"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
July 2, 2009
No nation is devoid of error
by Orson Scott Card

What part does patriotism play in a worldwide church?

On the one hand, the twelfth Article of Faith says, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

That certainly implies that we should be excellent citizens of whatever nation we live in. It implies that Mormons have no particular reason to replace kings with presidents -- in other words, there is no doctrinal reason why Mormons should be committed to revolution in a country that is not democratic.

Whenever possible, we get along with existing governments. That's why there was a Mormon temple in East Germany before the end of Communism there. That's why we didn't close down our temple in Hong Kong when the Communist government of China took suzerainty over the city.

We have Mormon temples in Mexico, where the longstanding struggle between government and church led to a law allowing government officials to enter houses of worship at any time -- with no provision for a bishop's interview.

Yet nothing about the twelfth Article of Faith implies that, as Latter-day Saints, we are required to be fervent advocates of any nation or government, either.

It is natural for people to feel strong loyalty to a good community, and since most children grow up familiar with the ways and beliefs of the community of their families, it is to be expected that they will, upon reaching adulthood, be loyal, patriotic citizens of their native land.

America has a special place in LDS scripture. Because the Church was founded in the United States, there are revelations that refer directly to this country.

For instance, D&C 101 says that God "suffered" the "laws and constitutions of the people ... to be established," and that God himself "established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose" (vv. 77, 80).

But even as the Lord says that we should maintain the Constitution "for the rights and protection of all flesh," he adds that this must be "according to just and holy principles."

He is even more specific in section 98, where he says that the Saints are justified in "befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land," and defines constitutional as "supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges." Such constitutional law "belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me" (vv. 5-6).

As far as I can see, however, the Lord makes no room for the common interpretation of the slogan "my country, right or wrong."

Now, if by that slogan you mean, "Even when my country is governed by foolish or malicious people, and we are subject to obnoxious laws, it is still my country and I have a responsibility to support those principles that are good and help improve those areas that are not," then you are right in line with the Lord's teachings on the subject.

But if by that slogan you mean, "This is my country and you better not say anything bad about it or work against our government in any way, regardless of your conscience," then you have forgotten the responsibility of judgment which the scriptures lay upon us.

We are an international Church, and Saints live in countries with every kind of government. Some are hostile to religion, or at least to our religion, and the Saints must do their best to worship despite harsh penalties or dangers to them.

But we are not obliged to give up our faith, and there are ample precedents for the idea that we would rather become exiles from our native land, or even die, than deny the truth as we understand it.

We must also understand that Latter-day Saints in other countries may view our own nation's actions negatively, even though American Saints may be strongly in support of those actions. This does not imply that either party is disobedient to the Lord, merely that religion does not dictate politics.

Even within our country, some Latter-day Saints will strongly disagree with others about the actions of our government. Because I have written extensively on political matters, I have received many letters from Saints who disagree with me, asking, "How can you hold that opinion and still be a faithful Latter-day Saint?" (Of course, some of the letters are not so politely worded.)

I get such letters about equally from the left and the right, and about almost every topic I've covered. I'll bet I get letters like that about this column -- because I'm almost certain that some people reading these words have jumped to the conclusion that when I talk about bad laws, I'm referring to laws they approve of, and so they know I'm wrong and should keep silence or be thrust out of the community that we have in common.

But the point of freedom is that we should not assume that people who disagree with us are unworthy of full membership in our community, or that their voices should not be heard.

On the contrary, it is essential that all voices be heard in order to reach wise decisions that take into account the needs and judgments of all people, and according to Section 121, we must be both meek -- able to be persuaded -- and longsuffering -- willing to put up with others' failure to agree with us.

King Mosiah, when his son Aaron refused to succeed him on the throne, told his people, "Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just" (29:12).

Rule by individuals or small groups -- dictatorships, monarchies, theocracies, or oligarchies -- are only as good as the motives and wisdom of the people in power. If these rulers are wicked, they bring destruction down on their people.

But isn't this also true of democracies? The people can be deceived or flattered into supporting bad laws; the people's will can lead to persecution of the innocent; and elected officials can be just as corrupt or evil as any king.

No government is free of error. No nation's actions are always good and right. And any patriotic American Latter-day Saint who merely reviews the history of the Church in the United States will be faced with dozens of examples of democratically elected rulers making decisions that led to the Saints being persecuted, punished unfairly, deprived of life or freedom or property, because we obeyed God according to the dictates of our conscience.

Our relationship with the government of the United States is no different from the relationships of Saints in other countries with the governments they are subject to.

America as a whole (from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego) is a promised land, with special promises and obligations between God and the people who dwell here. But people in every land on earth will be judged by God according to the same righteous principles; and Saints in every nation must judge their own nation's laws and their own government's actions against the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For as Latter-day Saints, our obedience to government may be necessary, but our consciences belong to God, and no government has the right to require us to sin against our conscience.

All governments, even those with constitutions originally ordained by God, can fail us, any can fall, and despite the vicissitudes of politics and history, we Saints are required to remain constant to the principles taught us by Jesus Christ, as best we can understand how to apply them.

There is a place for patriotism, but our first allegiance is not to any "fatherland," but rather to our Father, who gave all lands to all peoples.

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About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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