B. H. Roberts and the Salt Lake Ministerial Association (I)

1907 was an interesting year for Mormonism and it marked the beginning of the end for a number of things from 19th century praxis and belief. During the April conference of the Church, a lengthy pronouncement, “Address to the World” was adopted. The Salt Lake Ministerial Association issued a “Review” of the address a few weeks later in which they expressed skepticism regarding some aspects of the pronouncement. Two interesting things about this long forgotten pronouncement are its “new” articles of faith and its discussion of polygamy. Here is some of that pronouncement:

[Read by Orson F. Whitney]
We believe in the Godhead, comprising the three individual personages, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

We hold that man is verily the child of God, formed in His image, endowed with divine attributes, and possessing power to rise from the gross desires of earth to the ennobling aspirations of heaven.

We believe in the pre-existence of man as a spirit, and in a future state of individual existence, in which every soul shall find its place, as determined by justice and mercy, with opportunities of endless progression, in the varied conditions of eternity.

We believe in the free agency of man, and therefore in his individual responsibility.

We believe that salvation is for no select few, but that all men may he saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

We affirm that to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel, authority must be given of God; and that this authority is the power of the Holy Priesthood.

We affirm that through the ministration of immortal personages, the Holy Priesthood has been conferred upon men in the present age, and that under this divine authority the Church of Christ has been organized. . . .
The only conduct seemingly inconsistent with our professions as loyal citizens, is that involved in our attitude during the controversies that have arisen respecting plural marriage. This principle was introduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith, at Nauvoo, Illinois. The practice was continued in Utah, and published to the world, as a doctrine of the Church, in 1852. In the face of these facts, Brigham Young, whose position in the matter was well known, was twice appointed, with the consent of the Senate, first by President Fillmore, and afterwards by President Pierce, to be the Governor of the Territory. It was not until 1862 that Congress enacted a law forbidding plural marriage. This law the Latter-day Saints conscientiously disregarded, in their observance of a principle sanctioned by their religion. Moreover they believed the enactment to be violative of the Constitution, which provides that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Notwithstanding this attitude and conduct on the part of our people, no decision of the Supreme Court upon this question was secured until 1878, more than thirty years afterthe settlement of Utah; nor were determined efforts made to enforce the law until a further period of five or six years had elapsed. Surely this toleration, under which the practice of plural marriage became firmly established, binds the United States and its people, if indeed they are not bound by considerations of mercy and wisdom, to the exercise of patience and charity in dealing with this question.

If it be charged by those who find extenuation for offenses committed prior to the decision of 1878, that our subsequent duty as good citizens was clear and unmistakeable, we reply that the situation, as viewed by some of our members, developed a conflict between duty to God and duty to the government. Moreover, it was thought possible that the decision of the Supreme Court might be reversed, if what was regarded as a constitutional right were not too easily surrendered. What our people did in disregard of the law and of the decisions of the Supreme Court affecting plural marriages, was in the spirit of maintaining religious rights under constitutional guaranties, and not in any spirit of defiance or disloyalty to the government.

The “Mormon” people have bowed in respectful submission to the laws enacted against plural marriage. While it is true that for many years they contested the constitutionality of the law of Congress, and during that time acted in harmony with their religious convictions in upholding by practice, as well as by spoken and written word, a principle committed to them from God, still, when every means of constitutional defense had been exhausted, the Church abandoned the controversy and announced its intention to be obedient to the laws of the land. Subsequently, when statehood for Utah became a possibility, on the condition that her constitution provide by ordinance, irrevocable without the consent of the United States, that plural marriages should be forever prohibited, the “Mormon” people accepted the condition by voting for the adoption of the constitution. From that time until now, the Church has been true to its pledge respecting the abandonment of the practice of plural marriage. If it be urged that there have been instances of the violation of the anti-polygamy laws, and that some persons within the Church have sought to evade the rule adopted by her, prohibiting plural marriages, the plain answer is that in every state and nation there are individuals who violate law in spite of all the vigilance that can be exercised; but it does not follow that the integrity of a community or a state is destroyed, because of such individual transgressions. All we ask is that the same common-sense judgment be exercised in relation to our community that is accorded to other communities. When all the circumstances are weighed, the wonder is, not that there have been sporadic cases of plural marriage, but that such cases have been so few. It should be remembered that a religious conviction existed among the people, holding this order of marriage to be divinely sanctioned. Little wonder then that there should appear, in a community as large as ours, and as sincere, a few over-zealous individuals who refused to submit even to the action of the Church in such a matter, or that these few should find others who sympathized with their views; the number, however, is small.

Those who refer to “Mormon polygamy” as a menace to the American home, or as a serious factor in American problems, make themselves ridiculous. So far as plural marriage is concerned. the question is settled. The problem of polygamous living among our people is rapidly solving itself. It is a matter of record that in 1890, when the manifesto was issued, there were 2,451 plural families; in nine years this number had been reduced to 1,543. Four years later the number was 897; and many of these have since passed away.

In answer to the charge of disloyalty, founded upon alleged secret obligations against our government, we declare to all men that there is nothing treasonable or disloyal in any ordinance, ceremony, or ritual of the Church.

