Chapter 23 Submission To Secular Authority

ARTICLE 12 -- We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Introductory -- It is but reasonable to expect of a people professing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and claiming membership in the one accepted and divinely invested Church, that they manifest in practise the virtues that their precepts inculcate. True, we may look in vain for perfection among those even who make the fullest claims to a religious life; but we have a right to expect in their creed ample requirements concerning the most approved course of action, and in their lives, sincere and earnest effort toward the practical realization of their professions. Religion, to be of service and worthy of acceptance, must be of wholesome influence in the individual lives and temporal affairs of its adherents. Among other virtues the Church in its teachings should impress the duty of a law-abiding course; and the people should show forth the effect of such precepts in their probity as citizens of the nation and the community of which they are part.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes emphatic declaration of its belief and precepts regarding the duty of its members toward the laws of the land, and sustains its position by the authority of specific revelation in ancient as in present times. Moreover, the people are confident that when the true story of their rise and progress as an established body of religious worshipers is fully known, the loyalty of the Church and the patriotic devotion of its members will be vindicated and extolled by the world in general, as now by the few unprejudiced investigators who have studied with honest purpose the history of this remarkable organization.

Obedience to Authority Enjoined by Scripture -- During the patriarchal period, when the head of the family possessed virtually the power of judge and king over his household, the authority of the ruler and the rights of the family were respected. Consider the instance of Hagar, the "plural" wife of Abram and the handmaid of Sarai. Jealousy and ill-feeling had arisen between Hagar and her mistress, the senior wife of the patriarch. Abram listened to the complaint of Sarai, and, recognizing her authority over Hagar, who, though his wife, was still the servant of Sarai, said: "Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee." Then, as the mistress dealt harshly with her servant, Hagar fled into the wilderness; there she was visited by an angel of the Lord, who addressed her thus: "Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou, and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." FN Observe that the heavenly messenger recognized the authority of the mistress over the bond-woman, even though the latter had been given the rank of wifehood in the family.

The filial submission of Isaac to the will of his father, even to the extent of readiness to yield his life FN on the altar of sacrifice, is evidence of the sanctity with which the authority of the family ruler was regarded. It may appear, as indeed it has been claimed, that the requirement made of Abraham by the Lord, as a test of faith in the matter of demanding his son's life as a sacrifice, was a violation of law and therefore opposed to righteous government. The claim is poorly placed in view of the fact that the patriarchal head was possessed of full authority over the members of his household, with power extending even to judgment of life or death. FN

In the days of the exodus, when the people of Israel were ruled by a theocracy, the Lord gave divers laws and commandments for the government of the nation; among them we read: "Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people." FN Judges were appointed by divine direction. Moses, in reiterating the Lord's commands, charged the people to this effect: "Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment." FN It is significant that the judges were so highly regarded as to be called gods, to which fact Jesus referred when threatened with stoning because He had said He was the Son of God.

When the people wearied of God's direct administration and clamored for a king, Jehovah yielded to their desire and gave the new ruler authority by a holy anointing. FN David, even though he had been anointed to succeed Saul as king recognized the sanctity of the king's person, and bitterly reproached himself because on one occasion he had mutilated the robe of the monarch. Saul at that time was seeking David's life, and the latter sought only a means of showing that he had no intent to slay his royal enemy; yet we are told: "That David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord." FN

Note, further, the following scriptural adjurations as recorded in the Old Testament: "My son, fear thou the Lord, and the king." FN I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God." FN "Curse not the king, no not in thy thought." FN

Examples Set by Christ and His Apostles -- Our Savior's work on earth was marked throughout by His acknowledgment of the existing powers of the land, both Jewish and Roman, even though the latter had been won by cruel conquest, and were exercised unjustly. When the tax collector called for the tribute money demanded by the hierarchy, Christ, though not admitting the justice of the claim, directed that the tax be paid, and even invoked a miraculous circumstance whereby the money could be provided. Of Peter he asked: "What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shall find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee." FN

At the instigation of certain wicked Pharisees, a treacherous plot was laid to make Christ appear as an offender against the ruling powers. They sought to catch Him by the casuistical question -- "What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?" His rejoinder was an unequivocal endorsement of submission to the laws. "Shew me the tribute money" He said; "And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." FN

Throughout the tragic circumstances of His trial and condemnation, Christ maintained a submissive demeanor even toward the chief priests and council who were plotting His death. These officers, however unworthy of their priestly power, were nevertheless in authority and had a certain measure of jurisdiction in secular as in ecclesiastical affairs. When He stood before Caiaphas, laden with insult and accused by false witnesses, He maintained a dignified silence. To the high priest's question, "Answereth thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?" He deigned no reply. Then the high priest added: "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." FN To this solemn adjuration, spoken with official authority, the Savior gave an immediate answer, thus acknowledging the office of the high priest, however unworthy the man.

