Support the Constitution Through Good Citizenship
I am genuinely thrilled to be here today, honestly—mostly because my five-year-old came down with a vicious case of stomach flu last night, and I’m not home cleaning it up. So, a tender mercy, I guess. I have been asked to speak today on the Constitution. Until about ten minutes ago, I was pretty convinced that when President Richards asked me to speak, he was thinking of someone else. But that introduction was actually me, so that was strangely comforting.
The Constitution is a document that has a great place in my heart, and I feel very strongly about it. So it’s actually a topic that I have no problem here talking to you about.
I would like to start today by telling you a story. I received a letter a few weeks ago from a friend of mine who is currently living in Spain, where her husband is presiding over the Spain Malaga Mission. In this letter, she told me the story of a man she met there in Spain. Many years ago when he became eligible for mission service, he wanted to go on a mission but was financially unable to do so. He was from a very small town, and the members in his branch in that small town somehow managed to scrape together enough money for him to serve a mission. While he was on his mission he became very ill, and it was necessary for him to come to Salt Lake to have surgery. That surgery and the subsequent recuperation took about a month, and after that he was able to go back and fill the remainder of his mission. As his time in the field came to a close, he met with his mission president and requested humbly that he be allowed to serve an additional month. When his mission president asked him why, he said, “There are many people who sacrificed so that I could serve the Lord for 24 months, and I’ve only served 23. So I owe them another month.” I should tell you the end of the story—he was able to stay another month.
I think that the story is a really good example of someone who understood that none of us exist in a vacuum—that everything we have, everything we are, everything we hope to become comes at a price. And quite often, we are not the ones who pay that price.
As you sit here, I’d like you to consider the blessings that you have today, and ask yourself who paid the price for those blessings, and what do you think you owe them? I think that the answers to these questions are very personal, and that would be different for every one of us. They’re also applicable in a pretty broad way in our lives.
But today, I’d like to turn our attention to the good fortune we possess as residents of the United States of America, and to the brave souls who sacrificed that we might enjoy the blessing of our inspired form of government. This month we celebrate the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America. On September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention came to a close in the assembly room of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On that day, 39 men signed a document that would dramatically alter the course of history. The United States had long since declared her independence from Britain and had claimed that independence through victory in the Revolutionary War. The fledgling United States had been governed by the Articles of Confederation, but it had become clear that those Articles did not support a viable form of government. So the purpose of the Convention was to amend those Articles.
As they came to the Convention, it became clear to the men there that they would need to abolish those Articles entirely, and come up with a new form of government and a new written constitution. Fifty-five men were at the Convention in Philadelphia that long, hot summer. They came from all walks of life. Thirty-four were lawyers; eight had signed the Declaration of Independence, and almost half were Revolutionary War veterans. They were farmers, educators, ministers, physicians, financiers, and merchants. They were away from their homes and their families; they left their businesses and lands in care of others so they could attend to the important business of government.
The youngest signer was Jonathan Dayton, at age 26, and the oldest—Benjamin Franklin, at age 81. Because of his poor health, Benjamin Franklin needed help to sign the Constitution. An eyewitness account says that when he did so, tears streamed down his face. The Constitution represented a lifetime of study, sacrifice and experience, and four long months of arguments, threats, walk-outs, debates, and compromises. The result was nothing short of miraculous.
Our Constitution—and I say “ours” because if you are here today, it’s yours as well—was a document that changed the world. It contains many principles that will stand through the ages. J. Reuben Clark often spoke of what he called the “three great fundamentals” of the Constitution: First, the separation of powers into three independent branches of government in a federal system; second, the essential freedoms of speech, press, and religion that are embodied in the Bill of Rights; and third, the equality of all men before the law. Underlying all of these fundamentals is also the critical concept of popular sovereignty, or the notion that the people are the source of government power. This idea was a bold departure from conventional wisdom at the time the Constitution was drafted. The idea that our rights are not handed down to us by a monarch but rather that we hold an inherent right to govern ourselves, and by popular election we agree to invest this right in representatives for a specified period of time, was a risky move by this government and one that our Founding Fathers could only hope would be carefully and prayerfully guided by adherence to the Constitution they had labored to create.
