Mormon Disobedience

As Mormons, we’re supposed to uphold the law of the land. But, living in a democratic society, the law of the land is subject to change. When do we decide which laws to keep and which laws to break? Do we have a moral obligation to advocate changing an unjust law?

For example, say you were living two hundred years ago and you encountered a fugitive slave trying to escape to Canada. Do you turn him in? If you didn’t, you’d have been breaking the law.

A slightly different example: gay marriage is legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Are we obligated as Mormons to change this law? Do you respect this law, or do you advocate changing the law?

Seems to me that many Mormons like to pick and choose when to say we should obey and respect the law of the land and when we shouldn’t, but we can’t hide behind the law to determine our morality. Our Mormon ancestors didn’t accept the law of the land to determine their morality. They flagrantly broke the laws. They fought long and hard to change the laws. But, ultimately, they submitted to the law — even when it directly contradicted revelation from God.

So, I’m confused. I don’t want to give up my moral authority to determine a particular course of action to the whims of our government. And our Church is silent on many compelling political issues (illegal immigration, for one). So, what is our moral authority to decide if a law is unjust? How do you decide? Have you ever done anything to change an unjust law?

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    Elizabeth — In one sense, I think the dilemma you pose isn’t real. It is easy to distinguish between the need to “obey” the law, and the supposed need to “support” the law, by which I mean the notion that one should abstain from trying to change it. Certain Mormon scriptures seem to require the former, but certainly not the latter. Thus, whatever else one makes of gay marriage, I don’t think you can really use the impending legal reality of gay marriage as an illustration of this dilemma. If the government required Mormon bishops to marry gay couples, maybe then the tension you’re trying to highlight would assume center stage. Until then, I’m not seeing the issue; Mormons who are opposed to gay marriage can continue to acknowledge that the state has sanctioned these unions, and nonetheless argue that it shouldn’t have (and maybe even try to advocate for more traditional marriage laws).

    Having said that, there certainly is a tension between the notion that we should obey the law of the land, and the fact that sometimes such obedience might require that we engage in some activity we believe to be highly immoral. I’m often amused by Sunday School lessons (like the one last Sunday) in which the teacher focuses on the need to obey the laws (“governments come from God,” and all that …) and then points out, by the way, that we of course are still responsible for our own actions, and can’t blame the government if it mandates an immoral course of action (think Nazi Germany, etc.) and we comply. What is amusing is the frequent failure to acknowledge the tension between these two observations, and the tendency to treat them as if they’re just two important principles to understand, co-existing side-by-side in perfect harmony.

    Aaron B

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    Incidently, one of the screaming ironies of most LDS discussions of “obeying the law” and “civil disobedience” is that we, as a people, tend to advocate the former and frown on the latter, while failing to acknowledge (or, in some cases, even recognize) that modern Mormonism is, in many ways, the product of a set of historical experiences in which we did exactly the opposite.

    Aaron B

  3. Aaron – you’re right. I used the gay marriage example as a general example of when we might be spurred to political action – regardless of whether or not we ourselves are required to act affirmatively to comply with the law.

    There are many people in Massachusetts who are actively challenging the legality of gay marriage(organizing petitions and the like), so this law obviously is offending many people who will not themselves be required to enforce the right of homosexual couples to marry (as opposed to the town clerks issuing marriage licenses, for example).

    So, I guess my question is whether there is a definitive “higher” law that helps us to examine our temporal laws in order to determine whether or not these laws are just or unjust. And then what do we do about it after we have made the determination that the law is unjust? Considering the general apathy of the U.S. electorate, the answer is probably not much, but still.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with your comment #2. It’s amazing how quickly and effectively the revolutionary ideals of Joseph Smith and the early founders of the Church were co-opted into an immoveable reverence for rules and authority.

  4. This is a mess. Take my all-time favourite Mormon hero, Hellmuth Huebener: he broke the law to subvert Nazism and ended up at the guillotine. He joins the ranks of Mormon law-breakers in heaven, a Saint among saints.

