President Kimball’s Sobering Assessment Illuminated by the Case of the Mormons in the Third Reich.
By Alan Keele, Professor Emeritus of German Studies, Brigham Young University
I begin with some words of President Spencer W. Kimball from the Ensign of June, 1976. His article commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and is entitled: “The False Gods We Worship.” President Kimball wrote:
We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel … and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”(Matthew 5:44-45) … What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? … Our assignment is affirmative: … to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
President Kimball had similar things to say in the First Presidency Statement on the Basing of the MX missile five years later, in 1981, as well as in his Christmas and Easter Messages around that same time. (The remarkable revelation on the Priesthood in June of 1978 fell directly between these pronouncements.)
President Kimball’s inspired words of 1976, 1978, and 1981 were unprecedented and courageous. Anyone alive at that time will remember clearly how much fear and hatred had been generated by the Cold War and the policy called Mutually Assured Destruction, appropriately abbreviated MAD. I recall people I otherwise considered sane seriously advocating a preemptive nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union.
My friend and colleague Gary Browning, on the other hand, was one of the few who had for years had the courage and good sense to stand up and speak out in the community against this torrent of fear and hatred. Unlike most others, for whom Russians were an easily feared abstraction, as a Professor of Russian, Gary knew personally and had a deep love for individual Soviet citizens as well as for the Russian people and their long history and profound culture.
In the early eighties, Gary founded the Utah County Chapter of Utahns United Against the Nuclear Arms Race, inviting others of us to join. (I’m proud that one of the things our little group was able to accomplish was to assemble this special issue of BYU Studies on War and Peace, with Gary as guest editor. Its monographs and poems are still vitally relevant today.)
Our wider umbrella organization, Utahns United Against the Nuclear Arms Race, had been founded in about 1980 by Ed and Gloria Firmage along with a wide, ecumenical cross-section of 70 or so Utah religious and cultural leaders. It was also Ed Firmage, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Utah, as well as a great-great-grandson of Brigham Young and the grandson of Hugh B. Brown, who spoke as an expert witness at the invitation of the First Presidency to the three of them, and on another occasion to the entire Quorum of the Twelve, about the arms race in general and the MX missile in particular. President Kimball’s pronouncements were based on Ed’s materials and analysis.
Meanwhile, less than a decade later, the First Presidency called Gary Browning as the first mission president to Russia, operating initially out of Finland and later, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, from headquarters in Moscow. (I can’t resist sharing with you that once, years later, when I happened to be riding with him in an elevator, Elder Ballard of the Twelve, upon learning that I was Gary’s colleague, raised his index finger, moved his hand and his face close to mine, looked into my eyes intently, and in a most dramatic voice proclaimed: “The Lord raised up that man!”) Incidentally, Gary and our friend and Russian Department colleague Thomas Rogers are now the patriarchs to the Russian saints and regularly travel to Russia to give blessings.)
With missionaries in the Soviet Union, suddenly gone were the days when Gary got anonymous threats for being a “Commie-Lover.” Now, literally overnight, many Utahns had apparently come to realize, as President Kimball had admonished, that “our assignment is affirmative: … to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.”
Hearing reports of real distress in the former Soviet Union during that first hard winter after its dissolution, and inspired by an earlier campaign by Professor Eugene England and others called Food for Poland, Russian Professor Donald Jarvis and I initiated a Russian Relief campaign centered at BYU to send funds and food packages through President Browning to hungry, cold people. The outpouring of support for our initiative at BYU and in Utah generally was very gratifying indeed. LDS Humanitarian Relief joined in, as well as people with extraordinary resources like Jon Huntsman, to send aid to citizens in the former Soviet republics.
In Germany, our friend and former BYU colleague Elder Spencer Condie of the Seventy, who was serving in the area presidency there, helped expand our Russian Relief initiative through the good offices of Area President Elder Hans Ringger. Soon I beheld through my tears photos showing German Latter-Day Saints loading trucks with food and clothing for the people of Leningrad, the very city which German troops famously besieged for 900 days during World War Two, causing widespread starvation and even cannibalism.
The lesson for me was that once freed from the bonds of extreme ideology – of both the older German anti-Bolshevik and the more recent American anti-Communist varieties – Mormons both in Utah and in Germany were deep down absolutely responsive to the imperative, in President Kimball’s words, to carry the gospel of peace to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.
