Monday, July 27, 2020

The American Doctrine of the Universal Restoration

At the heart of the Restoration is an American Doctrine that is a universal prop to the plan of God and the agency of man. The keystone of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this final dispensation is the Book of Mormon and the precepts of that book which will draw all to Christ if they embrace it's teachings and abide by it's precepts. The book is a unique book of scripture that records the spiritual teachings of a remnant of Israel removed by God from the nation of Israel before the destruction of Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ. Brought and preserved by God, a free and righteous branch, to what we call America but what they called "the land of promise."

The book is a historical bridge between the Old and New Testaments, it's story ending some four hundred years after Christ. The Book expounds upon the sacred covenant God has made with his people as a covenant of both liberation and salvation. Intertwined with their Christ centered worship of the Mosaic Law is a sacred promise and curse upon the land given them to sustain their religion and their liberty, so long as they follow the God of this land, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Knowledge of this covenant lead one ancient American prophet to exclaim, “Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions.” (Alma 47:18) The Book of Mormon carries within it a central doctrine of an American covenant of liberty. Whether or not you share my belief that the passages of the Book of Mormon are revealed from God, it is likely that you will hear in them the very same American Covenant that is written in your heart and was expressed by the founders of our nation.

The American Doctrine Begins in the Book of Mormon

God told the people of the Book of Mormon that this land was a promised land, set apart and preserved for only those whom he would bring to it's shores. The promise and curse of the covenant of the land is gloriously simple and recorded throughout the book as such:

The Promise & Blessing:

"But [the Lord] would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people... And he had sworn, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off... for it is the everlasting decree of God... Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ." (Either 2, Book of Mormon)

"Inasmuch as [ye] shall keep my commandments, [ye] shall prosper in the land of promise,"(1 Nephi 4:14) "And they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves... they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever..." (2 Nephi 1:9-11)

The Curse:

"But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord... having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten." (2 Nephi 1:9-11)

“Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” (Alma 45:16)

The Story & The Teachings:

The book begins with a journey, similar to the journey our pilgrim parents made. They escaped the threat of death for their belief in a Messiah that would come to redeem all from their sins, which had been revealed unto them through the prophets and by the Spirit of the Lord. The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is a collection of writings by different prophets spanning the history of a civilization that descended from this first family who was miraculously brought by God across the seas to the ancient American continent.

"I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments... ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led... After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem." (1 Nephi 17:13)

The first prophet writer of the Book of Mormon, named Nephi, the same who took the journey by sea to the promised land, saw in vision the foundations of our American nation. About twelve hundred years before the Americas would be discovered by Columbus, Nephi would see his voyage and the events that followed it. He would see in vision the pilgrims, the revolution, and the going forth of God's word upon this land. He would prophesy of the great and free nation that would be established in this promised land.

Prophesy of Columbus:

"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles [not jews], who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. And I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters. And I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise. And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance."

Prophesy of the Revolution:

"The Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And I beheld 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 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."

Prophesy of the Words of Christ Among Early Americans:

"I beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book and it was carried forth among them... The book is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets... wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles."

Prophesy of a Free Nation in a Promised Land:

"The Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance... I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb... And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be." (1 Nephi 3, Book of Mormon)

In the long history of the people of the Book of Mormon the people learn much about the promised land and the covenant of the land. Their experience teaches them that it is a land set apart by the Lord and a land upon which those who God brings to the land and who will follow the Lord will prosper in it. 

Just as the pilgrims, the people of the Book of Mormon set up a free nation established upon principles of liberty and rooted in the laws of God. The book contains many patterns that are types and shadows of things that would come in our days and I believe the selection of writings included in the Book by the ancient prophet Mormon were inspired of God and given for our times. It's primary purpose is to testify of Christ, but the connection between the promises of Christ and the promises of the covenant of this land are tangible.

