I have spent the greater part of the last 20 years studying government and what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS Church) leaders have said about it. From Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, from Brigham Young to David O. McKay and everyone since and in between — I believe I have read them all and currently own all the books that they have written.
My views towards the Constitution and of government have changed over the years with, what I hope is, greater knowledge pertaining to the gospel of Christ and the message of liberty. The Shiloh Logan of 10 years ago would likely disagree with this article without more careful examination, as it targets, critiques, and calls into question many of the very close, passionate, and emotional feelings that he felt towards the Constitution and its divine heritage. I largely write this for him, to show the Shiloh of 10 years ago what I hope are greater and more consistent truths.
For many members of the LDS Church, as with myself 10 years ago, there are still lingering questions as to why the Church has not, in the last 25 or more years, spoken about the Constitution, the evils of socialism, or of the “proper role of government” as it has before. There are many who have offered great insights into this question, and I will try to add yet another possible insight.
The Purpose and Reason for Government As We Know It
Not all governments are the same, and contrary to what most Western philosophy advances and what most Latter-day Saints may believe, democratic government is not the most divine or celestial form of government that exists. When King Mosiah was transferring the rule of the kingdom to the people and away from monarchy he observed that:
Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people — I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you (Mosiah 29:13).
Mosiah then continues describing the course he had taken as a king in righteousness as he also reminds us of the perils and dangers of wicked kings when he references the disastrous affairs pertaining to King Noah. (Mosiah 29:18) That said, Mosiah takes a utilitarian approach to government as he argues for a better temporal system — a republican-style constitutional system of government.
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law — to do your business by the voice of the people.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he hath hitherto visited this land…
And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads (Mosiah 29:26-27,30).
The ultimate point here is that a system of democratic rule (not of Democracy, which is a specific form of government, but of the democratic method) is not the most celestial form of government but that, temporally, it may function as a better alternative than a monarchy (keeping in mind that a king is still the most preferred method, but not the safest in securing the liberty of the people).
The Huge Presumption of Earthly Government
King Mosiah’s motivation for moving from a king to a rule-of-law-based democratic system was explicitly stated:
I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land (Mosiah 29:32).
The purpose for this shift in political systems was to (1) get rid of inequality, and (2) to establish a land of liberty, so that (3) every man may enjoy his divine rights and privileges equally. The divine sanction here is not in the type of government but in the people’s finding a way to protect their rights.
The Lord, some 1,900 years later, reiterated the same point in the Doctrine and Covenants, as He gave us three basic reasons and purposes for why He instituted government as we know it and raised up “wise men” to establish the Constitution of the United States. These three reasons are most specifically found in Sections 98, 101, and 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
In the scriptures the Lord explains the reason we have government (as we know it) is so that (1) man will not be a slave to another (D&C 101:79-80), (2) that he will be protected in his inherent and inalienable rights (D&C 98:5, D&C 101:77, D&C 134:5), and (3) that those who violate the rights of their fellowmen will be dealt with justly (D&C 134:6). These are the general principles and reasons for government (constitutional government) as we know it.
What is worth discussing about these three points (and even Mosiah’s reason for switching forms of government from monarchy to a republic) is that every single one of them presupposes a society of individuals that have rejected the two greatest commandments of God.
The Two Greatest Commandments
There was once a lawyer who approached Christ seeking to tempt him saying,
Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt 22:36-40; emphasis added)
I have always found that last verse interesting: “On these two commandments hang all the law.” What law? All the law. Whatever law it is we are discussing — that law (whether natural, positive, or anything else) rests upon these two commandments. Whether the law be one thing or another, what the law is or is not rests upon individual’s in society adhering to or rejecting those commandments.
Government, as we know it, enforces the positive law in the vacuum of our society of individuals who, at large, either do not practice these two great commandments or reject them altogether.
In this mortal journey, we (i.e., individuals in society) all come to a fork in the road where we must decide whether we will live according to these two commandments or whether we are going to reject them. In the very moment that we reject them, that is where all political philosophy and government as we know it begins. However, in the very moment that we accept them, that is where the kingdom of God as Jesus Christ sought to establish it on earth begins.
We have very, very few examples in scripture of societies that actually adhered to these two great commandments (and no examples in Western history, to my knowledge, of societies that lived accordingly). This is to say that such a condition where people unite to live these two greatest commandments is rare — extremely rare. Of the few cases found in scripture the two best-known documented examples are of Enoch’s Zion and of the people in the Book of Mormon after the coming of Christ.
