December 8, 2008 by The Mormon Worker
When many Mormons learn something about Anarchism, they often feel that Mormonism and Anarchism are incompatible because of the 12th article of faith which asserts that Latter-day Saints are supposed to sustain their rulers. This is certainly a valid point to make, and I would like to briefly respond why i do not feel that Mormonism and Anarchism are contradictory. Governments constitute a stage in the progression of mankind. Because governments are based on violence and coercion, if possible, we should try to move beyond such a system, replacing them, as far as possible, with a society based on mutual aid and cooperation. Such cooperation could involve worker owned factories and cooperatives, unions, trade confederations, and other forms of direct democracy. That is what an anarchist society would consist of, rather than consisting of authoritarian corporations which exploit labor and are able to influence government to promote the interests of a narrow elite, rather than of the population as a whole (ie. invade Iraq or Vietnam).
Though governments can often serve positive functions (such as passing laws limiting the work day to 8 hours), Anarchists feel that moving beyond governments would lead to a society with less poverty, less crime and less oppression. Such a society is in accord with Mormon doctrine which calls for economic and social equality (ie 4 Nephi). Much progress has been made since the US government was initially formed (ie abolition of slavery, civil rights movement, womens’ suffrage, labor laws), and yet more progress is needed. When people wonder if Anarchism is against the basic tenets of Mormonism because of the 12th Article of faith, they are ignoring some basic Mormon doctrines and history. The 12th article of faith says that Mormons believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. This does not mean that a better political/economic system than the one we presently have cannot be established. Mormons are challenged to build a Zion society, where all things are held in common, and where everyone is equal in temporal things. Mormons are also challenged to renounce war and proclaim peace (D and C 98). A society in which some degree of economic equality exists and where we do not fight offensive wars for material gain is impossible to achieve with the current system we have.
Those who wonder if Anarchism is compatible with Mormonism also feel that Mormons can never oppose the government or break the law because we are supposed to be subject to rulers as the 12th article of faith suggests. History shows that Mormons often opposed the US government in the early years of the religion’s existence. Examples include Joseph Smith raising a militia to fight the Missouri state militia, Brigham Young non-violently resisting the US Army as it marched to invade Salt Lake City, Mormons deliberately practicing polygamy (and going to jail for it) after it had been banned by the US government. Obviously, if the government asks us to do something that is contrary to the basic commandments of the Gospel, obeying Christ trumps obeying the government. Surely no Mormon would have been justified in, say, gassing Jews in Natzi Germany, simply because the German government told them to, and because the twelfth article of faith tells us we should be subject to our rulers. That article of faith is just a general rule Joseph Smith felt Mormons should follow most of the time. It was neither a commmandment, nor a revelation from God. Joseph wrote the articles of faith in response to a query from an Illinois newspaper about what Mormons’ basic beliefs are. They are simply his opinion. He never claimed they were direct revelation.