The Bulwark

Obeying Obamacare: The Religious Obligation to Follow the Law

As the March 31 deadline to purchase health insurance under the Obamacare mandate approaches, nearly one third of Millennials without health insurance are saying they will simply pay the penalty and forego purchasing insurance. While this may be a financially beneficial option for many, the question remains whether this is a moral choice. In these articles, our JAC contributors explore whether Christians and Mormons especially are under moral and religious obligation to, in the words of the LDS Church’s 12th Article of Faith, obey, honor, and sustain this “law of the land.”

TO DO OR DIE

By Brent Gilchrist

I was born in America, grew up in Canada and, after living in the United States a few times in earlier years for spurts of fun and adventure, now have lived and taught in universities here for the past 13 years or so. I was educated in Canada into political philosophy and American political thought and culture, mostly by American ex-patriots who varied in their politics from far left to far right. Together, I think my history gives me a unique and, I hope, an objective and somewhat enlightened view of Obamacare and its context within the United States and our broader Western civilization.

When Socrates was awaiting his death after being sentenced to death for his being supposed to have disobeyed the laws of Athens, his friend Crito came to him to help him escape to another location – hence, Plato’s dialogue in which we read about this is entitled Crito. Crito tells Socrates that no one had expected things to go this far; Athens didn’t really want to execute him and that he, Crito, had bribed the guards and arranged Socrates’ escape as a good friend should do. Socrates takes the opportunity to teach Crito a few things, the one most important here is obedience to laws. He reminds Crito that he, Socrates, has been nurtured and empowered as a citizen by the laws of Athens for 70 years. The city has favored him, made his philosophic life possible, even tolerated him for the most part until now. Having benefitted from the laws so much for so long, Socrates says, he has no right to disobey them now this one time that they do not favor him.

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates

Imagine if everyone did so. It would be anarchy, literally, with everyone obeying only himself/herself, picking and choosing which laws they would obey because they favored him/her and disobeying the others that did not favor him/her. Each would be a ruler unto himself/herself. So, Socrates chooses to stay and die upon the principle of obedience to the laws of his political community, rather than disobey and escape for convenience – a very big convenience here, of staying alive. I recall that, while serving as a bishop in my home ward in Canada, that several people thought that I was the best bishop in the world; they told me so. But, when I made a decision that didn’t help them or with which they disagreed, I suddenly became the worst bishop ever. “What have you done for me lately” was the standard of their judgment, I suppose. The principle is similar to the one that Socrates teaches us in Plato’s Crito.

millennialsAmericans are obliged morally and practically to obey the laws associated with Obamacare, with the moral and the practical reasons both being upon matters of principle. The moral principle is akin to the teaching in Crito. We do not have the right to pick and choose the laws that we will obey. We are to be obedient, law-abiding citizens. Although our younger adults, known frequently as “millennials” may want to opt out of Obamacare and simply pay the penalty since this will be cheaper for them at the moment, to do so is morally wrong as well as being an iconic example of bad citizenship within a democracy. We may very rightly try to persuade the laws to change, but once made we must obey them even if we disagree with them. There are many laws that we may disagree with that we all should and hopefully do obey regularly; seatbelt laws, speed limits, stop signs that have no earthly reason for being where they are, tax laws, gun regulations as and where they exist, and all sorts of bureaucratic rules and regulations that affect what we do and what we eat every day that we know little about.