    I always like to juxtapose two Mormon concepts:

    1. That we should support the government.
    2. That the government should provide us certain rights.

    When the government breaks #2, then I’m under no obligation to obey #1. That’s my own moral theory on this. In practice, however, I seriously doubt I would have had Hellmuth’s courage.

  5. Shandee Godfrey says:

    Wasn’t Hellmuth Heubner excommunicated for his action? In that case, he was a non-saint (or exed-saint) among Saints. Exed and axed for his beliefs. Ouch.

  6. Obeying the law does not mean we support it, we have our own conscience to do that. We fight against laws we disagree with – in England a gender recogniction bill, giving rights to those who undergo a sex change operation to be legally recognised as their chosen sex, could have had massive implications for the church re: giving the priesthood, marriage etc. The church along with some other churches campaigned and as a result, churches are exempt.

    We should be law abiding, but we can also campaign to change laws that need to be changed.

  7. He was reinstated after the war. For the record let me state that I have tremendous sympathy for his Branch President too: confronted by the Gestapo over Huebener and their “American Church,” the pressure must have been immense. Which is why I called this whole thing a mess. Hard and fast rules elude us.

  8. Seth Rogers says:

    Perhaps it’s because, deep-down, some of us are Mormons first and Americans second (or third or fourth).

    I think the Church’s calculation on this issue is strictly utilitarian. If the USA provides more benefits than harm to the Church, we’ll play along, even if we don’t like the individual laws per se. But once the USA and its laws are no longer benefitting us overall, we’ll likely drop this whole patriotic thing.

    As long as the US is promoting freedom of religion and a more open world for missionary work, we’ll praise it to the heavens. But once it stops doing these things, we’ll chuck it with as little regret as you’d chuck a used-up Bic pen.

    Well, maybe some members feel this way. I know I do.

    But I do know that whenever, I hear the USA praised from the pulpit, it is almost always in connection with the advancement of religious liberty and a more open world for missionaries.

    So the moral of the story is: “We’ll support Chilean dictators as long as they allow us to continue converting more Chileans.”

    Personally, I think the LDS doctrine on following the law is entirely born of self-interest. God’s law is the only law that is unequivocally good in Mormon doctrine. All others laws are just tools to be enjoyed when they are useful, and abandoned when they are harmful.

  9. Sadly, I have lent my copy of Mormonism in Transition, but if I may paraphrase: there was an interesting exchange between prospective Senator Smoot and one of his inquirers during the hearings. Apostle Smoot was asked what he would sustain if there was a conflict, the law or the doctrine of the Mormon Church. He stated that he would uphold the law, but that he did not see such a conflict. He further stated that he would likely leave the country if such a conflict did exist.

    Now, this at least somewhat disengenuous, but it does mark a dramatic institutional shift. Our nineteenth century precident is something like this: fight to win, but if you get beat, roll over. Which, it seems, was highly successful.

    As it pertains to modernity, I think we are bound by the Church’s compliance. Certain of our actions are compelled by law. We must conform our actions to those leagal stipulations. If we choose action that are not legal, we defy the church and must hope that we will be redeemed by history (as was Helmuth)…but that is a hefty gamble.

  10. I love this country and have deep respect for the Constitution and the many liberties it gives us. But I am often surprised at how many members of the Church seem to forget that there was a time where the Constitution’s protections were not offered to Mormons. Members of the Church were burned out of their homes, had their property stolen, were subjected to beatings and abuse, and were killed by mobs–all with effectively no protection from state or federal governments. So many members of the Church seem to forget the possibility that government actors (and perhaps laws they create/enforce) could end up not being your friend. Mormonism today seems so “tame” by American cultural standards that it maybe seems far-fetched to think that the government could try to enforce a law that limits our ability to live our religion (or just “live”), but I worry that this possibility, though far-fetched, could one day “come to pass”. How silly would we look then for uncritical support for laws like, for example, the Patriot Act?