A somewhat analogous mark of respect for the high priest's office was shown by Paul while a prisoner before the ecclesiastical tribunal. His remarks displeased the high priest, who gave immediate command to those who stood near Paul to smite him on the mouth. FN This angered the apostle, and he cried out: God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." FN

Teachings of the Apostles -- Paul, writing to Titus, who had been left in charge of the Church among the Cretans, warned him of the weaknesses of his flock, and urged him to teach them to be orderly and law-abiding: "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." FN In another place, Paul is emphatic in declaring the duty of the saints toward the civil power, such authority being ordained of God. He points out the necessity of secular government, and the need of officers in authority, whose power is to be feared by evil-doers only. He designates the civil authorities as ministers of God; and justifies taxation by the state, with an admonition that the saints fail not in their dues.

These are his words addressed to the Church at Rome: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." FN

In a letter to Timothy, Paul teaches that in the prayers of the saints, kings and all in authority should be remembered, adding that such remembrance is pleasing in the sight of God: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior." FN

The duty of willing submission to authority is elaborated in the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians; and illustrations are applied to the relations of social and domestic life. Wives are taught to be submissive to their husbands -- "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church"; but this duty within the family is reciprocal, and therefore husbands are instructed as to the manner in which authority ought to be exercised. Children are to obey their parents; yet the parents are cautioned against provoking or otherwise unjustly offending their little ones. Servants are told to render willing and earnest service to their masters, recognizing in all things the superior authority; and masters are instructed in their duty toward their servants, being counseled to avoid threatening and other harsh treatment, remembering that they also will have to answer to a Master greater than themselves. FN

Peter was not less emphatic in teaching the sanctity with which the civil power should be regarded; FN he admonished the saints in this wise: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." FN

These rules relating to submission to authority he applied, as did Paul similarly, to the conditions of domestic life. Servants are to be obedient, even though their masters be harsh and severe: "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when you do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." FN Wives also, even though their husbands be not of their faith, are not to vaunt themselves and defy authority, but to be submissive, and to rely upon gentler and more effective means of influencing those whose name they bear. FN He gives assurance of the judgment that shall overtake evildoers, and specifies as fit subjects for condemnation "chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." FN

Doubtless there existed excellent reason for these explicit and repeated counsels, against the spirit of revolt, with which the apostles of old sought to lead and strengthen the Church. The saints rejoiced in their testimony of the truth that had found place in their hearts -- the truth that was to make them free -- and it would have been easy for them to regard all others as inferior to themselves, and to rebel against all authority of man in favor of their allegiance to a higher power. There was constant danger that their zeal would lead them to acts of indiscretion, and thus furnish excuse, if not reason, for the assaults of persecutors, who would have denounced them as law-breakers and workers of sedition. Even half-hearted submission to the civil powers would have been unwise at least, in view of the disfavor with which the Church had come to be regarded by pagan contemporaries. The voice of inspired leaders was heard, therefore, in timely counsel for humility and submission. But there were then, as ever have there been, weightier reasons than such as rest on motives of policy requiring submission to the established powers. Such is no less the law of God than of man. Governments are essential to human existence; they are recognized, given indeed, of the Lord; and His people are in duty bound to sustain them.

Book of Mormon Teachings concerning the duty of the people as subjects of the law of the land are abundant throughout the volume. However, as the civil and the ecclesiastical powers were usually vested together, the king or chief judge generally being also the high priest, there are comparatively few admonitions of allegiance to the civil authority as distinct from that of the Priesthood. From the time of Nephi, son of Lehi, to that of the death of Mosiah, a period of nearly five hundred years, the Nephites were ruled by a succession of kings; during the remaining time of their recorded history, more than five hundred years, they were subject to judges of their own choosing. Under each of these forms of government, the secular laws were rigidly enforced, the power of the state being supplemented and strengthened by that of the Church. The sanctity with which the laws were regarded is illustrated in the judgment pronounced by Alma upon Nehor, a murderer, and a promoter of sedition and priestcraft. "Therefore thou art condemned to die," said the judge, "according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah, our last king,; and it has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law." FN

Latter-day Revelation requires of the saints in the present dispensation strict allegiance to the civil laws. In a communication dated August 1, 1831, the Lord said to the Church: "Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet." FN At a later date, August 6, 1833, the voice of the Lord was heard again on this matter, saying: "And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land." FN

A question has many times been asked of the Church and of its individual members, to this effect: In the case of a conflict between the requirements made by the revealed word of God, and those imposed by the secular law, which of these authorities would the members of the Church be bound to obey? In answer, the words of Christ may be applied -- it is the duty of the people to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. At the present time the kingdom of heaven as an earthly power, with a reigning King exercising direct and personal authority in temporal matters, has not been established upon the earth. The branches of the Church as such, and the members composing the same, are subjects of the several governments within whose separate realms the Church organizations exist. In this day of comparative enlightenment and freedom there is small cause for expecting any direct interference with the rights of private worship and individual devotion; in all civilized nations the people are accorded the right to pray, and this right is assured by what may be properly called a common law of humankind. No earnest soul is cut off from communion with his God; and with such an open channel of communication, relief from burdensome laws and redress for grievances may be sought from the power that holds control of nations.