One might say that we can properly disobey Obamacare and pay the penalty and that this is part of the law and so we are in compliance. This, however, is to fail to recognize that when we speed and pay the ticket, or break any other law and pay the penalty, we have declared ourselves outside the law in our actions and have become laws unto ourselves. The penalties are intended to persuade us to be inside the law and not outlaws. We are not laws unto ourselves in a democracy, not as individuals at any rate, and paying penalties for acting as though we are is not the same thing as being law-abiding citizens. Paying a penalty is not obedience to the law, but is a punishment for not obeying the law. Socrates would say that this is the role of justice, to persuade us through penalties to obey the law and be just people. To be just, law-abiding citizens is a particular requirement of our religion. We cannot say that “I can do the crime because I can pay the time,” or fine in this instance. At what point can we draw a line and say that this reasoning is immoral because the crime is more serious? The logic of that sort of reasoning would have a thief claiming to be a good person as he or she violates the law because he or she is willing to do the time in jail if caught and penalized. This is just very poor thinking to believe that willingness to pay penalties justifies the wrongdoing involved. For more serious crimes, bishops and stake presidents must direct members who have broken the law to submit to the penalties of the law as part of Church discipline and cannot consider a member’s reinstatement to full fellowship until all the requirements of the laws are satisfied for that member, until that part of the penalty is paid. But that we do this means that we are to consider that as part of the person’s repentance and this as a moral and spiritual matter. There are other penalties associated with lawbreaking than only the earthly legal penalties that we may suffer. In other words, law breaking is a moral and even spiritual matter and paying earthly penalties does not suffice for repentance for deliberately choosing to disobey laws as a regular habit or as a moral statement. It is immoral to disobey the law, even if you are willing to pay the penalty, and one is not morally corrected and just until all types of penalties have been paid or, in other words, until one has fully repented.

Selma

Here, one might turn to a particular American tradition of civil disobedience for a moral claim for disobedience. Such a turn would be wrong-headed, however, and particularly so in the case of Obamacare. Even with civil disobedience, one must still pay all penalties associated with the action and must admit, in fact one is stating emphatically, that he/she is acting outside the law, that he/she is an outlaw. To become an outlaw is not a legitimate Mormon way to try to persuade the laws toward improvement. Bishops and stake presidents cannot view members who deliberately and persistently break the laws of the land as members in full fellowship. Though this pertains to more serious criminal violations, one must see a principle here – to be disobedient is not the Mormon way and this is so because it is not the moral way, as Socrates teaches us, again in Crito. We cannot act as laws unto ourselves, as the adversary did in the pre-existence. This was the very cause of his fall, that he acted as a law unto himself and in his pride   thought he was correct and that God was wrong. Lucifer thought he stood for justice in making us all earn our own way to Heaven, in that each of us would deserve salvation, rather than having mercy help us overcome our weaknesses and some of us willingly refuse it and therefore not achieve salvation as Mormons believe full salvation to be – some would fail to fully repent and therefore not justly be saved, Lucifer must have believed, just as we believe. Therefore, Lucifer would ensure full repentance and full salvation for everyone through justice and punishments; nobody would be free to choose anything but full salvation as Mormons believe that salvation to be. Whereas we believe that we may break rules and laws and pay penalties for doing so, even in acts of civil disobedience, nevertheless we also believe that there are moral and spiritual penalties for doing so that must also be satisfied beyond the earthly physical penalties of paying fines or physically being bound in prisons.

There are also practical reasons for participating in Obamacare that are principled and moral reasons along with their practicality and instrumental character. Obamacare is a compromise, a law created within the realm somewhere between what the far left wanted and the far right wanted. This does not mean that it is a good law, only that it is a democratic law and is democratically and, thus, morally and legally legitimate in our democracy. The chief reasons for disobeying it are, for the young, mostly practical matters of finances in that it is cheaper to pay the penalty than to obey and participate. That Obamacare may be more expensive for some older folks than their previous healthcare plans may also enter into their thinking too, but generally older folks can afford the change more than younger people starting out in life and who would now be paying for something that they feel they do not need right now and cannot afford, or that they can better afford to pay the penalty for not obeying the law. Some honestly may not be able to afford Obamacare on their own, but the plan promises to help people in this category by subsidizing them, so that all should be able to afford to participate. The other chief reason for disobeying is claimed as a matter of principle, that Obamacare is the beginning of a “slippery slope” into socialism, and some young andolder wish not to go there, even to the top of the “slippery slope.”

affordable-health-insuranceFor those who choose to disobey simply to save money by paying the cheaper penalty, reasoning that they don’t want to pay for something they don’t think they will need or use, we can simply say that we obey all sorts of laws wherein we pay for things we don’t use but that we have deemed important to our communities through democratic processes and so we comply with the law and pay for these; public schools for those with no children or children who have now grown to adulthood is an obvious example, joined by costs of roads and stop lights and signs for those who do not drive, national, state, and local parks for those who do not use them, and many others that you can think up for yourself. However, when it comes to healthcare we can be sure that one day you will need and use healthcare services and will benefit from Obamacare eventually. This means, I believe, that you are selfish if you don’t want to pay for something that you think you will not use now but that you can surely expect to benefit from later in life. I believe that this is immoral as well as selfish, but we can also say that the practical reason you should support Obamacare is so that it will be there for you down the road – similar to the reasoning behind social security which, by the way, you have no choice about participating in; its costs are taken from you before you get your paychecks.

