I came across a talk today by Elder Neal A. Maxwell which he gave at a BYU devotional on October 10, 1978, entitled “Meeting the Challenges of Today.” Some of the things he said are especially relevant “today,” particularly in the midst of all the turmoil over Proposition 8. Here is some of his talk:
Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions–especially when the First Presidency has spoken out–the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people, and causes, not candidates. On occasions, at other levels in the Church, a few have not been so discreet, so wise, or so inspired.
But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).
President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.
We are now entering a period of incredible ironies. Let us cite but one of these ironies which is yet in its subtle stages: we shall see in our time a maximum if indirect effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism that uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage. . . .
Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities–when faced with clear alternatives–would make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.
Your discipleship may see the time come when religious convictions are heavily discounted. M. J. Sobran also observed, “A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it” (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, p. 58). This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain of people’s opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions. Resistance to abortion will soon be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened.
In its mildest form, irreligion will merely be condescending toward those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values. In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play–especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them. It is the secular bureaucrat’s burden, you see.
Am I saying that the voting rights of the people of religion are in danger? Of course not! Am I saying, “It’s back to the catacombs?” No! But there is occurring a discounting of religiously-based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic “irreligious test” for office.
However, if people are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold that grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would they be, anyway? Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go? . . .
It may well be, as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship. Remember that, as Nephi and Jacob said, we must learn to endure “the crosses of the world” (2 Nephi 9:18) and yet to despise “the shame of [it]” (Jacob 1:8). To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world,” is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why–really why–do the disbelievers … watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do–unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.
If the challenge of the secular church becomes very real, let us, as in all other human relationships, be principled but pleasant. Let us be perceptive without being pompous. Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.
Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even these, however, must leave a record so that the choices before the people are clear and let others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel. There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, that others will step forward, having been rallied to righteousness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds–a majority which was, till then, unconscious of itself.
Jesus said that when the fig trees put forth their leaves “summer is nigh” (Matthew 24:32). Thus warned that summer is upon us, let us not then complain of the heat.
(Neal A. Maxwell, “Meeting the Challenges of Today,” BYU Devotional, October 10, 1978)
I am in New York City and went by the Manhattan Temple this evening. The entrance was barricaded, there appeared to be a door that was smashed in, and police officers (anywhere from 20-30) were all around it, with a minimal of 100+ protestors holding signs derailing the Church. You might think that this would bother me, but all of this reminds me of the quote from Brigham Young, when he said that anytime you kick Mormonism, you kick it upstairs.
One year ago, if you would have thought that the Church would be under this scrutiny, you probably wouldn’t believe it. Truly we have a living prophet and a living Church where Jesus Christ is at the head and we are lead through the good times and the bad. Truly we are in the last days and we cannot be exempt from ridicule and mocking from time to time as Elder Maxwell so eloquently and prophetically pointed out (he also taught that a society that allows everything will eventually lose everything). While this has created division both inside and outside of the Church, many LDS have decided to stand as witnesses (Mosiah 18:8-10) rather than standing on the sidelines. Not out of bigotry, not out of hatred, but out of the teachings of the prophets and the covenants that we have made. Those who follow the Lord’s prophets will be blessed and will prosper (2 Chronicles 20:20).
Thanks, Bryce. I wish I had been the one to find and post this talk.
There is comfort in following the prophets, isn’t there? Thanks for this post!
Elder Clayton actually comments on Prop 8 instead of imagined recontextualizing from 30 years ago:
Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, said L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy. “We love them and bear them no ill will.”
There is no imagined recontextualizing when Elder Maxwell was talking specifically about our participation in political issues, and how that relates to our church membership. This is exactly what Proposition 8 and everything around it is about. Truth is truth, whether it was spoken 30 years ago or 6000 years ago.
Of course the members of the church can choose to not support Proposition 8 and retain their membership. However, the leaders of the church have *specifically* requested that members of the church let their voice be heard. Sending letters to all church units in California, making websites and TV ads, as well as releasing multitudes of press releases should show members of the church that the Prophet, First Presidency, and Quorum of the Twelve feel strongly about this issue. If you feel that all of them, collectively, don’t know what they are talking about, I would ask if you have a testimony of them as prophets, seers, and revelators.
Another great talk on this subject by Elder Maxwell is “Behold, the Enemy Is Combined” (D&C 38:12) from May 1993 Ensign.
7 Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned.
It’s a good thing the anti-Romney crowd never unearthed this talk retrofitted it onto the contemporary political landscape…
What do you mean Brad K.?
Yes, why would that be a problem? I don’t see where Elder Maxwell said you shouldn’t get involved in politics as an individual or run for a political office.
