Can you imagine celebrating the 2500th anniversary of anything? That's no typo. As we prepare this coming July 4th to celebrate the relatively young 241st anniversary of the birth of our "new nation, conceived in liberty," let us look to the past to remind us of our incredibly great potential future. There is a choice to be made.
In 1971, the former 15th U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Benson, was given an invitation, along with many other "notables," to visit Iran for the celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus The Great. That's the same Cyrus we read about in the Bible in several places (2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel).
Jeremiah spoke of him to be the one who would help the captive Hebrews to practice their religion as God had instructed them. Cyrus not only authorized them to return to Jerusalem, but went much further when he decreed that Jehovah's temple should be built up once again. He even ordered that the sacred "vessels of the house of the Lord" be returned.
This was an instance of God using a civic leader, and the most powerful one at that, to affect history and the moving forward of God's work among us, His children. The record states:
"the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah."
Many centuries later, the Lord stirred the spirit of several other people to help bring about the most unique country in the history of the world, the United States of America. I'm no scholarly historian, so please don't beat me up if I get a couple of dates wrong, but I want to discuss the principles of these great events. I want to suggest that God was absolutely and directly behind the bringing forth of the ideas of this new Republic.
"God, the Father of us all, uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish his purposes. It has been true in the past, it is true today, it will be true in the future."
Ezra Taft Benson, Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints
So much good has been accomplished in the world because of the creation of the United States. I know there are those in the world who would disagree with me on this statement, but the past bears record of the freedoms gained worldwide because of the ideas constantly being tested and proven in the United States of America.
But I also believe that God has His own agenda with countries and governments. Scripture teaches us that God's purpose, His job, His One Big Goal year in and year out, is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)
"Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else... God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work... We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense."
Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, 1928
The basis of the freedoms and "moral agency" given to all people in the United States is in its Constitution. This document was created directly under the inspiration of wise men that God raised up for the very purpose of its creation. And the U.S. Constitution has had positive ripple effects across the world.
Why was the Constitution written and why is freedom so incredibly valuable? Because each of us, individually, can then be truly responsible for our own choices, our own lives, and the results we deliver in respect to our relationship with God. That word "relationship" means so much to me, and it is the one thing I pray for almost daily, that our children will develop a meaningful relationship with their Eternal Father. See what you make out of what that Eternal Father said through his prophet regarding our U.S. Constitution and its purpose:
"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."
If you believe those words, then you likely believe there is a purpose for our being here, in this time, in this place, in the circumstances that allow us to choose our own way. And I mean that whether you live in the United States or not. If you live in the western world, the ideas in the U.S. Constitution have likely had an impact on you and your government.
Now I'll be the first to admit that the U.S. today is not the same as it was when it was first formed and developed. The Constitution, along with Amendments as we learned and gained experience, are not practiced the same way they were designed. I believe it's because of the flaws of us humans.
"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."
So what was the Constitution designed to do to prevent these problems? It attempted to make sure that elected leaders would be guided by, and tethered to, certain principles.
"... in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 30
It's said that good fences make good neighbors. I don't take that metaphor to be intending isolation or imprisonment. I take it to mean that we all get along better when we understand fair boundaries. And that's saying a lot from a guy like me who seemed to push against perceived boundaries in much of my earlier life.
The patriotic founders of the United States really seemed to understand the blessings to us all of the boundaries defined within the Constitution. Remember that God raised up wise men for the purpose of its design. God then said, "And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil." (Doctrine and Covenants 98:7)
“God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself. In other countries it is to the individual that allegiance runs. This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom. It is one of the great principles that distinguishes this ‘land of liberty’ from other countries.”
J. Reuben Clark, Improvement Era, July 1940
How many times do we go crazy about "our candidate" in opposition to "their candidate?" Especially in the most recent election of the U.S. president, it seems that very ugly feelings have emerged among both dominant political parties, to the near exclusion of ideas from third, fourth, or fifth parties. Violence and bloodshed have reappeared as in times past, both recent and ancient. I'm pretty sure that wasn't on God's agenda when He inspired the original design of the system.
The current and previous presidents have seemed to cause more divided feelings in this country than I've ever experienced in my more than half a century of life. The phrase "going to hell in a handbasket" comes to mind. Teddy Roosevelt had some ideas about that if we'll, again, look to the past for ideas.
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country… Every man who parrots the cry of ‘stand by the President’ without adding the proviso ‘so far as he serves the Republic’ takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the King could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent free man could take such an attitude.”
I find it even funnier that a man who once said, "I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on earth..." also said "... let the people of the whole Union, like the inflexible Romans, whenever they find a promise made by a candidate that is not practiced as an officer, hurl the miserable sycophant from his exaltation." (Joseph Smith, Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 6)
These days promises made by politicians seem to be a joke. At least that's my impression. It seems they'll say almost anything to get elected, then try to deal with the "fallout" of their overstated promises later. It's almost like they believe about "office" like I was taught as a kid to believe about objects, that "possession is nine tenths of the law."
Clear back in 1950, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints warned,
"Now I tell you it is time the people of the United States were waking up with the understanding that if they don't save the Constitution from the dangers that threaten it, we will have a change of government."
Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1950
Hmmm. How has that worked out in the past 67 years since then? I haven't taken an official survey, but it's my impression that most people would agree that we've gotten further and further from the original designs of the Constitution rather than closer.
What is the cause of this falling away from the God-inspired Constitution? For that we can look back even further in time to the people who occupied this land a couple thousand years ago.
