11. Religious Liberty and Toleration

ARTICLE 11-We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Two Mormon missionaries teaching a woman on the street.Man’s Right to Freedom in Worship-The Latter-day Saints proclaim their unqualified allegiance to the principles of religious liberty and toleration. Freedom to worship Almighty God as the conscience may dictate, they affirm to be one of the inherent and inalienable rights of humanity. The inspired framers of our charter of national independence proclaimed to the world, as a self-evident truth, that the common birthright of humanity gives to every man a claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is foreign, liberty but a name, and life a disappointment, to him who is denied the freedom to worship as he may desire. No person possessing a regard for Deity can be content if restricted in the performance of the highest duty of his existence. Could one be happy, though he were housed in a palace, surrounded with all material comforts and provided with every facility for intellectual enjoyment, if he were cut off from communion with the being whom he loved the most?

What is Worship-The derivation of the term suggests an answer. It comes to us as the lineal descendant of a pair of Anglo-Saxon words, weorth, meaning worthy, and scipe, the old form of ship, signifying condition or state, and connotes the thought of worthy-ship. The worship of which one is capable depends upon his comprehension of the worthiness characterizing the object of his reverence. Man’s capacity for worship is a measure of his comprehension of God. The fuller the acquaintance and the closer the communion between the worshiper and Deity, the more thorough and sincere will be his homage. When we say of one that he is a worshiper of the good, the beautiful, the true, we mean that he possesses a deeper conception of worth in the object of his adoration, than does another whose perception does not lead him to reverence those ennobling qualities.

Man, then, will worship according to his conception of the divine attributes and powers, and this conception approaches the correct one in proportion to the spiritual light that has come to him. True worship cannot exist where there is no reverence or love for the object. This reverence may be ill-founded; the adoration may be a species of idolatry; the object may be in fact unworthy; yet of the devotee it must be said that he worships if his conscience clothe the idol with the attribute of worthy-ship. We have spoken of “true worship”; the expression is a pleonasm. Worship, as has been affirmed, is the heart-felt adoration that is rendered as a result of a sincere conception of worthiness on the part of the object; any manifestation of reverence prompted by a conviction inferior to this is but a counterfeit of worship. Call such false worship if you choose, but let it be remembered that worship is necessarily true, the word requires no adjective to extend its meaning nor attest its genuineness. Worship is not a matter of form any more than is prayer. It consists not in posture, in gesture, in ritual or in creed. Worship most profound may be rendered with none of the artificial accessories of ritualistic service; for altar, the stone in the desert may serve; the peaks of the everlasting hills are as temple spires; the vault of heaven is of all the grandest cathedral dome.

Man is at heart an expression in part of that which he worships. The savage, who knows no triumph greater than that of bloody victory over his enemy, who regards prowess and physical strength as the most desirable qualities of his race and looks upon revenge and vindictiveness as the gratifications of life, ascribes such attributes to his deity, and offers his profoundest reverence in sacrifices of blood. The revolting practises of idolatry are traceable to perverted conceptions of human excellence, and these are reflected in the hideous creations of man-made, devil-inspired deities. On the other hand, the man whose enlightened soul has received the impress of love, pure and undefiled, will ascribe to his God the attributes of gentleness and affection, and will say in his heart “God is love.” Knowledge, therefore, is essential to worship; man cannot adequately serve God in ignorance; and the greater his knowledge of the divine personality, the fuller and truer will be his adoration. He may learn to know the Father, and the Son who was sent; and such knowledge is man’s guaranty to eternal life.

Worship is the voluntary homage of the soul. Under compulsion, or for purposes of display, one may insincerely perform all the outward ceremonies of an established style of adoration; he may voice words of prescribed prayers; his lips may profess a creed; yet his effort is but a mockery of worship and its indulgence a sin. God asks no reluctant homage nor unwilling praise. Formalism in worship is acceptable only so far as it is accompanied by an intelligent devoutness; and it is genuine only as it is an aid to the spiritual devotion that leads to communion with Deity. The spoken prayer is but empty sound if it be anything less than an index to the volume of the soul’s righteous desire. Communications addressed to the Throne of Grace must bear the stamp of sincerity if they are to reach their high destination. The most acceptable form of worship is that which rests on an unreserved compliance with the laws of God as the worshiper has learned their purport.

