Is anarchism compatible with D&C 134?


quantumsaint asked me recently about my take on D&C 134. I told him that I would write about this topic in a separate post (this one.) In the meantime, I gave him a link to the Church Education System (CES) web site that contains the text of the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325 that spoke of D&C 134. I had originally intended to use only section 134 as my text, but some of the things said in the student manual warrant attention, so I will use both articles for this post.

I consider D&C 134 to be just what it purports to be: “a declaration of beliefs” given by the Church leaders of that time so that their “belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general” might “not be misinterpreted or misunderstood.” It was simply their “opinion concerning the same.” (See the heading to Doctrine and Covenants section 134.) Each of the 12 verses of the article begin with the words, “We believe…” and that is how I view this document, as their belief. When analyzing the document for truth, I use the revelations found in the Standard Works to judge it. I do not use this document as equal in “measuring authority” as the other parts of the scriptures. It is not a revelation and does not purport to be one.

It is also apparent from the wording of the document, that it was meant to allay suspicion and to calm down the fears of non-members who thought that we were fanatics, obeying our prophet leader no matter what he said, even if those commandments were against the laws of the land.

The CES student manual gives a good historical summary of the document:

Historical Summary

A general assembly of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held at Kirtland, Ohio, on 17 August 1835 to formally accept the collection of revelations to be published as the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. After the priesthood quorums and then the congregation unanimously accepted the revelations, “Elder William W. Phelps arose and read an article prepared by Oliver Cowdery, on marriage. This was on vote ordered to be published also in the volume with the revelations. Then President Oliver Cowdery arose and read an article, ‘Of Governments and Laws in General,’ and this likewise was ordered by vote to be published with the book of revelations. Neither of these articles was a revelation to the Church.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:30.)

The article on government was included in that edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as a statement of belief and as a rebuttal to accusations against the Saints. “The reason for the article on ‘Government and Laws in General,’ is explained in the fact that the Latter-day Saints had been accused by their bitter enemies, both in Missouri and in other places, as being opposed to law and order. They had been portrayed as setting up laws in conflict with the laws of the country.” (Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:30–31.)

This declaration of belief has been included in editions of the Doctrine and Covenants since its proposal in 1835. When it was read and voted on, “the Prophet Joseph Smith and his second counselor, Frederick G. Williams, were in Canada on a missionary journey, and the Prophet did not return to Kirtland until Sunday, August 23rd, one week after the Assembly had been held. Since the Assembly had voted to have [the articles on government and marriage] published in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet accepted the decision and permitted this to be done.

“It should be noted that in the minutes, and also in the introduction to this article on government, the brethren were careful to state that this declaration was accepted as the belief, or ‘opinion’ of the officers of the Church, and not as a revelation, and therefore does not hold the same place in the doctrines of the Church as do the revelations.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 852.)

Certain statements of this document require modifiers or qualifiers to be true and I believe that the intent was to have the scriptures themselves be the modifiers and qualifiers, hence the use of certain general statements. The specifics of what is meant are found in the scriptures. The same technique was used in the U.S. Constitution, in which certain very general phrases were used, followed by specific phrases which modified and qualified (or explained the meaning of) the general phrases. Whoever wrote it (I will assume it was Oliver Cowdery) crafted every word with the precision of a lawyer writing a legal document. It is very well-written.

We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. (D&C 134: 1)

First off, the past tense is used (“governments were instituted of God”) not the present tense. The implication, of course, is that there are no current governments that are instituted of God, including the U.S. government. Oliver probably had in mind those instances in the scriptures in which the Lord established the people himself. Since this verse is qualified by the scriptures, it can only refer to those governments which were instituted by God, and not to those which were not. He then switches to the present tense (“he holds men accountable”) when speaking of our relation to current governments. This is, of course, true. Once we reach the age of accountability, he holds us accountable for all our actions. The non-member who casually reads this will think that the Mormons are saying that all governments are good and have the approbation of God. The verse, though, isn’t saying this.

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life (D&C 134: 2)

This verse is also completely true. These rights are necessary for peace to exist, at least the peace of those who are so protected in their rights. (It is important to recognize that at the time these words were penned, slavery was legal in America. Although Oliver stated “to each individual,” the definition of the word individual probably did not include slaves. I’ll leave it at that.)

We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the 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. (D&C 134: 3)

Here Oliver starts talking about civil governments (the State,) explaining that the State needs the force of violence to make sure people obey its laws, otherwise people will opt out of paying taxes, etc., and the State will cease to exist. Oliver here isn’t approving of the State, he’s only stating the obvious. He also explains the best type of people to administer State laws: equitable and just people. These are the people who should be sought for and upheld. This is all true. He does not state, though, who should do the seeking and upholding. In other words, he does not state that the LDS should seek to support the State. But, the verse is sufficiently vague to get a non-member thinking that the LDS support the State, support the State’s violence, and are all for elections, etc.

We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul. (D&C 134: 4)

When talking of religion, Oliver uses the present tense (religion is instituted of God.) As with other portions of this document, the scriptures qualify and modify the statements, so that Oliver isn’t saying that all religion is instituted of God, only that there is a religion that is currently instituted of God (the LDS religion.) A non-member casually reading this verse wouldn’t catch the real meaning. The rest of the verse explains that States have no business in regulating religion, unless crimes are committed in the name of religion.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. (D&C 134: 5)

Americans had fairly recently gotten over a Revolutionary War, in which they broke with another government, so the key words here are “while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments” and “thus protected.” The message portrayed is that Mormons would be as patriotic as the original patriots who fought the British, if it came to it, but while government is just, we submit peacefully to it.

So far, these verses are compatible with anarchy. Then comes verse six…

We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker. (D&C 134: 6)

Way back then, the word anarchy carried a different meaning than it does now. English is not static and shades of meaning come and go with the passage of time. By consulting Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, we learn what anarchy meant to Oliver:

AN’ARCHY, n. [Gr. rule.] Want of government; a state of society, when there is no law or supreme power, or when the laws are not efficient, and individuals do what they please with impunity; political confusion. (taken from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/anarchy)

AN’ARCHIST, n. An anarch; one who excites revolt, or promotes disorder in a state. (taken from http://1818.mshaffer.com/d/word/anarchist)

ANARCH’ICAL, a. Without rule of government; in a state of confusion; applied to a state or society. Fielding uses anarchial, a word of less difficult pronunciation. (taken from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/anarchical)

AN’ARCH, n. [See Anarchy.] The author of confusion; one who excites revolt. (taken from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/anarch)

The sense of these definitions is that anarchy was a state of confusion due to no laws or due to people disregarding laws. Anarchy was also associated with violence, or exciting to revolt, as Webster put it. (I suppose the American Revolutionaries were probably considered anarchs by the British, as they excited the people to revolt from the king.) Over time, anarchy acquired other shades of meaning, including, essentially, a non-coercive, cooperative society based upon only private laws, including customary laws, whether written or unwritten, as opposed to societies based upon coerced public or State laws.

Although the words anarchy and anarchism have acquired newer shades of meaning, most people still associate it with its initial shade and with a state of disorder and violence, instead of the peaceful, naturally-ordered society that is also called anarchy. General authorities-prophets, apostles, seventies and First Presidencies-still give talks and make statements using the initial shade of meaning of anarchy, to the exclusion of the new uses of the word. So, this must be kept in mind when hearing someone in or out of the church use the term anarchy in a negative way.

I won’t take the time to go through the rest of the document (verses 7-12). Oliver continues to carefully qualify some of his statements, such as saying in verse 8 that “crime should be punished” by the State but without giving the nature of the punishment. He only states that crimes “should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men.” Likewise, in verse 11 he explains that redress of wrongs should be appealed to the State “where such laws exist as will protect” men.

My conclusion is that Doctrine and Covenants 134 is entirely compatible with the modern understanding of anarchism and anarchy. Therefore, modern anarchists can accept it. But it is also compatible with statism, so statists can accept it. And, I think, that is the usefulness of the document, in that it can be used to calm people’s fears concerning the beliefs of LDS in respect to government. If Mitt Romney and other LDS who are running for office were smart, they would just point to this document when asked where their religion stood in its view of government.

Now, one last item… Under the section speaking of verse 1, the CES student manual has a paragraph about anarchy that needs to addressed:

Elder Erastus Snow explained: “Anarchy—shall I say, is the worst of all governments? No: Anarchy is the absence of all government; it is the antipodes [opposite] of order; it is the acme of confusion; it is the result of unbridled license, the antipodes of true liberty. The Apostle Paul says truly: ‘For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.’ At first this is a startling statement. Even the monopoly of the one-man-power as in Russia [the Czar], or the monopoly of the aristocracy as in other parts of Europe, or the imbecility and sometimes stupidity of a republic like our own, is far better than no government at all. And for this reason, says the Apostle Paul, ‘The powers are ordained of God,’ not that they are always the best forms of government for the people, or that they afford liberty and freedom to mankind but that any and all forms of government are better than none at all, having a tendency as they do to restrain the passions of human nature and to curb them, and to establish and maintain order to a greater or less degree. One monopoly is better than many; and the oppression of a king is tolerable, but the oppression of a mob, where every man is a law to himself and his own right arm, is his power to enforce his own will, is the worst form of government.” (In Journal of Discourses, 22:151.)

I bet that this paragraph is the reason why CES students who take this course suddenly get the idea that anarchy is evil. Growing up in the church, I often heard the phrase, “Any government is better than no government, at all.” Anarchy, according to this thought, is to be avoided at all costs. The end of the Nephite civilization, when everyone was raping and killing everyone else, would be the picture painted by this type of anarchy.

It is important to understand that the meaning of the word ‘anarchy” used by Elder Snow (and other church leaders, past and present) has none of the modern connotations. The anarchy he describes is equated with disorder and chaos. However, the modern shades of meaning can mean an ordered society, based upon private laws. Anarchy is the natural state, the natural order, in which each person governs himself and learns to peacefully exist with others through cooperation. This is why anarchists often say, contrary to Elder Snow’s remarks, that anarchy is order.

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: Abraham Lincoln

Previous Anarchism/Anarchy article: LDS make the best anarchists

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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12 Comments

  1. Anarchy is not compatible with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
    “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

  2. Yet Nephi was desirous that his people should have no king….Nephi’s view and that AoF are incompatible if one so chooses to justify the existence of the state.

    Great article. I read that CES page and it clarified a few things. I had all but forgotten about D&C 134 and moved on to questioning a bunch of other stuff. Always the rebel. I don’t know how I made it to earth.

  3. TJ, that article of faith doesn’t mean that we believe in CREATING kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates to rule over us (we are supposed to have only one king–King Jesus), but that if we live in a kingdom that has kings, or other type of governments that have various different types of rulers, we believe in being subject to them while those States exist. It is entirely possible to be an anarchist while still obeying, honoring and sustaining the laws of the land we live in, which means that anarchy is totally compatible with the church. You are probably referring to the definition of anarchy as lawlessness, meaning disregard of all laws, even private, tribal or customary laws. I recommend that you look up the word in a good, modern dictionary. You’ll see for yourself that there is more than one shade of meaning.

    quantumsaint, that is the very next topic I wanted to address (Nephi’s, and other prophets’, thoughts on kings.) You read my mind. I usually don’t give D&C 134 a moment’s thought, as it really was just meant to calm the fears and reduce the prejudices and hatreds of the non-mormons towards the mormons. Verse 12 about slaves was meant to appease those wary that Mormons would try to illegally free the slaves or incite them to fight their masters, etc. We really have no need for that verse in this country, but it’s still there. Who knows? Maybe slavery will become legal again in the near future… So, this (non-revealed) document was meant to be used by LDS to show to non-members and say, “See this section here? This explains that we aren’t going to trample upon the laws, after all. This is CANONIZED, see? You can trust us to be in government positions.” I don’t know if it works to that end, though, as no politician seems to want to use it.

  4. Of all the scripture that we have, section 134 is the only “doctrine” without a listed author. This view was supposedly written members of the church in Kirtland,in 1835 years before Joseph Smith was killed, and in the same time period that Joseph Smith was recorded to have bee having problems with secret society and the Kirtland church. Read D&C. Section 98 is divine revalation recorded by Joseph Smith before 134 was written by Who??????????????????????

    134 gives a different view than 98. Also as concerning the comment concerning the articles of faith. Everywhere in Joseph Smiths writings “the law” refers to D&C 42, and “law of the land” refers to government. Joseph Smith and thousand of early mormans ruthless murders were directly linked to the same governmental structure inplace today. Section 123 gives a pretty clear description of the love Joseph Smith had for the goverment.

    Do your study, there was no previously arranged chain of command of succeding Prophets to Joseph or Hyrm Smith(section 124). I cannot find the scripture, but I have read in the last quarter of D&C that Joseph Smith, or somebody that he personaly picks can be the only successor. The church spun for over 2 years before Brigham Young stepped up. By then over half of the origional quarem of the 12 were either in Europe on missions, apostitized, or dead. I smell rats. Think of what Ezra Taft Benson said in reference to the tares and the wheat.

    And who wrote section 134? I have been asking church leaders this and get nothing at all. I have been denied access into the church libraries inside of the “office” building because I refuse to carry a government ID, and one is required to pass security. This is the scripture chiseled in stone infront of the temple that has Millions of people convinced to pay in Billions of dollars to the most murderous government ever recorded.

    Well when you take into account that the treatie of 1783 over-rode the declaration of independance, and your really a subject of the queen. Check out illuminati bloodlines parts 1-31 on you-tube.

    Also Lakota leaders declared independance from the USA a week before Christmass, and are offering drivers licesences and passports, for the newly restated nation that covers part of 5 states.

    Anarchy is more that just not accepting governmental control, but protecting the three M’s of Money, Mind, and Military, from secret societies control. Nephi and everyone else warn of them infiltrating thier religions, commerce, and legal systems. What do you think these books are for? They are code books forcast through time, coded, and re-translated, and new versions. While millions are ruthlessly killed through chemical, drug, oppression, and militant warefare do you think you’ll go to hell for drinking coffee or masturbating? Loosing relious or spiritual rights for getting behind on your payments?

    Look at how bad some of the people running this world are. The USA killed over 150,000 Irac men, women and children while helping them? I hope they don’t come help me!

    Are you busy focusing on what they weekly teach you, or what you discovered learned, and recieved personal revelation on.

    Read the Book of Morman and don’t let the foot notes influence your personal interpertation.

    Thou shalt not kill…unless military forces do it for us?

    Peace, love, and all that $#@! Christian Kenny Heap

  5. Thank you, Christian, for the comments and heads up on the Lakota nation. If anyone would like to learn more about their newly declared independence from the U.S.A., visit LakotaFreedom.com. This information brings to my mind D&C 87: 5. I wonder how the U.S. is going to respond to this?

  6. The commandment to not kill has a footnote showing that the Hebrew original meant “murder.” I do not believe that you can ignore the footnotes and rely on your own interpretation and get it any more correct. I would be willing to say that all the most intelligent scripture scholars I know study the footnotes carefully, and I believe that they are true.

    Were there not wars in the scriptures, wars that God commanded must be fought in order to protect His covenant people? Was not Nephi commanded to slay Laban?

    “The greatest single lesson that we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.” — President Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, May 2005, 22.

    To abolish the US government would be to destroy the US Constitution, a document ordained of God. In its purest form, the pronouncement of these human, inalienable rights is all about agency and law and consequence. The scriptures teach that these things are, indeed, of God.

  7. I find the comments about footnotes (made by Christian and T J) to be interesting. I never look at the footnotes, the chapter headings, the verse summaries, the guide to the scriptures, or any other “help” that is contained in the officially published standard works, as I have found that they are interpretations, which I don’t want. In fact, just a few days ago, as I was reading the Book of Mormon, my eyes by accident rested upon a chapter heading (Alma 32) and I saw that the chapter heading gave the definition of faith that I had recently debunked in one of this blog’s articles on faith. I laughed to myself and thought, “Oh, that’s where people are getting that definition from…” I have so conditioned myself not to read anything but the scriptures themselves (the actual word of God) that I had all but forgotten what was contained in the headings.

    This is probably a topic worthy of a separate article, so I’ll cut short my comment.

    Concerning the Constitution, please see the article entitled, What the Lord has said about the Constitution.

  8. Aristarchy forever!

  9. Is anarchy compatible with the political motto of the Latter Day Saints?

    The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

    The Political Motto of the Church of Latter-day Saints

    Section Three 1838-39, p.117

    The Constitution of our country formed by the Fathers of liberty. Peace and good order in society. Love to God, and good will to man. All good and wholesome laws, virtue and truth above all things, and aristarchy, live forever! But woe to tyrants, mobs, aristocracy, anarchy, and toryism, and all those who invent or seek out unrighteous and vexatious law suits, under the pretext and color of law, or office, either religious or political. Exalt the standard of Democracy! Down with that of priestcraft, and let all the people say Amen! that the blood of our fathers may not cry from the ground against us. Sacred is the memory of that blood which bought for us our liberty.

    JOSEPH SMITH, JUN.,

    THOMAS B. MARSH,

    DAVID W. PATTEN,

    BRIGHAM YOUNG,

    SAMUEL H. SMITH,

    GEORGE M. HINKLE,

    JOHN CORRILL,

    GEORGE W. ROBINSON

    (March, 1838).

    –DHC 3:9.

    Now this is delving into semantics for sure, but by “anarchy” I think you mean: INDEPENDENCE! (Missouri?)

  10. I do understand that the Hebrew word for Murder is Kill. I also understand that language, definitions, and morals are like teeth which decay overtime if you eat junk, no matter what you brush them with.

    Who did write 134? These were not leaders of the church by any ones books. Look at the dates. Look at the accompanying history. Joseph Smith was in charge. I have not been able to find any information on what kind of a meeting this so called 134 was voted on in. Who presided, who voted, who drafted, who decided it should be in D and C???

    Further more…Who decided notes from Joseph Smith’s personal journal should be used as articles of faith. Is this anywhere in Joseph Smith wishes…I have found nothing of the sort.

    I testify that D&C 134 is a physical proof and work of the secret combination operating inside the church.

    I testify that Ezra T. Benson was great prophet and furthermore I testify that when he declared in 1988 that the secret combination was hard at work in “EVERY” aspect of our society…He was right!

    Believe nothing unless you pray about it first. Believe what you feel and not what your told the feel.

    In the name of Jesus Christ

    A-ho

    PS: Amen-Ra, Amen, Ra, or the “hidden one” according to Websters Dictionary is the egyptian god of the under-world.

    Amen is really tricky and is a mater of disguise and hiding in plain site. In Egyptian vowels are interchangeable. Omen = Amen. testAMENt cOMANdment.

    Peace, love, and light…Christian

  11. I just found this blog and am enjoying scouring the tidbits of information contained here.
    As a Free State Project member who moved to New Hampshire and also a Mormon spiritualist, I have been very interested in the compatibility of Anarcho-Mormonism.

    One definition in the etymology of the word Anarchy that always seems to be missing is probably one of the most important when considering this relationship:

    The Greek word Anarchos (ἄναρχος). According to Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, one of the definitions is “without beginning”. Anarchos was a description often applied to God – to be “uncaused” was considered divine.

    So there is my input for the day. 🙂

    Anarchos ad Infinitum

  12. Found this post:
    Can mormons be anarchists? D&C 134
    where a commenter concluded,

    no, you cannot be an LDS anarchist

    I was going to comment but you have to log-in with an account to do so.


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