Speaking to the inefficiencies of society’s governmental systems when they reject the two great commandments compared with the efficiencies of society’s self-government when adhering to the two greatest commandments, Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed of Enoch’s Zion that,
I am astonished at the efficiencies of righteousness… The great governmental systems built up in the cities you and I have known are perpetually preoccupied with the pain of obtaining compliance from citizens toward their government and toward each other. Servants are piled upon servants, and functionaries check on other functionaries. Much wealth is spent to strive to insure that men deal justly with one another.
The city of the Lord is different wherein we seek not only that which is better, but that which is best. Filled as our city is with people who are increasingly of one heart and of one mind and who are moved by the same basic beliefs, there is need for less and less in the way of structure to see that people do their duty toward each other. Here we do not divert people from their own labors into wasteful secondary tasks; basic love and honesty obtain increasingly between our people.
When the inner man is changed, we have less and less need for outer controls. Men here do not hold back from doing their duty one toward another, from being honest one to another, because they love each other! They love each other even more deeply because they keep the first great commandment, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, and soul. When men do not have a mind to injure one another, there is no need for sentries over society; here men pay their debts, often paying back even more than they borrow…
If we do not live the simple, yet challenging, commandments of God, we should not be a happy people. There are no contentions, disputations, envyings, strifes, and tumults. Nor are there whoredomes, lyings, or lasciviousness here. There are no robbers, murderers, or factions. We are one. We are the Lord’s! (pp 39-40; emphasis added).
The people in the Book of Mormon after Christ (and we cannot call them “Nephites” or “Lamanites,” for in their righteousness they put off all forms of tribalism and nationalism and only identified as members/citizens in the kingdom of God) were no different than the people of Enoch. Indeed, the Book of Mormon people followed the same pattern to peace, prosperity, joy, and “good society” as did Enoch’s Zion.
And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, no lyings, no murders, no any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom of God (4th Nephi 1:15-17; emphasis added).
There is so much to pull out of these few short verses, but it is evident that adhering to the greatest commandment of loving God with all of their heart, might, mind, and strength became the motivating desire and backbone to loving each other — as there were no societal ills to address with political government as we know it today. In other words, in righteous living (i.e., loving God and neighbor as self), there was such a change in human nature that there was no longer any need for political government (even constitutional republican government) as it was established by King Mosiah.
Constitutional Government Not the Standard of our Eternity
As cited above, the Lord established the Constitution by the hands of wise men, for the purpose of (1) securing the liberty and freedom of the individual from encroachment and (2) so that no man would be a slave to another. The Constitution was inspired by the Lord for the purpose of establishing the greatest amount of liberty and freedom possible for all mankind. (D&C 98:5-6) Under that umbrella of protection, the Lord would send many to this land (2nd Nephi 2:7): a society of individuals who had rejected the two greatest commandments, all with the extended command that we should “forsake all evil and cleave unto all good.” (D&C 98:11) Under the protections of the Constitution the Lord established His Church and was able to bring about the restoration and fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, the Constitution is not, nor can it be, a perfect document in creating and maintaining just, consistent, and proper government. For people to dream of the perfect administration of justice, the rule of law, and of due process in a system of government, even constitutional government, that exists because the people, as a whole, have rejected the two greatest commandments, is a fantasy. The fact that we even have a mixed constitution goes to show the lengths and breadth that the Founders went in creating a system of checks and balances. These checks and balances were imagined and created to regulate the greed, passion, selfishness, and corruption of men holding offices in competitive branches of government.
Why this balance of power? Answer: because men in government are corruptible, wicked, and immoral, as they have ever been, and will seek to destroy the liberty and freedom of men. However, this grand Constitution of competing branches that hedge men’s wickedness and vice has no place within and is not the state of affairs in God’s kingdom!
In God’s kingdom where men and women love God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength, and love their neighbor with as much passion as they love themselves, such checks and balances (as Elder Maxwell noted above) are unnecessary. The very makeup and construction of the US Constitution, the very balance of powers, is made for a society of elected representatives (reflective of the will, desires, motivations, passions, knowledge, and support of the individuals who elected them) who themselves (at large) have also rejected the two greatest commandments!
Hence the great paradox of Constitutional government! As James Madison noted in the Federalist #51,
But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
James Madison peered into human nature and the natural man stared back at him. Oh, that James Madison could have seen, heard, and witnessed of the people of the Book of Mormon after Christ’s ministry to know the reality of and true potential of our divine identity! That he could have seen the message of the restored gospel and how true his words played out in Enoch’s Zion!
Yet, we must face the harsh reality that we are not angels by our own choice! We must face the sad reality that our society, with the mere needful existence of the Constitution to balance men’s and women’s wickedness to safeguard freedom, is a living proof of our rejection of two greatest commandments.
