We believe in being subject to despots and tyrants (Article of Faith 12) because we believe the agency of the wicked should be untrammeled. The Lord’s commands are meant to be voluntarily observed. To coerce righteousness, therefore, is as evil as wickedness.
“The central issue in that 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.” — Ezra Taft Benson
James E Talmage taught that the Lord willed to permit the full scope in the use of agency that the wicked may fill the cup of their iniquity to overflowing and that the righteous may win the martyr’s crown. This is impossible unless the agency of the wicked to do evil through untrammeled subjection of the righteous to tyrants is permitted. Resisting evil with good (rather than evil) does exactly this. The Lord taught that he will permit the wicked to prevail against the righteous because he desires to “save some” of them rather than that the righteous destroy the wicked (D&C 64:21). Instead, the wicked destroy the wicked (Mormon 4:5 c.f. D&C 63:33). This is the faith and patience of a saint (Revelations 13:10 c.f. Alma 14:11).
To “take the law into one’s own hands” should not be taken as denoting willfulness or disorder. Avenging one’s own kin had been seen for ages as God’s own instrument. Nevertheless, if Israel was to become Zion, then power over life and death must be surrendered by the clan, which held it before, to Yahweh. What is at work here is the untouchability or jealousy of Yahweh in the first two commandments.
To take (even justified) retribution into one’s own hands, as the clan-based “avenger of blood” or goel had done thus far, is now to be seen as usurping prerogatives that Yahweh, as sovereign, reserves to himself. What is forbidden by this passage of scripture is not murder, but the death penalty, as hitherto executed according to the traditional tribal code.
This centralizing of life’s protection to God himself as a new political context fits with the struggle to make Israel a community of judge-mediated law, rather than prolonging the simple clan-based retribution of Israel’s earlier culture. Upon that shift depended the viability of the confederacy as a legal order. The high voltage threat of the lightning on the mountain should be invoked to reinforce the reservation of retributive bloodshed to Yahweh than to the next of kin.
This brings us to an important observation:
Some think that by abolishing secular law, one is abolishing consequences. But it is usually the same people who say, “without law, there would be vigilante (incommensurate) justice.” In principle, the latter are correct, but have misunderstood the teachings of Jesus having reserved vengeance solely to himself. It also begs another question:
Does the law tame vengeance by bridling it with due process and proportionality or would their be no consequences without them being compulsorily enforced?
The fact that vengeance is already happening in the world before any institution of law demonstrates that in the absence of law there are still consequences. If you kill someone, it is very likely that in the absence of law their will be very harsh consequences. In the past, this has been called a lynching. If anything, law does not require that consequences be imposed, rather that they be limited. If this is the case, does this mean law attempts to undermine the natural consequences of our actions by acting as a safety net or limit upon our reactions to sin?
There may be several reasons why Christ did not punish the adulteress or allow others acting in the name of Mosaic law to do the same: 1. He was subject to Roman law, 2. The offending man was not also brought before him with the woman as required by the Mosaic law, 3. He was not a member of the Sanhedrin into whose hands official sanction for righteous retribution had been imputed by God, or 3. He felt it necessary to facilitate social salvation for the cause of repentance, that she could “go and sin no more,” despite vengeance belonging to him. This demonstrates another principle: Exceptions to temporal consequences for immorality may be provided for a time in order to facilitate repentance.
These exceptions, then, are neither condoning nor legitimizing the iniquitous ways and means employed by those who benefit from them. We are not to understand that this suspension of legal consequences in any way suspends the causative or eternal consequences that would follow should a sinner fail to utilize the social salvation facilitated to repent. One cannot simply eat, drink, and be merry without consequence despite there being no law against it. As Paul states, we are at liberty, but let us not use our liberty for occasions to the flesh. Waste not the days of one’s probation by using liberty to continue doing evil rather than good.
Cain was surrounded by a circle of vengeance (ordained by God) for the specific purpose of protecting him in his agency either to do good or to fill his cup of iniquity to overflowing. It is the same for all persons who through a doctrine of “sovereign immunity” take the law into their own hands whether they be private citizens or public officials. Taking away power from secular authority and giving it back to the people is a move towards Mosaic law. It is also a move away from idolatry and telestial law. Still, it is a failure to render honor and judgment to whom it rightfully belongs. Only when we accept the Lord as judge and empower His church as kingdom are we moving in the right direction toward Zion.
