Article of Faith 12: Obey the Government. Always?

Brian Johnstoncivil disobedience, Government, history, international, Mormon, obedience, war 45 Comments

Article of Faith 12:

“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in obeying the laws of the country in which they live. Members of the Church are counseled to be good citizens, to participate in civil government and the political process, and to render community service as concerned citizens.” reference:

Obeying the law and being good citizens in the larger community is a foundational principle of our Church. In the 20th century, our consistency with this principle opened surprising doors in countries closed to other religious denominations.

Freiburg TempleThe former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) allowed the LDS Church to build a temple in Freiburg in the late 1980’s. It was still a communist, cold-war, Soviet satellite nation. The peaceful and obedient example set by members of the LDS Church trapped behind the Iron Curtain after WWII gave the East German government the level of confidence they needed to accept such a religious structure in their land. The Freiburg temple was actually the FIRST temple built on German soil. The West German temple was built a couple years later.

The positive aspects of being engaged with, and supportive of governments, being obedient to the laws of the land, and honoring our communities has been a great tool to reach out with the Gospel.

I would like to pose this question: Where do we draw the line?  When do we have to say “no?”

There certainly has to be a point where we can not obey the law. Jesus answered the Pharisees and Caesar\'s CoinsHerodians “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” At some points in history though, “Caesar” crosses the line.

Is it acceptable to go to war and kill other people for our rulers? I’m not talking about defending ourselves from direct attack, but to “protect our international interests.”

Is it ok for members to actively support a government that represses basic freedoms?

East German Border Guards

Is it noble for members to actively support a government that imprisons and tortures political dissidents?

North Korean BorderNorth Korean Border Guards

At what point do faithful LDS members have an obligation to actively oppose their rulers?

What is your personal line in the sand?  I would love to hear what you all think about this personally.

[Please note, I will actively moderate rants about specific countries or political parties that do not add to a constructive and positive discussion.  Thank you in advance for that cooperation!]

Comments 45

  1. There is very little in the gospel that has “always” attached to it.

    For me, there is no line in the sand. I don’t really believe in them. Moral decisions of that nature, dependent on the Spirit as they must be, have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

  2. I can’t believe that exercising our rights as citizens of our country in opposing a particular governmental issue would ever put us out of harmony with the Church and AoF 12. I think that we are expected to exercise that right regularly. Plus I don’t see the word “blindly” or “always” in there.

  3. There are always exceptions to the rules. For example, the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party. There can be a righteous rebellion against a government can’t there. I like the post.

  4. The Doc. and Cov. states, and LDS history has examples, the the Saints must use all legal means to address wrongs and change laws. If that isn’t possible, then it is left to G-d to enforce judgements. After that the choices are to submit to the government or leave.

  5. Post

    So what are the exceptions then?

    In WWII, the ruling Nazi party rounded up Jews for extermination. They were the legally elected government. Was it a violation of the 12th Article of Faith to disobey the government and hide Jews in your attic? I am purposely throwing out an extreme example.

    Mormons weren’t there for the Revolutionary War in America. Would the members of the Church have been Loyalists back in that day had we existed then?

    The East German members enjoyed more religious freedoms under the communist regime because they did not rise up in revolt like many others had done. It seems like a trade off.

    1. The exceptions are very clear. We only honor governments when they sustain constitutional principles i.e. life, liberty and property. I suggest you google ‘The Proper Role of Government’ by ezra taft benson. he has a brilliant talk on this that can be viewed on youtube.

  6. “Mormons weren’t there for the Revolutionary War in America. Would the members of the Church have been Loyalists back in that day had we existed then?”

    I’ve wondered the same thing, and I think many of us would have been Loyalists. As Pres. Packer’s talk pointed out in this last conference, even after the early Saints were forced to flee West, they still supported the Constitution and U.S. government, generally. I think the only thing that might cause us to revolt is if our freedom to worship was taken away. (But of course, we did stop practicing polygamy under pressure from the gov’t).