Like those whom God brought to these shores from Europe in the dawn of the great Enlightenment, the people of the Book of Mormon eventually established a government of laws based on basic principles of natural law and nature's God. Like at the American Founding, the people of the Book of Mormon had to first turn away from the government of kings, but unlike the American Patriots, they were able to establish a free nation without bloodshed because of the great righteousness of a few of their kings who were inspired to teach their people the principles of freedom and help abolish the monarchy. The founding fathers of the Nephite civilization were King Benjamin and King Mosiah. Here are some of the teachings of King Mosiah on the principles of a government of the people:

"If it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments —I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you. For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood... an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

"Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord. Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land." (Mosiah chapters 23 & 29)

Like our American founders, the people of the Book of Mormon came to understand the dangers of governments of kings, governments that trampled on the God given rights of men. They sought to establish a government by the voice of the people, a democracy, based on true principles. In their case they used the legal foundations of the Law of Moses. In the American founding we also relied on this law with the addition of English common law; thus our American system was founded upon what we call Judeo-Christian law. It was to this divine law that the American Founders appealed to the self-evident truths that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights. Like our American founders, the Nephites also believed God had delivered them from these forms of government, "That they might have the liberty of worshiping the Lord their God according to their desires, in whatsoever place they were in." (Alma 43:45)

"For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth from them unto a remnant of your seed, that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled which he hath covenanted with his people, O house of Israel." (3 Nephi 21:4)

The most precious God given right they sought to claim was what the American founders called our first liberty, the liberty to honor God and follow him after the dictates of their own conscience. For this right they established a new form of government. In this government "there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds." (Alma 30:7) They believed that in this they would be enabled to fulfill the covenants they had made with God and he with them.

This was not the only similarity between their civilization in this promised land and ours. In their law they also acknowledge a natural God given right to property. These property rights established a free market economy and an industrious people who prospered greatly.

"...There should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men; That every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support... There began to be much peace... in the land; and the people began to be very numerous, and began to scatter abroad upon the face of the earth, yea, on the north and on the south, on the east and on the west, building large cities and villages in all quarters of the land. And the Lord did visit them and prosper them, and they became a large and wealthy people." (Mosiah 27:3-7)

Charity in their society was a private matter, a duty of individuals and the Church, but the nation prospered when they were generous to the poor and strife and war arose when there was pride and persecution. Like the American founders who taught that free republics are maintained upon principles of righteousness. The story of the Nephite civilization is a cautionary tale for Americans today, a warning that only when we uphold our personal duties to God will communities be strong, prosper, and remain free. We see an age old story of prosperity and pride and realize the greatest test put before man is whether they can remain righteous in prosperity. The Book of Mormon leaves to us a blue print of how to liberty is secured. The book teaches that humility and righteousness will bring liberty and prosperity, and so long as humility and righteousness remain, the liberty of the people will be secure; but if pride rules the hearts of men then liberty cannot long endure.

Liberty Sustained:

"They did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely... thus they began to have continual peace... because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth. And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need." (Alma 1:25-30)

"And the people of Nephi began to prosper in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich. But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him. Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them... And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land." (Alma 62:48-51)

Liberty Lost:

"They [did] prosper and wax great... there was great order in the land; and they had formed their laws according to equity and justice. And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression... But it came to pass... there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions... The people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble...

"And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up... Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world... they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God... for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God... they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings." (3 Nephi 6:4-18)

"And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills— Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years." (Helaman 7:4-6)

In these passages you can see a little of how the great American Covenant played out among the ancient people of the Americas. The Lord brought them to these shores, led them to establish a nation of liberty built upon His laws but then it was up to them to keep their liberty through obedience to his laws. If they followed the God of this land they would retain their liberty but when they strayed from his path they were in danger of losing their lives and liberty. Most often those dangers came from within and as a result of their choices to turn away from God, but when they would return to him he would work miracles to the preservation of their liberty upon the land. This is the American Doctrine.

The Wars Fought for Liberty:

Within the saga of this ancient nation are the records of their many wars, most of which were fought as part of that great struggle between freedom and captivity. They had many cyclical declines and renewals of liberty during the 500 years their free republic lasted. They had their own patriot heroes. At one such time of peril for their civilization, the Lord raised up a righteous hero to defend their liberty named Captain Moroni. The scriptures describe his character this way:

"Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery; Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.” (Alma 48:11-13)
“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." (Alma 48:17)

It was not fortune but providence that gave the Nephites this great leader at a critical juncture in their history, and in this there is another parallel to our modern American history. I think of George Washington and his great goodness and courage, the steadiness and fortitude in bringing our nation through the Revolution and providing a firm foundation in leadership for a new nation. I think of the miracle of so great a body of men that were raised up in the same generation and upon the some continent so that they might be instruments in God's hand in bring forth the great and noble Constitution of our American Republic. I think of Abraham Lincoln and how critical it was that America had a leader as honest, humble, and Godly as Lincoln to see us through a time that might have been the end of our union but for his leadership.