At 4,400 words, it is the oldest and shortest written constitution of any major government. It also set a clear standard for others. Since 1787, every nation in the world except for six has adopted a written constitution, and every single one of them is based on the United States Constitution. So this Constitution doesn’t belong to the American people alone, but to all of us, and God intends for all of us to benefit from it.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that the Constitution was brought about by God to ensure a nation where liberty could abound, and the Restoration of our gospel could flourish. Joseph Smith said, “The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner.” (B.H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912, 3:304)
In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Savior himself declared, “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up to this very purpose.” (D&C 101:80) Indeed, God’s hand in the drafting of the Constitution was acknowledged by the signers themselves. And in the most difficult moments of the struggle to create a new government, they turned to Him for help.
Five weeks into the Convention, when they had reached a hopeless deadlock and the entire effort seemed to be in jeopardy, Benjamin Franklin stood and gave a speech to the Convention, asking them to seek God’s intervention. He pleaded: “I have lived… a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” (Benjamin Franklin’s Request for Prayers at the Constitutional Convention, July 28, 1787)
In the hour of crisis, this prominent Founding Father recognized the need for God’s guidance, and the Founders pledged themselves to do whatever was necessary to ensure the success of America. Now, more than 200 years later, will you and I be prepared to do the same?
In the hour of crisis, this prominent Founder recognized the need for God’s guidance. He and his colleagues pledged themselves . . .
The Founding Fathers of our nation were sorely tested by oppression, by war, and by the insurmountable task of setting up a new government. Today the test is ours. Although there are millions of people who believe in and defend our inspired Constitution, and who steadfastly uphold and practice the enduring moral code upon which this nation was founded, we have others—and many of them are in positions of responsibility and power—who reject the values espoused by our Founding Fathers and urge us to do the same. This time, it is our turn to sacrifice. We must stand for what we believe in order to secure it for future generations.
Doctrine and Covenants 101:77 gives a clear mandate that the United States Constitution should be “maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.”
I’d like to talk a little bit today about what we could do to fulfill that scripture and to maintain the Constitution. I’d like to suggest three ways to be what President Ezra Taft Benson called “wise stewards of the gift entrusted to us.”
The first way is to be virtuous and moral. The Founding Fathers knew this country needed not only a wise form of government, but also a virtuous people to uphold it. John Adams, who became the second president of the United States, famously said: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a religious and moral people … It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” (Letter of Oct. 11, 1798)
You and I cannot assume that simply because our Constitution was inspired by God, its doctrines will remain intact without any active participation on our part. We cannot expect God to sustain us if we, as a nation, lose sight of Him. The counsel given by King Benjamin to his son Mosiah on the eve of Mosiah’s becoming king still rings true. King Benjamin said: “If this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people … the Lord will deliver them up, that thereby they become weak like unto their brethren; and he will no more preserve them by his matchless and marvelous power, as he has hitherto preserved our fathers.” (Mosiah 1:13)
We must remain vigilant, then, in order to earn the Lord’s protection. There is much to be cautious of. We live in a society of situational ethics and eroding self-discipline. If our choices, at home, at work, at school, in our community—are not consistent with our values, then we have failed to follow the mandate of our Constitution and the teachings of our Savior. In my profession, I’m reminded daily that even people who consider themselves to be law-abiding citizens expect the law to be the moral compass of society.
President James E. Faust, in speaking to a group of lawyers, cautioned: “There is a great risk in justifying what we do individually and professionally on the basis of what is ‘legal’ rather than what is ‘right.’ In so doing, we put our very souls at risk. The philosophy that what is legal is also right will rob us of what is highest and best in our nature. What conduct is actually legal is, in most instances, way below the standards of a civilized society and light years below the teachings of Christ. If you accept what is legal as your standard of personal or professional conduct, you will deny yourselves of that which is truly noble and your personal dignity and worth.” (Notes, D. Todd Christopherson, “Moral Discipline,” October 2009 General Conference, lds.org, from “Be Healers,” Clark Memorandum, spring 2003, 3)
I’m sure this sounds strange coming from a lawyer, but looking to the law is not typically the answer. Our inspired Constitution is intentionally and purposefully concise. It lays a basic framework for government but leaves most of the details to the people. Why did they do this? Because the founders of the Constitution, guided by our Heavenly Father, expected generations to come to govern themselves wisely and with restraint. In the end, as Elder Christopherson recently reminded us, “it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.” (“Moral Discipline,” Oct. 2009)
We in this room have been blessed with the gospel of Jesus Christ, to lead us and direct our lives. But we know that to whom “much is given much is required.” (D&C 82:3) And this places a sobering responsibility on every one of us. We cannot hide in the shadows of uncertainty simply because our moral standards are looked upon as old-fashioned or unpopular. To do so would not only denigrate the sacrifices made on our behalf, but is also dangerous and destructive, for it comes at a steep personal cost. Our country needs more people who have the courage to step forward and speak up.
