Sacred Cow #1: Obey the law of the land… no matter what?

What is a sacred cow?  My definition is anything that is believed based only on tradition, and has little to zero basis on actual fact. These beliefs are held so strongly that the “worshiper” declares “blasphemy!” to anyone that challenges said belief.

Sacred Cow #1: Obey the law of the land… no matter what?

The 12th article of faith states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Many today have interpreted this to mean that it is a part of our faith that we are to obey any and all governmental laws and regulations no matter their compatibility with the laws of of God.

However, this paradigm does not take into account the Lords definition of law, as well as precedence set by ancient as well as modern (including the author of said article) Prophets.

In the Doctrine & Covenants, section 98 verses 5-7 lays out what “the law” is:

And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

Any law that is not Constitutional or fails in “supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges” is evil. In verse 11 the Lord tells us what we should do with such evil when He says, “And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil”.  Therefore, according to an actual revelation, the Lord tells us to forsake any laws that are unconstitutional or that violate principles of freedom. This conclusion is also supported by several statements from modern prophets.

In addition to this commandment from the Lord in this the last dispensation, we have precedence that reveals this as a universal principle.

Here are just a few examples:

We all remember the Sunday School lesson about Daniel and the lions den.  Why was Daniel, a Prophet of God, sent to the lions den?  He was sent there by the government because he violated the “law of the land”!

  1. Daniel knew it was against the law to pray to God (Dan 6:10)
  2. Daniel openly defied the law (Dan 6:10)

We should also remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, the three Hebrews that were sent into the fiery furnace because the disobeyed the “law of the land” that went against the law of God. (Dan. 3:12–30)

Let’s skip now to modern examples:

Polygamy as practiced by Joseph Smith and contemporary apostles was against “the law of the land” in every single state they were in.

John Taylor said, “We believe in … loyalty to our country, but when they enact laws, forbidding us the free exercise of our religion, we cannot submit. God is greater than the United States; and when the government conflicts with Heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of Heaven against the government…  If the United States say different the Saints cannot obey it. … [W]e will worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.” (1/6/1880)

Heber J. Grant: “No matter what restrictions we are placed under by men, our only consistent course is to keep the commandments of God. We should, in this regard, place ourselves in the same position as that of the three Hebrews who were cast into the fiery furnace.” (4/5/1885)

George Q. Cannon: “I admit that those raising children by plural wives are not complying with man-made laws, but in the sight of God they are not sinning, as there is no sin in it.” (Reed Smoot Hearings 1:9)

Wilford Woodruff: “God says, “We shall be damned if we do not obey the law.” Congress says, “We shall be damned if we do.” It places us precisely in the same position that it did the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and Daniel in the den of lions. … Our enemies have pursued the same course … and made it a law of offense to obey one of the laws of our God. Now who shall we obey? God or man? My voice is that we obey God.” (4/21/1879)

Apostles Penrose & Richards wrote a letter to John Taylor stating: “We then say, we consider the law of God superior to the law of the State, and if we have to break the law of the State to keep the law of God, we will stand by the consequences.” (2/16/1887)

The First Presidency: “God is superior to governments and courts. But he tells his Church to befriend the constitutional law of the land. If it is not constitutional, He says it comes of evil. It must support the principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges; if not, it comes of evil. Who is the Lord directing? His Church. Whatever is contrary to the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, which includes not mere belief but the “free exercise” of religion, He does not command His people to obey, but says they shall do His will.” (First Presidency 7/7/1886)

John Taylor: “I defy the United States. I will obey the will of God. These are my sentiments, and all of you who sympathize with me in this position raise your right hand.” (1/6/1880)

It is dangerous to take one statement, or verse, or part of a verse in a vacuum, with no context.  That is how we get all the false creeds of men that lead to the great apostasy.  Prophets, both ancient and modern, are clear on this principle.

God’s law is supreme, and all laws that violate His are to be “forsaken”.

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27 Responses to Sacred Cow #1: Obey the law of the land… no matter what?

  1. Janet Waters says:

    Holy Cow!!! What an excellent article!!

  2. Nathaniel Womble says:

    I am a convert to the Church. I am saddened by the lazy Priesthood Holder’s who consistently follow the ways of Man’s law.

    I want to know when will we, as a Priesthood body begin to stand up and do our sworn duty to protect and preserve the liberty of this nation?

    I hear the member’s of the church blaming President Obama for the condition that this country is in, but the fact of the matter is that Obama has not made one covenant to defend and build the Kingdom of God. He has not made one Temple Covenant.

    I perceive that the Latter Day Gentiles are following in the foot steps of their ancestors. They are changing the doctrine by proclaiming to the World that, “We are Christians.”

    Where are those who are ready to stand up and proclaim to this government, as David did to the Philistines that. “You have offended the God of Israel.”

  3. AC says:

    Great article. Love the quotes. Keep it up!

    • Jim Barrus says:

      Here’s a really strong statement by President McKay that should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to where the Church stands on the Constitution. Even though I was in a meeting with my Bishop tonight and he accused me of having “strange” ideas about the Constitution because I talk about it all the time.

      Next to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States. – President David O. McKay – The Instructor, Feb. 1956, p. 34.

  4. Michele says:

    I would like to know – is the church saying that it is a bad law to require people to come to America legally? By not requiring complete repentance by those who commit identity fraud, is the Church saying that requiring identity is a bad law?

    • Paul says:

      I offer this as food for thought regarding that. I think any priesthood leader would not allow those people to get temple recommends until they have either made themselves legal or at least started the process to do such. As for identity fraud, from what I have heard from bishops on the matter, it’s a matter of honesty, so as soon as they change their lives and repair damages repentance would be complete. remember that it’s all a matter of individual circumstance many times and that can make some situations different than others.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You left out the quote where John Taylor said that we are not obligated to obey unconstitutional laws. It would also help if you provided references for your quotes, instead of just dates.