So it has become an article of my faith that Mormons want fundamentally to do good, not harm. We may at divers times and places be misled by fear, ignorance, and prejudice, we may succumb to bouts of mass hysteria, but the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to admonish us and the Holy Spirit never tires of prompting us to love and care for others, even those sometimes considered our enemies, throughout the whole world. Yes, bellowing cries of fanatics can at times drown out the whisperings of the Spirit; humans – not just chickens – tend to react to threats with flocking behaviors; but eventually truth and sweet reason may one day again prevail. And as we have seen in this case, with the prophetic leadership of Spencer W. Kimball and the Lord quietly raising up good people like Gary Browning, it can happen very unexpectedly and very quickly.
Another instructive example is the case of the Mormons in the Third Reich. It shows that even good, faithful people can be misled by mass hysteria. But it is also a good case study in why this is never inevitable. And it is a case study in what conditions need to obtain for it to be entirely avoidable. When there is access to good information to counter propaganda and other lies, where there is a strong sense of right and wrong, and a questioning mind trained even a modicum in examining truth claims, and where the moral courage exists to stand for the truth, right political choices replace wrong ones.
This perfectly describes young Helmuth Hübener. His source of good information was the BBC. And it is important to remember that his resistance movement was entirely non-violent. It would never have occurred to Helmuth to have called for an armed insurrection or for Hitler’s assassination.
I first stumbled onto the Hübener story in 1971 in a novel by Günter Grass. It was precisely these qualities in Hübener, especially his instinct for non-violence, that made Helmuth an appealing figure to the Nobel-Prize-winning author. Now, one article, three books, and a short documentary film later (which I’m happy to say airs repeatedly on KBYU Television), I trust that most Latter-Day Saints have had a chance to become familiar with the Hübener story and its tragic outcome for seventeen-year-old Helmuth, who was the youngest person executed for resistance to the Nazis.
The courageous and intelligent reaction of Helmuth and his friends Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe to Hitler and National Socialism has been a beacon in my own life, for me convincing proof that – despite a tidal wave of almost universal adulation and jubilation – even very young people, armed with better information, can see through the lies of the most pernicious, pervasive, and persuasive propaganda apparatus the world has ever witnessed.
I have been hesitant in the past to speak much about the other Mormons in Nazi Germany, the ones who were not always anti-fascists, partly because I only more or less inadvertently picked up information about them along the way, and partly because I have learned there are those who are eager to bend all such unflattering information about Mormons to their anti-Mormon purposes.
Nevertheless, at a conference in honor of Professor Douglas Tobler on the occasion of his retirement I did tell a story with a negative beginning but with a positive ending, namely the story of a naive young LDS boy named Bruno Stroganoff who briefly joined Hitler’s SS but, when he learned to his horror that he was now expected to help massacre Jewish villagers in occupied Poland, he courageously buried his SS uniform and began to walk across Europe to escape from Nazism. You can, if you wish, read more about him in my brief article in BYU Studies [32:3-4].
In addition to a large number of a-political German Mormons, there were others who were convinced Nazis, many of them very nice people and dedicated Church workers, including some who were loyal to the Führer to the bitter end. Some remained enthusiastic supporters of Hitler long after the war, even after they had emigrated to the US or to Canada.
Such Mormon Hitler supporters who happened to learn about Helmuth’s resistance activities universally despised Helmuth Hübener and often stubbornly stuck to these views until death. At least one member of Helmuth’s branch, Brother Jacobi, is reported to have said in a Church meeting he would have shot Helmuth if he’d known what he was doing.
This is a bitter pill to swallow. We’d like to think Mormons didn’t make bad political choices, much less violent political mistakes, despite what we know about such infamous events as the massacres at Mountain Meadows as well as at My Lai, where several Mormon members of Charlie Company were present when hundreds of innocent men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood. (One of them, Mike Terry, is quoted as having said, when asked why he participated: “I don’t know, it was this Nazi kind of thing.) Obviously, mere membership in the Mormon Church does not convey automatic immunity even from participation in mass murder, much less from political naiveté.
In order to understand analogous phenomena, I think it is important to examine briefly how some Mormons in Germany were misled by a concatenation of superficial reasons to support Hitler and the National Socialist movement, especially when the regime was new and appeared to be doing positive things.