John Adams, in juxtaposition to Madison, made an interesting observation about the Constitution in answer to the wickedness of men in office and the people who put them there:
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
John Adams understood the inherent flaw in the Constitution in what Madison had quipped was the inadequate protection of a “parchment barrier. No system of government that is written, constructed, and outlined on paper can possibly overcome the vices, immoralities, and wickedness of its people and its elected representatives hell bent on violating the rules that safeguard liberty as soon as they are written down. Said James Madison in Federalist #48
What this security ought to be, is the great problem to be solved. Will it be sufficient to mark, with precision, the boundaries of these departments, in the constitution of the government, and to trust to these parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power? (emphasis added)
No system of government (however well crafted) can endure the wickedness of a people who continue to violate the two greatest commandments. Indeed, the need for government as we know it comes after our rejection of the two greatest commandments, and no such government can long endure any society that doesn’t adhere to these two greatest commandments. For social order, to be real order, must come from internal restraints on the heart, soul, passions, vices, and body of the individual. No external control, however well crafted, can long govern a society of individuals who have made choices placing themselves incapable of self government. No such government can ever adequately deal with true justice, mercy, and equity, and perpetuate itself with integrity — for its very existence is built on the rejection of loving God and neighbor.
The Constitution was but a stepping stone to our greater truths, strengths, and humanity, but it was never the destination. The Constitution, in all of its divine inspired glory, was only ever crafted, with its existence as a “mixed constitution,” its bicameral democratic legislature, its limited presidential monarchy, and its defined oligarchal judiciary, to administer as much justice, peace, and equity as the people could endure and hope to obtain while living the rejection of the two greatest commandments!
But What of the Prophets?!
Next to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States (President David O. McKay, General Conference Report, October 8, 1939).
Unless we as citizens of this nation forsake our sins, political and otherwise, and return to the fundamental principles of Christianity and of constitutional government, we will lose our political liberties, our free institutions, and will stand in jeopardy before God of losing our exaltation! (Elder Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference Report, April, 1979)
I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. But it will not be saved in Washington. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. it will be saved by enlightened members of this Church– men and women who will subscribe to and abide by the principles of the Constitution (President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Constitution — a Heavenly Banner,” General Conference, September 16, 1986).
I could fill up this entire article with quotes from the prophets concerning the Constitution and its divine origin, our moral imperative to support it, and the prophecies that speak to its eventual “hanging by a thread” and its possible salvation by the Elders of Israel, but I believe these few quotes suffice — for they carry the general sentiment of all the others.
Speaking of the Constitution, the Lord, in His mercy, compassion, planning, and care, did, in very deed and wisdom, raise up the Founders in that particular place and time, and inspired the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution was based on radical individualism and personal accountability. As Latter-day Saints, this is our doctrine and our theology. This does not, however, negate the fact that such Constitution is still only necessary after rejecting the two greatest commandments, and that it is a mixed constitution because of the wickedness of men in seeking for power in office.
On the great commandments hang all the law, even Constitutional law. As we live by higher and holier principles of love that allow and grant even greater freedom, autonomy, and prosperity, we will find no need for the protections within the Constitution. That said, the Constitution is the single best earthly charter that mankind has created through divine inspiration to maximize the potential of humanity, live our God-given liberty, and to empower each individual to forge his own destiny through agency and accountability in a wicked society. It is a beautiful balance of competing powers and systems of government studied throughout history, but it is not the construct of the kingdom of God!
Said Elder Orson Hyde,
The kingdom and government of God are the only legitimate jurisdictions that ever did exist. And other kingdoms and jurisdictions stand before God in the same light that many divorces stood in the days of Moses. “For the hardness of your hearts, Moses wrote you this precept; but from the beginning it was not so.” For the hardness of men’s hearts, God has suffered them to exercise temporary jurisdiction. But does this temporary jurisdiction authorize them to oppose him when he begins to take to himself his great power and to reign? No. the little stone cut out of the mountain without hands will roll and fill the whole earth, while the great image will be broken and fall, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God.
Now, therefore, O ye kingdoms of this world, resist the decree of Jehovah, if you can and if you will. Fall upon this little stone cut out of the mountain without hands, and be broken, if you wish. But know ye that the way of the transgressor is hard, and his final cup is bitter. God bless the meek and the pure! Amen (Journal of Discourses 6:49 — p. 50, November 1, 1857).
All earthly kingdoms, even those inspired by the Lord because of the “hardness of men’s hearts” where “God has suffered” these earthly governments to “exercise temporary jurisdiction,” must and will break down to the kingdom of God. The governments and people who continue in transgression and iniquity will fall and be broken. These governments, even our constitutional republic, that are allowed to exist with temporary jurisdiction due to society’s hardness of heart may enact decent laws that honestly seek to protect individual rights. Yet these governments are not God’s kingdom and they will fail because they are built in times of transgression and because of society’s hardness of heart.