THE SUBMISSIVE SERVANT
1 PETER 2:13-20
The scriptures use the terms “submit” and “subject.” A disciple is submissive or subject to Caesar, not subordinate. There is a difference. A disciple of Christ suffers himself to be run over by every ordinance of man. This is not to say that what men do is, therefore, a just thing. Nor does this mean that one should subordinate oneself through legal oaths to Caesar in order to carry out and enforce the oppressive ordinances of man upon others. Publicans err as do sinners. The primitive church viewed itself as a servant upon which to be acted by Caesar than as a servant acting for and on behalf of Caesar.
When legal oaths are taken, one subordinates oneself to enforce the will of Caesar. To “subordinate” means to sub-order oneself or to accept as meaningful one’s places in an order believed to be legitimate. When one subordinates oneself to Caesar, one is acting as a moral agent under Caesar. For this reason, the Lord instructed the disciples to refrain from legal oaths and alliances with Caesar lest they sin against the Lord as moral agents who enforce the will of a false master. It is better a disciple of Christ suffer the will of Caesar than to enforce it upon others. The Lord also made the distinction between master and servant, one being a moral agent while the other is not. Are the children who pay tribute to Caesar free? They are not and, therefore, they are not moral agents. The servant remains blameless before the Lord as long as he is submissive or subject to every ordinance of Caesar. If Caesar strikes him on one cheek, he turns the other also. If Caesar steals his coat, he gives his cloak also. If Caesar conscripts him for a mile, he goes a second. By remaining subordinate to Christ in suffering submission to Caesar, the servant acts as a moral agent under the Lord.
The wicked punish the wicked, but a righteous man “reserves the unjust unto the day of [the Lord’s] judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9). Therefore, a righteous man will not rebel against Caesar, but will say unto him, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 1:9). Caesar and those who enforce his will “have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam…who loved the wages of unrighteousness” and who, coincidentally, attempted to bring the Israelites into bondage (Num. 22 cf. 31:16 cf. Deut. 23:4-5 cf. Mic. 6:5 cf. Jud. 1:11 cf. Rev. 2:14). Balaam was after the order of Cain, who cursed the Israelites when they refused to enforce the will of Kings. Balaam was also like Judas, who being a prophet of God, sold out the people of the Lord for profit. Disciples are not called to befriend Caesar for purposes of gain and profit or to overthrow and enslave the Church, but to reconcile through repentance.
Enforcers of human law are “wells without water” “to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.” They “speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness.” They can be clean again by escaping “from those who live in error.” The civil authority promises “liberty” but are “themselves…servants of corruption.” As masters and moral agents who have conquered their fellowman and brought them into bondage, they stand guilty before the Lord. If they “escape the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” because of the duties and obligations of the oaths to Caesar which they have taken, “they are again entangled therein, and overcome” (2 Peter 2:17-22). Once the legal oath is admitted, it is hard to escape. It would have been better for them not to have made the legal oath in the first place.
Beware else a servant of the Lord becomes like unto one of these who serves Caesar and who, through legal oaths and alliances, becomes more than an observer of human law, but an enforcer to sin against the Lord. Disciples of Christ suffer the wickedness of masters. When they do well to suffer it, when they take it patiently, they are “acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). Christ was not an enforcer of human law but he did counsel his disciples to observe it. At the same time, he made it very clear that what secular authority did was unjust. He suffered the injustice of worldly authority and “committed himself to [God] that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). The Saints who wish to remain blameless before the Lord and who wish to be acceptable before God will be observers and not enforcers of human law, committing the just and unjust alike to he who judges righteously.
THE REVENGER CHURCH
The Lord instituted the church for the benefit of the Saints. Every disciple of Christ is to willingly suborder oneself to ecclesiastical authority. There is no authority “in the church but of God” (JST Rom. 13:1). The church is a government composed of “apostles, prophets [and] teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28) who are ordained in the Holy Priesthood by the Lord. Disciples are to cease from being “brawlers” or revilers towards others, rather to be “gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Rom. 12 cf. Titus 3:1-2).