For the Nephites they too faced a great civil war. The book records a great conflict between the "king-men" and the "free-men." The battle lines were drawn between those who wanted to retain their free republic and those in power who sought to usurp the rights of the people and install themselves as rulers. The conflict among themselves made them vulnerable to destruction by their enemy nation. During this great peril, Captain Moroni rallied his people to the "title of liberty," and stirred them up to remember their American Covenant and renew that covenant "to support the cause of freedom, that they might maintain a free government.. that they maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them."

"And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites... rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole... and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land...

"And "the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending... to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion. (Alma 43Alma 46)

The American Doctrine in the Revelations of the Restoration

The American founders of our nation taught that our freedom was connected to our individual morality and for generations Americans have striven to live up to American ideals, build a culture of rights, and take up arms when necessary to defend our liberty. Americans have recognized the hand of God in their journey to establish and preserve liberty upon this land. They saw God's hand in the movements of the people toward independence, in the enlightenment of their ideals toward principles of natural law and liberty, and they acknowledge His power in their victory in the Revolution. They leaned upon the Spirit of God and supplicated themselves in prayer for his guidance as they established the Constitution and brought the States into this great union. They taught that the Constitution was only "able to govern a righteous and moral people," and that religion was an "indispensable support of liberty." They dedicated themselves to building a foundation of truth and they believed that as the people of this nation expanded the application of God given rights to ALL men that they would reap the divine fruits of liberty and establish a more perfect union. It was an extraordinary faith, a great experiment upon principles of truth, and it was divinely inspired.

This is the American Doctrine. It is a beautiful witness of the immutable connections between the laws of Nature and Nature's God, the indivisible bond between righteousness and liberty. It is a testimony of the ennobling powers of liberty when that liberty and it's purpose is grounded in the plan of God. The doctrine has a special place in the plan of God for our times, and it is profoundly present, not only in the teachings of the Book of Mormon, but also in the revelations given to the church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Christ renewed the American Covenant in this promised land with the landing of the Mayflower, with William Penn and his charter for Religious Liberty, with the Virginia Declaration of Rights, with the Declaration of Independence, and in the Constitutional Congress. He renewed the covenant in every drop of sacred blood spilt in pursuit of patriot dreams and in the sacred texts of the revelations of the Restoration he canonized the American Doctrine and Covenant. In 1829 in a revelation given to Joseph Smith at Harmony, Pennsylvania, speaking of the prayers of Ancient American prophets for the "latter-day" inhabitants of this land, the Lord says:

"And thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life; Yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be. And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up. And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them." (D&C 10:50-53)

These scriptures are the foundation of a uniquely American doctrine in the universal Restoration of the fullness of times in these latter-days. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a unique understanding of God's purposes in establishing our nation and our Constitutional Government upon a sure foundation of immutable truths. That purpose was so God could establish his Church in this land and bring about a great and final Restoration of all things, a refreshing of his doctrines and gospel in preparation for His second coming. This is a universal Restoration, not an American restoration, but America would cradle this Restoration in it's infancy and allow the truth to go forth across the globe as the Star-Spangled Banner would go forth, bringing liberty and law to countless millions and ensuring the stability of peace for billions across the world. As American power and influence spread so has the gospel of Christ and the freedom to worship according to the dictates of ones own conscience.

When the story is told of the American relationship with religious freedom, the persecution and expulsion of certain groups because of religious bigotry will lead many to conclude that it is just one more evidence of a failed experiment in liberty. Ironically, the descendants of those groups most persecuted will probably not be in that chorus. As a descendant of Mormon pioneers who were persecuted in ways unknown by most Americans, perhaps I have a unique sense of the failings of our nation's ideals of religious freedom and yet it should be apparent by now the Latter-day Saints have a unique connection to the American promise that we rejoice in the foundations of this nation and in it's rise to leadership in the world. 

