Articles of Faith: Commandments or Admonitions?

My mother lectured me on the phone recently. It might’ve been cute in a nostalgic way if it hadn’t annoyed me so much. What prompted this trip down childhood lane? I told her that I have no intention of ever paying my parking tickets. I now owe the city more than my car is worth. I’m basically waiting for the city to tow it so I don’t have to move it for alternate side street parking anymore. My mother found this appalling. She told me I was raised in a law-abiding household and she didn’t understand how I could just not pay my tickets. When I said that I live a very different life from hers she said, “Yes, but we both have the same beliefs, beliefs that include obeying the law. At least I hope we do.” Yes, mother.

I have no qualms about not paying stupid parking tickets that I got because my car is dead and the street-sweeper comes too early in the morning for me to get up and beg for a jump-start. I’ve also had some bogus tickets, including one for “missing or impaired equipment.” Someone ripped off my side-view mirror and I got a ticket for it. How is it a traffic violation to have a _parked_ car with a missing mirror?

I found it supremely annoying to have my mother question my religious conviction because I am not going to pay for my parking tickets. Where in the scriptures does it say I have to obey every stupid nit-picking law? OK, The Articles of Faith are in the Pearl of Great Price. But they are not presented as commandments. Joseph Smith wrote them as PR for people interested in our religion. Does the fact that they are in the Pearl of GP make them commandments? They sound more like admonitions, in the same way that article 13 says we believe in following the admonitions of Paul. Am I going to be judged for not following every law of the land? Do I need to repent for not moving my car every Tuesday and Friday between 9:30-11 am?

Are we commanded to obey the law of the land? Did I miss that somewhere?

Jennifer J.

Comments

  1. And what kind of car do you have? A car in the city is like the ultimate luxury…

  2. Are parking tickets personal obligations, or do they run with the car? It would significantly alter the bids, I am assuming…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Everyone,
    Re your questions about my car: It’s a 1988 camry. The only reason I still have it is because I’m too lazy to sell it. I almost sold it twice but each time, right before making the transaction, something went wrong with the car. Because I chose to be honest in that case I didn’t sell it.

    I think I could make a good argument for why the city does in fact _owe_ me, rather than the other way around. I teach for the city/state and get an insulting paycheck. Not only that, but my first semester here, I taught one class and still had to pay full tuition for my graduate classes, which was more than I made teaching for the school.

    I could also argue that I can break my contractual obligations to the city because they have broken theirs. My car has not been protected from vandalism or theft while parked on city property. It is the government’s obligation to protect my property. Since they have failed on their end, I feel no need to fulfill mine.

  4. Excellent!

    Most of your post seems concerned with the idea of what constitutes church canon. I think that the A of F are pretty clearly in the commandment category, but obeying the law also figures into the D&C and other places, too.

    However, there could be another way to look at parking tickets, which may give you more guilt (or absolve you completely), and that’s from an idea of being a good citizen and participant in society. Parking tickets are a transactional detail – you have parked someplace, for which the city has a right to charge you via a traffic infraction. Whether you pay that ticket or not is somewhat similar in my mind to paying for seats in a movie theater or similar contractual situation. That is, I don’t see the main issue as “violating the law”, in terms of a moral code, so much as breaking a social contract. You may feel that you haven’t chosen to park there, that there’s no ‘meeting of the minds’ for this contract, but that’s not true (for various reasons which would turn this post very, very lengthy).

    So, the question is – how bad do you feel about not playing fairly in society? How important is it for you to keep your agreements with the world around you?

  5. For some reason D&C 136 (I think–maybe 134?) is never cited in connection with the AofF. I think it adds perspective and context.

  6. Hmm, thinking about this for a second, aren’t there better uses than just letting the city tow and keep it? Can you sell it in Loot for $500 (and continue to not pay the tickets)? Or even donate it to some charitable outfit (don’t many of them come and get it from you?) and get a tax deduction for it?

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    I brought up AOF #12 about obeying and sustaining the law, on another blog, in the context of the possible future of Same-Sex Marriage (SSM). I’m still waiting for a response over there, but may I please say…

    Grrr, why is this particular issue polarizing everyone so much? Homosexuals exist, and many people leave our own faith to lead a gay lifestyle. Can’t we support them and help them and love them, and want for them every happiness?

  8. I don’t see in the comments anyone citing the most direct scriptural response to Jennifer’s question, which is D&C 58:21: “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.” I suppose, like Eowyn (“I am no man!”), you could argue that technically it doesn’t apply to a woman. Or you could simply dismiss it as hyperbole.

  9. I know those reasons are irrelevant to paying my tickets. I didn’t mean to sound whiny or victimized. I chose my profession, I love my job. I only brought them up at the suggestion that I try to justify my not paying the tickets.
    Steve mentioned the contractual agreement justification of law which he said could condemn or absolve me. I think looking at it from a contractual standpoint absolves me because one of the fundamental responsibilities of any government is to protect the citizen’s property. The gov’t has failed to do that so our contract was already broken.

    The real issue I had was not about my car, but whether the Lord is going to hold me accountable for my every infraction of the law.

    I’m not paying the tickets because I don’t have to money to pay them. I want the city to tow the stupid car so they can auction it and get their money.

