To be a good Mormon is also to be a good citizen
Can Latter-day Saints fulfill their roles as citizens in the societies where they live and also be true to their faith? Some may question the very premise — why must there be tension between church and country? Religion and government can’t ignore each other, nor need they be enemies. The spheres of spirituality and law differ, but they cooperate best when freedom of conscience and the common good make space one for another.
Caesar must be rendered his due, but so must the voice of the soul.
Latter-day Saints understand this dynamic. The twelfth article of faith states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Mormons also 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.” Obedience to law and the free exercise of conscience — two powerful prerogatives — have little option but to get along.
The challenge of this interplay varies from place to place.
Operating in nearly every country around the world, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints navigates diverse cultures, customs and regulations. These countries have various types of governments, political values and understandings of freedom. There are over 15 million Latter-day Saints, and they follow their individual consciences on the issues of the day. Some members may support the direction of local or national politics, while other members may disagree. Some vote one way, some another. A person’s Mormon beliefs do not dictate political identification. The range of political opinions throughout the worldwide Church is a healthy and productive thing.
Mormons around the world are both patriotic toward their countries and devout to their church. They are shaped and cultivated by the history, art and literature of their native lands and invested in the success of their communities. Love of church does not diminish love of country. God created the world with immeasurable wonders, riches and diversities for us to enjoy.
So what does it mean to be a good citizen and a person of faith? The spiritual ideal of a church spreads far beyond its spires. For the most part, religious people see themselves as part of a larger society and aspire to help it. They volunteer in the institutions of civil society such as charities, schools, associations and clubs. They serve the needy in shelters, soup kitchens and hospitals. They study the issues and vote for honest candidates. They speak as eagerly as they listen, critique as well as solve.
In many places around the world, however, laws and social circumstances hamper the conscience of individuals and faith communities. More than three-quarters of the world’s population, according to the Pew Research Center, live in nations with religious restrictions.
Peaceful societies are more likely when the expression of religious beliefs is protected and everyone’s voice is heard. Studies show that protecting the varieties of spiritual experience correlates strongly with greater civil and political liberties, greater press and economic freedoms, fewer armed conflicts, better health outcomes, higher levels of income, better education for women and higher overall human development.
The work of being a good citizen is never easy — it requires judgment, civility and patience. In the flux of time and deliberation, laws are often reformed to answer the needs of the people. It is important to both obey law and improve law. Such reform should be done through legal means, with moral persuasion for the good of the whole.
Wherever they live, Latter-day Saints have the responsibility and privilege to make their corner of the globe a better place. They act in hope that the demands of citizenship and conscience will be weighed in balance and peace.