In addition to the American Doctrine running throughout the text of the Book of Mormon, Revelations to Joseph Smith recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants affirm the divine influence in the founding of the United States of America. At dedication of the first temple of Christ's restored church, in Kirtland Ohio in 1836, Joseph Smith gave the dedicatory prayer in which he appealed to heaven for the preservation of those divine principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States. At this time the Saints who had gathered in Missouri had passed through great persecutions and lost much. They had been attacked and driven from their lawful property by mobs and denied the fruits of their labors by the State with no hope of federal redress. Mobs had driven them from their homes in Jackson County Missouri; threats of death against individuals of the Church were many. The Saints in Jackson County had been attacked, lost household furniture, clothing, livestock, and other personal property; and many of their crops had been destroyed. In this condition Joseph Smith prayed:

"We ask thee, Holy Father, to remember those who have been driven by the inhabitants of Jackson county, Missouri, from the lands of their inheritance, and break off, O Lord, this yoke of affliction that has been put upon them. Thou knowest, O Lord, that they have been greatly oppressed and afflicted by wicked men; and our hearts flow out with sorrow because of their grievous burdens."

"O Lord, how long wilt thou suffer this people to bear this affliction, and the cries of their innocent ones to ascend up in thine ears, and their blood come up in testimony before thee, and not make a display of thy testimony in their behalf? Have mercy, O Lord, upon the wicked mob, who have driven thy people, that they may cease to spoil, that they may repent of their sins if repentance is to be found; But if they will not, make bare thine arm, O Lord, and redeem that which thou didst appoint a Zion unto thy people."

"Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever." (D&C 109)

Three years earlier Joseph Smith had received a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of Joseph seeking answers for how the Saints ought to respond to having been denied their basic human and political rights. Joseph receives a profound witness that Christ inspired the American Founding Fathers to establish the Constitution on just and holy principles.

"I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you—According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (D&C 101:76-80)

The Saints were well educated and were not ignorant of the historical context in which the American experiment began. They held the Constitution sacred and were taught by divine revelation that the founding of the nation was inspired by God to prepare a place where free exercise of religion could thrive, a condition new to the world and essential to the success of their new faith. In spite of the persecutions and bigotry they suffered and the disenfranchisement of their rights they took the long view.

The founder and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith, wrote key tenants of the faith and titled them "The Articles of Faith." One of these tenants states, "We believe in honoring obeying and sustaining the law." Members of the church were constantly challenged to live this tenant as they struggled to balance the demand of their conscience before God and the corrupt disregard of Constitutional Law in their time. They would suffer time and time again at the hands of their neighbors and then at the hands of the federal government as they established themselves in federal territories in the west. They were murdered and raped in the Missouri Mormon War of 1838 and after fleeing to Illinois and building a new city where they enjoyed peace for a time, they were driven out of their beautiful city of Nauvoo Illinois in 1847. 

For decades afterward, their civil liberties were impinged but still they kept their faith that in time Americans would live up to their ideals and privileges and that the Constitutional government of the United States would secure for them the promises made by the Founders of the nation. They took this hope and accepted instruction from the Doctrine of America in the Book of Mormon and the Revelations of the Restoration. Their loyalty to our American system, despite the persecutions and lack of redress they suffered, was a sound trust and belief that God had given the Constitution for his purposes. One revelation to Joseph Smith declared these words from the Lord:

"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. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil." (D&C 98:5-10)"

On August 17, 1835, in the midst of the Saints’ attempts to petition the government for help, church leaders Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon presented a document titled “Declaration of Government and Law” to Church members in Kirtland, Ohio. The declaration—now Doctrine and Covenants 134—is canonized in the doctrine of the Church. The section provides twelve articles of belief about Government, Law, and God in Society. The articles clearly reflect the principles of the American founding and make up key tenants of the Doctrine of America in the Restoration.

1) We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

2) We 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, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

3) We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

4) We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

5) 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, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

6) 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.

7) We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

8) We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.

9) We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

10) We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

11) We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.

12) We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

We Ignore the American Doctrine at Our Peril

Many Americans today are taught that the failings of our society to live up to the ideals enshrined in our founding is evidence that our Founders and our founding documents were inherently flawed and that limited government debases human nature and results in the persecution of the weak. It is easier to convince people of this when they lack understanding of historical knowledge of the conditions of human society prior to the founding of this nation. Today Americans have been trained to judge human society against some illusive utopia that no civil society in this world has lived up to and somehow reason has escaped academic teaching. 