“[N]ot being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”
This will be ever more true in the coming decades. I can only speak for myself, but one way the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats is through the stances that our Prophets will take on such politically charged issues as this. How many left the Church, or fell into inactivity, after the 1978 Priesthood declaration? I imagine others will follow suit today in the spirit of quiet protest against what they believe to be outright intolerance against God’s children.
This decision was an easy one for me. Unfortunately, in my opinion, these decisions will get tougher and tougher in the years to come.
This talk, to the extent that it is taken as binding upon Church members today, disabuses a key notion, insisted upon over and over again by Romney and his supporters alike: that Mormons, in matters political, are not beholden to the directives of Church leaders.
In other words, if Romney detractors, on the right and the left, interpreted this talk the way you do — as articulating an immovable imperative that in all matters including politics faithful LDS must obey their leaders unquestioningly — and (more importantly) convinced others to read it in the same way, neither Romney nor any Mormon would ever be able to get elected president. Which is why Romney repeatedly and emphatically insisted that Church members are free to follow their own conscience independently of what the Church has to say about any given political issue.
This wasn’t a political matter, Brad, it was a moral issue, which the Church has insisted upon over and over again, and which Elder Maxwell also noted in this address:
Of course members are free to follow their own conscience and act independently of what the prophet counsels. The Lord forces no one.
Wrong. It’s a political issue driven by moral concerns — like ALL political issues (as Elder Oaks has reminded us on multiple occasions. There are no political issues that are not also moral issues. It was not about convincing Mormons that gay marriage is immoral but about telling them to vote a certain way in a civil election and to campaign, organize, donate money, phone bank, canvas, and otherwise do whatever they could to influence its outcome to a particular end. I’m not saying the Church has no right to do that. In fact, I’ve argued publicly quite the opposite. I’m saying that we cannot assert, on the one hand, that when the Church tells us to vote a certain way we are under sacred, binding obligation to do it and simultaneously assert that a President Romney would not be beholden to Salt Lake.
Did I read a different talk from Brad K. and other commenters? What I read was a foretelling of the way religious people would be trampled on by others who would insist that their opinions can’t be brought to the public square because those opinions were informed by religious conviction. I don’t see ANYthing in it remotely supporting the notion that Mormons are or should be controlled politically by directives from church leaders.
I know we’re all barely in the same church anymore, but I’m beginning to wonder if we even speak the same language.
Brad K., do you really think that the Lord cares at all about politics? It is not the politics that concerns Him, it is the moral issues behind the politics. If we could have a moral society without the politics, then the Church wouldn’t feel the need to get involved as it has in recent days. But we can’t. Our world is becoming so wicked that these issues are now entering the political scene, and if the Church doesn’t stand for truth and right and for morality, then we may very well lose our freedom of religion. Proposition 8 wasn’t about a vote, it was about protecting the divine institution of marriage, which was in jeopardy. Have you read the statements from the Church on the issue?
Said President Harold B. Lee:
“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)
Sheri L. Dew remarked that if we don’t follow the living prophet, we might as well not have one. Clearly, nearly all political issues at their core have a morality connected to them. There are many instances (if not almost all) when the Church chooses not to get involved on moral issues that project serious political ramifications. Should it not catch our attention that the First Presidency chooses to speak out and ask us to get involved? And should this not rivet our attention to look and sustain them in such instances?
There are many issues that are political and not moral. Whether or not we pay 5.25% sales tax or 5.26% is not a moral issue, but a political one. How people get health care is not a moral issue, it is political. (notice I said how, not if)
Of course Romney’s LDS faith would affect his decisions. I’m sure his belief in a living prophet would also inform his decisions. Several presidents have openly practice religion, even going to church in front of the nation. Does this mean they are beholden to their preacher for how to run the country? Of course not, even if they are taking spiritual and emotional direction from the man.
I took Romney’s stance as ‘I am not going to call Salt Lake and ask them how to run the country.’ (his words not mine) As he said, “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. ”
When it comes to moral issues, and what is right and wrong in an eternal sense, the living prophet on the earth has the final say. That is what LDS members raise their hand to sustain during General Conference. He is the prophet, seer, and revelator for the church in all matters, and especially in moral matters.
Hey – I’m so concerned about this and found that the events in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon (before the First Coming of the Savior) are a parallel to the events that will transpire before the Second Coming of the Savior.
The church will once again endure persecution. The Righteous will be separated from the Wicked.
Every Mormon is closely watching the events with heavy hearts.
I love this article you shared.
