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Our faith in God motivates us to be conscientious citizens of our country, state and town. If we keep the big picture in mind, we remember that we're all sons and daughters of God—literal brothers and sisters. By doing our best to be good citizens, we are making the world around us a more beautiful, peaceful and fair place for our own families and our fellow human beings.
How can we help out in our own community? What do we do to make our country a better place? Being a good citizen can be as simple as researching political issues so we can be informed voters, or organizing a soccer league so that kids in our neighborhood have something fun and safe to do after school. Or maybe we want to take on a bigger problem facing our city or state, like finding ways to reduce crime or improving the local library. However we choose to improve the world around us, we can be confident that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17).
Even after local governments had driven them out of multiple settlements, and the federal government refused to protect them, the early Mormons were asked to, and did send a battalion of soldiers to fight for their country in the Mexican American War. The Church's 12th Article of Faith says, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Devotion to our faith doesn't mean that we can't devote ourselves to our country as well. A former president of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, said that a good Mormon "is bound to be a good citizen of the land which gave him birth or which he has adopted as his home. A citizen of God's kingdom should stand foremost among the best of God's people throughout all the world." In addition to supporting government leaders and participating in civic affairs, loyalty also means that we try to make our country a better place. Our faith in God and love for our fellow human beings can inspire us to help correct some of the problems that face our country.
Most of us want to be good citizens, but it isn't always easy to know how. It's important to remember we don't have to donate all of our time and energy to consider ourselves good citizens. A few hours here and there, right in our own backyard, can make a big difference. What would happen to little league sports if no parents volunteered to coach? What friendships might be missed if no one organized neighborhood block parties? What would happen to those down on their luck if no one volunteered to help out at the homeless shelters and soup kitchens? Good citizenship starts at home, and the small things we do to make our own street more beautiful have a bigger impact than we might think. We all have something valuable to contribute, we just have to figure out what it is and make it happen.
Besides being citizens of a city and a country, we are all citizens of the earth. God created the beautiful world we live in, and we have a responsibility to respect it. We can show our gratitude for His amazing creation by being aware of the natural resources we consume and working to reduce, reuse, and recycle them—God gave us "dominion over all the beasts of the field," but with that dominion comes the expectation to act responsibly (Moses 5:1). We are entrusted to take care of the earth, not only because it is a gift from God, but because we depend on it for sustenance. Not as many of us grow our own food now as people did before the industrial revolution, so it can be easy to forget how tied we are to the land we live on (All our food comes from the grocery store, right?). We would do well to remember where our bread comes from today. To show our gratitude to God, we try to work to preserve the sustainable use of the earth's beauty and bounty for the generations that follow.
Whether you're an elected official, a public school teacher or an average voter, how you handle your civic duty contributes to the growth or decay of your part of the world. A country, a state or a community is like a family—inevitably imperfect, but as good as the people who make it up. The integrity of a state is built by the hands of its citizens. Just because you can't make your country perfect doesn't mean you're exempt from responsibility. If people of character fail to participate in the political decisions that shape their lives, others with more selfish designs will rush in to fill the void.
When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus what he thought about giving a tribute of money to the government, He said, "Render… unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). We owe a debt to our government for the roads we use, the schools our children attend, the law enforcement that keeps us safe and the other services it provides. We owe a debt to God for our very existence and eternal opportunities. We repay these two debts in different ways, and we must honor both of our creditors in order to be worthy of the blessings we enjoy in this life and the ones we are promised in the life to come.
Although we believe in taking a stand on moral issues, as a Church we remain neutral in matters of party politics in all of the many nations in which our faith is established. Church leaders don't dictate which candidate their members should vote for — or against — even if a candidate doesn't agree with a publicly stated Church position. Church members are free to align themselves with whatever political party or organization they choose, according to the dictates of their own consciences.
Beyond that, Mormons are urged to be civil regarding political matters. That's not always easy. Certain issues are so close to home and so controversial that it can be hard to respect another's right to a different opinion. But the Lord tells us in the Book of Mormon that "the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another" (3 Nephi 11:29).
Sometimes, if an elected official is a member of a religion or other organization with clearly stated beliefs, there is an anxiety among some that he or she will do whatever that religion or organization dictates. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the idea that church and state are separate entities. We believe that religious authority must not interfere with political matters and that elected officials or civil servants are absolutely free to perform their duties. If there has been any conduct by Mormons that goes against these principles, it has been in violation of the well-settled principles and policy of the Church.
The Lord has "given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves" (Doctrine and Covenants 104:17). Elected officials and civil servants who are Mormons make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with publicly stated Church positions. The Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other leader, but it recognizes that these men and women must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies they represent.
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