June 21st, 2012

The Legitimacy of Licensure and Laws Against Licentiousness

Yesterday afternoon on Twitter, a conversation developed in response to the legislature’s consideration of a bill which would increase the number of licenses for restaurants to sell alcohol. (Well, as much of a conversation as can be had in 140 character messages.) The two main sides represented in the conversation highlight the wide chasm between proponents of individual liberty and supporters of statism.

It began with Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, stating the following: “New state liquor policy: more licenses, more law enforcement. So much for a free society.”

Taking his statement at face value, I replied with: “Agreed. So get rid of both.” Given the context of the comment, my reply dealt specifically with the licenses and law enforcement in regards to the sale of alcohol by restaurants. In other words, a free society cannot co-exist with a state-operated licensure apparatus along with the corresponding law enforcement of those restrictions. Consenting adults must, in a free society, be permitted to engage in commerce with whomever they please, under whatever terms, exchanging whatever products, provided that the rights of any third party are not unjustly violated.

Mr. Mero’s dismissive reply was that “A serious discussion about freedom is no place for a libertarian opinion.” Of course, the opposite is true—no serious discussion is complete and worth listening to without libertarian opinion. Put more bluntly, one cannot discuss freedom without referencing and affirming the fundamental ideals of libertarianism.

Still, Mero’s objection should be highlighted and rebutted given its popularity in Utah-brand conservatism which permeates state and local government. The focal point of this argument—that a free society actually requires restrictions such as limitations on the distribution, sale, and consumption of alcohol—was represented in this Twitter discussion by Representative Peterson (who voted for the increase in restaurant licenses) who opined: “Libertarianism fails because men are not angels and liberty is often abused to licentiousness.”

What is this licentiousness to which the Representative refers? While he offered no definition of his own, the assumption I made was that he was referring to the topic at hand—the sale and drinking of booze. Indeed, a common definition of the term denotes a lack of moral restraint, whether with things like drugs or sexual behavior. Thus, the argument alleges that under a libertarian system people would “abuse” their liberty to engage in these acts, and since under a conservative viewpoint this is not tolerable—since “men are not angels,” as James Madison said—the government must be empowered to save people from their own bad decisions.

As I have written previously, licentiousness (immorality) does not justify statist intervention. With this rebuttal in mind, I tweeted the following:

Licentiousness is a problem, sure. But a societal problem does not, contrary to conservative belief, justify government intervention.

Again, the context of this discussion was the drinking of alcohol. So the societal problem I referred to was the indulgence of this beverage, or by extension, engaging in any act frowned upon by society but which does not actually violate the rights of another individual. Smoking marijuana, sexual promiscuity, polygamy, and even committing suicide are all examples of things that society at large frowns upon, and has therefore implemented government policies to prohibit or otherwise punish. This is wrong.

The folks at KVNU referenced this conversation on their radio program last night, specifically objecting to the tweet just listed. The following 4.5 minute clip is a must-listen, if for nothing else than to be impressed at how many logical fallacies and misrepresentations can be compacted into so short a time.

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Several times in this tirade against a flimsy straw man, the radio hosts elevate the “men are not angels” argument to justify who knows what degree of government interventions for, as one of them said, “the public good.” Thus, they advance the same position referenced earlier by other conservatives in the conversation, namely, that individuals must be restrained from engaging in activities which are frowned upon by society and may possibly lead to a violation of another person’s rights (though do not themselves directly create such a violation).

It is incorrect for them to claim that libertarians believe that “there is nothing that justifies government intervention,” for that is patently false and profoundly ignorant. Libertarians recognize that laws must be based on nothing more than “punishing injustice,” as Bastiat wrote. Jefferson put it more succinctly: “But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

Jefferson went on to explain that he referenced the limits of others’ equal rights for a specific reason. “I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’” wrote Jefferson, “because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” In other words, not all laws are legitimate, and many directly violate “rightful liberty.”

Herein lies the distinction between the individual liberty championed by libertarians, and the statism supported by all other political ideologies, including conservatism. Driving the wedge between these differing views even further, one of the radio hosts claimed that society would altogether cease to exist “if you got rid of law and law enforcement.” Addressing such a general statement as this first requires analyzing the moral justification of what law is being discussed. As Bastiat further stated, “We must remember that law is force, and that, consequently, the proper functions of the law cannot lawfully extend beyond the proper functions of force.”

If the law entails punishment for murder, fraud, rape, robbery, vandalism, or other clear violations of one’s life, liberty, or property, then libertarians absolutely support actions to “punish injustice” and seek retribution for that aggressive act. Defensive acts in response to another’s aggression are a proper function of force, and are therefore a proper function of the law.