I agree that the overall message of the talk is that taking political position based upon religiously informed moral convictions will become increasingly out of vogue in the future. Prophetic indeed. The concern that drove my comments was derived from a particular passage:
Not coincidentally, this passage was included in Yes-On-8 email that circulated virally among LDS inside and outside of CA (I personally received it 5 or 6 times in the week before the election), as an admonition that people should support this for one reason and one reason only: the Brethren had spoken. I’m not arguing that that is an out of line position for anyone to take. Just that it’s inconsistent to take it and simultaneously take umbrage at the fact that evangelicals and atheists don’t think the commonwealth should trust a Mormon president.
I think what is more inconsistent is to think that anyone, whether evangelical or atheist or any other persuasion, isn’t going to be influenced by the ideologies which surround them. Of course a Mormon president would be influenced by his religion. A Catholic president would be influenced by Catholicism. A Baptist by their church. A Muslim by their tradition. Even an atheist is influenced by their non-belief in God which is a religion of itself. We are in large measure what our environment makes of us, and we shouldn’t be ashamed having been influenced by the Church in the development of our character or moral beliefs. That’s what the Church is for. No one can stand completely independent or objective of their community and society. Indeed, who would want such a president? The Church has been recognized as having some of the highest standards and values of any organization on earth, and as such is respected by many. That is probably a large part of what helped Romney (and others) get to the political positions they have. It’s not a detriment to be influenced by the Church. Quite the contrary.
I’m not contending with anything you’re saying here, Bryce. And I know you get what I’m saying. Church members in CA mobilized and donated money and phone banked and canvassed for more reasons than their political preferences were informed by the general moral influence of their religion. If Romney had the nomination and the Church conducted the campaign in CA exactly the way it did, Prop 8 would have killed Romney. The fact that, even while campaigning for various conservative causes around the country, Romney stayed out of CA and the Prop 8 discussion shows that he still hopes for a future in national politics. His involvement in CA would have ruined any chance of that.
Why would it have killed Romney? You are saying that our Church’s standing up for moral values through the political system would have lost Romney’s chances for the presidency if he had been nominated by the Republican party. I disagree with that viewpoint. Many people greatly appreciated the Church’s role in Prop 8, and we made many more friends with other religions because of it. It showed many people that Mormons are serious about good morals in our society. A Mormon does not have to separate himself/herself from the Church in order to run for political office. Romney made that point too. The Church will continue to stand for moral values in our nation regardless if there is a Mormon running for office, and I don’t think it will ruin their chances. It may in fact help them. Romney is opposed to same sex marriage, as he has stated on many occasions in the past, and so it is not hard to imagine his position on Prop 8, even before the Church said anything. In fact, in 2003 as governor he lobbied for a similar state constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Does anyone else have the belief (as I do) that if Romney had not prematurely pulled out of the pre-Convention race, he would have been a stronger opponent of Obama than McCain? I think that McCain’s age and personality were detrimental–and that Obama won simply because there was no good choice. I think the Evangelicals would have supported Romney against Obama…as would the Catholics and many others.
Of course, the President elect now has the unenviable task of starting his presidency in a period of economic collapse, social incivility and violence, and rampant government growth which looks more like socialism every day. Perhaps Romney was wise.
I often think about his talk when the religious/secular debate comes up. And I think Maxwell makes some great points.
The problem I see with the talk is that it brushes over the debate in terms of black and white when the issue is much more complex.
I think a fair questions could be asked, which is a greater threat to Mormonism – secularism or evangelical Christianity? That same question could be asked about Judaism or Islam or many other religions. The answer is debatable.
What I really want to know – is Elder Maxwell using the word “religion” to describe the Restored Church of Christ? Christianity in general? All religions?
Now days, it seems the answer would be “all religions”. President Hinckley did a pretty good job of getting that message into our thick skulls. But the mistake we make is assuming our Christian brothers and sisters feel the same way.
Remember – their fight is not for religious tolerance – but for Christianity to be the state religion. That does in no way benefit Mormons or any other religion. This is a mistake we are still making. We are not one of them. We are not on the same team. Let’s stop trying to be.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. There is safety in and only in following those who hold the keys.
Ultimately, the only threat to this Church is from within and not from without. External forces cannot destroy it, be they politics, governments, or other religious denominations. What led to the apostasy in the meridian of times is that wolves dressed in sheeps clothing crept in, diluted the doctrine, changed the ordinances, and didn’t follow the prophets. We are fortunate to live in the latter days when the promise is that the Church will not be led into apostasy again, but rather will succeed in bearing off the kingdom.
Perhaps the most important message that Elder Maxwell offers is that clarity of standing with the prophet. The prophet is one who sees things that we cannot see. While this may appear to be a grey matter to many LDS, it appears to be not so grey to those who hold the keys. And we can take comfort with the Lord’s admonition in D&C 21:5: “For his word shall ye receive as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” It will take patience and faith to stand with President Monson at times. If we keep our eye on the president of the Church, we will never be led astray. That is the Lord’s promise to us as LDS.