12th Article of Faith

As a child attempting to memorize the Articles of Faith I admit I kind of glossed over numbers 11 and 12 because they are a bit political and I just wanted to get to number 13 because it was the longest and I knew it would give me a feeling of pride to memorize the longest one. 🙂

It is only now that I write this post that I realize how important these two Articles are, and how they work together to create good citizens in all nations. I talked about the 11th Article here. The 12th Article of Faith says:

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

I searched LDS.org, but there really isn’t a whole lot that covers this Article. I think because it is both simple (obey the laws/leaders in the land where you live) and complicated at the same time (what if you live in a land where worshiping a Christian God is forbidden?) I don’t think I’m going to be able to answer all of the questions that might come up, because I have no idea how every situation would be handled. I did find a few quotes from the Church website that I think are helpful when thinking about this Article in the context of America.

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. D&C 134


Those who enjoy the blessings of liberty under a divinely inspired constitution should promote morality, and they should practice what the Founding Fathers called “civic virtue.” Elder Oaks


Citizens should also be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward government. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes compulsory duties like military service and the numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance. For example, since U.S. citizens value the right of trial by jury, they must be willing to serve on juries, even those involving unsavory subject matter. Citizens who favor morality cannot leave the enforcement of moral laws to jurors who oppose them. Elder Oaks

So do not rebel against the leaders/laws of the land if the “inherent and inalienable rights” are protected (in America we can vote to influence the laws that govern us, those who live under dictators do not have that same privilege), promote good morals, and serve in the military/participate in jury duty/or otherwise serve where called upon by your nation.

If you are really interested in reading an LDS perspective on the Constitution of the US I’d spend some time reading this talk by Elder Oaks. There is also an article on the Encyclopedia of Mormonism site titled “Church and State.

Where I think this becomes particularly interesting is where young men/women are called to serve missions (and where they aren’t) and how we work to bring the goodness of Christ in areas of the world where proselytizing is forbidden. We do not send missionaries in where the local governments do not approve. I’m not sure how old this list is, but here is a list of 346 LDS missions and you will see that China only has one mission, in Hong Kong. Middle Eastern countries or others hostile to Christianity are found on that list because we don’t send Church sponsored missionaries there. We do have a placed called The BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem, where students from BYU are able to do a type of study abroad, but I’ve heard from those who have done the program that the rules regarding behavior are incredibly strict. I hope that someone reading might have attended the Jerusalem center, or know someone who did, because I’d love to know a little bit more about the rules. I have a friend married to a Middle Eastern man who revealed that when she visits his family she attends a sort of “members only” LDS meeting. The laws in that area forbid an open door policy, something I’d never heard of before.

I stumbled on this article that talks about the growth of the LDS Church in Poland a few months ago, and reading it gave me a little bit of insight into how the Church works with national governments.

The Holocaust and the ethnic departures left the Catholic Church all the stronger, and it became a thorn in the side of the communist government during the Cold War.

After the war, many of the previous LDS branches in eastern Germany now resided in the realigned Poland, meaning many members soon left or were forced out. The branch in Selbongen – renamed Zelwagi by the government — earned a post-war visit by Elder Ezra Taft Benson in his nearly yearlong European welfare mission in 1946. More than 100 members and friends gathered for a quickly convened meeting.

The next year, the government ordered branch meetings discontinued because only Polish was allowed to be spoken in public meetings. Two years later, the Zelwagi branch resumed meetings — in Polish.

While the Church was registered officially in 1961, emigration of members out of Poland eventually resulted in the last Polish branch being discontinued in 1971. The abandoned Zelwagi meetinghouse was turned over to the government, later serving as a Catholic chapel.

A Mormon presence re-emerged in the mid-1970s, thanks to a number of converts in western Poland, who were baptized in neighboring Germany.

Feeling threatened by the power and popularity of the Catholic Church in Poland, government officials were happy to open the proverbial door for other religions to enter. Now re-established, the LDS Church was again officially registered in May 1977, with church President Spencer W. Kimball visiting four months later and offering a prayer of dedication on the country.