Hitler had, for example, created full employment and a stable economy. Not many grateful people who now had jobs again wanted to focus on the fact that the economy was being driven by a vast rearmament industry and a rush to war. As H.L. Mencken once pointed out, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding it.
Hitler restored a sense of national pride which had been badly wounded by the harsh Treaty of Versailles after World War One. He had cracked down on public behaviors left over from the roaring twenties which made the middle class uncomfortable. Even today, one can sometimes hear an older German reminisce in an unguarded moment: “Well, you can say what you want, but in those days at least a woman was safe on the streets! And he gave us the Autobahn!” (Environmentalists have humorously turned this canard upside down: “Well, Adolf wasn’t so bad, he just shouldn’t have built that stinking Autobahn!”)
German Mormons had additional, theological, reasons to embrace Hitler. Those who saw in him a man called of God to help prepare the world for the millennium saw hidden significance in the phrase das tausendjährige Reich, a realm lasting a thousand years, or in the fact that he had twelve close associates referred to as his disciples, or that his party number was the holy number seven (which it actually wasn’t, it was 555).
Germans were not the only Mormons captivated by the romance of Hitler, especially early on. Statements by enthusiastic American church members made their way to Germany. Some were shockingly antisemitic – we tend to forget today how wide-spread antisemitism used to be in the US, and Mormons here were not immune to it either.
German saints were also aware of an unsigned editorial in a British church magazine, The Millennial Star, which enthused about Hitler and the New Germany, saying it was clear der Führer had been raised up by God to prepare the world for the millennium.
After years of being closed to the despised Mormon cult, Mormons rejoiced when under Hitler all genealogy records of the state churches, Catholic and Lutheran, were suddenly thrown open to anyone. (If you were not a Jew, it was easy not to think about why the Nazis really wanted the archives open.)
Some German LDS saw significance in the fact that Hitler was a teetotaler and non-smoker. It was also widely rumored that Hitler had attended primary meetings as a child in Austria (in Haag am Hausruck about 15 miles from his hometown of Braunau am Inn) where he learned about the word of wisdom, or that he had even secretly been baptized a Mormon. (I heard this canard again very recently, from an American mission president no less.)
Such urban folklore was codified into an organized spiel by a “professional friend” of the church named Max Hähnle, a sociologist who had made research trips to Salt Lake City. He went around Germany giving talks to Mormon congregations favorably comparing Mormonism to Nazism.
In 1939, just before Germany attacked Poland, something like Hähnle’s summary of favorable comparisons between Mormonism and Nazism found its way into an infamous article in a special number of the Völkischer Beobachter, the official Nazi party organ. Entitled “Im Lande der Mormonen,” [In the Land of the Mormons] and though it could have been written by Hähnle, the article did not bear Hähnle’s name but rather that of Alfred C. Rees, the American mission president in Berlin at the time.
According to this article, to cite only one example, the idea of Mormon Fast Sunday had been borrowed by Hitler and turned into Eintopfsonntag, that one Sunday a month when German families were encouraged to have a simple one-dish meal and donate the cost difference to the party.
As its author warms to his subject, however, he soon makes it sound like Mormonism was borrowed from the Nazis, not the other way around. He makes a long list of Nazi beliefs before coming to his conclusion: “Mormons are the ones who put these healthy doctrines into practice.”
I think everyone now experiences deep embarrassment and sadness at such statements. But the passage of time has the power to make fools of all of us if we too end up on the wrong side of history. So how can we follow the examples of Helmuth Hübener and his friends as well as people like Bruno Stroganoff to avoid being spattered by blood and sins from such calamities in our own time?
Let’s briefly try to examine a tougher case, because it’s closer to home and more recent, residing in that grey zone where current events gradually shade over into history. Nevertheless, many objective, indisputable facts about the case have already emerged with considerable clarity. When stepping off his presidential helicopter five days after the attacks of 9/11/2001, President George W. Bush made an apparently unscripted and unpremeditated remark: “This crusade, this war on terrorism,” he said, “is going to take a while.” President Bush, though a history major at Yale, was probably not mindful at that moment of the terrible massacres perpetrated by European crusaders in the Middle Ages and of the resonance the word crusade still has in the Middle East. Still, he discontinued using the word crusade when he was reminded what a potent symbol and rallying cry the word is in the Islamic world.
