Latter-day Saints value the organization and order that good government provides and believe in being responsible citizens of the nations and communities to which they belong. Citizenship refers to the obligation of Church members to fulfill their duties to their nations and communities in lawful ways that are consistent with “their inherent and inalienable rights” (D&C 134:5).
Governments and Their Citizens
“Governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and . . . 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” (D&C 134:1). Governments are responsible to enact and hold inviolate laws that “will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:2). With respect to freedom of religion, governments are responsible to not prescribe “rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion . . . [or] suppress the freedom of the soul” (D&C 134:4). Indeed, Latter-day Saints believe that “governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief” (D&C 134:7).
When rulers and governments have fulfilled their responsibility to protect these basic rights, the Lord has blessed them. However, He has repeatedly warned against the evil that comes when leaders fail to protect these rights (see 1 Samuel 8:5–9; Mosiah 29:16–17). Governments that do their business by the “voice of the people” provide a greater measure of protection to the rights of their citizens because “it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right” (Mosiah 29:26). Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, believed in the voice of the people, saying, “It is rare that the public sentiment decides immorally or unwisely, and the individual who differs from it ought to distrust and examine his own opinion.”1 Members of the Church who are citizens in nations that do their “business by the voice of the people” bear an especially important and sacred responsibility as citizens to raise their voices for good and right causes, including the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion.
Moral Values and Good Citizenship
Members of the Church seek to live according to the moral values taught by Jesus Christ and His servants and to be an influence for sound moral values in society and government.2 John Adams, another Founding Father of the United States, declared, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”3 James Madison, known as the Father of the United States Constitution, affirmed this when he said, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”4 Freedom is inextricably linked to our morality, and religious believers and institutions are essential to preserving morality.5
No nation past or present can preserve basic rights and security to its people without a moral foundation. President Thomas S. Monson has observed, “Behaviors which once were considered inappropriate and immoral are now not only tolerated but also viewed by ever so many as acceptable.”6 “The moral compass of the masses,” he has proclaimed, “has gradually shifted to an ‘almost anything goes’ position.”7 Individual moral choices affect the larger society in which we live. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The Father’s plan and His Beloved Son’s gift optimistically endow humans with both the ability and the responsibility to make choices with the hope . . . and a belief that free people will use their liberty to choose good over evil, right over wrong, virtue over vice.”8
Good Citizenship Requires Involvement
To live as a free people in safety and peace, we must become informed and involved. “The . . . happiness of any community,” declared the Prophet Joseph Smith, “goes hand in hand with the knowledge possessed by the people.”9 As members of the Church prayerfully study the issues and decisions facing today’s communities and nations, they will be able to discern and understand how to apply eternal principles to issues being debated by politicians and public officials.
Latter-day Saints are encouraged to be informed and participate in civic and political activities, “to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families”10 in accordance with the laws of their respective governments. Where possible, this includes a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise (see D&C 98:10). Likewise, “Church members are encouraged to consider serving in elected or appointed public offices in local and national government” and to “support measures that strengthen the moral fabric of society, particularly those designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”11
In addition, an interest in the common good can inspire Church members to participate in a variety of activities that improve the communities and nations in which they live.12 The Savior “went about doing good” in the neighborhoods of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee (see Acts 10:38). He cared for the poor and the needy (see Mark 1:32–34). He comforted mourners and those with disabilities (see Matthew 9:27–31; 15:29–31). He attended social events and religious ceremonies (see Mark 2:13–17; John 2:1–11, 23). He socialized with and showed respect for people of different races and cultures (see John 4:4–42). He associated with dignitaries and the noble class as well as with those who were cast out from society (see Matthew 8:1–4; John 4:46–54). A concerned and active citizen today might serve at a local food bank, donate blood, or organize neighborhood gatherings and activities. Simple acts of caring and service for neighbors or communities, such as volunteering in cleanup efforts or serving at hospitals, nursing homes, or convalescing facilities make the community a better place to live. All who can should exercise the right to vote in national and local elections and follow the counsel of the Apostle Paul to pray for the wisdom of civic leaders, “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
Elder Quentin L. Cook taught that it is hard “to change society at large, but we must work to improve the moral culture that surrounds us. Latter-day Saints in every country should be good citizens, participate in civic affairs, educate themselves on the issues, and vote.”13 President Thomas S. Monson has encouraged all of us to “be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths, as well as to our own,” and to “be men and women of honesty and integrity in everything we do.”14
- Thomas Jefferson, in H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (2005), 114–15.
- See Mosiah 29:38, where the people’s voice becomes sovereign and they agree to answer for their own sins.
- John Adams, “Message from John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts,” Oct. 11, 1798.
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- James Madison, in Russ Walton, Biblical Principles of Importance to Godly Christians (1984), 361.
- George Washington wrote, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion” (“The Address of General Washington to the People of the United States on His Declining of the Presidency of the United States,” American Daily Advertiser, Sept. 19, 1796)
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- Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82.
- Thomas S. Monson, “Priesthood Power,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 66.
- Jeffrey R. Holland, “Faith, Family, and Religious Freedom,” address given at the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2013.
- Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, Aug. 15, 1842, 889.
- Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010), 21.1.29.
- Handbook 2, 21.1.29.
- Benjamin Franklin, for example, was a civic-minded man. His extraordinary interest in the common good led him to invent many things beneficial to his community, such as a library, a fire brigade, a neighborhood watch group, a hospital, a militia, and a college (see Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life , 102).
- Quentin L. Cook, “Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 90–91.
- Thomas S. Monson, “Until We Meet Again,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 106–7.