The Constitution is not Zion, for Zion’s “government” is based on living the two greatest commandments. However, what the Constitution does, as alluded to above, is grant each individual the sufficient autonomy necessary to make decisions for his or her future in a sinful and iniquitous society in choosing to live a Zion-type life if he or she so desires. By upholding Constitutional principles, even the proper role of government, we allow all men the greatest freedom to act in the pursuit of happiness.
Saving the Constitution, if it is not done in Washington D.C. by elected representatives (as President Benson said), is not, therefore, a political endeavor that we will achieve through the election process. In fact, if the Constitution needs saving at all, then we must assume that conditions are so poor, that mankind and government are so wicked that the election processes itself is is also tainted and can offer no real chance at a truthful outcome.
Saving the Constitution is not so much about saving the document or charter itself, but in preserving the principles and intent of its creation: preserving freedom so that all mankind can have the greatest opportunity to repent and act in the pursuit of happiness by choosing to more easily love God and neighbor as self.
Where Does This Leave Us? Why Doesn’t the Church Talk About Government Anymore?
The Constitution is a divinely offered standard for an earthly people who do not live the two greatest commandments, and, as such, it should not be the absolute focus, goal, aim, and end of our people. The Constitution, as a document, is incredibly creative, but nothing incredibly special in and of itself; however, what the Founders fought to protect and preserve under the principles of the “proper role of government” and the Constitution are priceless. That said, the Constitution is powerless to fulfill the true measure of its creation and reason for existence (creating and limiting government to preserve individual freedom) in a society that does not love God and neighbor as self. The government the Constitution created is obsolete when the two greatest commandments are observed.
People often question why LDS Church leaders no longer speak about the Constitution, the proper role of government, or of the evils or threats of socialism. As I said at the beginning, there are many wonderful and edifying reasons that many have offered throughout the years, but my own belief is that the time of using the Constitution as a primary and major stepping stone towards giving people more freedom and opportunity to repent and love God and neighbor as self has passed.
The Constitution was meant as a stepping stone to something greater; not an end in itself. Our true end and purpose is building and establishing the kingdom of God, yet many, myself included, have made an idol out of the Constitution beyond what its intended purpose is and was. I have in my past, like many, many others, placed so much focus on the end of returning to true constitutional government that, for a very long time, I missed the bigger picture and more grand design of establishing the kingdom of God and Zion, the pure in heart, where all love God and neighbor as self.
As I have poured over Conference reports over the last 10-15 years, I see the constant call of the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators, leading the His people to a more perfect way and life. Whether explicitly or implicitly, I see the message of Christ and the love of Christ and neighbor throughout each Conference session. I see a plea in every message to keep the commandments. Building the kingdom of God is our true end, and we begin building that kingdom through loving God passionately and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Whereas I once stood concerned that the Church spoke so little about the evils of socialism/communism/fascism, the Constitution, and the proper role of government, today I would stand more concerned for our people if the Church were to return to talking about these things — for that would certainly lower the standard from where we are currently directed and instructed! In truth, the Church is leading us to build the kingdom of God! When and where it is appropriate, we receive guidance as a Church for a social issue, but where the weightier matters are concerned — we receive continued revelation and guidance to build the kingdom of God through keeping the two greatest commandments.
I have seen on many occasions that when we truly, honestly, and patiently pray for and seek the love of God and of our neighbor, the mind and heart expand and increase in desire to build Zion beyond what any earthly government has yet imagined or created– even glories, possibilities, realities, and blessings beyond what the Constitution of the United States could have every offered.
As mentioned above, every individual and society will stand at the crossroads of the two greatest commandments. In the violation or rejection of these precious commandments begin all political philosophy, philosophy of law, and government as we know it. Living, accepting, and building society on the two greatest commandments is building the kingdom of God and Zion — even the pure in heart.
What should we choose? Where should we wear out our lives? Each one of us has a role to play in various part of the Lord’s vineyard, and it is not for me to know or tell anyone where they should labor. That said, whereas when things were socially and politically bad the Church instructed us heavily to support the Constitution, today as things are very bad we no longer focus on the Constitution but are instructed to love God and our neighbors. Should we spend our lives building Constitutional government, or should we save the Constitution by living true to our liberty and freedom in adhering to the two greatest commandments and in building Zion?
The choice is ours. No doubt there is good and noble and God-led work performed by many in pushing back against encroaching government so that we can enjoy greater freedom until we enjoy a society of individuals loving God and neighbor. However, as for me and my primary focus, I choose the kingdom of God. I choose Zion. For then, and only then, will we truly preserve those most precious things that the Constitution was created to impossibly maintain: the liberty and freedom of all mankind.