Religious Intolerance-The Church holds that the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience has been conferred upon man by authority higher than any of earth; and that, in consequence, no worldly power can justly interfere with its exercise. The Latter-day Saints accept as inspired the constitutional provision by which religious liberty within our own nation is professedly guarded, that no law shall ever be made “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” and they confidently believe that with the spread of enlightenment throughout the world a similar guaranty will be acquired by every nation. Intolerance has been the greatest hindrance to progress in every period of time; yet under the sable cloak of perverted zeal for religion, nations, while boasting of their civilization, and professed ministers of the Gospel of Christ, have stained the pages of the world’s history with the record of such unholy deeds of persecution as to make the heavens weep. In this respect, so-called Christianity ought to bow its head in shame before the record of pagan toleration. Rome, while arrogantly though none the less effectively posing as the mistress of the world, granted to her vanquished subjects the rights of freedom in worship, requiring of them only that they refrain from molesting others or one another in the exercise of such freedom.

The people of Israel, while yet in fact Jehovah-worshipers, flourished, but soon became intolerant, counting themselves sure of an exalted station, and looking upon all who were not of the covenant race as unworthy. Christ, in His ministry among them, saw with compassionate sorrow the spiritual and intellectual bondage of the times, and declared unto them the saving word: “The truth shall make you free.” At this, some self-righteous aggressors became angry, and boastfully answered: “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” Then the Master reproved them for their bigotry: “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.”

There is little cause for wonder in the fact that the early Christians, zealous for the new faith unto which they had been baptized, and newly converted from idolatry and pagan superstitions, should consider themselves superior to the rest of humanity still sitting in darkness and ignorance. Even John, traditionally known as the Apostle of Love, but surnamed by the Christ, he and his brother James, Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, was intolerant and resentful toward those who followed not his path; and more than once had to be rebuked by his Master. Note this incident: “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” And again, while traveling with their Lord through Samaria, the apostles James and John were incensed at the Samaritans’ lack of respect toward the Master, and craved permission to call fire from heaven to consume the unbelievers; but their revengeful desire was promptly rebuked by the Lord, who said: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

Intolerance is Unscriptural-The teachings of our Lord breathe the spirit of forbearance and love even to enemies. He tolerated, though he could not approve, the practises of the heathen in their idolatry, the Samaritans with their degenerate customs of worship, the luxury-loving Sadducees, and the law-bound Pharisees. Hatred was not countenanced even toward foes. His instructions were: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The Twelve were commanded to salute with their blessing every house at which they applied for hospitality. True, if the people rejected them and their message, retribution was to follow; but this visitation of cursing was to be reserved as a divine prerogative. In the Parable of the Tares, Christ taught the same lesson of forbearance; the hasty servants wanted to pluck out the weeds straightway, but were forbidden lest they root up the wheat also, and were assured that a separation would be effected in the time of harvest.

In spite of the prevailing spirit of toleration and love pervading the teachings of the Savior and the apostles, attempts have been made to draw from the scriptures justification for intolerance and persecution. Paul’s stinging words addressed to the Galatians have been given a meaning wholly foreign to the spirit that prompted them. Warning the saints of false teachers, he said: “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” On the strength of this forceful admonition combined with denunciation, some have sought to justify persecution on account of differences in religion; but such misconstruction must be charged to shallow reading and evil prejudice. Was it not-is it not-rational to say that any man or coterie of men, any sect, denomination or church that would preach its own conceptions as the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, is guilty of blasphemy and deserving of the curse of God? Paul leaves us not in doubt as to the character of the Gospel he so forcefully defended, as his later words show: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Let it be remembered that vengeance and recompense belong to the Lord.

The intent of John’s words of counsel to the elect lady has been perverted, and his teachings have been made a cover of refuge for persecutors and bigots. Warning her of the ministers of Antichrist who were industriously disseminating their heresies, the apostle wrote: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” By no rightful interpretation can these words be made to sanction intolerance, persecution, and hatred.

Article Name
11. Religious Liberty and Toleration
Mormons claim the privilege of worshiping according to their own conscience and allow all men the same privilege.