Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Believe in the Law

Articles of Faith #12
[I] believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

One thing that always mildly interested me as a foreign missionary in Germany was that, although two large religious groups made a habit of knocking on doors and interrupting people on the streets to share their religion, only one had a license from the government to do so. We were instructed to keep this license, a gray passport-like pamphlet, on our persons at all times.

Because we are painstakingly compliant to local laws wherever we go, the LDS church has been granted many freedoms that other religions have not always enjoyed. Countries in the Middle and Far East have welcomed us in as service missionaries when we were not allowed to proselyte. We were one of few religions allowed practice in Cold War East Germany. Doors have opened to us multiple times in multiple places because we show respect to the law.

Historically, the LDS Church was persecuted for practicing polygamy and laws were created to end it. Moving outside of US legal jurisdiction, polygamy was practiced until Utah was swallowed up in Manifest Destiny, and it was clear that there was no legal way to make it permissible. Then, the Church bowed to the law. Many are conflicted by this, feeling that if a doctrine is of God, the Church should never have submitted. But as Wilfred Woodruff asked in the footnotes of Official Declaration 1, "Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people . . . or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law . . . ?" In the case of polygamy, the eternal principle of plural marriage was temporally opposed by the principle of this Article of Faith. Eventually, a time came when the cost to the Church in not obeying the law of plural marriage was overshadowed by the cost of continuing its practice under legal opposition.

Joseph Smith also found himself arrested multiple times, but preached one of the most powerful sermons on worldly law found in religious texts. This entire section of the D&C ought to be read and pondered, particularly in the light of recent political unrest. It has given me many things to think about.

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