    Living as we do in a democracy, I certainly think we have the right–and perhaps the moral obligation–to advocate for a change in laws that we deem unjust. But if, despite our efforts, that law does not change, must we obey? I think that in all but the most extreme circumstances we are morally obligated to obey–not just because the Church’s doctrine is that we “honor and obey the law” but because this is what it means to be in a democracy. Sometimes you’re in the majority, sometimes you’re not. When you’re not, you just have to live with it.

    But I can imagine extreme circumstances where I might feel obligated to disobey, although (thankfully) these really do feel like a stretch (at least for now).

  11. We had the lesson on being good citizens in gospel doctrine this week. There were two interesting discussions. One was initiated by an individual in the class who is adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq right now. He feels it is contrary to scripture and believes that members of the church, and the church itself, should be far more outspoken in support of peace (and against President Bush). He persuasively cited scriptures and referred to Church statements against the cold war and the MX missile in support of his opposition. As he sees it, it is his (and our) moral and religious duty to do everything possible to oppose the war, including civil disobedience. Is he correct? I think Section 134, the Church’s definitive (and internally inconsistent) statement on governments, could be read to support him in doing so.

    Most people were supportive of his position in concept. I wonder if that would be the case in some Utah communities . . . And why is it that members of our church generally seem very non-committal or uninterested in these issues? The Church has been basically out of the picture in the abortion debate that has been raging for many years in this country, why is that?

    The second discussion involved the Church’s public support for Proposition 22 in California, and the heavy-duty pressure that was placed on members in this state to support the proposition financial and publicly. Priesthood members were pressured to place signs in their lawns that were highly offensive to their neighbors, many of whom have lifestyles that were to be impacted by the proposition. There members were torn between offending their neighbors and refusing to follow their church leaders.

    My personal view is that the Church organization should stay out of politics altogether, even on “moral” Issues. It is extremely divisive, and some positions (particularly on same-sex issues) can be hurtful to many people both in and outside of the church.

    Incidentally, can someone explain to me the justification for the Church’s public position in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment? How exactly was that a “moral” issue? I think Mormons have been branded as anti-women ever since, and that has caused immeasurable harm to the Church.

  12. Aaron mentioned “civil disobedience” but didn’t define it. I’m not sure, but I think it was Henry David Thoreau who said essentially, “No man should be compelled to abide by any law that he deems unjust but he should also be willing to pay the consequences for not doing so.” I think that is the perfect attitude practiced by Ghandi and Martin Luther King and one that we could use to guide our actions.

  13. Porter,

    I am responding to your Prop 22 comments.

    It seems to me that following church leaders and supporting the law of chastity and the churches moral teachings is more important than desiring to not offend those who are living a sinful lifestyle.

    Imagine if not offending was the highest good. I guess then that the prophets should be silent cause they have been offending sinners for thousands of years.

    Also I am now (tongue in cheek) going to stop teaching the law of chastity to my YM cause some of them might have issues with chastity. Heck, They might be offended….

    In fact because the world in general is offended by the law of chastity lets just throw it out…. Archaic fools in SLC….. Not in touch with todays realities….

    It requires moral courage to openly support morality. I congragulate the Church and its believing members that helped get prop 22 passed.

  14. “It seems to me that following church leaders and supporting the law of chastity and the churches moral teachings is more important than desiring to not offend those who are living a sinful lifestyle.”

    I don’t see how Prop 22 stops people from breaking the Law of Chastity. Did people stop being gay all of a sudden? Don’t get me wrong, I voted for a similar measure in my state, but I fail to see how this will affect public morality. It seemed too political.

  15. bbell, I don’t disagree with the point that we should stand up for what is right, but I could point you to many general conference talks that encourage us to love our neighbors, and reach out to those who hold different beliefs than ours.

    What are we supposed to do to “openly support morality” as you suggest? There are many behaviors that our non-mormon neighbors engage in that violate our law of chastity. Do you suggest we should place large plackards in our lawns that say “the Johnsons are sinners because they are living together” or “pre-marital sex is evil”? Other than causing you to be a total outcast what good does that do?