The disciple that resists the judgment of the common judges set up in the church, resist the ordinance of the Lord, and invoke upon themselves the Eternal Judgments and wrath of the Lord.
The Lord’s representatives are not a terror to good works. They are not like the scribes and Pharisees nor like the publicans and Romans. They do not collect evidence of repentance to condemn, but to pardon. It is only the impenitent who are indignantly estranged and treated as an outsider. The ecclesiastical authority is subordinate under powers and principalities that are distinctly separate than those under which secular authority has subordinated itself. Therefore, repent, do that which is good, and the common judge will waive the penalty.
The ecclesiastical authority represent the ministers of the Lord for that which is good. Refusal to subordinate oneself to the common judge’s conditions for repentance will bring excommunication. The impenitent are treated as outsiders. Whatever punishment the secular authority might impose on the impenitent represents the wrath of the Lord. By withdrawing the Lord’s protection, thereby leaving the impenitent exposed to the wrath of secular authority, the common judge in the church acts as the Lord’s revenger.
A disciple will subordinate oneself to the conditions of repentance as required by a common judge in the church, not only for wrath’s sake, but also for conscience’s sake. To repent of lustful desires, both sexual and violent, of impure and idolatrous practices, and to reconcile the offended and provoked is the right thing to do. Do not repent solely to escape excommunication and wrath, but to restore good relations with the people of God with the intent to sin no more against them.
For this cause a disciple consecrates his tithes and offerings to the church: To establish parallel government, the kingdom of God, upon the earth for the administration of divine justice as an example and light to the world. Therefore, render respect, honor, and obedience to whom honor, respect, and obedience belong (1 Pet. 3:14-18 cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-12 cf. Gal. 1:10 cf. Acts 4:19 cf. Acts 5:29 cf. 2 Cor. 5:9-11 cf. 1 Th. 2:4 cf. Gen. 3:17 cf. 1 Sa. 15:24 cf. John 19:11 cf. Mar. 7:7-9 cf. Rev. 14:8-12 ). All things belong to the Lord. But if by an oath you have made Caesar your god, then render unto Caesar. Caesar, having power and authority given him by the people through the agency given the by God, have dominion over those who are impenitent in their sin.
Refrain from sin for fallen man is a beast hiding in wait to destroy. Repent while you are in the way with thine adversary, reconcile the relationship, before you are delivered to the secular authority (Mat. 5: 23-26). And, if after having repented, your adversary throw you into prison to pay the uttermost farthing, know that it is better to suffer for good than for evil. The greater sin shall be upon the head of thine adversary. Those who punish repentance reject the Atonement of Christ. Forgive your debtors and owe no man anything. This is love and love fulfills the law. Leave justice, retribution, and vengeance to the wicked who act outside the ordinance of the Lord (Rom. 12).
Keep the commandments. Provoke and trespass against none. A disciple who has not repented of offenses against others is unworthy to partake of the sacrament. To love thy neighbor is to treat thy neighbor as one would want to be treated. Refrain from stealing his goods, sleeping with his wife, killing him, making false accusations against him. Covet not that which belongs to your neighbor.
Love fulfills the law. Love works no ill to his neighbor. Save for stealing, trespasses are difficult to restore. One is at the mercy of one’s victim. One can hope for a merciful victim, but one cannot expect it. If the victim is not a disciple of Christ or if he is not merciful, then it is very unlikely he will leave it to a common judge of the Church, as one commissioned to be the Lord’s revenger, to right the wrong through repentance and mercy. If you are a victim, then persuade your offender to repent. Seek not to throw stumbling blocks in his path or to repay evil with evil (Moroni 7:47).
Treat transgressors in the manner that you would want to be treated by the Lord or by your fellowman as a transgressor. Appeal to the Church instead of to the outsider if you are unable to reconcile your offender in private. As a transgressor, would you want justice and punishment? Or would you want mercy and repentance? Would you want to be rebuked in private or have outsiders incited against you by having your sins published upon the rooftops?
