Thursday, July 04, 2013

Elder Dallin H. Oaks: Some Responsibilities of Citizenship

Certainly an appropriate occasion to seriously consider comments offered in other years, on this day of celebration of independence and freedom in this great country

Elder Oaks shares his concern about the future of the rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens of this country, and admonishes us to turn to "responsible personal conduct" as a the only legitimate means to promote and preserve our heritage.

Quoting from the previous year's speech by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
Our whole society really rests on the capacity of its citizens to give 'obedience to the unenforceable.'
Elder Oaks observes that these days it is popular to speak of "rights".  He suggests that the security of the rights of citizens is dependent in measure on how we meet the corresponding responsibilities.

He addresses three particular responsibilities that represent current issues:
  • serving in the military
  • paying taxes
  • participating in democratic government.

In preface, he refers to the general responsibility of followers of Christ, and particularly LDS, to recognize and be supportive of civil authority.  Citing several of the admonitions of Paul, as well as the LDS 12th Article of Faith, and other scriptural references,
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work (Titus 3:1)
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  (Romans 13:1)
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.  (Articles of Faith:12)
We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.  (Doctrine and Covenants 134:6)
Elder Oaks warns,
Church members who seek to use LDS doctrine as a basis for concluding that government infringements on inalienable rights have excused them from obeying the law seem to have forgotten the principle of following the prophets. Until the prophets invoke this principle, faithful members will also refrain from doing so. We remain committed to uphold our governments and to obey their laws.
Regarding the belief of some who voice their objection to the first two things mentioned, Elder Oaks points out, "Both claim that the government compulsion to do these unpopular things interferes with freedom".  They commonly conflate the issues of freedom and slavery.  He points out that Jesus never advocated for freeing slaves, though slavery was common practice in his day.

These objections contradict the familiar teaching of Jesus,
...Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.  (Matthew 22:21)
Citizens are not free to choose which laws they consider themselves not subject to, and which they opt to obey.  This rationale to justify disobedience to the laws of the land is not far removed from justification for disobeying the laws of God.

With regard to taxes, he quotes from Will Rogers,
 We're just lucky we're not gettin' all the government we're payin' for!
He mentions being contacted by a number of LDS-affiliated tax protesters over the years, who justified their non-compliance with various rationales.  But he cautions that an LDS member
...who refuses to file a tax return, to pay required income taxes, or to comply with a final judgment in a tax case is in direct conflict with the law and with the teachings of the Church....If a member disapproves of tax laws, he may attempt to have them changed by legislation or constitutional amendment, or, if he has a well-founded legal objection, he may challenge them in the courts.

He discounts the legitimacy of arguments based on
  • peephole history
  • selective readings of historic documents
  • advice of persons who advocate private armies
  • collection of heavy weapons
  • extraordinary quantities of private arms
  • draft avoidance
  • tax evasion
  • eccentric theories
Elder Oaks promotes greater citizen participation to resolve three major problems: 
  • ever-increasing massive national deficits
  • reacquire state powers and initiatives usurped by the federal government
  • reestablish the principle of limited federal government powers.
One caveat to citizen participation is a warning to avoid "single interest groups". In applying political pressure to address specific issues, these specialized "single interest groups" tend to lose broader focus on what can be the solution of the large general problems that affect the entire body politic.

He warns, "...we must not go into blocking tactics when a representative body fails to satisfy us fully on our favorite special interest".  Americans are well advised to support the best that can be obtained in the circumstances that prevail.  While this represents unacceptable compromise in the view of some, most important historic government and political developments have been enacted in such a fashion.

Oaks lists a number of possible acceptable ways citizens can participate in supporting good government:

  • Celebrations of citizenship, patriotism, and national holidays and values.

  • Volunteer work in public institutions.
  • Assisting private education at all levels.

    • Working with activity and athletic programs for young people.

    • Supporting and helping in charitable projects.

    • Helping to clean up the air, water, and soil.

    With regard to the superficial "hero" status our society invests in modern "stars", Elder Oaks observes that the true hero is seldom seen pursuing "rights", but that most often the real hero is characterized by "distinction in the fulfillment of responsibilities".

    Every citizen has the potential for achieving epic heroic status by finding the best within each of us.

    We all have to be heroes!

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