    I have never beleived that it is my duty as a member of the Church to impose my values or unique moral laws on others who are not of our faith. I try to teach our children tolerance of others, including those good people who are living their lives based upon different standards than we do. I can (and did) vote in support of Proposition 22 in the privacy of the voting booth, but I draw the line at offending neighbors who I have worked for years to cultivate good relationships with, and in some cases I hope to introduce to the church.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    Aaron B said:
    “I’m often amused by Sunday School lessons (like the one last Sunday) in which the teacher …”

    Not that most readers will care, but I should clarify that I was not meaning to comment on the quality of the lessons taught in my ward this past Sunday (which I didn’t get to attend, in any event). I meant to say that these types of discussions often take place in gospel doctrine classes, and lo and behold, last Sunday was the scheduled week to be discussing this topic. My comment wasn’t intended as a commentary on an actual lesson I attended.

    Aaron B

  17. Porter.

    Did you neighbors hide their feelings? Or do you think that the anti prop 22 position is more PC so you were afraid to be honest about how you were voting? Did they put out anti Prop 22 signs if so what if you were offended? Like I said not offending sinners is not the highest law. It may be inpolite in a Blue state like CA. But even there prop 22 got 60% of the vote. Do the LDS have to hide our positions on morality?

    Yeah I am LDS but not like those crazies in SLC. I am more tolerant… Would you like to hear the discussions?

  18. I would rather demonstrate by beliefs by the way I live and by not judging others, and I have found that to be a very effective missionary tool.

    Hey, at least we both agree that the LDS people in SLC are crazies.

  19. G Hinckley says:

    “Hey, at least we both agree that the LDS people in SLC are crazies.”

    I appreciate that comment … Thanks! ;-)

  20. In Elisabeth’s original post, she seemed to assum that because I’m Mormon I’m opposed to gay marriage

    (“…gay marriage is legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Are we obligated as Mormons to change this law?”)

    Instead, for me, because of my Mormonness, I’m in favor as a matter of public policy in allowing civil unions or marriages by gay or lesbian couples. Here, by “my Mormonness,” I mean the value we place (once placed?) on civil liberties, on community and long-term family relationships, on caring for the marginalized, and following Christ in loving our neighbor…

    Plus, as a Mormon I’m aware that it was just 100 years ago when as an anti-Mormon political move a constitutional amendment was sought to define marraige as being only between one man and one woman. I can’t stomach using the same hammer to beat someone else that was used against us.

    Bill Evans

  21. Was it in Quinn’s biography of J. Reuben Clark that Quinn tells of Clark, just after Brown v Board of Ed. in 1954, telling the rest of the First Presidency, essentially:

    “Look, in our church we obey the law of the land, and the law of the land just changed in a major way. We can be behind the curve, or get ahead of it. I recommend we get ahead of it, perhaps by giving blacks the Aaronic priesthood. Whaddyathink?”
    I need to look that up, to verify if I’m remembering that right.
    If I am, though it took us another 25 years to follow the spirit of “the law of the land,” we did, and I think there are other examples of that, and as a result, our Mormonness is very linked to our Americanness. When it was legal to discriminate racially, we did. When it wasn’t we didn’t. I suggest that because of Lawrence v. Texas (S.C. decision that struck down state sodomy laws), the law of the land has gone through a major shift that will significantly affect the conversation over public policies related to gays/lesbians, because we and others will no longer have the underpinning argument of “homosexuality is illegal.” We’re reduced to “”homosexuality is sinful” (for those that believe that way, I don’t), and I don’t think that’s a stable enough leg to support a lengthy continuing anti-gay initiative. At least, I hope not.
    JA

  22. Jen,

    500 years of scripture and Jewish/Christian teachings on sexual sin is enough. LDS church will go to the mattresses on this issue. Much to our credit IMHO. Not allowing Satan to influence our beliefs on sexual immorality is to our credit.

  23. Jen, I’ll take your JRC comment and raise you one.

    J. Reuben Clark was very conservative politically, and, oddly to our present day viewpoint, was a strong pacifist.
    The following is a statement he drafted for use by the First Presidency in 1945 (he was an apostle and FP member at the time). It was not published, but the First Presidency used it in lobbying Utah’s legislatures against a peace-time military draft.