For older folks who can afford to participate but find the costs higher than their current plans, I think to not participate is even more selfish since we are the ones bound to use healthcare services already or sooner than our younger citizens. To not participate is to refuse to help others who cannot afford healthcare and to expect to jump in once you need healthcare if you don’t already need it. By my thinking, that’s to act in a way that is almost a scam, besides being selfish and immoral.

card socialism

Finally, for those who are hesitant to participate because they fear Obamacare is the beginning of a “slippery slope” to socialism, you should know that by your way of thinking we have been on that “slippery slope” already since at least the New Deal of the 1930s, if not sooner. Also you should know, given that fact, believe it or not we are not yet a “socialist state.” Also, more importantly, you need to know that Obamacare is a compromise between left and right that keeps free enterprise, the insurance companies, still in the game of chance that is healthcare and insurance (as is free enterprise a game of chance, as well). If we do not help Obamacare succeed, you cannot expect that we will return to better days of free enterprise private healthcare without government involvement – if you are standing on principle for some expectation that this will happen you are sadly mistaken. If Obamacare fails, the compromise fails, and we are bound sooner or later to have a single payer system of “socialized medicine” as exists in all other advanced Western democracies. The insurance companies will be out of the healthcare business altogether and healthcare will be a government program entirely. So, if you are standing on moral principle against Obamacare, young or older, because you are against socialized government healthcare, it is your moral obligation to support the compromise that is Obamacare rather than to reject it. The alternative is what you should reject – that at some point the left will be strong enough and the needs great enough, that a fully “socialized” medicine will be forced upon us through the democratic process that we will still be morally obliged to support as the laws.

Some may argue that the reasoning given here demands that members of the Church must obey all laws, even those laws that violate God’s laws or rules of the Church. This is not the logical conclusion of my argument. I will explain, but first I should say that Obamacare does not fall into this category and so such an excuse for disobedience of the law does not apply here. The argument that we should obey God’s law over the law of the land would only be an argument against my reasoning here in other circumstances and so is a red herring in the case of Obamacare. Still, my reasoning does not result in the conclusion that the law of the land is higher than God’s law, only in the conclusion that we should obey the law of the land unless clearly commanded to disobey by God. Nephi did not slay Laban because he thought it was the only way, or the most convenient way, to get the plates by taking advantage of Laban’s drunkenness. He was commanded to violate the law in a most clear manner available to mankind. Then, we should remember that during World War 2 our modern Prophet told German citizens to obey the laws, Nazi laws, and be good citizens of Nazi Germany and even to fight in its army against the Allies if warranted by Nazi Germany’s laws. We now celebrate young Hubner for violating the law and trying to “do what is right,” but at the time he was excommunicated from the Church for his actions and then suffered the earthly penalty of death, as well.

Heimuth Huebner

Heimuth Huebner

A young member of the Church, who I know personally, fought as a Corporal in the Nazi army. He fought against us even as my father piloted a crew in his fighter against them, against him. After the war, this young German and his family immigrated to Canada and lived in my parents’ house with them and with his young family as he got his start in the New World. He later immigrated to the United States and some of his family have done special work in many of our temples to beautify them in their construction. I’m sure they have done much more sacred work in our Holy temples over the years that they have lived in America. Though we had members of the body of Christ fighting against one another to the death because they were instructed to obey the laws of the land, yet they lived to literally unite together again as members of the body of Christ and as citizens of the same country, Canada, for a while. God has His ways and we should not trifle with them. We should remember, as we recite in our Articles of Faith, that we believe in honoring and obeying and sustaining the law. Think carefully over that word “sustaining” and all that we Mormons associate with it when we think of it correctly. So, it is a dicey matter at best when we come into such situations when we must decide whether to obey God or obey the law of the land. Thankfully, we have modern prophets to help us and guide us in such decisions and, for most of us, the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us individually when other help is not available. This is a very serious and sacred moment of decision that should not be hauled out as a political argument or used as sophists would use such things to try to make the wrong argument right and the right made wrong, or the weaker the stronger and the stronger the weaker. We should tread carefully when we enter into such matters.