His choice of the term war on terrorism, on the other hand, was neither immediately nor widely challenged, though it turns out the distinction between whether 9/11 was an act of war or a criminal act – even a particularly horrible criminal act – has almost incalculable legal and moral ramifications. In a number of international treaties, to which the US is a signatory, terrorism is specifically defined as a crime, not as an act of war.
Nor is this distinction mere semantic hair-splitting; rather, it is an important legal safeguard designed to prevent future calamities in light of past horrors such as World War One, which began when Austria declared war on the entire country of Serbia because one nineteen-year-old Serb had assassinated Austria’s heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand.
The attack did not even occur in Serbia, but in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a different country altogether. Of course, as we all know, Serbia’s ally Russia immediately responded by declaring war on Austria, and soon all the major powers were inexorably drawn into the war because of their fateful interlocking system of alliances and because they all started an irreversible spiral of mobilization. We have heard Professor Tate recount earlier today the staggering death toll of this colossal mistake.
Yes, young Gavrilo Princep and his co-conspirators were patriotic Yugoslavian nationalists, but not all were Serbs. Some were Bosniaks, and one, named Graham Hough, sounds suspiciously British to me; I have been unable to find out any more about him. But despite attempts by Austria at the time to link them to the Serbian secret police through their weapons – little Browning [!] 9mm automatic pistols – these murderers were not state actors.
Neither were the 9/11 hijackers state actors, but rather a conspiracy of individual terrorists from various countries including Egypt and the Emirates, most of whom, however, were natives of Saudi Arabia. They were doubtless trained in Afghanistan, but they did not attack America as agents of the governments of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, or any other country, certainly not of Iraq.
Sir Kenneth Macdonald, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, the UK’s most senior criminal prosecutor, has argued that these terrorists, like the 2005 London bombers, were not soldiers in a war at all, but criminals who should answer to the criminal justice system.
His view is that the prime purpose of terrorist attacks is to cause democratic countries such as Britain and the US to abandon their civilized, constitutional values in the rush to war: “London is not a battlefield,” he explained. “Those innocents who were murdered … were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers.’ They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this … The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws, and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.”
Likewise, British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, explained as recently as January of 2009, that “the idea of a ‘war on terror’ is a ‘mistake,’ putting too much emphasis on military force … Mr Miliband said the idea had unified disparate ‘terrorist groups’ against the West. He said the right response to the threat was to champion law and human rights – not subordinate it.”
In the event, much of the law and many of the human rights spoken of by Miliband, many of those civilized, constitutional values mentioned by Macdonald, were in fact to be in some measure subordinated and abandoned precisely because our efforts were cast as a war on terror, and that because of one presumably spontaneous semantic choice by a president not otherwise particularly noted for the precision of his language.
All the subsequent questionable and now repudiated legal opinions by John Yoo and others which gave birth to the so-called unitary executive theory, were based on the premise that George W. Bush was a wartime president. The unitary executive is a legal doctrine which holds that the president in a time of war (bearing in mind that this was to be a war without any foreseeable end) enjoys unlimited powers no different than those under what legal scholars have called the Führerprinzip. This means that under the doctrine of the unitary executive, the President of the United States – and I know this is difficult to grasp or even imagine – is bound by no law at all, international or American, including the Geneva Convention banning torture, kidnapping, and murder. George W. Bush’s lawyers were actually advising him that the Chief Executive in wartime does not even answer to the US Congress or to the Supreme Court!
The doctrine of the unitary executive, like the almost countless other costs in blood and treasure and lost prestige and the destabilization of nations would have been rendered moot if 9/11 had been defined as a criminal act rather than an act of war. I think history will show this rush to war by a warlike people, accompanied by a willingness to abandon the rule of law, was a costly mistake.
But what has all this to do with Mormons? you might well ask. I hold the view that at a crucial moment in American history, when our Constitution was arguably hanging by a thread, at least four high-placed Mormons in key positions could have stepped in to save it. Had these four LDS men – two lawyers who helped define torture so narrowly that nearly any cruelty was considered technically legal; as well as two psychologists who reverse-engineered Chinese and North Korean torture methods and then implemented them for the CIA – had these four men made better decisions, they had the power to have prevented grievous war-crimes. In fact, however, they are deeply implicated in them. (In the interest of time I refer you for the details about these matters to Jane Mayer’s excellent book, The Dark Side.
I refer you as well as to an article by my former student Josh Madson about the suicide of young Alyssa Peterson, a soldier in Iraq who had served an LDS mission to the Netherlands. Tragically, Alyssa apparently ended her own life in September of 2003 after she had objected to the very interrogation techniques developed and declared legal by her fellow Church members and used on prisoners in Tal-Afar. Alyssa courageously refused to participate after only two nights working in a unit known as the cage, and was later found lying dead in a field, next to her rifle. To my mind, her death, like that of Helmuth Hübener, in nowise detracts from the correctness and nobility of her stance against evil.)
Aside from the profound tragedy of these individual cases, for me the bigger tragedy is that clearly not a small number of Mormons in the US reacted after 9/11 the way most other Americans did. Many of us became – exactly as predicted by President Kimball – anti-enemy. We gave our support to the idea of an everlasting global war on terror, without having any way of being able to foresee and count the eventual costs. Two young marines from my neighborhood were buried last week.
I know we are probably still too close to the painful events of the last decade to be able to agree on what a more appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks might have been. With more hindsight, however, such pivotal moments in history often become much more clearly focused. I believe it’s now indisputable, for example, that the massive escalation by President Lyndon Johnson of the Vietnam War in 1964, was all out of proportion to its proximate causus belli, the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident. And can any of us watch without shuddering those old film clips of Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels screeching out at a Nazi Party rally: “Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg!!” [Do you want total war!] followed by resounding shouts of “JA! JA!” from the throats of tens of thousands of enthusiastic Germans, many of whom would soon be dead in the steppes of Russia or amidst the rubble of their destroyed cities?
To counteract the almost irresistible pull of such mass psychology when enemies threaten, as President Kimball implies, we must do better at following the admonitions of Jesus Christ, but we must also do better at epistemology, the examining of truth claims. As an example I invite you to consider with me the rather tortured logic, the lack of information, and the shallow level of political analysis which must have been operational in the case of three young individuals quoted in a New York Times article of May, 2006 entitled: “All Polls Aside, Utah Is Keeping Faith in Bush.” Remember, this is 2006, long after WEDs, mushroom clouds, meetings in Prague between Iraqis and Al-Qaeda, the unitary executive, and the Bybee torture memo, when it should have been clear to all who had eyes to see how problematic the war on terror had become:
“When I watch him, I see a man with his heart in the right place,” said Delia Randall, a 22-year-old mother from Provo, the hub of a county that gave Senator John Kerry just 11 percent of the presidential vote in 2004. “I like George Bush because he is God fearing, and that’s how a lot of people in this area feel.”
“He’s strong, and he doesn’t waver,” said Jaren Olsen, 18, a freshman at Brigham Young, the nation’s largest religiously affiliated private university, who is from Albany. “I like that he is for the family, that marriage should only be between a man and woman. And the war, we need to finish what we started.”
Another student at Brigham Young, Danielle Pulsipher, a junior, offered blanket approval of the president. Asked to name which of his actions as president she liked most, she was hard-pressed to answer. “I’m not sure of anything he’s done, but I like that he’s religious – that’s really important,” Ms. Pulsipher said.” [end of quotes]
I consider it highly instructive that present-day German saints, though they joined millions of their countrymen and -women in rallying to show their support for the US immediately after the September 11 attacks, were not in the least inclined to rush to war. Like other Germans, they very reluctantly agreed to send some troops as police units to Afghanistan, but Germany refused to send any at all to Iraq.
In fact, my impression from conversations with a relatively large number of German and other European Mormons recently, especially with the youth – I was able to speak about the Hübener story at three annual all-European German-language Young Single Adult Conferences in recent years – is that European Mormons were overwhelmingly troubled about what they viewed as the naiveté of their admired American coreligionists at the heart of Zion who seemed to have become little more than enthused cheerleaders for the war on terror. For obvious reasons, Germans today are very suspicious about cheerleading as a substitute for informed political engagement.
I found Germans – even the youth – to be much better informed about the problems and inconsistent claims about the reasons for the war on terror than the above-cited young Utahns, in part because this time it was the German media – the equivalent of the BBC in Hübener’s case – that had better information. (I remind you that in the US even the venerable New York Times through its now discredited reporter Judith Miller was funneling misinformation from Dick Cheney about yellowcake from Niger and spurious connections between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. I remind you also of what the Austrian curmudgeon Karl Kraus famously said about such feedback loops: “We have wars because politicians lie to reporters and then believe what they read in the papers.”)
Additionally, many of the infamous secret torture sites were in Eastern Europe, in Poland and Rumania, and the extraordinary rendition flights to those so-called black sites refueled in Germany, so it was widely reported there that plane watchers had been observing air fields, recording the tail numbers of the CIA jets involved. There were also some high-profile cases where German citizens of Middle-Eastern ethnicity were kidnaped off European streets and taken to black sites be tortured, at least one, an innocent victim of mistaken identity.
The fact that Mormons in Europe did not share our American passion for the war on terror encourages me, suggesting to my mind that this problem is not a specifically Mormon disease, it is a political disease, highly contagious for Mormons and non-Mormons alike, but virulent only when conditions are right, or should I say when conditions are wrong: we or anyone else can get on the wrong side of history when an unhealthy combination of factors such as fear, lack of good information, an inability to process truth claims, thoughtless a-priori political loyalties, and that counterfeit patriotism mentioned by President Kimball makes us susceptible. If we eliminate any or all those elements, we make ourselves immune. I hope a brief video clip by one of our better-known Mormon contemporaries will help me make this point:
Such irrational and anachronistic evocations of those hoary old twin fears – Communism and the Negro – leave me speechless, so I fall back on the words of the poet: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity… Surely some revelation is at hand: What rough beast, somewhere in the sands of the desert, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
As I slouch toward my conclusion, lo! there is another revelation at hand. As in the case of President Kimball in the seventies, our current prophet, President Monson, has not left us without inspired guidance for our times. Whether we have been paying attention to it is another matter. (In the interest of time I want to remind you only in passing of the respectful tone during the two visits made to President Obama by Church leaders this past year – President Uchtdorf with Elder Ballard at the inaugural and six months later President Monson with Elder Oaks who presented the Obamas with five volumes of their genealogy. Elder Ballard said, for example: “We pray for President Barack Obama’s success in these challenging times and join in his expressions of hope and optimism. We need to exercise our prayers and help him accomplish the great objectives that he has set.”)
I also refer you to the LDS Church press release of October 16, 2009, entitled “The Mormon Ethic of Civility,” a statement I consider the most fitting response to Glenn Beck and similar voices, which reads in part: “The political world is astir. Economies are faltering. Public trust is waning. Individuals feel vulnerable. And social cohesion wears thin. Meanwhile, stories of rage and agitation fill our airwaves… the Church views with concern the politics of fear and rhetorical extremism that render civil discussion impossible. As the Church begins to rise in prominence and its members achieve a higher public profile, a diversity of voices and opinions naturally follows. Some may even mistake these voices as being authoritative or representative of the Church. However, individual members think and speak for themselves. Only the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles and their designated representatives speak for the whole Church.
“The fabric of civil society tears when stretched thin by its extremities. Civility, then, becomes the measure of our collective and individual character as citizens of a democracy… The need for civility is perhaps most relevant in the realm of partisan politics… A healthy democracy maintains equilibrium through diverse means, including a patchwork of competing interests and an effective system of governmental checks. Nevertheless, this order ultimately relies on the integrity of the people …” [endquote]
As we learn from the 98th Section, it is for the good and safety of society that God holds men accountable for their acts in relation to government and the law. I have touched on some examples today where I think men have failed at this, because I wanted to demonstrate that Mormons are never exempted from the arduous task of being good citizens in the governance of this world. As suggested by the theme of this symposium, being a good citizen includes a knowledge of things both in heaven and in the earth including the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land, not all of which are always uplifting.
But I am proud to be able to point to the example of good Mormons like Gary Browning and Helmuth Hübener, whose lives are proof that when the correct constellation of factors does come together in the individual soul, Mormons can and do behave, even in the most trying times, as true patriots in President Kimball’s sense, and with true civility in President Monson’s sense.
12th March 2010, BYU Studies Symposium