    “1. A great standing army has always lead to a destruction of liberties and the establishment of tyranny…
    2. A great standing army, with its war-minded controls, always looks for opportunities for use of the army, and military influence is always exerted to that end.
    3. A great standing army has the effect of making the whole nation war-minded. It makes a nation truculent, overbearing, and imperialistic, all provocative of war.”
    Quinn, Elder Statesman: A biography of J. Reuben Clark, 307-308.

    With that in mind, let’s ask E’s question differently:

    The U.S. has a public policy of maintaining the most expensive war machine on earth. Are we obligated as Mormons to advocate changing this policy?

  24. In a 1968 Dialogue issue, Elder Oaks had an article addressing the difference in his view between appropriate “lawful protest” and inappropriate “civil disobedience.”
    Here are some excerpts from that:
    “[A] white man’s plea for non-violence and respect for law may seem incongruous to a Negro with a sound feeling for his history and traditions. But the plea must be made. It was Abraham Lincoln
    who declared, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”3 Our society, which grants almost unlimited opportunities for free speech, lawful protest, and peaceful efforts to adjust grievances and change legal rules by democratic means, need not tolerate any degree of violence or disobedience or disrespect for law.

    [I think the previous sentence's claim about the opportunity for change is inaccurate when applied to some politically marginalized segments of our population (such as blacks from the 1770s into the 1900s)]
    …Another form of protest distinctly different from lawful protest is civil disobedience, which consists of an open and deliberate violation of law for the purpose of influencing government policy. Persons engaging in civil disobedience frequently do so with full knowledge of the personal consequences of their acts and with the expectation that their arrest and punishment will give increased publicity to their protest and added impetus to their cause. Although nothing said here is intended to be critical of legal protests (however inconvenient or irritating), this article does condemn most forms of civil disobedience, because deliberate defiance of the authority of law involves unacceptable risks to the well being of our democratic society….
    …CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE – LIMITS AND DANGERS
    Deliberate and flagrant illegal behavior by private citizens is also dangerous to the long-run interests of society. The most newsworthy example today is civil disobedience, a concept so amorphous that almost every author who has contributed to the growing literature on the subject has felt obliged to provide his own definition.For purposes of this article, the term civil disobedience signifies an open and deliberate violation of law for the purpose of influencing government policy. It should be recalled at the outset that this does not include lawful protests such as peaceful assemblies, picketing, or marches not in violation of law. …Thoughtful writers have distinguished between two different types of civil disobedience. The first is the type recently approved by a resolution of the General Board of the National Council of Churches, which defined it as “deliberate, peaceable violation of a law deemed to be unjust, in obedience to conscience or a higher law, and with recognition of the state’s legal authority to punish the violator.” Here a person breaks a law as a means of attacking its morality or constitutionality or of publicizing efforts to repeal it.

    In the second type of civil disobedience the law being violated is not itself the object of the protest but is disobeyed merely to dramatize and publicize the protester’s cause. Although a significant number of thoughtful persons defend the first type of civil disobedience in at least some instances, few attempt to justify this second sort of law-breaking.
    …
    A type of law-breaking not subject to similar moral condemnation or social risk is an act principally motivated by a desire to test the constitutionality of a law. Frequently the only way to test the validity of a criminal law is to break it. In view of the public interest in obtaining rulings on the validity of doubtful laws, acts of civil disobedience principally designed to present test cases serve a legitimate social purpose. But this justification extends only to laws whose constitutionality admits of reasonable doubt, and only to methods reasonably necessary to obtain the desired ruling.21 If the principal purpose is really to frame a test case, all that should be required is a reconnaissance; there is no need for massive and repeated frontal assaults that will
    “fill the jails.” …

    Dallin H. Oaks, Law and Order—A Two-Way Street (part of a Roundtable on “ Riots, Minorities, And The Struggle For Justice And Order”) Dialogue, Vol. 3:4 (1968) 59-70

    After reading through the whole article, I find myself generally skeptical of his viewpoint that civil disobedience can rarely be an appropriate way of influencing political and legal change. I think of the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil Rights movement, various anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons protests in the U.S. and elsewhere, and I think the world is at least a slightly better place because of the civil disobedience.