But if the law is a mandate which prevents a business owner from selling a beverage to a consenting adult who wishes to purchase and consume it, then libertarians rightly recognize that that law has no legitimate justification, and is thus not worthy of support. Imposing a fine upon or incarcerating a person who engaged in this consensual, peaceful act is not a proper function of force, and therefore is not a proper function of the law.

The radio host was wrong—society would not implode were such “laws” to be done away with. To the contrary, true society—the voluntary interchange of ideas, exchange of goods, and respect for life, liberty, and property—would flourish.

In other words, the state itself is the greatest threat to society. Legitimate laws and a system to uphold justice are necessary and completely acceptable under a libertarian system, but the vast majority of mandates enforced by the state have nothing to do with justice. They are merely the “tyrant’s will,” as Jefferson referenced—in this case, the tyrant is the voting majority.

One of the few things that the radio hosts correctly stated is that libertarians believe that “government is not a legitimate ordering influence in society.” The state is not a child’s mother, nor an adult’s nanny. Democratic government does not legitimately exist to impose the social preferences of the majority upon the dissenting minority. This is not justice, but control. It is not “order,” but managed chaos.

The only legitimate ordering influences in society are those which operate through voluntary association and persuasion. Families, churches, social groups, and other mediating institutions are the proper and moral mechanism for pushing back against societal problems such as licentiousness.

Government may legitimately “restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” Accordingly, libertarians do not believe that no laws should exist, nor that enforcement mechanisms are not needed to punish injustice. Indeed, laws and the enforcement thereof are supremely important! What matters, then, is understanding what true laws are and may be using the fundamental formula noted above by Bastiat. Law may only exist where force is justified.

Licensure and the punishment of licentiousness fall outside that narrow scope. They operate on the imposition of the majority’s preferences, but without any legitimate delegation of authority. They rely not upon the consent of the governed, but the consent of the governed who happen to agree. Since neighbors cannot morally dictate to one another what each may drink, they cannot empower the government to do it for them.

As a practicing Mormon, I abstain from “licentious” things and encourage others to do the same. I don’t drink anything alcoholic, ingest drugs, engage in sex outside of marriage, or participate in other immoral or licentious acts. But my adherence to this moral code—one which I’d like society as a whole to likewise adopt—would not justify my supporting government policies which promote, implement, and enforce it upon others.

While licentious acts may be an influence in violent acts, they are not themselves direct contributing factors any more than anger, jealousy, a lack of sleep, or losing one’s job can be blamed for an act of aggression. We do not outlaw matches because they are used by arsonists to damage property. Similarly, alcohol cannot legitimately be regulated simply because some people drink it in excess and in their intoxicated stupor commit a violent act.

But this is all irrelevant to those who uphold such ill-gotten government power. Statists are not concerned about the legitimacy of the licensure and laws they like. They do not care to discuss the underlying immorality of the policies they promote. Instead, they cite the status quo and popular opinion as their support, derisively decreeing that those who disagree “don’t live in the real world,” as was claimed on the radio program last night.

Men are not angels, it is true. But neither are those who claim power over the un-angelic masses. Thus, it is imperative that all authority be stripped from the state which cannot be directly traced back to a legitimate, delegated authority possessed by each individual.

To the horror of conservatives, that includes licenses and laws against licentiousness.

Should that day ever come, I make this promise: society will not cease to exist.

29 Responses to “The Legitimacy of Licensure and Laws Against Licentiousness”

  1. Bags
    June 21, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    I’m constantly amazed at how little faith people have in themselves. I’ve spoken with many people about things of this nature, and it seems that most feel that if such laws or regulations (alcohol, legalization of drugs, prostitution, etc.) were eliminated or relaxed, their own personal behavior would not change. Their fear and opposition tends to stem from the worry that someone else will act irresponsibly, and that it will effect them.

    What most people fail to admit or acknowledge is that, for the most part, the people who want to act irresponsibly will do so regardless of the laws. We only support them to reinforce our communal “moral strength.”

    The fact that support of most of these laws come from the fact that 1) people are scared of their neighbors irresponsible choices, and 2) people are scared to do something different from their neighbors really worries me.

  2. Dave
    June 21, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Connor, you and I have had interchanges before on Twitter and even though I don’t wholly subscribe (quite yet) to libertarian ideals, I fully respect and admire your thoughtful, higher level of discourse. Continue to talk above your critics. Seriously. When’s the last time you heard a political talk show host quote Bastiat?

  3. Eric Checketts
    June 21, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Once again, LIBERTY is right. Mero, on the other hand, is wrong. Put his name on the list of ‘Mormons that need to brush up on the doctrine of Agency.’