The Church does call both proselytizing and service missionaries, and I think I may have heard stories about service missionaries working in non-life-threatening areas of the world to spread goodwill (with no formal tracting/preaching) and provide aide for the “poor and downtrodden”, but I don’t have first-hand knowledge of this and so I don’t know for sure.

This is certainly a post where I would appreciate input from other LDS members to help clarify some of the things I don’t know!

20 thoughts on “12th Article of Faith

  1. I went to the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2000 (the last semester before they closed it for several years due to violence in the region). I believe we had to sign a document saying that we would not proselyte or speak about our religion in any way, even if asked. We held our own church meetings, but if anyone in Israel asked us about our religion we could only say, “I’m sorry, I cannot talk about that.” I don’t believe we were even supposed to refer them somewhere else. It is not this strict in all countries that do not allow missionaries, but this was part of a special deal with the Israeli government when they decided to allow the church to build the center.

    Sophia Reply:

    You know, this comment reminds me- I always find it so interesting that people seem to leave Israel out of the conversation when they bemoan countries without much religious freedom of expression. Stories like this just remind me of how strict they are in this area, yet they are largely exempted from the criticism leveled at other countries regarding this issue. Thanks for sharing your experience there!

    Gogo Reply:

    That’s a really interesting point/thought.

  2. How old are the Articles of Faith? I ask because one of the sources of conflict between the early Mormon church and the US government was explicit statements by church leaders saying they wanted to establish a theocracy (or theodemocracy, as Joseph Smith called it), and these articles are interesting to read in that light if they were contemporaneous.

    Jenna Reply:

    The Articles of Faith were first written by Joseph Smith in 1842 (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Articles_of_Faith).

    I’d be interested to read the quotes you speak of, without seeing them my guess is that anything of that type would refer to the time after Jesus Christ returns to the earth and he establishes a worldwide theocracy to reign over all those that remain. This will happen during the Millenium though, and not before. Nor has any leader of the Church ever indicated that we should be working toward it now (to my knowledge).

    TJ Reply:

    Hmm. My recollection is that Joseph Smith coined the term when he ran for President in 1844 before he was killed, so it was more of a campaign slogan (ie, “this is what I’ll work for”) than “this is what will happen in the future.”

    Jenna Reply:

    You can read Joseph Smith’s platform here: http://www.latterdayconservative.com/articles/general-smiths-views-of-the-power-and-policy-of-the-government/

    Though I did finally find a quote that talks about a theodemocracy, I don’t see how Joseph’s views were incongruous with the 12th Article of Faith.

    First it is important to remember that Joseph was talking to fellow Mormons when he made those statements, and his audience had somewhat of an understanding of the Millenium.

    Second, during this time period, the members of the LDS Church thought Christ was coming… in 5 years. Or 20. Or 50. They just had no idea how things were going to go, and Joseph Smith spoke of preparing the way for Christ’s return.

    Third, I don’t see how there is anything wrong with his intentions, as he wanted to act within the bounds of democracy to establish his ideas. He would run, be voted upon, and if the majority approved his message he would lead the nation.

    Even the Wikipedia article on the topic is a bit confusing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodemocracy) weaving back and forth between speaking of the time during the Millennium and the time during Joseph Smith.

    I think Joseph made these statements shortly after he had been tarred and feathered. Or maybe it was when members of his church were forced inside of a log cabin and slaughtered by a gang of men waiting on the outside? Or was it when an extermination order was declared by the governor of their state, forcing the Mormons to surrender their weapons and driving them from their homes and properties?

    In my opinion it would be akin to a Native American chief deciding to run for office to try to prevent the Trail of Tears from ever happening again and any further injustices upon his people. Obviously the government was not working to protect all of its citizens, and Joseph wanted to change that by attempting to institute a new form of government.