  6. Rex says:

    Regardless of the basis for laws, we still believe in being “subject.” Just think. Had the Church been restored before the RevWar, “good” Mormons would have been Tories. They’d have remained subject to the king. If we take the article of faith at face value, we don’t have the same prerogative to rebel against tyranny that our Founders had. But, we apparently dismiss it regarding illegal aliens.

    • G. Michael Craig says:

      Rex, you don’t understand the syntax of the 12th Article of faith. It isn’t us who are required to obey, honor, and sustain the law no matter what. It’s kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates. For clarification, substitue the words “who are” in place of “in” in the last phrase. It would read “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates who are obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”. Read D&C 134:5 to verify this. “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…” Thus, no protection from government equals no

      • G. Michael Craig says:

        loyalty to said government required of us. During the Revolutionary War, we would have been required by our faith, and by our committment to the principle of agency, to fight the British. Agency is an eternal principle. It transcends the dates that wars take place. When the next American revolution begins, as Thomas Jefferson said it would and should, we will once again be required to be on the side of freedom, or agency. We will make war on our own government, just as the Founders and early patriots did, because our government has not “protected our inherent and inalienable rights”.

        • Rex says:

          “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

          To me, the comma after “magistrates” means “and”. So, here’s how I read it: “We believe in being subject … [and] in obeying…” It does not stupulate what kind of laws, but it seems logical that it would be the laws promulgated by such rulers.

          I think that this reading is borne out by the Brethren’s admonitions to Church members who live under tyrannical regimes to obey the law and be good citizens of their respective countries. Apparently, living under tyranny is preferrable to bloodshed and bad press. The building of the Freiberg Temple was attributed to the East German Saints’ good citizenship and honesty — in being subject.

  7. Phill says:

    This clearly applies and brings sense of understanding the Church’s current position of compassion and tolerance tours Illegal Immigrants together with embracing laws that would lead for “legal” status to those worthy of it and seeking, versus calling them sinners and supporting such laws as pure “deportation” as many conservatives tend to alienate with and suggest by referring to the 12th article of faith.

  8. Rex says:

    Should the day ever come that rebellion against the US government were justified, I believe that we would hear some authoritative approval. Before that day comes, however, I believe that the United States will implode, leaving the Church as the final bastion of constitutional law and freedom. That’s where I think we’re headed.

    “And thus, … shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of ALL nations” (D&C 87:6, my emphasis). No exception is made for the USA.

  9. This is something to consider today when our government is about making more laws, designed by select groups of men with no Constitutional authority to make laws, that rob citizens of their liberties and responsibilities save they follow the current powers that be. And that some laws are designed to conflict with other laws as weapons against political adversaries just complicates the choices that honest God fearing men would make. I am sure that to act as Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo did, you need to be similarly righteous as they to expect The Lord’s intervention. Also there are those innocent of sin such as Abinadi who suffered a nobel death rather than blaspheme against God. Now is not a time to rationalize disobedience but to closely obey God.

  10. Spencer says:

    Doctrine and Covenants 58:21 Let no man break the laws of the Land, for he that keepeth the laws of God has no need to break the laws of the land.

    Some of those quotes was before the manifesto. In the US right now you don’t need to break the laws of the land while obeying the laws of God. I know some people that felt some car ownership laws such as insurance were unconstitutional so refused to obey them and rukus started. However what makes there interpretation of the constitution superior to others. We don’t proselyte were it is not allowed. Church run for profit businesses pay required taxes were they are at.

    Not many instances at present were you have to break the law to obey God be it traffic, education, taxes and the like.

  11. Spencer says:

    The Manifesto was the law of God. Vision given to prophet to protect the leaders and church. The church battled government for decades on that issue. For the protection of church lord told Wilford Woodruff to tell the church to stop practicing polygamy. Could of overthrown government or stopped them. But lord said time to cease that practice.

    Polygamy was God’s law in some Old Testament times. However never law in Book of Mormon times. Manifesto was time when lord told prophet to submit to law of land.

  12. EF Booth says:

    I may be really dense in many things, this one included. What is the purpose of this article and these comments? What point is being made? What behaviors are we supposed to change? Are we supposed to impress someone, and if so, whom? It’s more than two years down the road since the article was first published. Why was it reopened in email in September of 2013?

    • EF Booth says:

      Okay. But is there meaning to the timing of the reissue? I fear far too many LDS are not paying attention to much of current attacks on our freedoms.
      Give us some concrete examples and a list of what we need to do to resist.

  13. andrew says:

    Anyone ever read the majesty of god’s law?

  14. Pingback: Audio Article: Sacred Cow #1 Obey the Law of the Land…. No Matter What? | Mormon Chronicle

  15. Walter Buller says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, even though polygamy itself was much more of a cursing to the saints, especially the females, than a blessing. However, I know a great many LDS and former LDS who were excommunicated for practicing what you preach here. The Church is now officially 180 degrees out of phase with these quotes from former GA’s, as well as with many other related and unrelated quotes. So you are encouraging mass dissension within the Church by such quotes as these. However, I feel that said dissension is healthy and inevitable, and will continue to get worse as time advances.

  16. Thomas Pendergraft says:

    I agree with your commentary except for one very fine point. The modern day prophet, Thomas S. Monson has declared that we are to subject our selves to governments and obey their laws. It is clearly outlined in the church handbook of instructions that taxes and other rights that government may take from the people that we are to suffer and be obedient to. What say ye?

  17. Bob Sanders says:

    Davy Crockett is quoted as having said; “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead”. Just remember, he died at the Alamo.
    If you can look the God of all creation in the eye and say, I did what you told me to, I don’t see a problem.

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