In a few weeks, elections will be held in the United States to determine the political leadership of the nation as well as electing state and local officials. While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse any party or individual, it does take seriously the rights of citizens to vote for those who reflect the best interests of its people.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger clearly saw the need to separate his religious duties from his political office and so stepped aside to devote his time to teaching the gospel. (See Alma 4.) Years later, as the voice of the Nephite people was subverted by the Gadianton robbers, the people of Nephi realized that their government could function in its citizens' best interest only if they elected strong people of character. After the chief judge, Pahoran, was killed during an attempt to overthrow the government, the Nephites chose others to defend their liberties in peace time and selected wise military leaders to fight their battles. (See Helaman 1-3.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in assembling the Doctrine and Covenants, wrote this preamble about earthly governments:
"We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
"We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.
"We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people." (Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-3.)
This preamble was written after the mob actions in Missouri as the Prophet sought redress from the federal government but well before his confinement in Liberty Jail and nearly a decade before the Prophet's assassination and the expulsion of the Church and its leaders from Nauvoo. But no matter how poorly the federal and state governments of the 1830s and 1840s treated the Latter-day Saints and its leaders, the Church survives today stronger in its membership, sure of its purposes and moving forward in its many missions.
In verse 9 of Section 134, the Prophet Joseph wrote: "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied." And in verse 12:
"We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world."
In these verses, the Prophet Joseph and the other Church leaders at the time clearly understood the difference between civic duty and religious rights. As long as government treats all religions fairly to the detriment of none nor the elevation of another over the others the government deserves support. And as long as the mission of religions does not interfere with the government's lawful activities, that government deserves support.
Several years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in address at BYU: "We are in the midst of a political campaign in this nation. As usual, we are being saturated with claims and counter claims. Anyone who has lived as long as I have has heard again and again the sweet talk that leads to victory but seems never to be realized thereafter. 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.)
As we prepare to cast ballots, let us all remember the counsel of leaders, the purpose of democracies and our obligations as citizens and Church members in the electoral process. Good men and women everywhere deserve our support as we exercise our constitutional right to choose those we feel will best preserve our rights as citizens and our religious rights as well.