If people really wanted to understand the promises God made about the land of the present day United States, they would read the Book of Mormon. Whether they wanted to understand the seemingly "religioius" ideas from God or not, that book also contains a history of the people who lived in this land. It contains lessons learned from their wars and contentions, their political strife and solutions, and other life circumstances common to all of us humans.
The book also tells of the complete wiping out of a not one, but two, great civilizations of God-believing, God-fearing people who both messed up BIG TIME. So much so that they no longer exist. Don't you think we could learn something from this history of their colossal "oopsie?"
The Book of Mormon tells us that their biggest "oops," and the major reason for their downfall was the result of conspiracies, in particular secret conspiracies (like who conspires out in the open these days?). They referred to conspiracies as "secret combinations" as in people combining to do bad things. In describing the destruction of these two sets of people, the ancient historian, Moroni, said:
"And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God;
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
And now I, Moroni, do not write the manner of their oaths and combinations, for it hath been made known unto me that they are had among all people...
And they have caused the destruction of this people of whom I am now speaking, and also the destruction of the people of Nephi."
But Moroni went on to give warnings about what would happen to all future nations that participate in these things, whether by being part of evil combinations, or merely allowing them to be. He referred to it as "upholding" them.
"And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.
Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away,
Notice the reference to the overthrow of "the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries." Do you see what I was referring to when I said that the U.S. Constitution has influenced many other countries? Ideas are spread from their source far beyond borders, for better or worse.
We can accept the good ideas, along with their demarcated boundaries that make for "good neighbors," or we can allow conspiracies to exist among us for the purpose of getting power and wealth, and are almost always enforced by the shedding of blood.
I'm writing this post on the belief that it was God who raised up, and inspired, the men who created the U.S. Constitution. As I stated in the beginning in reference to Cyrus The Great, I believe God uses good people to accomplish His work among all people. Think about this:
"The Constitution was framed in order to protect minorities. That is the purpose of written constitutions. In order that minorities might be protected in the matter of amendments under our Constitution, the Lord required that the amendments should be made only through the operation of very large majorities—two-thirds for action in the Senate, and three-fourths as among the states. This is the inspired, prescribed order.
But if we are to have an amendment by the will of one man, or of a small group of men, if they can amend the Constitution, then we shall lose the Constitution; because each succeeding person or group who come into a position of place and power where they can "amend" the charter, will want to amend it again, and so on until no vestige of our liberties shall remain. Thus it comes that an amendment of our Constitution by one person or by a group is a violation of the revealed will of the Lord to the Church, as that will is embodied in that inspired Constitution.
Brethren, let us think about that, because I say unto you with all the soberness I can, that we stand in danger of losing our liberties, and that once lost, only blood will bring them back."
J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, April 1944
With all this at risk, let's turn this to a positive note. I don't want to trivialize God's methods because I'm sure they're far beyond what us humans can even imagine, but for the sake of simplification for us more simple humans, let's run with the idea of a carrot and a stick.
God promises great blessings to those who love Him, and prove that love by living within the boundaries He set (Christians would call it keeping the commandments). We'll call these blessings "the carrot."
God promises very unpleasant circumstances will come upon those who choose, in their pride, to do their own thing, in contrast with His guidelines. Pestilence, famine, wars and such come to mind. We'll call these things "the stick."
Which one motivates you more? Some of us are carrot people and some of us occasionally need the stick. Choose the one that works best for you.
As we celebrate the birth of the United States this year, my strongest suggestion for its continuance as a force for good is found in the word "repentance." The mere mention of this word seems to bring up the connotation of guilt, but that's only part of the idea. I'm not talking about just feeling regret or penitence for sin, which is how many people think about it when that word is mentioned.
My understanding of the word "repent" has an additional meaning that is based in love, not guilt. To repent is to turn... specifically to turn toward God. I believe the birth of the United States, supported by its Constitution and Amendments, was under the direct influence of God, the Father of us all. The ideas that have been conceived and incubated here have influenced so many people over the whole earth for good.
I believe that good, in general and around the whole world, is because of our understanding of, and our relationship with, God. We may all understand God differently, but most major religions or spiritual schools of thought would reject the ideas of hatred, conspiring to get power and gain, murder, theft and the like. Most of us would agree that the ideas contained in the Judeo/Christian Ten Commandments are a good thing and, if followed, would change our world into something amazingly wonderful.
Aside: The word "commandment" has always bothered me. It doesn't seem like something from a loving God. I've always associated the word "command" with something that feels bad like an earthly king or a bossy General would do. The original Hebrew translation of what us Christians call the Ten Commandments would be better translated to be the Ten Sayings, Ten Statements, or Ten Declarations.
THOSE sound more like something a wise, loving Father would say who has the best interest of all of us at heart. Might I recommend Dennis Prager's ideas about the Ten Commandments.
So my suggestion for this celebration of Independence Day is that we all realize our dependence upon God and interdependence with each other. May I suggest we all repent, or in other words, turn toward God and do our very best to develop a great personal relationship with Him. It will help in our relationships with each other. I recommend at the very least we all follow the Ten Statements given by the loving Father of us all.
By doing these things, I suggest we will enjoy the blessings, and prosperity, God promises (the carrot) and avoid the very VERY unpleasant consequences living any other way (the stick). It's our choice. That you and I each develop a very intimate and personal knowledge of, and relationship with, God, is my greatest desire (and will be the topic of my next blog post). Maybe some day someone will be celebrating the 2500th Independence Day and the God-given ideas that it engendered around the world.