February 2, 2009 by Ron Madson
It is my opinion that based on the totality of our doctrine, historical application, and just common moral sense that the 12th Article of Faith was never intended to require unqualified/unconditional obedience to our government or the laws of man. I believe that it is, at the minimum, ignorant if not spiritually criminal to assume that the 12th Article of Faith justifies obeying one’s government when it demands us to support wars that cause the murder of innocent lives.
The 12th Article of Faith is a general statement that we “sustain” the “law.” It is rare that sustaining the law of the land cannot be reconciled with our free and religious conscience. The 12th Article of faith can and should apply to our everyday civil duties–regulations, contracts, speed limit, criminal laws, and even taxation with representation. It is wise and virtuous to be civil and obedient to perhaps all civil laws.
However, there are times when one’s government and it’s laws demands of us to destroy the inalienable rights of life and liberties of others. When that occurs I believe we have the right, and even spiritual duty, to civilly disobey our government for the following reasons:
First, there are two basic school of legal thought as to what constitutes “law”—There is the “positive law’ model and the “natural law” model. Positive law asserts that there is no law except that which is mandated by the those who hold authority and can enforce it. Whether moral or not moral– it just is. By contrast Natural law recognizes that there are God given inalienable rights that all men are endowed with that stand independent and superior to any laws of men. Therefore, when “natural law” is irreconcilable with actual law, we are justified in civil disobedience to our government. These rights were articulated by Jefferson, Madison, et. al. in framing the founding documents of our nation.
Second, DC: 134: 1-7 and DC 98: 4-8 clearly and unmistakably adopt a natural law approach. The Lord only requires us to sustain laws that allows its citizens freedom of conscience and founded on constitutional principles. In His words, no government or laws can expect to be sustained or “exist in peace” if it denies us of our inalienable rights of freedom of conscience.
Third, both our nation and church history demonstrate that our inspired leaders have consistently applied a natural law approach when a conflict arises between the law of their government and natural law. The founding fathers of this nation rebelled against their government and the founding leaders of our faith deliberately chose to disobey the laws of their government when the Lord commanded them to practice polygamy.
Fourth, the reality is that inspired and courageous men throughout recorded history such as Thomas More (“Man of All Seasons”), Gandhi and our own Helmuth Hubener have disobeyed their government and it’s laws as a matter of conscience. Like the Revolutionaries in 1776 or our church elders during the polygamy era, these individuals like thousands of others throughout history have used their own conscience to independently determine whether it was God’s will to support their government.
Fifth, we are each endowed with the spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation to know when and for what reasons we must civilly disobey our government.
There are two approaches that enlist the 12th Article of Faith as the bases upon which to support one’s nation in it’s wars:
The “Positive Law” approach—“Our government commands and we obey.”
This approach involves believing that we must unconditionally obey our government no matter what it requires. This approach assumes that our obedience absolves us from any moral culpability for the acts that are done in concert with one’s government. This approach can result in acts, wars and endeavors that are sometimes noble and virtuous, but other times requires us to incinerate Jews in an oven, communicate messages by dropping bombs that kill tens of thousands innocent civilians, and initiate wars of aggression. This approach requires little or no thinking, no independent use of our moral compass, and for sure no personal revelation lest it confuse our thinking I consider our failure to civilly disobey any government when it authorizes the killing of innocent life as an act of criminal negligence, laziness, and arguably deafness to the spirit of Christ.
Selective “Natural Law” approach—“Only if my life or rights are being denied.”
A second choice is to selectively decide to disobey our government only when rights or privileges personal to us are being infringed upon: taxation without representation; not being able to marry more than one women; or when we feel any curtailment of our personal civil liberties. The problem with this approach is that it can be transparently self-centered if one believes that disobedience is only required when it involves one’s own property, life and freedoms. In other words, I will fight like a wildcat to preserve my material possessions and freedoms and life, but heck, if it is in my personal best interests and does not infringe on my well being, then I have no compunction about my government employing me, my money and resources in killing tens of thousands of innocent victims of another nation—their rights to life being marginally, if at all relevant to me personally. This is situational ethics at it’s worst. Inalienable rights have no national boundaries and have been given to all the children of God. It is pathetically selfish to not be as vigilant about preserving the rights to life and freedoms of all mankind. To take their lives, destroy their homes without just cause is as reprehensible as if it was being done to us personally. Again we should be willing to civilly disobey when the acts of our government is seeking to unjustly destroy the life of anyone.
When do we have a moral obligation to civilly disobey our government? Nephi told us that when the Son of God comes to the world He will show us all “things that we should do.” What did He do in relations to the “powers that be”? He was denied many civil liberties by the nation that occupied his country. He and his people were taxed without representation. They were subjected to the taking of their lives, liberties and properties. And yet when He was invited by others to take up arms and rebel against the powers that be what did he do? He refused to take up arms and commanded His disciples to put up their swords. He made no protest to any forms of taxation and even suggested returning all the money to those who created the currency. He taught “going the extra mile” and to live in harmony and peace even with enemies. So what did he refuse to do? He refused to harm anyone in anyway. No authority on earth could compel Him to do evil either individually or in concert with others no matter how just the cause. He refused to harm the sinner and even His enemies. He could not be compelled to speak falsehoods and He spoke truth to power. So when this same God tells us to live civilly and sustain law unless it involves the taking of life and freedom of conscience, what does His example mean to me?
I believe that I can sustain and adapt to reductions of my own personal material possessions and also limitations of many personal civil liberties, and even onerous taxation as long as I can live peacefully and practice virtue within the limitations placed upon me. But I refuse to obey any order, law or government that tells me that I must engage in killing, harming or destroying another person’s freedoms and rights to life. To require me to do so is to rob me of what little virtue that I might have. It is far more criminal and morally reprehensible to force me to become an instrument of unjust killing and destroying someone’s freedoms, then to have others take, for example, some additional percentage of my income or put some limitations on my personal freedoms. So in an inversion of His example, we protest an ounce of taking or restrictions upon ourselves and threaten to disobey while we hide behind the 12th Article of Faith as we drop tons of bombs on others— destroying their lives, properties and freedoms.
I believe that our God wants us to employ our minds, hearts and inspiration to challenge any law or government that compels us to destroy the life and inalienable rights of all mankind and not hide behind it to do what we should never do individually—namely, government sanctioned murder in the form of unjust wars of aggression that involve the taking of innocent life no matter our personal cost/benefit calculations or moral equations. To do so under the pretext of following the 12th Article of Faith is, in my opinion, a pathetic, lazy and ignorant excuse for murder.