    Julia Reply:

    Interestingly enough, in doing my homework last night (I’m a history grad student), I ended up reading about Joseph’s 1844 presidential run. In the course of reading “What Hath God Wrought” by Daniel Walker Howe (an excellent book on the first half of the 19th century, much recommended!), I came across this pertinent passage:

    “The campaign seems to have had a place in the prophet’s vision of an earthly Kingdom of God that would precede and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. If it failed, emigration might be necessary to establish the Kingdom. Such millennial expectations did not preclude policies sensible in secular terms. Smith’s program included abolition of imprisonment for debt, the reestablishment of a national bank, federal protection for civil liberties abridged by states and mobs, the acquisition of not only Texas and Oregon but all of Mexico and Canada–provided the inhabitants peacefully consented–and encouragement for states to enact emancipation by providing masters compensation from federal land revenues.” (pp 724-725)

    Neither Howe nor I am LDS, but from my reading Howe does a quite fair job of discussing how the LDS church fit into the larger picture of early 19th century America across a variety of areas. From what I can tell, Joseph was interested in establishing a theodemocracy in his own time as a pre-cursor to the Second Coming (religious reformers throughout this period were actually similarly motivated, and many saw a millennial role for the United States and pursued a variety of political goals that they believed would hasten the Second Coming). It is interesting to consider the 12th Article bearing this fact in mind, but I’m not sure it changes anything necessarily. As Jenna mentioned, Joseph appears to having been working to change the system “from within,” as it were. I don’t know, I still need to roll it around in my mind for a bit.

    (I should also note that in footnotes to the above passage, Howe cites “Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History” by Klaus Hansen (who is LDS himself) and the chapter “The Metamorphosis of the Kingdom of God” in “The New Mormon History,” ed. Michael Quinn, if anyone’s interested in further reading. What’s more, Howe’s bibliography offers some extensive suggestions for non-polemical reading on Mormon history by both LDS and non-LDS authors. Any bookstore should have a copy, if folks are interested in checking out his sources for further reading. Sorry for blathering on, but as I’m sure Jenna and anyone else who’s done much/any reading about this can attest, wading into writing on LDS history can get pretty messy pretty quickly, and I wanted to highlight a useful starting point for reasoned, academic evaluations of the topic.)

    Jenna Reply:

    Much appreciated Julia! This kind of stuff is hard for me to research because there are a lot of anti sites that just don’t report in an unbiased way and the Church sometimes doesn’t do very good in that respect either!

    Though I think it’s a bit freaky for some to consider the idea that a man would embark to become President to change the country based on his religious views (poor Mitt Romney, even though I don’t think he would do that I think that’s why he will have a hard time winning 🙁 ) I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with trying to do so. Again, it’s the beauty of democracy!

  3. I lived in the United Arab Emirates for a few years. The church wasn’t allowed to build a chapel or own property, but we were allowed to rent a large home and use it to hold church meetings. We weren’t allowed to proselyte, but at one stage a senior couple was permitted to serve a humanitarian mission there. They could not tract or proselyte, but they did end up baptising a few people who got to know the missionaries through their work and inquired about their faith of their own accord. I ended up marrying someone who had served his mission in another Islamic country (Indonesia). Unlike most missionaries around the world, they weren’t allowed to proselyte/tract. They were allowed to discuss religion if they were asked about it, but they were never allowed to initiate the topic of religion. To fill their days, the missionaries get to know people by doing a lot of humanitarian service, and in some regions they even teach English classes at universities. They also teach lessons to investigators, of course, when they are referred by other LDS Indonesians or approach the missionaries of their own accord. There was also a rule imposed by the government whereby a companionship always had to include an Indonesian missionary, so my white foreign husband was always paired with an Indonesian companion. In other missions in South-East Asia, missionaries by law must carry out their daily work without their badges and in plain clothes instead of white shirt and tie. A hallmark of the church is the effort it puts into working with governments and respecting their laws regarding missionary work and worship. MMissionary work is important to us, but respecting the laws of other nations is more important. I like that about our church. While in Indonesia, my husband met missionaries of other faiths who did not follow the laws of the land. They run the risk of being arrested, and this surely damages the relationship their church organisation has with the local government.