  7. We have the example of Moroni threatening Pahoran with a coup d’etat. BY openly defied the US gov. There are many times when the “legal means to address wrongs and change laws” was not enough. I think V brings up a good question–is there any way for us to know, an identifiable “line in the sand” that indicates it’s time to take extraordinary measures, like revolt?

    I find the example of the East Germans an interesting one. We are told that the Revolutionary War prepared this land for the freedoms necessary for the Restoration. That without the freedoms secured in open revolt we would not be able to worship according to the dictates of our conscience. All the wars in the BoM were fought to preserve the freedom that would allow them religious worship. From the scriptures and church teaching it appears that political freedom => religious freedom. We certainly see that today in China. While there is nominally a freedom of religion, the fact is the devout are persecuted, imprisoned and killed. Clearly being submissive to their gov is not enough to allow them free worship.

    So is the example of E. Germany an anomaly or illustrating the rule? Or is the BoM (and early church history) the model for securing religious freedom?

  8. We shouldn’t forget that all kinds of minor laws WERE broken in order to keep the Church functioning in the GDR. The biggest example here is smuggling in religious literature. From the 50s through the 80s, members of the Church traveling to the GDR brought copies of church manuals from West Germany and scriptures, First Presidency letters, Church magazines, etc. The Honecker regime loosened up a bit after Church leaders met with them about building a temple in Freiberg.

  9. On the one hand, I think AofF 12 is just a great idea to keep religion in check – we have to comply with laws, not just answer to a “higher power” – I also always wondered if AofF 12 was in there to appease the US that the big bad Mormons weren’t hell-bent on world domination. We have to remember, this was something JS wrote in 1842 to explain what the church stood for. It wasn’t revelation.

    1. That is a false notion. The 12th article of faith is conditional. It requires the government to honor the Constitution and protect man’s natural rights.

      “No true Latter-day Saint or true American can be a socialist or support programs leading in that direction. These evil philosophies are incompatible with Americanism, with Mormonism, and with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ”
      (Title of Liberty p. 190 Ezra T. Benson)

      President benson then tells us to fight for the Constitution and that we will be held accountable if we do nothing to preserve it. I hardly see where that calls us to support an unconstitutional government. I refer you to D&C 98: 5-7

  10. I concur with Hawk, this is a question of conscience. I would not turn on the gas in a death chamber or torture a man even if I knew him to be a terrorist. That’s my conscience talking now; what I would do in a real-life situation, I do not know.

    Definitely, if my superior (I’m a reserve officer, though too old to be called in any foreseeable situation) told me to rape and pillage in enemy territory, I would not do it and be court-martialed for it if need be.

    Certain rights and wrongs always supersede government, imo.

  11. In my opinion, the 12th article of faith is
    conditional. We only sustain the LAW and recognize being “subject” to civil
    authority—which is conditional. DC 134: 2 & 5 defines the limits. We
    sustain ONLY to extent that any govt. upholds our inalienable rights of
    conscience, religion and the expression thereof. If it does not then that
    govt. no longer merits our allegiance—and our dissent becomes the
    highest form of patriotism. Inalienable rights have no national or ethnic

    1. I was going to bring this point up. I know this discussion is 3 years old, but I am dealing with this issue personally at the moment.  Verses 2 through 5 seem to be quite clear. One is only bound to uphold governments that uphold their rights. You have missed some of the the rights in verse 2, though: the right and control of property and the protection of life. Section 134 seems to be crystal clear on this issue.

  12. I agree with Velska and Hawk. Religion does need to be kept in check and the concept of right and wrong transcend earthly governments. The spirit will always dictate the proper way to proceed.

    If we are ordered by a leader (civil, military or religious) to do something which we know is wrong, we should disobey and accept the consequences of the actions. We will be either condemned or vindicated by the desires of our hearts.

    Polygamy is a good one to bring up. My church history is a little rusty but from what I remember, the practice had to be discontinued as a condition of statehood for Utah. AofF #12 applies perfectly here.