I would like to provide some perspective as an ancestor of those persecuted for their faith. My pioneer parents understood that their plight in America was better than it would have been elsewhere and they knew that the American society had extraordinary potential. They continued in a fervent hope that the best in human nature would triumph and that in time the citizens of this nation would live better the values enshrined in our Founding.

An imperfect union of holy ideals is not the primary threat to liberty and equality, the threat are those movements that seek the destruction of the American founding and our Constitutional government. The American Doctrine in the scriptures of the Restoration teach us what the true threats to freedom are. The progress of society toward the ideals of equality will digress if we do not heed these prophetic warnings and give our attention to the true threats to liberty. Here is what the Book of Mormon Teaches us about those threats:

1) The People Become Wicked: "All this iniquity had come upon the people because they did yield themselves unto the power of Satan. And the regulations of the government were destroyed, because of the secret combination [secret corruptions] And they did cause a great contention in the land, insomuch that the more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; yea, there were but few righteous men among them." (3 Nephi 7:2-7)

2) The People Choose Wicked Leaders: "When the wicked rule the people mourn": "For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction." (Helaman 5:2-4)

3) The Laws Become Corrupted: "For the laws had become corrupted. Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked [proud] people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction." (Helaman 5:2-4) Notice here that because the people would not govern themselves by putting themselves willing under moral law they could not be governed by the law except if that law became tyranny and thus there was no other end but destruction.

4) A People No Longer United: "And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land. And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes..." (3 Nephi 7:2-7)

5) Neglected Their Own Defense: "And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla." (Helaman 1:18) "Moroni was angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country." (Alma 59:13) "And now behold, I say unto you, I fear exceedingly that the judgments of God will come upon this people, because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceedingly great neglect towards [their defense]. For were it not for the wickedness which first commenced at our head, we could have withstood our enemies that they could have gained no power over us."

6) Weakened by Civil War: "Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word." (Alma 60:14-16)

In the end the Book of Mormon is a cautionary tale and the final prophets writing in their ancient record speak entirely to us, to those who will receive the record in these final days. We are told by the prophets of the Book of Mormon that the record is left to us so that we might establish the Church of Christ in it's fullness, that we might prepare for the Second Coming of His Son, and that we might be preserved a righteous and free people until that time. The Nephites would depart from their God and lose their liberty and the tragedy of it would be unspeakably horrible. Mormon would attempt to give words to the total loss of his nation, a testament to how far they had fallen, and a warning to us that it can happen again if we do not give heed to these truths.

“They had wilfully rebelled against their God... because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake... and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land... Notwithstanding the great destruction which hung over my people, they did not repent of their evil doings; therefore there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land... it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land... for behold no man could keep that which was his own, for the thieves, and the robbers, and the murderers... Thus there began to be a mourning and a lamentation in all the land... [but] their sorrowing was not unto repentance... but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.”

“And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives... I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually; for I saw thousands of them hewn down in open rebellion against their God, and heaped up as dung upon the face of the land.

“I did forbear to make a full account of their wickedness and abominations, for behold, a continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before mine eyes... And wo is me because of their wickedness; for my heart has been filled with sorrow because of their wickedness, all my days... I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination.... and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard.”

“It is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people... every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually... I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them; for they repented not of their iniquities, but did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them... the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind... They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father. But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.

“I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes... [but] a knowledge of these things must come unto the remnant of these people, and also unto the Gentiles... they shall come forth according to the commandment of the Lord, when he shall see fit, in his wisdom... And behold, the Lord hath reserved their blessings, which they might have received in the land, for the Gentiles who shall possess the land...

“And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried: O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss. O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen! But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return. O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you. But behold, ye are gone, and the Father, yea, the Eternal Father of heaven, knoweth your state; and he doeth with you according to his justice and mercy. (Mormon)

It is a truly tragic end that the great Nephite civilization came to. They had been given such great light and knowledge, such liberty and prosperity, and yet in the end they could not hold onto it because they departed from the way of the Lord. They "sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head." (Helaman 13:38) The prophets of the Book of Mormon lamented this needless loss of life and liberty, and the American Doctrine of this book is given that we might choose the better part.

