Let’s first clarify what separation of Church and State means. It means that:
- Those running for office do not have to be of a certain religion in order to qualify (nor should they be disqualified if they are of a certain religion)
- The government cannot force its people to adhere to a certain religion (national or state religion) or prohibit the free exercise of religious beliefs
- The government does not have the power to alter the beliefs of a religion
(Note: Obviously if a professed religion (we sometimes call them cults) interferes with inalienable rights and its practices go against reasonable law, the government is empowered to stop its illegal practices and ensure justice on the behalf of anyone wronged by its illegal practices.)
A lot of people think that separation of Church and State means that religions (whichever they may be) should not counsel their members on how to act politically, and should not openly take a stand on any political issue.
How anyone came to believe that this is what separation of Church and State means I don’t know. But, doctrinally, scripturally, and historically, God is very involved in both making law, commanding revolutions, aiding in the overthrow of wicked nations, setting up nations, and in commanding His prophets to tell the people when to take a stand on moral and political issues that will impact the spreading of His gospel.
The Old Testament alone (and it is not alone, as the other Standard Works support it) provides sufficient evidence that God is as interested in politics as He is in souls. Why? Because the governing of nations directly impacts souls. Wicked kings tend to create wicked, idolatrous nations. Wicked systems of judges tend to empower secret combinations. And so forth. God always has quite a strong opinion on who should be in power. Whether elected, born to power, or dictator, God always offers to any leader a covenant: follow Me and you’ll prosper, spurn Me and you and your line will be destroyed. Every book of scripture is replete with such spiritual ultimatums to rulers of nations.
In Amos 3:7 we learn that God won’t do anything without telling it to His prophets. In the Doctrine in Covenants 1:38 and 21:4-6 we learn that God speaks and gives counsel through His prophets and that their words are God’s words—literally. God upholds His prophets and their words are His words. Their counsel is godly counsel whether it is about morality, charity, or political issues. All worldly issues are issues of the soul with God. There is no issue that isn’t about your soul or my soul, everyone’s souls!
God is Our King
In Doctrine & Covenants 58:19-21 God says very specifically regarding the United States of America:
For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him that judgeth, according to the counsel of his own will, or, in other words, him that counseleth or sitteth upon the judgment seat.
He goes on to say that the only right to reign belongs to God (or Christ) and that we are subject unto the current governments only until Christ comes again. Therefore, all the laws that we can uphold that are God’s laws should be upheld for as long as possible. Only when the majority overrules God’s laws are we to “submit to the powers that be” until God commands otherwise, or comes to reign Himself.
If God is our true king, how could we imagine that in His perfect, just, merciful, and loving nature that He would not attempt to guide the politics of the nations in which we live? How could we imagine that He wouldn’t ask His prophets, His mouthpieces on the earth, to counsel us in the ways in which God would have us vote that He might bring about His great and eternal purposes?
What benefit is there to our prophets to counsel regarding political issues if the revelation to do so didn’t come from God? None. For the prophets nearly always counsel “against the grain” of society. They almost always counsel us to stand for issues that are not popular, which are ridiculed, and which bring persecution (to them and to us).
In Helaman 13:24-28 we read:
Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
And now, when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord…ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil…
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no inquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. Yea, ye will lift him up…because he speaketh flattering words unto you…
We need only to read the scriptures and educate ourselves to recognize that God always speaks through His prophets. He always asks them to preach things which aren’t popular. He always asks us to follow them. And rejecting prophets has always led to destruction.
We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet
The blessing and gift of a prophet of God on the earth is priceless. Yet, we take it daily, hourly, minute-by-minute for granted. For us they have always spoken. We have never known a world without a living prophet. We have never known a world without apostles and priesthood keys and authority. We have never known a world without saving ordinances.
In our comfort with having First Presidency messages in every monthly Ensign magazine; with having bi-annual General Conferences, we sometimes forget that they are not on our errand, or the nation’s errand, or on the mainstream of society’s errand, but on God’s errand. They will always speak what God tells them to speak.
In general, the Church often stays out of political issues as our doctrines and stated beliefs should be sufficient for members to work with. We are counseled to vote our conscience and to be swayed strongly by our Christian beliefs. Thus, when our prophet does speak out and asks us to vote a certain way or to stand against a certain issue in a specific way, we can be certain the direction came from God and that this issue is important not only for the judgment of our nation, but for us. Whether we will follow the prophet in faith, as God has commanded, is the bigger issue…not so much the issue the prophet has given counsel and instruction on. If we doubt that any political counsel is from the Lord we can do two things:
- We can pray to know if the current prophet is the prophet and if God upholds him. Or,
- We can pray to know if the counsel the prophet has given regarding a political issues is the stance the Lord would have us take.
If we receive a witness, or a reminder, from the Holy Spirit that the prophet is the prophet than that solves the issue. If he’s the prophet then his counsel comes from God. Or, whether we like the counsel or not, or believe the prophet is inspired or not, if we receive a witness that it is still God’s will, then that solves both issues (because we know God is in agreement with the prophet).
As the world veers further and further away from God and His covenants and commandments we will see the prophets become more and more involved in offering political counsel. Not so much, I would say, to change the overall outcome of where our country is headed, but much more so that God might know who is with Him, or who is against Him. For, when it all comes down to it, the issues of today were the issues of histories past. And the issues yet to come will only repeatedly test our faith in God. And that faith will be shown by the answer we give to this question: “Do I listen to and follow the prophet?”
We thank thee oh God for a prophet
To guide us in these latter days
We thank thee for sending the gospel
To lighten our minds with its rays
We thank thee for every blessing
Bestowed by Thy bounteous hand
We feel it a pleasure to serve Thee
And love to obey Thy command