  4. Shoal Creek
    June 21, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    @Dave, This radio political talk show host on Fox News 1450 KZNU in St. George is often heard quoting Bastiat. His radio show is broadcast live online from 6 am – 9 am Monday through Friday.

  5. Mike S
    June 21, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Yep, this is exactly why, when Nephite society was falling apart, Alma the Younger *left* the judgement seat to go preach and persuade the people to live better lives, instead of using the judgement seat to pass ever stricter and more intrusive laws on how people should live.

    While the KVNU types would vehemently deny it, they produce the rationalization for segregation (government must decide who can commerce with whom!), prohibiting display of Michelangelo’s statues in public (morality prohibits public nudity!), banning abortion, and so on.

    Along the lines of “it’s cool as long as our side controls what you’re not allowed to do” is this post:
    http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2012/06/welcome-to-the-fight-sort-of.html

  6. Ryan Smith
    June 21, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I’m not sure why people equate government to society. It would be an awesome experiment to have a city where laws are limited and people volunteer to make improvements, educate the children, etc. Oh wait, that would be Zion.

  7. Danny Boy
    June 21, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Though the statists would like to claim the higher ground of morality in defending popular laws that limit liberty, the ugly truth is they exist only because they are popular and support of such laws are a handy way to get reelected. Thus we end up with tyranny by the masses.

    The line from “The Patriot” comes to mind: “Why would I want to trade one Tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 Tyrants one mile away?”

  8. Nathan000000
    June 21, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I promise I’m not trying to be contrary or arguing just to pick a fight or accuse others of being unfaithful. But for those who support repealing all laws against voluntary actions between consenting adults, I’m genuinely interested in knowing how you reconcile that view with the many prophetic quotes that support laws against certain immoral actions, even if they are voluntary and consentual. Here are just a few:

    Spencer W. KimballAs citizens, join in the fight against obscenity in your communities. Do not be lulled into inaction by the pornographic profiteers who say that to remove obscenity is to deny people the rights of free choice. Do not let them masquerade licentiousness as liberty.

    Spencer W. Kimball
    There is today a strong clamor to make such practices legal by passing legislation. Some would also legislate to legalize prostitution. They have legalized abortion, seeking to remove from this heinous crime the stigma of sin. We do not hesitate to tell the world that the cure for these evils is not in surrender.

    Dallin H. Oaks
    The law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so that our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.

    Dallin H. Oaks
    Gambling should not be legalized because it is immoral. The law is, of course, too imperfect an instrument to condemn all immoral conduct. Although to hate is immoral, the law cannot efficiently condemn that sin. But gambling is different. Its evils can fairly be measured in the lives of those who are affected by it.

    Few would urge that the law promote gambling; yet to legalize gambling would have just that result. The law has an important standard-setting function. A law legalizing gambling would, in the eyes of many, be understood as a formal declaration that this kind of conduct is moral, proper, and expected. Persons now deterred from participating in gambling because they believe it to be illegal and immoral would be encouraged to participate.

    Again, I’m not trying to be accusatory. I’m just aware of these statements and can’t reconcile them with the position of this article. I’m just wondering if others have encountered such statements before, and how you consider this article’s position in light of this prophetic counsel.

    Two more caveats: First, in none of the quotes I’ve found have the Brethren advocated for Federal laws against immoral practices like gambling and prostitution. All these prophetic calls can be fulfilled at the state level, without expanding the Federal government unconstitutionally.

    Second, when I’ve asked this question before, some have told me that while it’s not wrong to repeal, “decriminalize,” or “deregulate” such immoral practices, it’s wrong to “legalize” them because “legalize” means to regulate or license, rather than to simply cease prosecuting. While I think that may be a technical distinction in the use of “legalize” versus “decriminalize,” I think it’s inaccurate to assume that the prophets are using “legalize” in that technical sense in their general conference talks. The context is almost always clear that they are using “legalize” to mean “decriminalize,” so I think if we’re going to seriously consider their counsel, we can’t use that particular terminological technicality to get around the issue.

  9. Eric Checketts
    June 21, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Nathan, I’ll go ahead and take the bold and unpopular (perhaps even heretical?) stance of saying that I disagree with those statements you posted. Granted, who am I to disagree? Yet I do, and I believe that an Apostle and a Prophet are just as entitled to an opinion – and to error – as I or any man.

  10. DBreit1
    June 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    So Eric, then you would put the words of political philosophers above the words of prophets and apostles (as their erroneous personal opinion) – even when those religious leaders have have been consistent in their statements (themselves and collectively – as opposed to just what ONE man said at ONE time)? – The One man One time referencing the difference between Church doctrine and a leader’s personal opinion

  11. Nick
    June 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Great article.

    Any response from the statists?