  25. Thanks for the comments, everyone! (Wow, G. Hinckley even stopped by!)

    Jen – I’m not sure if I follow you. Are you saying that the evolution of Church policy/doctrine merely follows the general trend of the law?

    Stirling – your raise an interesting point as to whether we should oppose a standing army in peace time. I guess I’m curious as to how people develop their opinions on things like this. Do they wait to hear from General Authorities (who don’t speak out on many specific political issues these days)? Search, ponder, and pray?

    Porter – I know there is quite a bit of information out there on the Mormon Church’s opposition to the ERA. I just can’t find any of it at the moment. Times and Seasons has had a few interesting discussions on this issue in the past (you can find these if you search under “Equal Rights Amendment”).

    Seth – I think you’re onto something, but the main issue is WHO gets to decide which laws are “God’s laws” and which laws should be disregarded, since there is usually quite a bit of disagreement around deciding which political issues God supports and which ones He opposes.

  26. Hmm, comments were not working in the thread I was in.

  27. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Amen, Brother Evans!

    Porter, regarding your post (#11), look for Martha Sonntag Bradley’s latest book, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights. She spoke at our Sunstone symposium here in Seattle back in October, and it was fascinating! Interesting to know that Idaho was one of the first states to ratify the ammendment, but then tried to nullify the ratification after the Church became involved in the campaign to fight it!

    -trish

  28. One of the scriptures cited most often as being a definitive reason for why we choose to “sustain, honor and obey the law” is chapter 13 of Romans, with its exhortation that “every soul be subject unto the higher powers”.

    Except that in the Joseph Smith translation of Romans 13, it is clear that governmental authorities aren’t being referenced here at all, because, as the remainder of verse 1 puts it, “there is no power in the church but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.”

    Without Romans 13 to contend with, Latter-day Saints are free to condemn their immoral government any old time they feel the need, and not have to worry about a thing. Peter paid no attention to the Jews who charged him with unlawful activity for preaching of Jesus as the Christ, and went right on doing what he believed God had asked him to do, despite what the leaders of the Jews may have had to say on the topic.

    19th century saints were more than happy to resist an anti-polygamy government until that government used all the powers of Mammon to break their will. I see no reason to assume that God requires me to support my government, right or wrong. The Book of Mormon (a record of a fallen people) was given to us as a warning, which means that we’re most likely going to find ourselves heading in the same direction as the Nephites lest we take care, and I seriously don’t trust my government, which is not lead by a prophet, and which seems to rely more and more on the non-scriptural principle of coercion these days instead of the idea of teaching its citizens correct principles and allowing them to govern themselves, to be headed in any path other than the same one the Nephites went down.

  29. Stirling: “After reading through the whole article, I find myself generally skeptical of his viewpoint that civil disobedience can rarely be an appropriate way of influencing political and legal change.”

    Yes, I think we all agree that Rosa Parks really should have moved to the back of the bus, shouldn’t she? :(

  30. Seth Rogers says:

    The Mormon church has the main goal of using our missionary work to convert the entire world.

    Then when we’re ready, we’ll launch a sneak attack with all the LDS interns in Washington DC, take charge of government, and invade Missouri. While fire from heaven consumeth the wicked …

    Then it’ll be payback time! It’ll be payback time for ALL!

    OK, I’m kidding here. But not completely. =)

    Why quibble about abortion when we could be better spend our time quietly building our future empire which will render all such political squabbles a moot point?

  31. Ronan, re your # 4:

    1. That we should support the government.
    2. That the government should provide us certain rights.

    When the government breaks #2, then I’m under no obligation to obey #1. That’s my own moral theory on this. In practice, however, I seriously doubt I would have had Hellmuth’s courage.

