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Question

 

Gramps,

If we are one day told to turn in our guns because the law changed and it is required, will the Church support that law and tell us to turn them in?

Tracie

 

Answer

 

Dear Tracie,

I believe you have asked a question that has crossed the mind of many.  Unfortunately, I can’t give you a certain answer.  What I can do is share some examples of how the Lord and His people have dealt with the government in the past.  We’ll begin with the 12th Article of Faith: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. Generally speaking, as members we are encouraged to support our government wherever we live.

But what if the government makes a law that is unjust?  Is civil disobedience (refusal to obey certain laws as a form of political protest) ever sanctioned by the Lord?  The first example that comes to my mind is, of course, polygamy.   In 1862, the U.S. government passed a series of laws forbidding plural marriage.  The Leaders and members of the church felt that polygamy should be a religious freedom protected by the Constitution. So what could they do?  First, they attempted to use the proper channels:

“The Church mounted a vigorous legal defense all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Reynolds v. United States (1879), the Supreme Court ruled against the Latter-day Saints: religious belief was protected by law, religious practice was not. According to the court’s opinion, marriage was a civil contract regulated by the state. Monogamy was the only form of marriage sanctioned by the state. “Polygamy,” the court explained, “has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe.

 

Latter-day Saints sincerely desired to be loyal citizens of the United States, which they considered a divinely founded nation. But they also accepted plural marriage as a commandment from God and believed the court was unjustly depriving them of their right to follow God’s commands.

 

Confronted with these contradictory allegiances, Church leaders encouraged members to obey God rather than man. Many Latter-day Saints embarked on a course of civil disobedience during the 1880’s by continuing to live in plural marriage and to enter into new plural marriages. The federal government responded by enacting ever more punishing legislation.”    The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage

The years that followed were difficult for polygamists, who with their families spent much time in hiding.  Eventually, the Lord inspired Pres. Woodruff to write the “Manifesto.”

“On September 25, 1890, President Woodruff wrote in his journal that he was “under the necessity of acting for the Temporal Salvation of the Church.” He stated, “After Praying to the Lord & feeling inspired by his spirit I have issued … [a] Proclamation.” This proclamation, now published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 1, was released to the public on September 25 and became known as the Manifesto.” IBID

Now let’s consider another example of a government creating unrighteous laws: Nazi Germany.  You may have heard of Helmuth Hübener and his two friends were LDS teenagers who fought against Hitler.  Together they listened to the BBC on the radio (which was forbidden by the Nazis) and then created and distributed leaflets attempting to alert the public to Hitler’s lies.  They were caught and shortly after Helmuth’s arrest he was excommunicated.  Of this situation, Mark Albright, institute teacher and author states:

“We certainly cannot judge those who remained silent in Germany or opposed the efforts of these three brave LDS young men.  The pressures to support the German government before and during the war were enormous, the propaganda spread by the Nazis was compelling, and the risks of showing any signs of rebellion were swift and terrifying.  Only God can judge the local branch president who mistakenly excommunicated young Helmuth after his arrest.  Fortunately the Church leaders in Salt Lake posthumously reinstated Helmuth in 1946, shortly after the war ended, for the mistaken excommunication that did not follow proper procedure.”Missionary Moment: The Helmuth Hubener Story – Three LDS Teenagers who Defied Hitler (I highly recommend this whole article.  Helmuth and his friends were so faithful and courageous.)

My point in sharing this story is to show that while we look back in hindsight and see Helmuth and his friends as heroes, things were not as clear for those living through that experience.  Often the Lord allows us to struggle as we work our way through this life.  Such was the case in my final example.  This one is from church history the Missouri period.

As you know, from the time of the First Vision, Joseph Smith and all who joined the church faced severe persecution.  At one point, the main body of the Saints was living in Missouri.  Tensions were high there for many reasons.  Historians generally agree that a big part of the problem was that the Missourians (often called the “Old Settlers” though many were new to Missouri themselves feared that the Mormons would vote as a “block.”  This would be an issue for them with matters such as slavery, as Missourians were pro-slavery, and the Saints were not.  A large body of Saints was gathered together in Far West, Missouri surrounded by a anti-Mormon militia forces.  The Mormon militia had barricaded the city with wagons.  On October 31,1838 the mob outnumbered the Saints five to one.  A tense day passed with neither group making the first move.

“In the evening General Lucas sent a flag of truce, which was met by Colonel Hinkle, the leading officer for the Saints. Colonel Hinkle secretly agreed to Lucas’s demands that certain leaders surrender for trial and punishment, Mormon property be confiscated to pay for damages, and the balance of the Saints surrender their arms and leave the state.

 

Returning to Far West, Hinkle convinced Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, and George W. Robinson that Lucas wanted to talk to them in a peace conference. The brethren were shocked when Hinkle turned them over to Lucas as prisoners. Parley P. Pratt described this tragic scene: “The haughty general [Lucas] rode up, and, without speaking to us, instantly ordered his guard to surround us. They did so very abruptly, and we were marched into camp surrounded by thousands of savage looking beings, many of whom were dressed and painted like Indian warriors. These all set up a constant yell, like so many bloodhounds let loose upon their prey, as if they had achieved one of the most miraculous victories that ever graced the annals of the world.”

 

. . On the morning of 1 November, as George Hinkle marched the Mormon troops out of Far West, the Missouri militia entered the city. While searching for arms they vandalized the town, plundered valuable possessions, raped some of the women, and forced the leading elders at bayonet point to sign promises to pay the expenses of the militia. Many prominent men were arrested and taken as prisoners to Richmond. The rest of the Saints were told to leave the state.”

Chapter 16: Missouri Persecutions and Expulsion

Through this story we see an example of what happened when the Saints surrendered their weapons to the government.

Later the Saints moved to the Utah Territory.

“When Brigham Young, with the first Mormon pioneers, set foot on the spacious Salt Lake Valley floor on July 24, 1847, he boasted that if they could have just 10 years of peace, they would ask no odds of the devil or Uncle Sam. The young religion that taught continuing revelation had already experienced a turbulent 17-year history. By the time the Latter-day Saints sought refuge in the Rocky Mountain wilderness, some members had been driven from their homes as many as four times. It was, curiously, 10 years to the day–on July 24, 1857–that Young received word that an American army was on its way to Utah Territory.” Utah War:  U.S. Government Versus Mormon Settlers

The Saints, due to the history of persecution feared the worst and prepared for war.  You can read a great article about this time period at the above link or there is another helpful article here.

We could also look to the scriptures and find many more examples of righteous people doing their best to deal with government in different situations.  I would encourage you to study the Book of Mormon with this question in mind.  It has many examples of corrupt kings and the righteous people’s responses. But to return to your question regarding whether the Church  would support a law to turn in our guns or will they encourage civil disobedience?  I really can’t say for certain, the best counsel I can give you is should such a situation arise: Follow the Prophet.

 

Gramps

 

 
 

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