An article in the Wall Street Journal noted: “Sin isn’t something that many people, including most churches, have spent much time talking or worrying about … But we will say this for sin: it at least offered a frame of reference for personal behavior. When the frame was dismantled, guilt wasn’t the only thing that fell away; we also lost the guidewire of personal responsibility …
“The United States has a drug problem and a high-school sex problem and a welfare problem and an AIDS problem and a rape problem. None of this will go away until more people in positions of responsibility are willing to come forward and explain, in frankly moral terms, that some of the things that people do nowadays are wrong.” (Notes, D. Todd Christopherson, “Moral Discipline,” October 2009 General Conference, lds.org, from “The Joy of What?” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 12, 1991, A14)
I figure if the Wall Street Journal can say that, then so can we. If we let fear keep us from standing as a witness for what is virtuous and moral, we risk losing the rights our Founding Fathers thought to secure. More than 30 years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson warned: “Too many Americans have lost sight of the truth that God is the source of our freedom—the Lawgiver—and that personal righteousness is the most important essential to preserving our freedom.” He went on to plead, “I say with all of the energy of my soul that unless we as citizens of this nation forsake our sins, political and otherwise, and return to the great fundamental principles of Christianity and of constitutional government, we will lose our political liberties, our free institutions, and will stand in jeopardy before God.” (“A Witness and a Warning,” Ensign, November 1979)
The second suggestion I’d like to give you is to serve your community. Throughout the history of the United States, Americans have valued an ethic of service. In 1831, French author and aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and was enthralled by the spirit of volunteerism here. He observed, “I have seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare; and I have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support one to another. This spirit of volunteerism is an essential tenant of a functioning democracy.”
I teach American government here at LDS Business College, and we have a service learning component. A lot of you are smiling about that. Each semester, students are asked to do ten hours of service in the community, and report on that service to me and to the class. As part of that reporting process, I ask them to answer the question, “What did your service have to do with this class?” This is often a hard question for students to answer. Many struggle at first to find a correlation between service and government. Some—you know who you are—even tend to see the service hours as a burden or just one more silly requirement to keep you busy. Happily, by the time the students have finished the service requirements, most students have learned the valuable lesson in the service component. As one student recently said, “The service learning is the most important part of this class. What is government, if not a way to serve people? And how do we learn about it, if not to serve, ourselves?”
I loved that statement, because it was right on. Serving others not only makes you feel good, it’s a valuable learning tool. AS you labor in your community, you’ll be more attuned to the needs of those around you. You’ll be able to see more clearly, solutions to community issues. You’ll understand what to do to make your community better and stronger, and you won’t be tempted to waste your time on frivolous endeavors. You’ll learn to love those you serve, and that alone will qualify you for leadership. You will become an asset to your community, and an instrument in the Lord’s hands in blessing the lives of His children.
Voluntary community participation has always been a critical aspect of American society. Volunteers helped shape this nation and continue to contribute to its prosperity. The more citizens involve themselves as volunteers, the closer they come to realizing the ideals of democracy—which is freedom, self-determination, equal opportunity, and social mobility. It’s critical to note, however, that to truly serve the notion of democracy, community service must be voluntary. When it is forced, it has a negative impact on the individual responsibility upon which our form of government is based. As we allow ourselves to become dependent on government for that which we should have the right and the privilege to earn for ourselves, we undermine incentives for moral conduct, and we surrender to the government the rights which the Founding Fathers so adamantly defined as inalienably ours.
In the LDS Church, community service is a way of life. We serve in our wards, in our stakes, we serve missions, and we help each other—from our neighbors down the street to our neighbors across the globe. For more than seven decades, the LDS Church has been running its own welfare system without any federal assistance. In fact, the system is entirely supported by volunteers, private donations, and money collected from Church businesses. The aid given by the Church is staggering. The Church website reports that from 1985 to 2009, the Church has shipped 61,892 tons of food and 139,998 tons of other supplies to more than 150 countries.
In 2009, the Church provided assistance in response to a tsunami in Samoa, typhoons in the Philippines, the Pedong Indonesia earthquake, the conflict in Pakistan, and 98 other disasters. We take seriously Christ’s admonition to show our love for Him by serving others, and if our form of government is to survive and prosper, we must continue to do so.