Again, though, I state clearly here that such careful considerations of the above problem do not apply in the case of Obamacare and so should be left alone and not be a debating point upon our lips. So, finally, to rephrase a familiar saying, I think that in our democracy where we can try to persuade our laws toward improvement, ours is to question why, nevertheless ours is to do or die — in the case of healthcare and Obamacare you can take that last part literally.

Brent Gilchrist is political science professor at Utah State University.

 

Fear God, Honor The Emperor:
Secular Law & Personal Accountability Among Latter-day Saints

By Ian Sundwall-Byers

itsthelaw

Americans’ reactions to the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (AKA: “Obamacare”; AKA: “The ACA”) have been predictable and predictably divided along party lines. Liberals (traditionally the self-styled rebels and free-thinkers) have taken to crowing “It’s the law now!” whenever the ACA is challenged, treating its passage as a fait accompli which precludes any discussion or resistance. In so doing they imply that the passage of a law means that that law is thereafter a permanent and immutable reality – something which must have escaped their notice during their various campaigns to end racial segregation, decriminalize drug-use, decriminalize sodomy, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, repeal the PATRIOT Act, end Pres. Clinton’s “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy, etc. etc.

At the same time, countless conservatives (the traditional champions of harsh punishments for criminal acts) have announced that they have no intention of abiding by the law. They insist that citizens have both the right and the duty to break unjust laws, and they point to the ACA’s calculated elimination of millions of individuals’ insurance plans, the concomitant higher insurance rates, the comparatively low penalty fine, the questionable constitutionality of that fine, and the tragi-comic website launch as more than sufficient evidence of the law’s unfitness. But, like the mysterious selective amnesia suddenly striking American liberals, American conservatives seem to have forgotten their own prior assertions that a law is a law and must be obeyed.

This poses a distinct problem for the politically-inclined among American Latter-day Saints, who are increasingly divided between the factions which presently dominate the political landscape of the United States. For perhaps the first time in their lives, many American Latter-day Saints are faced with the question: Is it ever right or righteous to disobey the law?

greensboro_four_sit_in

As Christians have done since Christianity began, Latter-day Saints seek religious justification for their pet political ideologies. Regarding obedience to “Obamacare,” liberal Latter-day Saints appeal to the general respect for secular law demonstrated by the Church, while conservative Latter-day Saints appeal to the general opposition to injustice and tyranny articulated within the scriptures. Both approaches are predictable, both approaches are logical, yet both approaches simply exacerbate the problem. The gospel is supposed to be about application of a singular truth to the lives of all human beings, not the creation of multiple, conflicting truths tailored to fit multiple, conflicting tastes. The principles are eternal, even if the specifics can vary; God is not a God of confusion, after all. So which side has the right of it?

The 12th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” But is that an absolute? While we are bound by covenant to obey the laws of God, is it always necessary to obey the law of the land? After all, the 11th and 13th Articles of Faith assert that Latter-day Saints “claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience” and “believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men,” all of which can in some times and in some places conceivably necessitate the violation of secular law. And does the 12th Article of Faith also mandate obedience to unjust laws and tyrannical rulers? Furthermore, who determines what distinguishes an “unjust” law from a “just” one or a “tyrant” from a “champion of the people”?

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This is an immensely complicated issue, as to argue that obedience to secular law is a prerequisite for righteousness is to argue that secular law can take precedence over personal conscience and divine law. It ignores a wealth of scriptural and doctrinal precedents, and ultimately tars everyone from the Founding Fathers to the French Maquisards, from Miep Gies to Rosa Parks, as sinners simply because they refused to recognize the secular authorities then in power. Likewise, to simply dismiss secular law as something which need only be obeyed when convenient or pleasing is to ignore an equivalent wealth of scriptural and doctrinal precedents, and run the risk of turning the Latter-day Saint into an anarchist or a career criminal.

