Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Divinely Inspired Constitution

I really do believe in it, even if I see the Constitution a little differently than a lot of people around me.

I don't believe it was dictated from on high or written on stone by the Lord's own finger. Rather, he inspired a group of men and even some women (Abigail Adams had her indirect influence) to think passionately about and take responsibility for their own government and to learn how to work out their differences as they learned to govern themselves through the principles of compromise.

So, here's a collection of modern-day scripture with direct reference to the Constitution of the United States of America:

And again 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. Doctrine & Covenants (D&C)101:76-80. (1833).

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 109:54 (1836 from the Dedicatory Prayer of the Kirtland Temple).

And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

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. D&C 98:4-7 (1833).

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress . . . which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise. D&C Official Declaration 1 (1890).

From this I take these principles:

1. The Constitution was divinely inspired because the Lord "raised up" "wise men" for this specific purpose.

2. The purpose of the Constitution is to allow the "people" to have a means to protect their "rights and privileges."

3. The rights identified are to practice "moral agency" to be responsible for choices and to be free from "bondage one to another."

4. It is proper to respect and follow the Supreme Court as the authority to determine the constitutionality of congressional statutes.

5. These constitutional principles are intended by the Lord to apply to all mankind.

6. The Lord wants us to defend constitutional law.

Without going into challenging and complex definitions, I will stick to some broad generalities in simplifying modern political philosophies with relation to church members. Some in the church have concluded that protection in rights to practice agency requires a more libertarian political philosophy with a much more limited national government. Others emphasize the moral side of agency for the government to protect and promote conservative, gospel-based, cultural values. Some can even take a liberal view that freedom from bondage means constitutional protection of all sorts of rights for the opportunity to practice moral agency and be responsible for ourselves. (I tried to be as fair as possible but you can probably see that my preference lies with the last one).

Each of these may have a certain validity. At least from a moderate/liberal philosophy I can be intellectually open and generous because we're supposed to be. That may be what the Lord and the inspired founders may have intended. I think there is not just one right way to read the Constitution. (Yet I am certainly no fan of states' rights doctrine. The references above make no mention of states but do speak in terms of "laws and constitution of the people." That's a good connection with Lincoln.)

And speaking of Lincoln, what I find interesting in the D&C is the condemnation of being "in bondage one to another" which must refer to African slavery although there are other possible and broader meanings. The Lord seems pretty clear that this is a reason for the establishment of a Constitution but this revelation predates the Emancipation Proclamation by 30 years! There is also Section 87 which indicates the Brethren were concerned about African slavery at the time. And we all know that slavery was compromised into avoidance in the original Constitution which some think was a shameful stain on that document. Yet it is in that nature of compromise that allowed the Constitutional Union to establish itself to the point it could withstand insurrection on this issue and fulfill the dream or promise of the founders. Garry Wills has a great book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, on this idea that Lincoln recast the principles of the Declaration of Independence into the meaning of the Constitution when they really weren't there before. A lot of people erroneously believe the words about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are in the Constitution. Yet thanks to Lincoln, their meaning actually is.

I think it is all back to process. The Constitution provides the mechanism whereby we as a people take responsibility for governing ourselves. And in spite of constant partisan bickering, or maybe even because of it as part of the process, we do a pretty good job.

It was certainly an ugly process of Civil War that got us to freeing the slaves. And the process certainly didn't work with the Saints to provide any redress for the actions of the State of Missouri and its citizens. Yet the Saints were willing to submit to the laws of the land as we wait for that more perfect Union that we all hope and work for.

I haven't fully exhausted all my thoughts on these issues even as I link back to several of my previous posts. More to follow. . . .

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