  13. After some consideration I have to go with Ron and a caveat with prairie chuck. We submit to authority so long as there are practical and leagal means of change. In the Book of Mormon there was more than liberty at stake, but life as well. I think Mormons would have been loyalists, for example, up until the U.K. sent troops as an invasion force. Even then, there is still left the choices of submit or flee as the spirit dictates.

    1. 100% tripe Jettboy. Moroni did not clear out the kingmen because life was at stake. He did so because they sought to subvert the freedoms of the Nephites plain and simple. I wish people would think before they post false doctrine.

  14. Are we (as a church) really so obedient to gov? The official stance is that polygamy was discontinued when UT became a state, but the reality is that it was practiced well into the 1900’s. Not just clandestinely, either. John pointed out how the church circumvented GDR authority. I’d forgotten about that, but it reminded me of all the bribing and under-the-table deals the church did in Brazil to get missionaries their visas in the 70’s and 80’s. But then, using Ron’s yardstick, were inalienable rights at stake, thereby justifying the disobedience?

    Why does religion “need to be kept in check?”

  15. Why does religion need to be kept in check?

    Iran. Afghanistan. Iraq.

    In India, in the state of Orissa, Christians by the thousands have been given the option to either adopt Hindu religion or be murdered.

  16. Hear, hear, Velska! Let me add another one that falls closer to home: the Danites. And how about Heaven’s Gate, Jim Jones, the Reverend Moon? Or if we want some bigger examples: the Holocaust, the Arminian massacres.

  17. But see all of these were problems when there is too much gov IN religion. Just like there’s really nothing wrong with big business, it’s when big business and gov are in bed with each other that you get bad stuff. Same with religion. On it’s own it’s a very good thing. When one religion has the favor or force of law it’s very bad–for everyone. It corrupts the favored religion and oppresses the unfavored.

    Off on a tangent, but I also see the same problem in the whole SSM issue. Gov has no business defining, favoring or sanctioning any marriages, hetero, homo, monogamous, polygamous, whatever. That’s a matter between God and man. But now that we have gov defining marriage it’s become a huge mess for everyone–those who approve of gay relationships and those who don’t.

  18. I am a little upset that prop 8 passed banning gay marraige in California and denying thousands of citizens the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We believe in being subject to the laws of the land not Lobbying to change them to fit our liking. As an Active Mormom I am ashamed.

    1. Paul, you should be upset, upset at your patently ignorant view and understanding of the church with respect to the conditions under which we honor governments. I refer you to great church leaders and prophets on this matter in particular Ezra Taft Benson.

  19. Let me go way over the top here and say that Mormons are a lot like Jews. Not only do we consider ourselves of the house of Israel, we have also rejected our Messiah.

    Don’t think so? Do we live the Beatitudes? Does the United Order exist? We used the force of law (prop 8 & 202) to force our will on people disposed to uninformed moral choices (their choice to make BTW) as if this is supposed to correct their thinking. In all my years in the church, I’ve seen little more than lip service to the Beatitudes.

    So, I no longer view the Jews negatively for rejecting the Christ. We’ve done pretty much the same thing!

  20. I have a serious issue with the 12th article of faith, to such an extent it may cause me to leave the church. Here is why:
    It is an extremely generalized statement, which in one sentence says you must support your government when it pays for abortions, confiscates property without cause, disallows you to do anything with anything that has real value (such as property) without first receiving permission, if they come for the guns you must hand them over, the list goes on and on.

    Now, Obama is going to introduce legislation which will make it LAW for all pregnant women to go on antidepressants slightly before giving birth. What??

    Despite the way they are lauded and handed out like candy, antidepressants are serious stuff. They function by going to the most active parts of the brain and forcing them to stay “on” until they die. Once that happens, you are “cured” because you no longer feel what hurt you – that part of you is dead. And if you were a loving person, or have any talents or skills you use frequently, those parts will be dead also. Google “antidepressants corkscrew axons”.

