In the years leading up to the Savior's appearance in the Americas, the Nephites and Lamanites allowed their governments to fall into the hands of the corrupting influences of the Gadianton robbers.
They did not resist as corrupt individuals, seeking power for themselves, managed to take over the judgment seats, sometimes by force, sometimes by subterfuge. It was only when the government was not working for the people that righteous individuals took back the government from those who would use it for their own personal gain. (See Helaman 6 through 3 Nephi 7.)
In this past month, the world has witnessed the people of Yugoslavia reclaiming their government from tyranny. In other areas around the world, individuals are seeking their own governing powers in many lands not used to democratic freedoms. Fortunately, most political change in the world's democracies is peaceful. Governments do not have to be taken back from individuals seeking to pursue their own purposes at the expense of their fellow countrymen.
So why is it that as the United States prepares to elect new leaders barely half the eligible voters will cast ballots? With so much at stake in so many races, both federal and local, have many U.S. citizens become as apathetic as the Nephites and Lamanites of old?
One shudders to think what would have happened in Yugoslavia if only half the voters had turned out there. Would change have occurred at all? Also, this month the peoples of Germany celebrated a decade of reunification. While not all has gone as smoothly in some parts of that nation, do the German people believe they would be better off having not reunited? No, of course not; ten years of democracy is much better than decades of divided ideology and confrontation.
As Latter-day Saints wherever we may live, our role is to participate in the electoral process, to set a good example to others, and to unite our voices with those who seek the blessing of freedom.
President Joseph F. Smith said many years ago: "To be a Latter-day Saint in very deed is to be one of the best of God's people or children in the world. . . . A good Latter-day Saint will be a good citizen, no matter whether he be a subject of Great Britain, the United States, Holland, Germany or any other country of the world. If he be a good Latter-day Saint he is bound to be a good citizen of the land which gave him birth or which he has adopted as his home." (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church - Joseph F. Smith, p. 123)
He continues, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. (Ibid, p. 125)
And President Gordon B. Hinckley has declared: "It is imperative that good people, men and women of principle, be involved in the political process otherwise we abdicate power to those whose designs are almost entirely selfish." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 456)
It is important that we exercise our voting franchise in whatever country we may reside. A careful study of the issues, a prayerful and earnest evaluation will guide us as we make our choices.
President Hinckley again: "The building of public sentiment begins with a few earnest voices. I am not one to advocate shouting defiantly or shaking fists and issuing threats in the faces of legislators. But I am one who believes that we should earnestly and sincerely and positively express our convictions to those given the heavy responsibility of making or enforcing the laws." (The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 130.)
This is our challenge: to make our voices heard along with others of like minds and together forge liberty and democracy throughout the world.
The gospel of Jesus Christ can flourish only where there is freedom of speech and of religion. Those principles were placed in the First Amendment by this nation's Founding Fathers. The principle of religious liberty and individual rights has carried forth from America's Constitution to other nations. Today, it is our responsibility to preserve those principles worldwide that others, too, can enjoy those same blessings.