Awake all the ends of the earth. Sin no more against each other, repent and come unto the Lord through baptism and receive the merciful justice the Lord has lain before the world through his commissioned judges in Israel. Put on the armor of light. (Alma 34:31)
Come away from the commandments of men and the agents of God’s wrath. Come out from the world and into the Church of Christ for salvation is near upon us and the probationary period in which the Lord has given for man to repent draws nigh to a close. Cast off the works of darkness. (John 9:4 cf. 1 Thes. 5:4). Walk uprightly, reconciling all your offenses. Bring your passions under control. Cease to contend among yourselves over the lusts of the flesh.
Put on Christ through self-discipline and deny yourself of all provisions for fleshly lusts. Be modest in your wants and desires. Be modest in your living to reduce temptation to others. Flaunt not your beauty or wealth lest others are provoked to covet and to trespass against you.
Suffering the punishments of Caesar brings condemnation upon his head because he is not commissioned by Christ to punish the children of God. His power and authority comes from an apostate, fallen, wicked, and idolatrous people. Caesar’s sins are upon the people when acting on their behalf. When acting as a tyranny, on his own behalf, his sins are upon his own head. Under the Law of Moses, Caesar or a King was tolerated so long as he was subordinate to the Prophet. This is not to say that the Lord intended for a King to rule. John 19:8-12, Christ recognizes that Pilate’s sin is not as great as that of the Pharisees or religious leaders who delivered him to Pilate (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-11). This is not to say that Pilate was without sin. It does go to show that the State is often upheld by apostate religions in the execution of judgments (4 Ne. 1, False churches in disputes over points of doctrine give power and authority to another church which throws the penitent and the innocent into prison). Christ submits to the injustice of human law in order to smash the serpent’s head. Christ’s crucifixion demonstrates the injustice of human law and its repudiation. The blood of the penitent and the innocent cry from the dust against secular authorities and those who had them condemned at human law. The wicked must be suffered to prevail against the innocent in order to be judged (cf. Amulek and Alma). Mankind condemns himself when using his agency to trespass against (sinners) or condemn others (publicans). Agency has been given “from above” to the just and unjust alike. Mankind is redeemed through the Atonement of Christ by repenting and sinning no more.
Gal. 5:13-26, We are called unto liberty, to be self-governing, not to be governed by others. The individual is personally responsible for his repentance and for forgiveness of others. But if we use our liberty to trespass, then we put others under great temptation to retaliate against us, to trespass themselves by repaying evil with evil. Walk, therefore, after the Spirit and not after the flesh lest the wicked be upon you and few there be who will accept your repentance save the Lord. Under the Law of Moses, the revenger was a family member and was not guilty for punishing offenses after having received commission by a common judge of Israel. Under the Law of the Gospel, the common judge of Israel becomes the revenger. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. The ecclesiastical authority, neither family revenger nor Caesar as a hired revenger of the family, is the proper authority to carry out the Lord’s justice. As a competing order to God’s kingdom, secular authority is an idolatrous order that helps to build the kingdom of the devil. It increases moral hazard. It is built on vice and covetousness. It gets its power and authority from people who refuse to recognize that vengeance belongs to the Lord. It exists in opposition to the Church. With every conviction and war, it condemns itself. It is idolatrous because it renders justice in a way the Lord would not have it be done and without the proper authority. (Rom. 12:8) It condemns the penitent and the innocent. (1 Pet. 2:19) It denies the Atonement of Christ. It divides our loyalties thereby creating chaos.
As subjects, Saints are not moral agents before the civil authority. They exist only to be acted upon by the civil authority. Since it is the prerogative of the civil authority to determine and interpret the law, a Saint renders honor to the civil authority by requiring the civil authority to prove its own laws have been broken. A Saint is not intended to be personally accountable before the civil authority, but is to be held accountable by the civil authority. The burden of proof is, therefore, upon the secular authority and it is not the responsibility of the Saint to confess or report a violation of secular law. Saints as violators or as witnesses, even as victims, are not qualified to judge at secular law. They neither have the education nor the experience nor the authority as a moral agent to do so. To do otherwise is to take the law into one’s own hands.