Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Divine Constitution

The following is a talk that I wrote and gave in sacrament meeting at church (LDS). For those of you unfamiliar with our meetings and some of the lingo that may follow, I'll provide a few links as you may have questions.

I know it's a bit longer than my usual posts, but I wanted to share. Enjoy!

The Divine Constitution

Elke Rushton, 7/11/2010

“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition--freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter--coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer's primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments” (Banner – ETB).

The paragraph I just read was from a speech given by Ezra Taft Benson in the year of the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention. As my topic could be taken as.. controversial, I want to start by ensuring you that all material for this talk was taken from scripture and latter-day prophets, unless I specifically state otherwise, and if I quote a founding father, I do so only as they have been quoted in the Ensign, except in one case which I will specify. If you’re still upset, or even just curious, I have a list of my references you can have.

There is a feeling of finality to the war in heaven: agency was granted, Satan was cast out, earth life began, and we don’t remember a thing. But the war continues, and as stated already, Satan uses earthly governments to restrict agency. This plot seems to have worked well, as most societies throughout history have been controlled in one form or another by a ruling class or group.

Under the thumb of such rulers, oppressed Americans sought their independence from England. The Declaration of Independence was written. Imagine now if your husband or father, or you yourselves, had signed that document.

I take my next section from Lives of the Signers, printed in 1848:

The signing of that instrument was a solemn act, and required great firmness and patriotism in those who committed it. It was treason against the home government, yet perfect allegiance to the law of right. But neither firmness nor patriotism was wanting in that august assembly… Such were the men unto whose keeping, as instruments of Providence, the destinies of America were for the time entrusted… And it is a matter of just pride to the American people, that not one of that noble band who periled life, fortune, and honor; in the cause of freedom, ever fell from his high estate into moral degradation, or dimmed, by word or deed, the brightness of that effulgence which halos the Declaration of Independence.

And this was only the start. A physical continuation of the premortal war followed. "And I beheld," said the prophet Nephi, "that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations" (1 Nephi 13:18–19).

After independence was won, the states, which had been operating almost as separate countries, knew they were weak as such, so the Articles of Confederation were enacted to unite their powers and create a country that could participate respectably with world powers, but these proved ineffectual. The combined states had no president, or head. There was a congress, but they were destitute of power. George Washington stated that, “The fabrick which took nine years, at the expense of much blood and treasure to rear, now totters to the foundation, and without support must soon fall” (qtd in Standard – ETB).

But God had a purpose for a free United States of America. Doctrine and Covenants 101:80 states that God raised up righteous men for the very purpose of establishing a constitution. These men, with “a political wisdom garnered from the ages” (Standard – ETB), drafted a document approved by God himself. As we read in D&C 101:77, the Lord speaks of the constitution by name, saying, “which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.”

President Benson has outlined five principles of the constitution as being crucial to the preservation of our freedom:

1) Sovereignty of the People

Every governmental system has a sovereign, one or several who possess all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. That sovereign may be an individual, a group, or the people themselves. The Founding Fathers believed in common law, which holds that true sovereignty rests with the people (Banner – ETB).

2) Separation of Powers

It is [the] union of independence and dependence of these branches--legislative, executive and judicial-- … that constitutes the marvelous genius of this unrivalled document. . . . It was here that the divine inspiration came. It was truly a miracle. [Church News, November 29, 1952, p. 12, qtd in Banner - ETB]

3) Limited Powers of Government

The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority. A constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny (Banner – ETB).

Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created… The people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will” (Standard – ETB).

“No individual possesses the power to take another's wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either” (Banner – ETB).

4) Representation

The Constitution provides for both direct representation and indirect representation. Both forms … provide a tempering influence on pure democracy. The intent was to protect the individual's and the minority's rights to life, liberty, and the fruits of their labors--property. These rights were not to be subject to majority vote (Banner –ETB).

5) Human Rights

This leads us right into divine principle of the Constitution number five, which “pertains to the source of basic human rights. Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government” (Banner – ETB).

Listen to the plea of a prophet:

President Heber J. Grant:

“I counsel you, I urge you, I plead with you, never, so far as you have voice or influence, permit any departure from the principles of government on which this nation was founded, or any disregard of the freedoms which, by the inspiration of God our Father, were written into the Constitution of the United States.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1944, p. 12.)

And just how perfect and divine is this document?

President George Albert Smith:

“Our Heavenly Father … gave to us the greatest Palladian of human rights that the world knows anything about, the only system whereby people could worship God according to the dictates of their consciences without … being molested …. That is what the Lord gave to us. That is the Constitution of this country. Yet, we have people who would like to change that and bring some of those forms of government that have failed absolutely to make peace and happiness and comfort any other place in the world, and exchange what God has given to us—the fullness of the earth and the riches of liberty and happiness. …There are those who go around whispering and talking and saying, “Let us change this thing.” I am saying to you that … the Constitution of the United States of America is just as much from my Heavenly Father as the Ten Commandments.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 182.)

