Freedom of worship, support of government are essential to gospel
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The beliefs expressed in the 11th and 12th Articles of Faith - freedom of worship and support of secular government - are fundamental to the gospel.
I first came to know their true significance while in two nations half a world apart, with systems of government far different from the United States.On a cold and wintry Sunday morning in the capital of one of the world's largest communist strongholds, I fully understood that "worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience" is central to our salvation and indeed a privilege.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: "There can be no salvation without freedom of worship. To be accountable for their own sins, men must be free to act as they choose." These words took on new meaning for me.
My strong desire was to attend Church, and particularly to partake of the sacrament. Though there was a tiny branch of the Church, the government of the nation remained formally opposed to any form of "worshiping Almighty God."
Being in the official status of a government diplomat, I was sensitive to protocol and mindful of the discouragement I was receiving from government officials. I recognized the principle of "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
For the first time in my life I was required to obtain government permission to attend sacrament meeting.
Walking toward the small apartment where this group of faithful saints gathered, I was followed by secret police and my movements were closely monitored. Never before had I so wanted to freely worship "how, where, or what [IT may." Yet I understood the need to honor the laws of that nation and respect the wishes of my official hosts.
Once inside I was greeted in warm fellowship by saints from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, China and the United States, all speaking the common language of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We gathered to renew our covenants, to partake of the sacrament, to bear testimony to one another and to talk of eternal truths.
It was the law of this foreign land that religious worship was severely discouraged, and was allowed only on a limited basis. Before meeting, these saints sought and obtained the permission of the government. We worshiped together "according to the dictates of our own conscience," while fully respecting the laws of the land. How important the message to those government officials who through the honorable actions of those saints came to know more of and respect the Church.
The Lord's counsel concerning secular governments is subjection and obedience. And why? "That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1 Tim. 2:2).
In another part of the world at another time, I stood as an election monitor of the first free elections held in the Republic of Hungary in 1,100 years.
An elderly man entered the polling place, assisted by a somewhat younger man. With ballots in hand, together both men entered the solitary voting booth, and closed the curtain. My first thoughts were that something was amiss, that this voting wasn't as free and fair and independent as was represented by the government.
I waited and watched. Soon the curtain opened and the older man hobbled to the large red ballot box. He began to feel with his hands for the opening, and only then did I realize that he was blind.
I inquired. He said that this younger man was his 67-year-old son, and that he had come to read the ballot to his father. Then with tears of celebration and gratitude, this aging Hungarian farmer said that this was the most special moment of his life: He had been able to close the curtain and freely vote his conscience.
In that small shop in Budapest, Hungary, I found new understanding about "being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates." For many years this 94-year-old man had subjugated his own beliefs to those of his nation. And now the law had changed, and he was again "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." He was voting.
Secular government is essential for civil order and common safety. The Lord would have us subject ourselves to the laws of secular governments for our own protection, peace, and happiness, and to learn obedience.
President David O. McKay taught: "The three significant words used in the 12th Article of Faith express the proper attitude of the membership of the Church toward law. These words are - obey, honor, and sustain. . . . We obey law from a sense of right. We honor law because of its necessity and strength to society. We sustain law by keeping it in good repute."
The question of "our citizenship responsibility" has been answered by President Ezra Taft Benson: "Zion must awake and arouse herself. We, the elders of Israel, can be and should be the leaven in the loaf of freedom."
As Latter-day Saints, it is our responsibility to obey, honor, and sustain secular governments. Equally, it is our divine duty to seek embodiment of eternal gospel principles in public policy and law, and in those we elect to govern, until that day when, as President Brigham Young said, "everlasting righteousness prevails over the whole earth."
"Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet." (D&C 58:22.)
- Stephen M. Studdert is president of the Highland Utah East Stake and former White House adviser to Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush.