[This letter was written in January 2014 in response to the bogus public position concerning active alcohol regulations enforced by the State of Utah. The church newsroom release included an interview with D. Todd Christofferson – found here. You can also find an article from The Salt Lake Tribune here.]
Dear Elder Christofferson,
I am writing this to you concerning the recent statements made on the “reasonable” regulations concerning the State of Utah’s Alcohol statutes. Although I am open to correction, at this point, it seems to me like the political rhetoric of church leaders has changed from what it used to be. I am attempting to harmonize, or at least understand where there are seemingly obvious differences between statements such as yours with a recent one from Elder Oaks’, and the several quotes I have read from Presidents Benson, McKay, Taylor, and even Joseph Smith himself. I am hoping for a reply to show me where I am perhaps either misunderstanding or not seeing a variable which would legitimize such calls and such a spread of this type of political principle. I am open to correction. I truly just want to understand the Truth and I am hoping that you might be able to aid me in this goal.
The political line of the Church in its’ history seems to have consistently been a standard of recognition and promotion of the principles behind the Constitutional frameworks set up by the “wise men” whom “the Lord Raised up unto this very purpose”. In fact, D&C 98, as I am sure you know, clearly states that “whatsoever is more or less than” that Constitutional standard, which “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh”, “cometh of evil”. Joseph Smith even prayed in his inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple that this standard “be established forever”. This line has been echoed by many church leaders since, including, most recently, President Benson.
This standard of government is based on principles which assume a voluntary system of exchanges known as the Free Market. It assumes a laissez-faire governmental approach which respects the fundamental rights, and helps to enforce the fundamental duties, that are God-given to Man. It is a government by restoration, rather than an active proscriptive-type of government. In fact, the standard taken to its logical basis was summed up by Ezra Taft Benson when he stated in his essay The Proper Role of Government: “the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.” This brings out the point that the basis of legitimate collective action must be in harmony with the conscience-based standard, or the Golden Rule Principle, of the individual.
Since I, as an individual, would be acting immorally in attempting, by force, to actively regulate my neighbors acquisition, serving, and consumption of an alcoholic beverage, then how could hiring the legislature, governors, and law enforcement officers to do the same be spared from judgement by the same moral standard? Wouldn’t even my desire to do this be out of harmony with the Golden Rule Principle championed by the Lord Himself?
Not only do the Alcohol Laws of Utah not fit into this standard, but they actually embody an actuation of principles seemingly very contrary to the one briefly outlined above. Therefore, the Church’s open statement supporting them seems to me contradictory to the very doctrinal beliefs that serve as its’ basis for operating under the claim of “True and Living Church”. Perhaps you could please explain to me how this, perhaps, is not be the case.
President John Taylor stated that: “We expect the Latter-day Saints…to avoid lawlessness of every kind and the interference with men’s rights in any shape. Let all men worship as they please. That is a matter for their own consciences, it is not for us to dictate. Let all men be free in their business relations, that in all things we may feel that we are performing our part as citizens of the United States and citizens of the Church and kingdom of God upon the earth…If they choose evil, let them choose it. We talk sometimes about the influence of saloons, of whisky, and beer, and all these kinds of things. Cannot you Latter-Day Saints let them alone? If you cannot you are not fit to be Latter-day Saints and you will not be so long…” (JD 22:294-295)
President David O. McKay not only stated that “The fostering of full economic freedom lies at the base of our liberties. Only in perpetuating economic freedom can our social, political, and religious liberties be preserved” (USAC Founder’s Day Address, .The Deseret News, 12 March 1952, Church sec., pp. 2,14 and 15) but he also stated that:
“Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. Among the immediate obligations and duties resting upon members of the Church today, and one of the most urgent and pressing for attention and action of all liberty loving people, is the preservation of individual liberty…Individual freedom is threatened by international rivalries, inter-racial animosities, and false political ideals. Unwise legislation, too often prompted by political expediency, is periodically being enacted that seductively undermines man’s right of free agency, robs him of his rightful liberties, and makes him but a cog in the crushing wheel of a regimentation which, if persisted in, will end in dictatorship…This principle of free agency and the right of each individual to be free not only to think but also to act within bounds that grant to every one else the same privilege, are sometimes violated even by churches that claim to teach the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The attitude of any organization toward this principle of freedom is a pretty good index to its nearness to the teachings of Christ or to those of the Evil One.” (April CR 1950)
President Joseph Smith also expressed this type of view, in a call for action concerning the City of Nauvoo, when he stated: “I also spoke at length for the repeal of the ordinance of the city licensing merchants, hawkers, taverns, and ordinaries, desiring that this might be a free people, and enjoy equal rights and privileges, and the ordinances were repealed.” (HC 6:8)
President Ezra Taft Benson also frequently spoke and promoted the cause of individual freedom and free markets, often citing earlier church authorities in the process. One such quote concerned the War in Heaven continuing today:
“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter— coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.” (The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner)
Obviously since “government is force”, there is not one angle in which the cause of free markets and the freedom of the individual is not a moral issue. It doesn’t seem to be any different when it comes to voluntary exchanges on the market, regardless of whether or not that product/service includes the service of alcohol-related items. Regardless of whether or not the abuse of a product is, in fact, immoral, a person has a right to exchange and acquire them. And, as it is probably obvious, merely acquiring and consuming a substance such as alcohol does not, in and of itself, harm another person. Therefore, how can that be considered, in legal context, criminal activity worthy of prior restraint and other punishments down that logical train of thought.
And, honestly, it seems to me a bit odd for such a huge collection of quotes and statements from church authorities concerning the legitimacy of the Republican forms of government the founders attempted to institute, and yet, to currently hear an implied endorsement of “democratic” principles which run contrary to that system. In fact, even justifying a particular agenda which directly affects a particular group with a blanket statement such as: general welfare is an example of such a mindset.
“Harm”, in and of itself, is not necessarily tied to any substance, such as alcohol. Isn’t the root of the legal issue seeking reparations for harm done, and not attempting to preempt and discourage, via state force, a particular lifestyle those individuals conscientiously believe in (or don’t believe in, whatever the case may be). Isn’t the moral issue of agency and freedom missed in such a call as this recent one pertaining to Utah’s alcohol laws? Even D&C 134 states that: “The civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul“? (vs. 4-5)
The quotes above and many other aspects to the principles of individual rights and freedom are leading me to wonder about this recent statement. Even the Book of Mormon at one point associates peace, righteousness and harmony in Nephite society being directly linked with economic “free intercourse” when it came “to buy[ing] and to sell[ing], and [getting] gain, according to their desires” (Helaman 6:8).
Is there something I am missing in regard to the quotes above, or am I correct and merely not embracing what actually is a new line coming from the Church in regards to political affairs? Are statements such as this one, as well as a recent few coming from Elder Oaks, a change in the standard, or am I merely, in your view, not understanding what I am considering to be the original standard?
I look forward to a reply.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
February 5, 2014
Dear Brother Hamilton,
Thank you for your letter regarding the Church’s statements on alcohol regulations in Utah.
The Church is not interested in restricting agency. However, we have long had an interest in alcohol issues because of the negative social consequences that come with the sale and consumption of alcohol products. The problems with alcohol are prevalent in our society and they affect children and families. Therefore, we see this as a moral issue on which we should take a position.
As indicated in our statement on alcohol, the decisions on these matters are made by the people or their elected representatives. However, the Church, like others, is entitled to express its views in the public square.
The Church simply believes that a clear understanding of the well-documented negative social costs that come with the consumption of alcohol are often missing from the debate and we made material available to express this view.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
D. Todd Christofferson