The fact of the matter is that Christianity is often characterized as a rejection of law. Martin Luther Bunyanrailed against the false restrictions he believed both Roman Catholicism and secular authorities had imposed upon Christian life. The titular hero of John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress frequently runs afoul of characters who represent the various binding and repressive aspects of law and whom the reader is to understand as evil and anti-Christian, including even the prophet Moses himself! And some of the bitterest struggles in Christian history involved the so-called “Antinomians” who contended that the salvation found through Christ freed them from any and all moral obligations.

The scriptures themselves are replete with examples of divinely-sanctioned rebellion. Both Moses’ mother and his adoptive-mother, as well as the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus, rebelled against the secular fiats which would have seen their children slain. Both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon describe the divine liberation of imprisoned prophets from lawful secular imprisonment: Peter from his imprisonment by Herod (Acts 12:5-17); Paul and Silas from their imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:22-40); Alma and Amulek from their imprisonment in Ammonihah (Alma 14:22-29); and Nephi and Lehi from their imprisonment among the Lamanites (Helaman 5:21-48). The Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon alike feature prophets – such as Micah, Samuel, Jeremiah, Nathan, Alma, Abinadi, and Nephi the son of Helaman – speaking against kings and false-priests who wielded extensive secular authority. Daniel risked his life by flouting the authority of the Babylonian and Median kings; Gideon led a small but determined rebellion against the wicked King Noah; and the great Elijah himself fled a death sentence imposed by wicked – but lawfully-appointed – secular rulers.

CRS and LAwYet respect for law is also a constant within the scriptures. The Torah given by the Lord on Sinai took the form of a complex legal system; it provided the Israelites with an alternative to the temporally-lawful secular systems which surrounded them in the ancient Near East, but it did so by establishing a strict and temporally-connected legal system, thereafter conjoined with the secular Israelite monarchies initiated in the days of Samuel. David refused to kill King Saul out of respect for the role and the authority which that secular ruler held. Jesus told his hearers to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” and directed the lepers he cleansed to present themselves before the Temple authorities in accordance with the mandates of the Torah. The resurrected Saviour even issued his own laws to the surviving Apostles, most notably the commandment to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19-20; cf. Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:44-49, etc.).

Even Paul, traditionally characterized as the champion of antinomian Christianity, appears to have accepted the necessity of law in human life. Upon learning that he had spoken disrespectfully to the acting high priest, Paul immediately apologized, averring: “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” (Acts 23:5) What is more, Paul himself seems to have contributed some of the most strident scriptural advocacies of obedience to temporal law, as in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”

And this was not the lone opinion of a single Apostle. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, Simon Peter also appears to have argued in favor of obedience to secular authority:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

So which is it to be? Are Latter-day Saints to follow the examples of Moses’ and John the Baptist’s mothers, or are they to follow the councils of Peter and Paul? Are they hidebound by secular law, or liberated by divine grace?

Bunyan2

Fortunately Latter-day Saints need not rely solely on the dictates of ancient scripture. The restoration of the gospel and the priesthood means that prophets and apostles of the Church are authorized to receive general revelation and offer inspired applications of divine principles in the present to God’s children the world over. Latter-day Saints should first hearken to authoritative prophetic pronouncements on any specific matter at hand. One of the key purposes of prophets is to provide an authoritative voice reflecting the divine will among the myriad opinions and personal interpretations which proliferate in any human sphere. And based on the statements of prophets both ancient and modern, obedience to secular law should be regarded as the de facto position of the faithful. We are not antinomians, and Latter-day Saints have rightfully earned a reputation as law-abiding citizens who honor the contracts into which they enter, whether religious or secular in nature.