"O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world! Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths! Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide." (Helaman 12:3-6)

It's a sad warning but perhaps if you take the time to read the whole book, the whole story, then the bright light at the center will become the thing that overcomes the tragic consequences of former civilizations. The former president of the church, Ezra Taft Benson, said, "I love history books that tell history as it was—as the Book of Mormon tells it—with the Lord in the picture guiding and directing the affairs of the righteous, winning their battles for them." We must continue to see our story that way, we must see the hand of the Lord directing the affairs of the righteous. The bright light is the promise of the American covenant.

The Promise of an American Covenant in Our Day

Through the ages, God has made covenants with His children. His covenants occur throughout the entire plan of salvation and are therefore part of the fullness of His gospel. The American Doctrine has at it's core one such covenant, and it's that covenant that gives us great reason to hope. It gives us a way to live free and secure and that way is God's way. If we choose his path, follow his ways, then we can appeal to the certainty of his promises. In keeping our covenants with God the powers of heaven are sealed upon us and we enjoy his protection and favor.

This is the American doctrine. It is a treasured part of my religion and faith. Knowing what I do about God's preparations of our land and our liberty, thousands of years of hopes and prayers of ancient prophets on our behalf, and God's plan for this land in these last days, is what helps me to remain fully committed to our shared faith and history. The teachings of this American doctrine unique to the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants have the added witness of 190 years of Latter-day Prophets. In total the doctrine of this land has been part of God's grand plan from the beginning, it is no fleeting thing, and my commitment to it can be no fleeting thing either. President J. Reuben Clark, the honorable namesake of BYU law-school, constitutional scholar, and leader of the church said it this way:

"The Constitution of the United States is a great and treasured part of my religion. . . . The overturning, or the material changing, or the distortion of any fundamental principle of our constitutional government would thus do violence to my religion. . . . My faith teaches me that the Constitution is an inspired document drawn by the hands of men whom God raised up for that very purpose; that God has given His approval of the Government set up under the Constitution “for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles”: that the constitutional “principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before” the Lord. (D&C 101:77, 98:5.) . . . So far as my knowledge goes, this is the only government now on the earth to which God has given such an approval. It is His plan for the government of free men. [President J. Reuben Clark, Stand Fast by Our Constitution, pp. 7, 172]

Throughout my adult life I have studied history and our Constitutional government, I have followed closely the politics of our times, and I have been deeply concerned for the direction our country has taken for many decades. I can clearly see how weakened our Constitutional government is at this time and it's clear that the political bonds that have held us together are eroding, despite this I have not lost my hope because of my faith in the prophesies of Latter-day Prophets. Brigham Young prophesied: 

"When the day comes in which the Kingdom of God will bear rule, the flag of the United States will proudly flutter unsullied on the flagstaff of liberty and equal rights, without a spot to sully its fair surface; the glorious flag our fathers have bequeathed to us will then be unfurled to the breeze by those who have power to hoist it aloft and defend its sanctity." [Journal of Discourses, 2:317]

Former President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson, modern prophet and a great civil servant, expressed his confidence that this nation would endure when he said:

"Let us rededicate ourselves to the lofty principles and practices of those wise men whom God raised up to give us our priceless freedom. Our liberties, our salvation, our well-being as a church and as a nation depend upon it. This nation has a spiritual foundation—a prophetic history. Every true Latter-day Saint should love the United States of America—the most generous nation under heaven—the Lord’s base of operations in these last days. May we do all in our power to strengthen and safeguard this base and increase our freedom. This nation will, I feel sure, endure. It is God-ordained for a glorious purpose. We must never forget that the gospel message we bear to the world is to go forth to the world from this nation. And that gospel message can prosper only in an atmosphere of freedom. We must maintain and strengthen our freedom in this blessed land."

The American Doctrine is immersed in the scriptures of the Restoration and exquisitely simple in it's universal appeal. The invitation is to be free through the holy principles given to us by God through those whom he raised up and inspired, to follow God and walk his straight path, and that by so doing we might prosper in liberty, peace, and prosperity in this promised land until Christ comes again. Through the American Doctrine we have all that is needful for us to judge righteously what is best in the policies that govern the affairs of men, in governments, in culture and society. We have sufficient warning and sufficient guidance and it is up to us to lay hold of the promised blessings. It is time for us to teach the American Doctrine and renew the American Covenant that this people might humble themselves before God and repent, that this Constitutional government might be saved, that unity and purpose as one nation under God might be reaffirmed. I pray the prayer of Abraham Lincoln when he said: "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

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