    So how can I go along with this? I can’t even find a date that has been put on when that particular article was inserted, and earlier versions of the articles of faith STATE EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE – that when the powers that be are corrupt, you DO NOT FOLLOW. That type of 180 degree shift is not conducive to a true church. The truth is the truth, and truth does not change. Perhaps the truth vanished into one of the LDS splinter groups.

    I am not going to stick around and let them put me (or my wife) on prozac against our will, or let them take our guns or haul off our children to God knows where. I don’t feel it is right to stand around and allow evil to flourish until it consumes everything, and with the way the 12th article is worded, it is a commandment to do exactly that.

    1. Hey James, first a general comment. I’ve found that if you have the faith to “stick around” no matter what (well, not exactly, it’s because the Church is true) then eventually you will see how concerns such as the one you’ve expressed either *can* be reconciled with the doctrine and principles of the gospel or you learn that the concerns weren’t as dire as you once thought.

      I am a libertarian, indeed one who sees a non-violent anarchist revolution as the only way to move from where we are to a political society based on respect for the right to life, liberty and property, as originally enshrined in the US constitution. I am also an active member of the church for over 30 years now.

      I see the Articles of Faith for what they are; a brilliant, indeed inspired summary of the most important aspects of our faith. The key word is “summary”. They in no wise supersede or supplant other relevant revelations. D&C 98:4-8 is particularly instructive. My reading of this is that laws which do “more or less” than “maintaining (constitutional) rights: i.e. the rights to life, liberty, and property, “cometh of evil”. Don’t you love how the Lord starts in verse 4. To paraphrase He says, concerning the law of the land, do what *I* tell you to do. In this context AofF12 can be read as implying that it is certainly not only we but our “rulers, presidents, magistrates,” who must honor, obey and sustain the law before we are required to be subject to them.

      Hope this help.

      1. Howard, you are spot on. Your first paragraph however made it clear as mud before clearing up the water in the rest of your post. Well done. The church ONLY supports the sustaining of the government on condition the government honors the Constitution and personal liberties of the people. There is no unilateral support of a government that is in breach of the laws of liberty. Moroni was a prime example of killing those that had usurped government and refused to accept that we are free.

        1. Exactly! Governments, Rulers, Magistrates, et al must play by the same rules or the game is over. I have always believed that and felt that members were missing that point and reading that article incorrectly. President Benson’s “An Enemy Hath Done This” made clear our responsibilities and accountability in the matters of upholding freedom. However it is amazing to me that many members will put these things aside saying he was not yet the prophet when he wrote them. Submission to Enemies both foreign and domestic or forms of government adverse to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, are not a credo of our faith. We may compromise at times in order to gain a foothold among nations and peoples so that the gospel light might begin to affect those same changes with them, but submission to the enemy of our souls and those who do his will was not the Lords Plan. That was the adversary’s plan. Does anyone actually believe that the Lords Prophet would dictate an article of faith for that purpose to allow our subjugation to enemy states or invading hosts? Islam is a prime example of a total societal replacement system through Sharia. Do we honestly think they will allow Christianity to be practiced in any form once they subjugate a nation? At times the Lords people are required to get along as a matter of preservation, but it is not the Lords intension that they should forever remain in that state. As they repent and come unto him he liberates them. We should not, cannot, must not, put aside the scriptural examples, latter day prophets, and common sense based on a narrow view and interpretation of a single artical of faith. Every member should ask themselves wether they understand that artical of faith as a Kingsman or a Freeman.

  21. We have East Germany as the perfect example that the Church and it’s membership will support a nation that represses basic freedoms. The Saints in East Germany had many hardships because of there devotion to Heavenly Father, but as Christ told them to they rendered there loyalty and services unto Ceasar even though Caesar repressed and prosecuted the Saints of many years. This faithful devotion to a unjust government though paved the way for the Church to have American Missionaries in a Soviet nation, for East German young men to be allowed to serve in any nation on a mission.