Pending the overruling by Providence in favor of religious liberty, it is the duty of the saints to submit themselves to the laws of their country. Nevertheless, they should use every proper method, as citizens or subjects of their several governments, to secure for themselves and for all men the boon of freedom in religious service. It is not required of them to suffer without protest imposition by lawless persecutors, or through the operation of unjust laws; but their protests should be offered in legal and proper order. The saints have practically demonstrated their acceptance of the doctrine that it is better to suffer evil than to do wrong by purely human opposition to unjust authority. And if by thus submitting themselves to the laws of the land, in the event of such laws being unjust and subversive of human freedom, the people be prevented from doing the work appointed them of God, they are not to be held accountable for the failure to act under the higher law. The word of the Lord has defined the position and duty of the people in such a contingency: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings. And the iniquity and transgression of my holy laws and commandments I will visit upon the heads of those who hindered my work, unto the third and fourth generation, so long as they repent not, and hate me, saith the Lord God." FN

An Illustration of such suspension of divine law is found in the action of the Church regarding the matter of plural marriage. This practise was established as a result of direct revelation, FN and many of those who followed the same felt that they were divinely commanded so to do. For ten years after plural marriage had been introduced into Utah as a Church observance, no law was enacted in opposition to the practise. Beginning with 1862, however, Federal statutes were framed declaring the practise unlawful and providing penalties therefor. The Church claimed that these enactments were unconstitutional, and therefore void, inasmuch as they violated the provision in the national Constitution forbidding the government making laws respecting any establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. FN Many appeals were taken to the national court of final resort, and at last a decision was rendered sustaining the laws as constitutional and therefore binding. The Church, through its President, thereupon discontinued the practise of plural marriage, and announced its action to the world, solemnly placing the responsibility for the change upon the nation by whose laws the renunciation had been forced. This action has been approved and confirmed by the official vote of the Church in conference assembled. FN

Teachings of the Church -- Perhaps there can be presented herein no better summary of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding its relation to the civil power, and the respect due to the laws of the land, than the official declaration issued by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and which has been incorporated in the Doctrine and Covenants -- one of the standard works of the Church, adopted by vote of the Church as one of the accepted guides in faith, doctrine, and practise. FN It reads as follows:



1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold hold 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 tranquillity all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.

9. 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.

10. We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

11. We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.

12. We believe it just to preach the Gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bondservants, neither preach the Gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.


Secular Government Necessary; Divinely Recognized

God showed Pharaoh what he was about to do -- Gen. 41:25-57.

Training schools were established by direction of King Nebuchadnezzar -- Dan. 1:3-5.

Public instruction fostered under kingly rule -- 2 Chron. 17:7-9.

Moses foresaw that the Israelites would establish kings to rule over them, and gave instructions that a copy of the record known as the Law of Moses should be provided for the guidance of the kings -- Deut. 17:14-20. When David was crowned King of Israel he entered into a league, somewhat in the nature of a constitutional guaranty -- 2 Sam. 5:3. Zedekiah, King of Judah, made a covenant with the people, proclaiming liberty unto them -- Jer. 34:8; read verses 8-11. See mention of the law of the Medes and Persians "which altereth not" -- Dan. 6:8, 12; Esther 1:19.

Christ recognized and observed the payment of taxes -- Matt. 22:17-22.

Paul taught obedience to the secular powers and required members of the church to pay their tributes and dues -- Rom. 13:1-7.

The Lord requires of his people in this dispensation that if any violate the secular law they be dealt with by the laws of the land -- D&C 42:79, 85, 86.

Church organization to be formed according to the laws of man -- D&C 44:4.

And thus all things shall be made sure, according to the laws of the land -- D&C 51:6.

Let no man break the laws of the land -- D&C 58:21. Note that in the 23rd verse the Lord says: Behold, the laws which ye have received from my hand are the laws of the church, and in this light ye shall hold them forth.

Constitutional law, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, is justifiable before the Lord -- D&C 98:5.

According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established -- D&C 101:77.

Declaration of Belief regarding Government and Laws in general -- D&C, sec. 134.