and it has never changed.3
The meeting of the Saints in this General Conference [October 1940] finds the world still war-torn [speaking of World War II]. Millions of the Lord’s children are suffering and mourning. All the woes and misery that attend armed conflict are spending their force upon them. …
Our brethren and sisters are found on both sides of this terrible struggle. On each side they are bound to their country by all the ties of blood, relationship, and patriotism. …
The Saints on either side have no course open to them but to support that government to which they owe allegiance. But their prayers should go up day and night that God will turn the hearts of their leaders towards peace, that the curse of war may end.4
As we respect the authorities in the nation of which we form a part, and uphold and sustain the government, just in that proportion are we legal citizens, and our government will respect and uphold us.5
When any law is enacted and becomes a constitutional law, no man who spends his money to help men break that law can truthfully say that he is a loyal citizen.6
I wish that I could impress this sentiment [from Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States,] which I am about to read, upon the heart of every Latter-day Saint who shall hear it:
“Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries and colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling books and almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.” [See “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” quoted in The Speeches of Abraham Lincoln (1908), 6.]7
I pray for our country and ask the Lord to bless those who preside in the nation; in the states, in the cities, and in the counties. I pray God to inspire the people that they will obey His commands, and elect good men to office; that they will bury their political differences and seek for good men to hold office, and not men who connive with those who are breaking the laws of our country. It is one of the Articles of our Faith to obey and uphold the laws of the land [see Articles of Faith 1:12]. May God help us to do it.8
It has been whispered around frequently, and I hear the murmur now, that the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ standing at the head and holding the Priesthood desire this man or that man or the other man elected to office.
The Presidency of the Church, so far as they are concerned, allow every man, woman, and child who is old enough to vote, to vote according to his or her own conviction. But we do appeal to all men and women, realizing the responsibility resting upon them, to seek God our Heavenly Father to guide them politically as well as religiously; and to stand for right.9
While I deny emphatically that there is any mingling in the sense in which the world puts it of church and state among the Latter-day Saints, I do not deny for a moment that if I, as a member of this Church, have any power or influence which I can wield in the endeavor to get the best man to serve the people, I shall exercise it as long as I live.10
Politics reminds me very much of the measles. The measles don’t hurt much if you will take a little saffron [herbal] tea or something else to keep them on the surface. But if they once set in on you, they turn your hide yellow and sometimes make you cross-eyed. So do not let politics set in on you. I believe absolutely in the best men for the office. I believe in honest, upright, good men being chosen to occupy places and positions.11
That the Lord may help him to think straight, and to pursue a straight course regardless of personal advantage, factional interest, or political persuasion, should be the daily prayer of every Latter-day Saint.12
In his farewell address to the American people George Washington [the first president of the United States] said:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.
“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious principle.
“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” [See “George Washington: Farewell Address,” in William Benton, pub., The Annals of America, 21 vols. (1968–87), 3:612.]13
We … declare that God is grieved by war and that he will hold subject to the eternal punishments of his will those who wage it unrighteously.
We affirm that all international controversies may be settled by [peaceful] means if nations will but deal unselfishly and righteously one with another. We appeal to the leaders of all nations and to the people themselves thus to mend and adjust their differences, lest the vials of God’s wrath be poured out upon the earth, for he has said he will visit his wrath upon the wicked without measure.14
God is not pleased either with war, or with the wickedness which always heralds it. … To all the nations, we say adjust your differences by peaceful means. This is the Lord’s way.15
No man can do that which is dishonest, or break laws of his country and be a true Latter-day Saint. No nation and no leaders of nations can do wrong, and break their obligations, but what they are just as much under condemnation before God and man as the other individual who does wrong. Truth will prevail. “Uphold the right, though fierce the fight,” should be the motto of every Latter-day Saint.16
In what ways can members of the Church further the cause of good government?
Why is it important that we exercise our right to vote when we have the opportunity to do so? When we have the opportunity to vote, what can we do to prepare ourselves to fulfill this duty?
How can we help the leaders of our governments operate according to moral principles?
In what ways can individuals and families help improve their communities?
What can we do in our homes to encourage family members to respect the law?