But the de facto position is not the absolute. Missouri Executive Order 44, better known as the “Mormon Extermination Act,” can hardly be considered a divinely-sanctioned piece of legislation, and attempts by modern despots or religious extremists to force individuals into sin will never be supported by God or His servants. Obedience to secular law and authority is required only if it is not overruled by Divinity. Though Paul respected the high priest’s authority and David honored his kingly predecessor, Daniel refused to let Mesopotamian laws divert him from his sacred responsibilities and Abinadi chose death over sin. They lived according to the general revelations previously given to the children of Israel and the divine guidance they had received from their God. Peter and Paul apparently saw no contradiction between their own escapes from legal imprisonment and their pleas for Christian deference to secular authority. Should secular law impinge upon the fulfillment of a Latter-day Saint’s religious obligations, or demand of them something which is sinful, they can hardly be expected to obey such a law. Latter-day Saints are not expected to convert to another religion, deny their faith, lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery or fornication, blaspheme, murder, et. al. simply because the law of the land may demand it of them. But when it comes to a law which is seen as unfair or wrong yet which does not obviously violate the Gospel, or a ruler perceived as a tyrant but who does not perceptibly threaten in any immediate fashion the fulfillment of righteous obligations, what then? If the prophets and apostles have not spoken on a matter which nevertheless troubles the faithful, and if the Scriptures offer no clear solution to the problem, what are we to do?

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Where no general revelation has been given, Latter-Day Saints have at their disposal another avenue, this one both enviable and daunting: the promise of personal revelation. In nearly all modern instances, the general authorities of the Church have urged Latter-day Saints to pray individually regarding local and national political processes and to make their own decisions based on the answers they receive from God. This is one of the great responsibilities placed upon the Latter-day Saints, the obligation to commune with Divinity regarding personal decisions and to then follow the personal counsel received from God. This is a great blessing and a great opportunity, but it comes with its fair share of risk.

A popular Jewish saying holds that where there are two Jews, there are three opinions, and a visit to nearly any ward’s Sunday School meeting proves that the same is often true of Latter-day Saints. We are a people inclined to strong opinions and a dogged determination to see ourselves proven right. The risk comes when Latter-day Saints choose to superimpose their own temporal views and opinions on God, when they are tempted or inclined to assume that God must agree with them rather than the other way ‘round. Free will and moral agency are not licenses to “do as thou wilt” but rather opportunities to choose between right and wrong, or between good and better. Latter-day Saints are free to follow the dictates of their consciences, provided they are letting the Lord God of Israel guide those consciences.

PrayMake no mistake: God is under no obligation to support the Latter-day Saints’ personal views or opinions, however sure of ourselves we may be. Rather, by virtue of the covenants we have made with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, we are under strict obligation to bring not merely our actions but our wills in line with Divinity. We are free to disagree with God’s will, but that is merely the freedom to be wrong. Every Latter-day Saint must strictly examine their own thoughts and feelings to ensure that the answers they receive when praying are not mere confabulatory “answers,” the chattering of their human will drowning out the voice of God while assuring them of what they already want to hear.

How does this all relate to the “Obamacare” problem? Well, consultation of the scriptures reveals arguments both for and against abiding by the ACA, and as no authoritative statement on the ACA has come from the prophets and apostles of the Church, one may reasonably conclude that (for the time being) the Lord sees no need for them to speak out on the matter. Latter-day Saints in the United States of America are likely to feel strongly regarding this issue, believing it to be an unconstitutional disaster or a bold stroke for human rights, and believing themselves either honor-bound to reject it or to abide by it. But if the Lord has an opinion on the matter, it is up to each individual Latter-day Saint to find it out for themselves. It is left to the individual members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to consult with their Father in Heaven and decide for themselves whether they must abide by the ACA.

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So it is with the ACA/Obamacare; so it is with all questions of obedience to secular authority. Appealing to a scriptural example will not remove the consequences if the decision one makes is informed by human willfulness or turpitude rather than godly humility. Personal responsibility and individual accountability are inextricably linked to the Plan of Salvation, and these apply to every dimension of mortal existence. The apparent contradictions in the scriptural canon (eg: Peter vs. Daniel, Abinadi vs. Paul) actually demonstrate a much deeper truth: that life is complicated, human perception is limited, and while criminality may be determined by secular authorities, righteousness is left to the ultimate Authority. Some within the Church will cry “Obey!” while others will cry “Rebel!” but until the prophets and apostles speak with authority on the matter, each and every Latter-day Saint must make up their own mind, and in so doing seek guidance from the only Mind that really matters.

