Friday, June 27, 2014

Mormonism and America



The Book of Mormon has some scriptures about America, which have special meaning to Latter-Day Saints in the United States.


Ezra Taft Benson

It is fitting to acknowledge here that we are a worldwide church, with members in many different countries; and that in the words of President Benson, we "cherish patriotism and love of country in all lands." (see April 1976 General Conference talk) But today, I would like to talk about these scriptures which have special meaning to American Mormons.




I would like to begin in a time before this nation was, when Europeans came to America to have both secular and religious freedoms. Reading from the Book of Mormon, "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord, and the power of the Lord was with them." (1 Nephi 13:16)

In the east of North America were thirteen British colonies, that were under a very real tyranny after a war with France and the native peoples of the Americas. Their rights as British citizens - their "English liberties," as they called them - were being denied to them.

When a local militia in Massachusetts got involved in a skirmish with the king's men, it was enough to begin a war. To this day, no one knows which side fired the first shots of the Revolutionary War - a war that the Lord saw as important enough, that he mentioned it in the Book of Mormon! "And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them." (1 Nephi 13:17)

For over a year, the colonists fought for their "English liberties," in the hopes that a show of strength would convince the king to back down, and give them their rights. But it was a vain hope, and after that first year of war, it became clear that they were not going to get their "English liberties." So they turned to the new idea of American liberties, secured by an American government, free of the mother country.


On July 4, 1776, the colonies made their Declaration of Independence, which included a paragraph that is as inspired as any scripture: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But the war raged on for another year. After that year, the Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation, which granted new war powers to the American government. These powers were solely needed, and this document served as the nation's first constitution, for six more years of war.

"And I [Nephi] beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone forth out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations." (1 Nephi 13:18-19)


Now, a word about the men in the army. Quoting from "America the Beautiful":

O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

The mother country was soon forced to recognize American independence, and the Articles served as the nation's constitution, for four more years after the war.

Though the Articles had done much good, they were not good enough to handle the problems the nation experienced after the war. They gave too much power to the states, making the federal government too weak. There was armed rebellion in the state of Massachusetts. The squabbling between the states put the nation in very real danger of being destroyed.

In the midst of these problems, the Lord saw fit to send some chosen men to write a new Constitution. These inspired men created a strong federal government, which had three branches - one to make the laws, one to enforce the laws, and one to interpret the laws.


The Church thought this important enough to make a movie about it, called "A More Perfect Union," which brings this event to life. It shows the long, dreary months spent writing the Constitution, with fierce debates that almost destroyed the Convention many times.

Let me quote a scripture from the Doctrine & Covenants, about the Founding Fathers: "And for this purpose have I [the Lord] established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (D&C 101:80)

When the Constitution was finished, it began with a stirring preamble, that is as inspired as any scripture: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

This is the mission statement of our government, the reason for its existence!


Truly the end result of all this debate was an inspired document, but the country did not all see it as such. After it was signed, it took four years to convince the states to ratify it! Its strongest enemies said that it lacked a Bill of Rights. After it was ratified, the states made ten amendments to it, that gave the nation the Bill of Rights that its people wanted.

Among those rights listed were freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble peaceably, the right to petition the government, the right to bear arms, the right of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right of due process, the right of protection against being forced to testify against yourself, the right to be tried only once for the same crime, the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, the right to have a lawyer when we are accused of a crime, the right to know the charges against us, the right to confront opposing witnesses, the right to have witnesses testify on our behalf, and the right of protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

All are rights that we enjoy today, and we hold dear.

*****

I would like to focus for a moment on freedom of religion. This paved the way for the gospel to be restored. In no other country could the gospel have been restored to the earth. This country was raised up by God, to prepare for the restoration of his church.


An artist's rendition of Joseph Smith's First Vision

Many years have passed since the founding of our nation, and the restoration of the gospel. But through it all and to this day, the ideas of both revolutions have lived on. We owe our allegiance to these ideas, to our country, and to the Creator from which they came.

In the words of the Doctrine & Covenants: "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." (D&C 134:5)

I testify to you that in America today, our liberties are protected enough to qualify for this loyalty, and that God's hand was involved in the making of this country, and that God still lives today. May we be able to love our God and our country a little better, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.



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