    Had the Church tried to undermine the government none of this would of been possible, and the Kingdom of God wouldn’t of gone forward as planned.

    I personally believe that the membership of the Church is obliged to support there government 100% (I said support not agree with or desire to keep it the way it is) unless there is very extreme circumstances and the Church leadership advises the membership otherwise and the spirit confirms that decision.

    As LDS we believe that government is made by God to help control man, that earthly governments are an imperfect example of the perfect government of the heavens. The key word there is imperfect, all governments are imperfect the US Government (Which has committed numerous civil rights and human rights violations in the short time it has been around), the former USSR government, the Chinese Government, every government has made mistake and does wrong. So like Christ said he without sin cast the first stone, no nation would be judgmental of another nation, since every nation has committed every human rights violation on the books in the course of it’s history.

    This is why I will never rise up and oppose my government, I will refuse to participate in immoral activities and would the state seek to persecute or exterminate me and my fellow saints for it I will obviously seek to defend myself in the courts or on the battlefield. I will never seek to rebel against my nation or to incite rebellion against another nation, rebellion is the work of the adversary.

    It is something that is done as an absolute last resource when there is no other option available and to continue to exist in the current state of affairs would mean certain death.

    1. Wow, Gentry. I agree with some of what you say, such as rebellion being a last resort, and only when God commands it, but When you say, “I will never rebel against my government…”, and when you say, “Rebellion is the work of the adversary.”, I have to differ, and offer my insight.

      Maybe consider that kind of thinking as the same thinking that the Tories in the Revolution had.

      By that logic, the Colonists and the Patriots who fought and DIED for your freedom were nothing more than immoral insurrectionists who were inspired of the adversary, and wanted to incite chaos, when the opposite is true. Those brave men were inspired and blessed by God. I will let you know that my ancestors were part of the movement that fought on in the Revolution to secure liberty for this land, and I will defend their sacrifice and honor ’till the last breath of life leaves my lips. Heavenly Father said in the Doctrine and Covenants that he hand-picked our Founding Fathers to create this country, and this Constitution, because of their wisdom. WHY would God select those men to lead an ARMED REBELLION against the crown, if he wanted us to blindly yield to government tyranny? How often did God command his children in the Bible AND the Book of Mormon to take up arms in defense of their liberties and their lives, even from other nations, or their own people? The Bible and Book of Mormon are full of stories of fighting and defending their liberties from threats, and that logic is not in harmony with the gospel. Socialism and communism are the earthly political and socio-economic incarnation of Satan’s plan, and that kind of thinking is not in harmony with the gospel.

  22. I’m wondering the proper response of a LDS to the intolerable act of our own US government now underway – concrete steps toward socialism, which is a transition to communism. As the heat on the boiling pot slowly and steadily rises, and useless letters to elected officials generate the same canned responses over and over, what’s left? If the majority is on welfare of one sort or another and they’ll elect people to continue taking property from one group and distributing to another (communism), what options are there? This is where my mind & heart/ spirit struggles almost constantly.

    1. Sean, any member supporting such ideology, in the words of Ezra Taft benson, ought to repent. The doctrine of sharing of wealth is always one of free agency. In exercising that free agency to help our fellow men of our own accord we still have the obligation to honor God’s law i.e. we do not give to those not willing to work. The Lord is clear that we are to earn our keep by the sweat of our brow. Giving to another without requiring some earning of that help is immoral and teaches dependency.

  23. Read D&C 95:4-11 It clarifies this belief that is often misinterpreted. Dont put “and” in between “magistrates” and “in”. It means we believe in being subject as long as its for our good.

  24. I suggest to those that are confused that there is indeed a qualifier with respect to honoring our government. This is found in D&C 134:5. Further note that there is no coordinating conjunction in the 12th article of faith. So it reads as “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates in (their) obeying, honoring and sustaining the law. I get truly frustrated when the Church members with ample access to the Book of Mormon, the D&C, teachings of principles of liberty and counsel from prophets do not understand basic concepts. The glory of God is intelligence so study with the spirit and you will understand.