Ian Sundwall-Byers is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He specializes in the history of Christianity with an emphasis in early Jewish/Christian relations.

Comments (11)

  1. Ben

    January 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    This bishop has no clue what the 12th article of faith even mean. Since i love my enemy. I live this bishop. authoritarIanism is satans way. I will not comply. I dont care if they Release me as an ordinance work after all these years for saying so, but civil disobEdience is gods way, the prophets have taUght it for a long time.

  2. Matt Chadbourne

    January 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Scriptural examples likewise abound, and a few are worth mentioning. Defying a murderous decree that all male Israelite children be put to death, Moses’s mother hid him in a basket to preserve his life (Exodus 1:22, 2:2). This man, whose life was the direct result of defiance to an unjust law, later opposed the government of Pharaoh and freed his people from legalized bondage (Exodus 7–10). David fled from Saul and evaded the troops sent by the king to slay him (see Samuel 19). Daniel knowingly ignored the law that made prayer to God illegal and “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:7–10). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey the law that ordered them to worship idols in Babylon (Daniel 3:4–6, 12). Peter and the other apostles were thrown in prison by the Sadducees, a Jewish sect that dominated the government, who said, “Did we not straitly command you that ye should not teach in this [Christ’s] name?” Their response: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:17–29; see Acts 4:17–21 for the original command).

    • Roman

      January 18, 2014 at 4:35 am

      Amen to your arguments

    • Author 2

      January 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Those are good Scriptural Examples, but as was mentioned in the second article, there are just as many which argue in favor of compliance with secular law. Peter also said: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 peter 2:13-17)

      The big danger for lDS individuals is the willing ignorance of scriptures or doctrines which contradict or challenge their a priori political assumptions. The fact that scriptures can be mustered to support both sides means that Latter-Day Saints have a duty to pray and inquire of God what God would have them do — and the duty to be humble enough to accept answers they may not like.

  3. Matthew

    January 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    “Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.” —D&C 98:6-7

    For those of us who are members of the Church in the United States, we are constrained only to obey the Constitution of the United States and laws that are in accordance with it. Obamacare, in spite of the convoluted arguments of the Supreme Court, is completely unconstitutional. Therefore, Latter-Day Saints are justified in protesting the law by refusing to follow it and paying the penalty afterwards as a consequence. Civil disobedience is completely consistent with the Gospel and Martin Luther King, Jr., in spite of his Baptist theology, his various personal moral problems, and his hard leftward political shift towards the end of his life, provides a good example for members of the Church to follow.

    • Michael

      January 19, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Doesn’t the Supreme Court’s rulings and the President’s signature actually make Obamacare Constitutional?

  4. Ben

    January 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Joseph and Mary should have done the right thing and turned baby Jesus in to King Herod to be slaughtered… definitely.

    • Author 2

      January 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Take it up with Peter, paul & the Savior Himself.

  5. BeN

    January 18, 2014 at 12:22 am

    This bishop may not be aware of the old temple covenant to enact vengence on the usa. Later changed to pray that the lord take vengence on the usa. Later taken out completely from the temple ceremony because of world war 2, the church didnt want german lds soldiers feeling justified in killing american soldiers. Point being that the lord intends for us to defy tyranny.

    • Author 2

      January 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Except for when The Lord doesn’t.

      EG: Romans 13:1-7, The 12th Article of Faith, 1 Peter 2:13-17, Matthew 22:15-22/Mark 12:13-17/Luke 20:20-26.

  6. Adam G.

    January 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    According to the Supreme Court, Obamacare is only constitutional because Obamacare’s mandate isn’t a mandate, only a tax. The administration argued that this was the so, and they had language in the text of the law itself to support the argument. There is a good argument to the contrary, in my opinion, but both the administration that claims the law as its main accomplishment and the highest court of the land have rejected it.

    So having an unapproved insurance or no insurance at all isn’t illegal, it’s merely an activity that makes you subject to a tax.

    But there is no moral obligation to avoid paying taxes. There is not even a moral obligation to avoid paying special taxes.

The comments are now closed.