The overthrow of earthly governments; the union of church and state: domination of the state by the church; ecclesiastical interference with the political freedom and rights of the citizen,–all such things are contrary to the principles and policy of the Church, and directly at variance with the oft repeated declarations of its chief presiding authorities and of the Church itself, speaking through its general conferences. The doctrine of the Church on the subject of government, stands as follows:

“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”

Such is our acknowledgment of duty to civil governments. Again:

“We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same, and that such as will administer law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people (if a republic), or the will of the sovereign.”

“We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.”

With reference to the laws of the Church, it is expressly said;

“Be subject to the powers that be, until He reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under His feet.

“Behold, the laws which ye have received from my hand are the laws of the Church, and in this light ye shall hold them forth.”

That is to say, no law or rule enacted, or revelation received by the Church, has been promulgated for the State. Such laws and revelations as have been given are solely for the government of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If, at any time, there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well settled principles and policy of the Church.

We declare that from principle and policy, we favor: The absolute separation of church and state; No domination of the state by the church; church interference with the functions of the state;

No state interference with the functions of the church, or with the free exercise of religion;

The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs; The equality of all churches before the law.

The reaffirmation of this doctrine and policy, however, is predicated upon the express understanding that politics in the states where our people reside, shall be conducted as in other parts of the Union; that there shall be no interference by the State with the Church, nor with the free exercise of religion. Should political parties make war upon the Church, or menace the civil, political, or religious rights of its members as such,–against a policy of that kind, by any political party or set of men whatsoever, we assert the inherent right of self-preservation for the Church, and her right and duty to call upon all her children, and upon all who love justice, and desire the perpetuation of religious liberty, to come to her aid, to stand with her until the danger shall have passed. And this, openly, submitting the justice of our cause to the enlightened judgment of our fellow men, should such an issue unhappily arise. We desire to live in peace and confidence with our fellow citizens of all political parties and of all religions.

It is sometimes urged that the permanent realization of such a desire is impossible, since the Latter-day Saints hold as a principle of their faith that God now reveals Himself to man, as in ancient times; that the priesthood of the Church constitute a body of men who have, each for himself, in the sphere in which he moves, special right to such revelation: that the President of the Church is recognized as the only person through whom divine communication will come as law and doctrine to the religious body; that such revelation may come at any time, upon any subject, spiritual or temporal, as God wills: and finally that, in the mind of every faithful Latter-day Saint, such revelation, in whatsoever it counsels, advises or commands, is paramount. Furthermore it is sometimes pointed out that the members of the Church are looking for the actual coming of a Kingdom of God on earth, that shall gather all the kingdoms of the world into one visible, divine empire, over which the risen Messiah shall reign.

All this, it is held, renders it impossible for a “Mormon” to give true allegiance to his country, or to any earthly government.

We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs; or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations, and by our actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith. We deny that either our belief in divine revelation, or our anticipation of the coming kingdom of God, weakens in any degree the genuineness of our allegiance to our country. When the divine empire will be established, we may not know any more than other Christians who pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven;” but we do know that our allegiance and loyalty to country are strengthened by the fact that while awaiting the advent of the Messiah’s kingdom, we are under a commandment from God to be subject to the powers that be, until He comes “whose right it is to reign.”

“Mormonism” is in the world for the world’s good. Teaching truth inculcating morality, guarding the purity of the home, honoring authority and government, fostering education, and exalting man and woman our religion denounces crime, and is a foe to tyranny, in every form, “Mormonism” seeks to uplift, not to destroy society. She joins hands with the civilization of the age. Proclaiming herself a special harbinger of the Savior’s second coming, she recognizes in all the great epochs and movements of the past, steps in the march of progress leading up to the looked for millennial reign. “Mormonism”lifts an ensign of peace to all people. The predestined fruits of her proposed system are the sanctification of the earth and the salvation of the human family.

And now, to all the world: Having been commanded of God, as much as lieth in us, to live peaceably with all men–we, in order to be obedient to the heavenly commandment, send forth this Declaration, that our position upon the various questions agitating the public mind concerning us may be known. We desire peace, and will do all in our power on fair and honorable principles to promote it. Our religion is interwoven with our lives, it has formed our character, and the truth of its principles is impressed upon our souls. We submit to you, our fellow-men, that there is nothing in those principles that calls for execration, no matter how widely in some respects they may differ from your conceptions of religious truth. Certainly there is nothing in them that may not stand within the wide circle of modern toleration of religious thought and practice. To us these principles are crystalizations of truth. They are as dear to us as your religious conceptions are to you. In their application to human conduct, we see the world’s hope of redemption from sin and strife, from ignorance and unbelief. Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earth-bound; we contemplate the human race, past, present and yet to come, as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor: and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now, and forever. Amen.
In behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, March 26, 1907.
Adopted by vote of the Church, in General Conference, April 5, 1907.

3 Responses to B. H. Roberts and the Salt Lake Ministerial Association (I)

  1. ricke says:

    There is a lot there.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Looking forward to your next posts on this.

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