  25. It seems to me that [D&C 98:4–7, 10–11] makes this matter so clear that it is not possible for any man who professes to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make any mistake, or to be in doubt as to the course he should pursue under the command of God in relation to the observance of the laws of the land. [God] will hold [lawmakers] responsible if they will pass unconstitutional measures and frame unjust and proscriptive laws. . . If lawmakers have a mind to violate their oath, break their covenants and their faith with the people, and depart from the provisions of the constitution, where is the law, human or divine, which binds me, as an individual, to outwardly and openly proclaim my acceptance of their acts? (Gospel 406)

    Joseph Fielding Smith

  26. We might be miss-reading the 12th article of faith.

    I’m not sure that it actually says that members should always “obey, honor, and sustain” the law.

    If you read closely, I think it says that we support leaders who “obey, honor, and sustain” the law.

    Subtle wording, but I think it makes a difference. We wouldn’t support a tyrant president, but we would support one who follows the constitution.

  27. I am happy I saw this article as I was about to write my question to the first presidency. I don’t understand the 12th article of faith completely. It seems that so many members of the church support military and wars in other countries, when to me it seems we are causing problems rather then fixing them. I agree with the constitution and defending our families and rights to freedom, but it does seem like the governments are taking advantage of us not being able to “do anything about it. Being a tiny fish in a huge ocean. So what does it mean exactly? I am also curious why we raise a flag representing government that is causing so many problems. In the same breath, I fear that I am being spied on just writing this thought and worried for it’s reprecussion. Because the governments spies on everything electronic. It is very un nerving and I am struggling with supporting my religion with which I have a very strong testimony, but I too am wondering. Where is the line? I was also wondering about cubscouts, can the boys wear a don’t tread on me flag rather then a US flag?

  28. Pingback: ‘Dear Mormon militiamen: Stop the insanity’ | Bloggernacle Blog | LDS Church, institutionally

  29. Much has been said about the conditions under which we ostensibly ought to be “subject to kings, presidents, rulers,” etc. It’s all well and good to justify obedience to earthly rulers as long as they’re protecting our rights, but they do not, and have never protected our rights.

    The problem is that such conditions have not ever existed, and indeed cannot ever exist. Every state is, at the very least, supported by the forceful theft of the property of its subjects, thus nullifying any claim that it protects their life, liberty, and property. As the popular meme says, “Taxation is theft.” A state that claims to protect individual rights is a walking contradiction.

    As soon as you have an organization that does not violate human rights, you no longer have a state. Take the Nephites under King Benjamin for example. He was not really a governor. He did not steal people’s money through taxation. He was a teacher. He only did what Joseph Smith did, that is, to “teach correct principles, and let [the people] govern themselves.” This would be the ideal “state” (again, it’s not a state at all), but we already have that exact thing: we have living prophets. Anything more is a serious infringement of our natural rights as human beings, because no other mortal, fallen human being has or can possibly obtain authority over an individual who does not personally and explicitly grant that authority. Even the Constitution is not morally binding to the individual. Your signature is not on it. The idea that a group of men in the 18th century could make you and yours belong to other humans simply by signing a paper saying so is absurd! And make no mistake: as far as the powers that be -whether American or of some other state – are concerned, you are their property. They decide how much of your substance belongs to you. They decide how fast you will travel. They decide what you may own, and which of your rights you must register and pay for. There is no other kind of state; back off all those infringements, and you have no state. Instead you have freedom. You cannot have both. They cannot coexist.

    Obedience to the gospel is voluntary. Tithing is voluntary. If we want the blessing, we do what is required. That is the only just way to administer things. Doesn’t the D&C teach us this principle, that no power or influence ought to be maintained by virtue of authority (the state’s authority isn’t even real), but by the leader’s virtuous attributes which inspire others to follow and obey?

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