    I really like the framework you set up there and would like to point out that it restates the LDS official doctrinal position as recorded in the D&C:

    We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold 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. (D&C 134:5)

    Professor Gedicks has written an excellent article with food for thought on this topic and the tension it often creates in discussions such as this: Frederick Mark Gedicks, “The ‘Embarassing’ Section 134,” 2003 BYU Law Review 959-972. Gedicks specifically mentions the Hübner example as well.

  32. Thanks, John. I had Section 134 in mind when I made the comment. One reading of it (taken to an extreme, but IMO, logical conclusion) is that “sedition and rebellion” are justified when citizens are not protected “in their inherent and inalienable rights.”

    What do you think?

    (I’ll look at the article.)

  33. Ronan, I agree with that. The problem comes when you have disagreement about what constitute inherent and inalienable rights. Is anal sex an inherent an inalienable right? What about abortion? It seems clear that D&C 134:2 had at three in mind:

    (1) the free exercise of cconscience;
    (2) the right and control of property; and the
    (3) protection of life.

    These more or less consist of the Lockean/Jeffersonian natural rights triumvirate of life, liberty, and property (Locke) or life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Jefferson). Admittedly, the Jeffersonian formulation, if taken as a substantive declaration of the natural rights that are inherent and inalienable rights, would lend more credence to anal sex and abortion as inherent and inalienable rights.

    Additionally, the rights formulation of D&C 134 would subsume numerous other rights that reasonably fall beneath those heads, i.e. the right to assembly under the right of conscience (as the Bill of Rights already groups them). It is questionable, however, whether D&C 134 subsumes the rights that are now emanating out of constitutional penumbra, such as the right to sodomy and the right to abortion.

  34. My husband I live by the border with Mexico–he takes off, whenever he can, to birdwatch. Recently he came upon some hungry, thirsty Mexicans who had crossed over. He took them to the nearest town–and did what he could for them. I would have fully supported him if he had done more even though some US citizens recently were arrested here in AZ for doing something similar. Now, we are both law-abiding in any way I can think of, but when it comes down to it, before we are Americans, we are people and we have a human responsibility to our brothers and sisters. Period. I just don’t see it any other way.

    I think this is applicable to other moral issues: morality precedes the law, and if, in extreme circumstances, the law is immoral 1) we work to get it fixed and 2)if we are faced with a choice, we go with morals, not the law. I believe this because (not in spite of) the moral framework I was raised with in the LDS community.

    Finally, the baseline, in my mind, for religious, or at least Christian devotion is kindness. If someone is not kind, I really don’t have a lot of interest in he or her religious beliefs. I understand that Christian religion can and should promote other values, such as virture, honesty, and so on. But if it does not promote kindness or some other kind of commitment to fellow creatures, what is the point? I mean, where is the savour of the salt?

  35. Elisabeth says:

    Jenna – thank you for your comment. Well said.

  36. 31 & 32

    34 “morality precedes the law, and if, in extreme circumstances, the law is immoral 1) we work to get it fixed and 2)if we are faced with a choice, we go with morals, not the law. I believe this because (not in spite of) the moral framework I was raised with in the LDS community.”

    John, Ronan, Jenna,

    As noted on another site, 134:8 also has a similar conditional respect for civil law:

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

    I believe this fits well within Jenna’s comment about morality.

  37. Well spotted, manaen–any rule of obedience to authority needs to have an escape valve : another classic one is the D & C chapter on how unrighteous authority by a priesthood holder essentially kills the authority.

    Of course, the trick in both a secular and religious setting is that a mistake will be made when one abandons hard line rules i.e. if I give myself permission to not obey a law, rule, authority because of my conscience, I may err: it may be a good rule and I am misled in thinking I should not obey it. For example, when we are young teenagers, we have limited knowledge and life experience with which to judge whether a rule should be followed. I assume that as adults we have similar limitations.
    . . .
    Nevertheless, hard and fast obedience is not always good in a religious setting, and is prone to be even less good in a political setting in which leaders are not necessarily even prone to being correct.

  38. Aaron Brown says:

    John, thanks for the link to Gedricks’ great article. I wish I’d known about it earlier.

    Aaron B

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