“God delegates to us, His children, the opportunity and responsibility to establish laws and legal systems to govern human relations and conduct,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in an address to members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society during their ninth annual fireside on February 4. He spoke on the role that law plays in allowing individuals to reach their full potential in this life and the next.
“I want to reference not only matters of our codes and courts, but also the laws of God,” he explained, referencing teachings of Joseph Smith to show how God’s laws enable us to gain knowledge that allows us to progress and achieve exaltation.
Agency Is Vital
Vitally important to the role of law in our progression is our use of agency. “Our own choices will always be critical to what we become,” he said. “And the capacity and power to choose are . . . dependent on laws instituted by or under the authority of God.” These laws “link particular actions to fixed outcomes,” which gives meaning to the power to choose.
Elder Christofferson said that “while differing laws may apply in different parts of God’s creation, the laws that do apply do not themselves vary.” For us, this means that the pertinent laws do not change from person to person but apply equally to each of us. These laws are those that should be referenced as we “establish laws and legal systems to govern human relations and conducts.”
Progress toward Destiny
Using as a basis standards taken from section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants—first, “that laws are made and administered for the ‘good and safety of society,’ and [second] that they must secure to each individual the rights of life, property, and conscience,” Elder Christofferson said that a legal environment can be created that allows man to “progress toward his divine destiny, to become what God has ordained he may become.” He referenced a revelation given to Joseph Smith to show that our submission to man’s laws provide us protection that enables us to “act to obey and serve God.”
After quoting a letter in which Pope John Paul II argued that man must obey universal moral norms in order to experience “authentic moral growth,” Elder Christofferson said that “insofar as humanly possible, man’s laws and legal systems should be tied to and reflect the same purpose as God’s laws—to foster our becoming all that we can become here and hereafter.” He explained that the light of Christ given to each person allows them to “instinctively appreciate the value of law that has valid moral underpinnings.”
Use Legal Means
Elder Christofferson clarified that he did not mean to force on anyone a particular application of the divine principles we understand to be true. Instead, he said, we should advocate moral laws by participating in the ongoing legislative discussion. He used as an example the story of William Wilberforce, who was highly influential in the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain at the beginning of the 19th century. Wilberforce worked for eighteen years as a Member of Parliament before his Abolition Bill was carried through both Houses, using legal means to bring Great Britain’s laws to “a higher moral standard of equity and justice.”
As we strive to bring our legal system in line with moral standards, we should focus on protecting and defending individual agency and accountability, he said, “because agency is so basic to realizing our God-given potential.”
Seek Divine Guidance
We should apply the same practices we use in many decisions—personal study and reflection that prepare us to receive revelation—to creating the law. We should consider “concepts regarding the standards, direction, and even the specific of what the law should be, how the legal system should be structured and how it should operate, and then ask God if it be right.”
In this effort, our focus should be to foster the environment that God’s laws are intended to provide, one in which we are able to achieve exaltation. “Rather than seeing law as an instrument of domination, it is our mission to use it as an enabling power to help men and women achieve greater independence and ultimate potential.” This occurs when we use the divine order as a pattern for our “earthly governmental and legal systems.”
Elder Christofferson concluded by reminding us that “we cannot achieve ultimate justice apart from Jesus Christ,” and that “the greatest good we can do in helping others become what they can become will be to lead them to the Savior.” He bore testimony of the Savior’s power to right wrongs and to “compensate for our inadequacy and justify us before that law which enables us to become joint heirs of eternal life with Him,” and ended with his witness that Christ lives.
Also during the fireside, Elder Christofferson was awarded the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the field of law.
The fireside was held in the Conference Center’s Little Theater in Salt Lake City and was broadcast and distributed to chapters throughout the world.
Read a recent address from Elder Dallin H. Oaks regarding freedom of religion on Prophets and Apostles Speak Today