  12. Eric Checketts
    June 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    @DBreit1: In general, no, I would not put the words of philosophers (even political philosophers) above the words of prophets and apostles. In fact, as a matter of personal policy, I stand with the Church in all official matters.

    The reality, though, is that even the prophets and apostles disagree with and contradict one another in doctrine, and certainly in political matters. I’m not saying that this is common among the brethren or even intentional. But it has happened, and often enough to leave us to think and pray as we come to our own understanding of truth.

    I’m not sure what exactly you were saying about the “ONE man . . . at ONE time”, but I don’t build
    my beliefs on single statements made by lone philosphers, if that’s what you meant.

    I don’t like to find my personal beliefs at odds with statements by church leaders, much less those leaders whose background and experience I find most pertinent to a given topic (In this case, that of Elder Oaks). At least for me, belief isn’t simply a matter of seeing/hearing a quote from a person and accepting it as true. Even if that person is one with a career and character as distinguished as Elder Oaks.

    Not that you asked, but my guiding principles of governance are:
    1) Government receives it’s authority by consent of the governed. (I’ve heard Elder Oaks refer to this as “the power of government being sovereign in the people”)
    2) As such, government cannot justly excercise any power or authority not held by the citizens individually. In other words, if you do not have a certain authority on your own, how then can you delegate that power to government?

    This is powerfully taught in a talk by Ezra Taft Benson, ‘The Proper Role of Government’, and supported by statements from David O. McKay, J. Reuben Clark, etc. (forgive my laziness in not including specific quotes).

    Like I said previously, who am I to disagree with any of the brethren? I’m just a 30-year-old guy with a ridiculous passion for law and politics. As I mentioned though, while I may disagree with a given prophet or apostle on a given issue, I don’t feel like my diverging views are without support from others among the latter-day prophets and apostles.

  13. jimz
    June 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Nathan,
    Those quotes are more like what I have grown to expect of mormonism, I do not ever expect libertarianism from the LDS publits or anytime soon. I have observed too many times the expectation that governmental laws can be made into an extension of church morality. But mormons are not alone. I find this post by connor refreshing, however unexpected.

    I have observed proselytizing in the work place in production lines during work hours, despite specific prohibitions in the employee manual. Also in the public schools where an instructor actually graded a students paper based on content, rather than the students ability to make an arguement, use correct spelling, punctuation etc. All because it wasn’t the christmas commentary she was expecting. The assignment was to write about what christmas means to you, which I thought was not a good theme. The student was muslim and was opposed to anything christmas. Unfortunately the instructor was LDS.

    I think the christian command to evangelize contributes to this sort of intrusion into places where it should not. I am open to the idea that this can exist without being intrusive, but so far its not my observation. It seems a sort of greying between belief and government.

  14. Nathan000000
    June 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Eric Checketts: I don’t feel like my diverging views are without support from others among the latter-day prophets and apostles.

    Why do you feel that way? Have you seen statements from other leaders that modify, qualify, or say the opposite of President Kimball’s and Elder Oaks’s statements?

    I ask because, while I understand there is a variety of views on some topics, when Church leaders take a particular position on a given topic, repeatedly and in official capacities such as with general conference, I tend to assume they are united on that position unless given reasons to believe otherwise. I personally haven’t seen any statements that would give me any reason to assume anything other than basic unity on this fairly well-established topic. If you have, I’d be interested in seeing them. (Thanks, by the way, for your thoughtful response.)

    Jimz, I’m guessing you might not be LDS. If that’s the case, I don’t blame you for not being persuaded by the statements I posted. If I didn’t have a personal conviction that those men were prophets, I don’t know that I would be particularly persuaded, either. As a general rule for Latter-day Saints, it’s a matter of authority and inspired guidance more than philosophical rigor. I can understand your reservations and appreciate your thoughts.

  15. vontrapp
    June 22, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    jimz, nice to see new people finding each other, always. :)

    Nathan, I don’t think jimz said anything to indicate he was not LDS. If I had to wager, I’d say he was LDS.

    “Have you seen statements from other leaders that modify, qualify, or say the opposite of [above quotes].”

    Yes, many.

  16. outside the corridor
    June 22, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    NathanOOOOOOOO? (how many Os there?)–

    In the D&C LDS are told to do many things of their own will to bring about good.