And just one more:

President David O. McKay:

“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.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1939, p. 105.)

Most of us here do feel united by our worship of God, I believe, but what is your second-most reason that you feel united with your friends at church? Is it because you serve in callings together? Is it because your kids play little league together? President McKay said, as I just read, that our second-best uniting factor should be in upholding and defending the constitution.

(John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), sixth president of the United States and son of the second president, John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This excerpt, permeated with prophetic scriptural imagery, is from an address given 30 April 1839 titled “The Jubilee of the Constitution”J

John Quincy Adams said of the constitution (as quoted in the Ensign):

Lay up these principles, then, in your hearts, and in your souls—bind them for signs upon your hands, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes—teach them to your children, speaking of them when sitting in your houses, when walking by the way, when lying down and when rising up—write them upon the doorplates of your houses, and upon your gates—cling to them as to the issues of life—adhere to them as to the cords of your eternal salvation. So may your children’s children … after a full century of experience under your national Constitution, celebrate it again in the full enjoyment of all the blessings recognized by you in the commemoration of this day.” (John Quincy Adams, “The Jubilee of the Constitution,” an address delivered at the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington, 30 Apr. 1839.)

It is now [over] two hundred years since the Constitution was written. Have we been wise beneficiaries of the gift entrusted to us? Have we valued and protected the principles laid down by this great document? (Banner – ETB)

20 years ago at the bicentennial celebration of the writing of the constitution, President Benson said,

We must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions (Banner - ETB).

Joseph Smith prophesied a time in which:

Even this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction. [In Howard and Martha Coray Notebook, July 19, 1840, quoted by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), p. 416]

What must we do to bear the divine constitution away from the very verge of destruction? President Benson provides the course manual in 4 steps:

1) Be righteous and moral. We have no right to expect a higher degree of morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves are. To live a higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have not earned by our own labor. It means we will remember that government owes us nothing. It means we will keep the laws of the land. It means we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the source of our liberty.

2) Learn the principles of the constitution and abide by them. [I won’t ask for a show of hands, but] have we read the Constitution and pondered it? Are we aware of its principles? Could we defend it? Can we recognize when a law is constitutionally unsound? We are admonished to do it.

3) We must become involved in civic affairs. As citizens of this republic, we cannot do our duty and be idle spectators.

4) We must make our influence felt by our vote, our letters, and our advice. We must be wisely informed and let others know how we feel. [Have you ever shied away from talking about the constitution because you don’t want to offend? Forget it!] We must be wisely informed and let others know how we feel (Banner – ETB).

President Benson also stated: I testify that the God of heaven sent some of his choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and he has sent other choice spirits--even you who hear my words this day--to preserve it (Banner – ETB).

When that time comes, as this long-standing war continues, that our freedoms are again threatened by oppressive hands, where will you stand? To renew and preserve our freedoms, may we proclaim, as John Adams did at the birth of independence of this great nation,

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this ... It is true… there's a Divinity which shapes our ends. . . . You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may die; die Colonists, die slaves, die … ignominiously and on the scaffold.

Be it so. Be it so.

If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready. . . . But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

But whatever may be our fate, be assured . . . that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand and it will richly compensate for both.

Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires, and illuminations. On its annual return they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection and slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude and of joy.

All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon [freedom]. Independence now, and Independence forever. [The Works of Daniel Webster, 4th ed., 1:133–:36]

Unless we as citizens of this nation forsake out sins, political and otherwise, and return to the fundamental principles of Christianity and of constitutional government, we will lose our political liberties, our free institutions, and will stand in jeopardy before God of losing our exaltation (Standard – ETB).

Brothers and Sisters, let us stand with the founders, with the prophets, and with the Lord on matters of the divine constitution.

A final quote from President Benson: “It may also cost us blood before we are through. It is my conviction, however, that when the Lord comes, the Stars and Stripes will be floating on the breeze over this people” (Banner – ETB).

May we take part in supporting that flag in that final day of the premortal, and mortal, war for our freedom.

WORKS CITED (I know my formatting leaves something wanting...):

Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, New York, pub: Geo. F. Cooledge & Brother, 1848

This Nation Shall Endure, Ezra Taft Benson, December 1973

The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner, President Ezra Taft Benson, 1986

The Constitution – A Glorious Standard, President Ezra Taft Benson, 1987 (I also found a quote from a talk of the same name, by the same person, but with a couple differences as delivered in May 1976)

For a collection of other quotes as previously quoted in the Ensign, see also: A Standard of Freedom for This Dispensation, Jay M. Todd, Ensign September 1987

2 comments:

Garth said...

Wow! Love it!
I was at the church meeting where you gave this talk and can now read it again. Thank you!
Love, Mom

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