  10. If you don’t want to pay your parking tickets then don’t–I don’t think you’re in any danger of hellfire–but an “insulting paycheck….failure of the city to protect your car….paying tuition that was more expensive than your teaching salary etc.,” these reasons don’t seem relevant to me.

    Reminds me of things I’ve heard from people about their inflated rights because of how much taxes they pay (or tithing or whatever). Also equally irrelevant in my mind.

    I know you’re just complaining about the general unjustness of how society values your chosen profession (and I agree) but I don’t think that’s relevant to the morality of your failing to pay your parking tickets.

    Incidentally, it’s in these discussions I like to ask the always-obey-the-law-Mormon, “what do you mean by ‘the law?'” Does it include case law, laws on the books which are never enforced, etc.?

  11. It’s set out very clearly in D & C 141:

    And wo unto Jennifer, for she hath set at naught the traffic regulations of Manhattan. Therefore, let her haste to move her car every Tuesday and Friday.

    I think you need to talk this over with your bishop. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some serious church discipline for this kind of infraction.

  12. Jennifer has a great point: Life for a Saint isn’t all that important if the Saint doesn’t obey the commandments. Better to die, no? Esp. in fighting the evil.

    Alt: just write the city a legal sounding letter stating that the tickets were issued in an illegal manner (look up the city code, i’m sure you can come up with something). I’ve done this once in Philadelphia, & will have to do it again soon, as they insist on giving me a ticket for parking my Motorcycle on the sidewalk…which is not a ticketable offense (as long as it doesn’t block the sidewalk). I have yet to pay for one of these tickets or receiving annoying “tow alert” notices for a ticket mentioned in that first letter.

  13. John H says:

    Jennifer, I think it’s safe to say that obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law is a part of LDS commandments.

    Having said that, I think on a cultural level, “obeying the law of the land” has joined the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity as one of the most favored commandments among Church members. I hear people referring to it often. I’ve sat in more than one lesson where someone referred to Germany and said if you were a Latter-day Saint it was ok to be a Nazi and do what Hitler told you to do. I think you’re onto something with your post – “obeying the law of the land” has taken on a very important meaning in Mormon culture.

  14. Jennifer: There is a muted higher law tradition in Mormonism that you could call on to justify your disobedience, provided that you have a good argument for the injustice of the traffic tickets. Check out George Q. Cannon, _A Reply to the Decision of the Supreme Court in the Case of George Reynolds versus the United States_.

  15. John,

    I think you’re right in part, but Mormons tend to put a strong natural-law gloss on their idea of the law of the land.

    So, if the law of the land says that abortion protesters may not picket within 100 feet of a clinic, or that the church may not keep general conference protesters away from temple square, many church members may still feel it is appropriate to violate those legal mandates.

  16. Jennifer says:

    John,
    People have actually said they’d be justified in obeying the nazi state in Sunday school? That’s scary. I definitely have a more natural law view of things. While an oebdient LDS german citizen could get away with compliance to the nazi’s, isn’t the more righteous path resistance?

    I think we have an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Moral dilemmas always involve a conflict between principles. In which case you have to choose the more important principle. If an unjust law is harming a significant number of my fellow man, then because ‘love thy neighbor’ is the second greatest commandment, it trumps ‘obey the law of the land’.

    (this has nothing to do with my car, I have no noble reasons for not paying my tickets)

  17. Keep the Commandments. Break the Rules (at least when necessary).

  18. Nate,

    Actually, the answer may be “neither.” I think they probably run with the license plate, which isn’t the same thing as the car if, as in the case of my wife’s car, you change the out-of-state license plate to a California one. I think we owe like $300.00 on the old Washington plates, but I don’t see how they’ll ever be able to come after us, given what I know of how the system works.

    I am quite sure an argument could be made for the injustice of parking tickets, at least here in Los Angeles. I see it as a religious duty to resist any mandate from the Parking Violations Bureau. If you knew how many thousands of dollars I’ve paid them in the last few years, you’d understand.

    Aaron B

  19. oh, re: the gender wars & jennifer’s initial question.

    Why is it that most of the men (I’m guilty too) have all rushed out with solutions to the individual problem rather than addressing the question?

    ok, that is as close to an apology as this steve e. disciple comes. :)

  20. Jennifer says:

    Oops! I forget to type my name.

  21. Sell it on ebay!

    Better yet, sell it on BCC. I’m sure you could get Mat, Steve and I into an all-out bidding war.

  22. When it comes to obedience to the law, I figure I have at least a general civic responsibility to respect and obey it. There are cases, though, where I may (and most certainly do!) disagree with it, whether on the level of opinion, or on a moral level. If the law is morally reprehensible — for example, if it requires me to kill someone, or steal, or hate my neighbor, or otherwise break higher commandments — then I’d agree we have a duty to disobey.

    But I’m not so sure I’d go so far as to say my moral obligation to disobey unjust laws goes so far as to cover not paying parking tickets. On that level, I’d see the 11th Article of Faith as a strong suggestion that requires me to obey the law while at the same time petitioning for a change in the law and/or campaigning for the idiots who made the law to get kicked out of office.

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