The final suggestion I’d like to give to you is to be informed and active in civic affairs. The form of government set up by the Constitution is not a passive one, and it will not survive if we as citizens are not willing to participate in its administration. I was really glad to see that you are able to get a copy of the Constitution today, but if you can’t, it’s all over the place. Look it up and read it. It’s a document that you should know.
Thomas Edison once noted: “The strength of the Constitution lies in the will of the people to defend it.” Our Constitution gives “we the people” the right to participate fully in the political process. I have to say that by definition this right also includes the right not to participate, but I sincerely hope that is not the path that any one of you will choose to take. Inaction is a form of action. Refusing to take sides is, in fact, taking sides.
Albert Camus profoundly wrote: “By your actions or your silence, you, too, enter the fray.” (Quoted in “Personal Morality,” Elder David B. Haight, Ensign, Nov. 1984) It’s your right, and, I would submit, your responsibility, to be involved.
In order to become a wise and responsible citizen, you must be informed. There are opportunities to do this all around you. Read! Find out about the issues and the candidates for office. Who represents you? Are they doing a good job? Are they adequately speaking for you and your values? How have they voted lately? In this age of information, there is no excuse for not being informed. The truth is out there, but it’s up to each one of you to find it.
Once you find out the facts, you need to do something with what you know. President Kimball taught this principle when he talked about changing the words to the Primary song, “I Am a Child of God.” Originally written “Teach me all that I must know…” President Kimball asked that the words be changed to “Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him someday.” To know isn’t enough, President Kimball explained. “The devils know and tremble; the devils know everything. We have to do something.” (Abbey Olsen, “Beloved Song Turns 50,” News of the Church, Ensign, Feb. 2007. Originally in “New Verse Is Written for Popular Song,” Church News, Apr. 1, 1978, 16)
Coincidentally, this call to action is a great chance for all of you to implement the LDS Business College Learning Model outside of school. You can prepare by doing some research, finding out what’s going on around you. You can teach one another through discussions and sharing of information. And you can ponder and prove by voting, attending meetings, and participating in the political process.
As Latter-day Saints, we’re strongly encouraged to take seriously our civic duty. In Doctrine and Covenants 134, we are reminded that “governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them.” (verse 1) We are consistently reminded by our Church leaders to make civic participation a priority. The level of your participation will fluctuate. There will be times in your life when you are able to do more, and times when your other responsibilities will dictate that you need to do less. Some of you will undoubtedly embark on full-time public service at some time in your lives. Others of you will simply make a goal to become informed, participate in dialogues, and vote regularly.
The important thing is to never let yourself lapse into apathy. Our Constitution and its survival depends upon your participation. So regardless of what you can do, remember the words of Joseph F. Smith: “A good Latter-day Saint is a good citizen in every way. I desire to say to the young men [and women] of our community: be exemplary Latter-day Saints, and let nothing deter you from aspiring to the greatest positions which our nation has to offer. Having secured your place, let your virtue, your integrity, your honesty, your ability, your religious teachings, implanted in your hearts at the knees of your devoted …mothers, ‘so shine before men that they will see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16)” (“Being Loyal Citizens,” Teaching of Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, 122)
We have been told that the day will come when the Constitution will be on the brink of ruin, and that we will be responsible to step forward and save it from destruction. John Taylor said, “When the people shall have torn to shreds the Constitution of the United States the Elders of Israel will be found holding it up to the nations of the earth, and proclaiming liberty and equal rights to all men, and extending the hand of fellowship to the oppressed of all nations.” (Journal of Discourses, 21:8)
That day is here. It’s not in the future anymore. I believe, though, that we will be able to save our form of government. If we remain virtuous and moral, if we serve freely in our community, and if we are informed and active in civil affairs, we will stand ready, like the founders of our Constitution, to do whatever is necessary to preserve our great nation.
I’d like to close with the words of Patrick Henry, who was one of our Founding Fathers. In his last will and testament, after listing his meager earthly possessions, he wrote: “This is all the inheritance I can give my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.” (will dated Nov. 20, 1798, at leader.com/orgs/cdf/onug/henry.html)
As we commemorate the signing of the Constitution, may we all remember the heritage that has made us rich as a country and as members of the Church. And it’s my prayer that we will act responsibly to honor those who made it possible. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.