    It is interesting to me that the article of faith ‘we believe in being subject to kings’ comes after ‘we claim the privelege of worshipping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience’. We believe in freedom of worship, but we also believe in upholding the law. Standing on a street corner waving a Book of Mormon is not more important than respecting the law. In countries where there is not yet entire freedom of worship, we should work towards greater democracy, but nonetheless we should obey the laws in the meantime.

    Jenna Reply:

    Hailey I found this comment so fascinating that I made TH stay up a little bit later last night so I could read it out loud to him. 🙂 A lot of the things you said are the things you wouldn’t really hear about unless you experienced it, you know?

    Hailey Reply:

    Sorry TH! Next time, I’ll choose a more decent hour to post anything worth reading 🙂 Indonesia is a unique mission because often you hear about senior couples going on service missions, but 19yr old boys going to a mission where door-knocking is forbidden is not the norm. Most countries that don’t allow proselyting don’t let missionaries in at all. Something I learned from my husband just yesterday was that the local area 70 introduced the concept of FHE to a summit of South East Asian leaders as a way to combat family disintegration. Maybe Indonesia doesn’t have many baptisms, but the government is now endorsing citizens of many faiths to have a weekly family night. I think that is so cool!

    When you mentioned church history in Poland, I was wondering how TH came across the church?

    Jenna Reply:

    He was a foreign exchange student in Utah 🙂

    Sophia Reply:

    Hailey, your comment was really interesting and reaffirmed my belief that the U.S. concept of separation of Church and State truly is one of the best ways to protect all religious forms of expression. You described what happens when the State sanctions a religion, and how that affects those not of the “official” religion. It’s not something I ever want to see happen here, and I’m glad we’re all free to worship, openly and freely, however we choose (or choose not to, as the case may be).

    I was just listening to NPR this morning, of how the Chinese government rounded up Christians and detained them for worshiping, so this is fresh on my mind.

    Hailey Reply:

    We’re certainly very lucky to already to have been born into religious freedom in the US and Australia, where I am – a humbling thought. My experiences have taught me that God is able to find a way into the hearts of people wherever they are.

  4. At the Baptist University I attended, we discussed this topic many times, but I’ll never forget one particular class discussion. It went along these lines:

    1. God choses the rulers, for reasons known only to him. (Romans 13)
    2. It is our duty to obey those rulers. (Romans 13)
    3. However, our duty to follow the laws of God supersedes our duty to follow the laws of man. This means that we will read the Bible and pray, regardless of the circumstances. (story of Daniel, Moses)

    The tricky part is evangelization. I personally believe to be a biblical disciple of Jesus one must be honest (if asked) and realize they are missionaries, where-ever they live. The more that I think about it, the oppressive laws restricting freedom of religion are against God’s laws, because even in Old Testament times there was a plurality of religions. So, to me, Christians should not be denying their faith, nor staying away from closed countries. The issue, I think, is the gray area between denying your faith and hiding it.

    Hmmmm…. just some non-collected thoughts.

    Jenna Reply:

    I think one reason that it makes sense to follow the laws of the land is that you can’t do God’s work if you are dead or locked up in prison.

    Disobeying the laws of the land only destroys any goodwill that might be built. If a stranger came into your land saying he had the truth while disrespecting your beliefs I think it would be difficult to form a good opinion of them.

  5. I think Jessica says it well. And there definitely are examples in the Bible of people not submitting 100% to the rulers. Fortunately from then until now there are many who do God’s work in prison or even thought their deaths. Just my non-Mormon $.02. 🙂

  6. Really interesting subject. Thank you to those who shared their foreign experience.
    I’m sure it’s frustrating for missionaries at time, but then again it makes it an interesting challenge.
    I think it’s great to respect the other laws, doing otherwise would probably give a bad imagine of any person trying to share their believes anyway.

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