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