    Working in ‘their communities’ can be something as basic and vital as being a good person with a good heart who has the courage to share with others his/her beliefs about being faithful to spouse and kind to children and generous to neighbors—

    THAT is doing a good work in a community against licentiousness and evil–

    and is a much more effective method than sitting around making more laws to bind people down in the heaviness of taxes, policing, etc.–

    so, because I claim to understand the words of the prophets in a different sense, I guess I am an unrepentant libertarian–

    LOL!

    in the second SWK quote, the first line is very supportive of libertarianism–

    interpretation is a personal thing, of course, and this is one of the reasons that political and religious ideologies can create so much conflict.

    Once a person accepts a way of considering something, even the quotes of prophets are read in a different light–

    As to DHO, well, he is a lawyer–
    he thrives on the multiiplicity of laws–

    I, on the other hand, recommend the words of Alma in the BOM–
    who said that the preaching of the word was mightier than anything (including force and, in my opinion, legislation)–
    in creating goodness in the hearts of men and women–
    If I have to choose between DHO and Alma, well–

    I guess I’m a heretic. I’ll go with Alma–

    :)

    I know it’s popular in the church today to say that the words of a living prophet trump those of a dead one, but I’ll still go with Alma–

    DHO, to excuse him, is speaking to a culture and is the product of that culture; it is a highly unproductive culture–

    Alma was also part of a culture, and that culture also had its gaps–

    but I still go with Alma–

  17. outside the corridor
    June 22, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    And, Connor, another good article!

    :)

  18. Jeremy Lyman
    June 22, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Nathan,

    Start here:

    http://www.properroleofgovernment.com/

    Here’s a snippet: “This means, then, that the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.”- Ezra Taft Benson

    I do have to say that I don’t think it would be beneficial to start seeing how many quotes from Church leaders each sides of the debate can produce.

    I would recommend that you study the basic principles behind each side of the debate. I’m sure you would agree that LDS missionaries rarely if ever gain converts by “Bible bashing”, ie trying to find enough quotes from the Bible to endorse Mormonism or disprove some other religious belief. For the same reasons, I don’t think anyone is going to be converted to libertarianism after engaging in a contest to see which side can produce more supporting quotes.

    That said, I am certain that the basic principles of freedom and liberty and limited government (limited as described above by ETB) are in harmony with the principles of the gospel. I challenge you to find a basic principle that would support state licensing and limiting of alcohol sales.

    Keep in mind that a true principle is ALWAYS true. True principles do not change. They do not vary. Circumstances change, but principles do not. So the question becomes, by what principle can you justify government restricting alcohol sales?

  19. Jeremy Lyman
    June 22, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Mike S,

    Regarding your statement about “prohibiting display of Michelangelo’s statues in public (morality prohibits public nudity!), banning abortion, and so on…”, I just have to say that trying to include abortion in a list of activities or behaviors that peaceful, free adults might choose to engage in without violating the rights of another, is unbelievable.

    Taking another human being’s life is the ultimate act of violence. It is the most heinous example of violating another person’s rights. Libertarian thought centers on the nonaggression principle. The most basic principles of freedom and liberty center on one’s right to his own property, which first and foremost is his body. To suggest that abortion fits somehow on the list of things that are just immoral, but which do not violate the rights of others is to deny the sun and midday.

    As Connor rightly points out, “laws and the enforcement thereof are supremely important!” when they are founded in punishing injustice and seeking retribution for aggressive acts. There couldn’t be a more aggressive act, a more heinous violation of another’s liberty, a more justified reason to have law and to have a government with law enforcement to protect the rights of the innocent, a more obvious example of justification for using force to protect, than the murder of an innocent, defenseless baby.

  20. DBreit1
    June 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Eric –
    Thank you for your comments.

    THIS is what I meant by “One man, One time” as opposed to positions held consistent among successive prophets and apostles, as well as positions held jointly (First Presidency & Quorum of the Twelve):

    Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
    [url]http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine[/url]

    This principle was reiterated in April 2012 General Conference by Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

    These same patterns are followed today in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end, just as in the New Testament Church, the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.4

    [u]At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.[/u]

  21. DBreit1
    June 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Eric: thank you for your response.
    THIS is what I meant by “One man, One time”

    Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

    And this was reiterated by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in April 2012 General Conference:

    These same patterns are followed today in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end, just as in the New Testament Church, the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord.

    At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.

  22. Jimz
    June 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Dbreit1,
    How do you explain the N.T.? Paul wrote just over 31% of the N.T. Thats just one man at one time, actually over a period of years. He expounded on topics in depth, perhaps very original and not covered in the same manner elsewhere. Similiarly, John the Revelator wrote the Apocalypse while on Patmos. I am sure that somewhere in ‘the book of revelation’ there is original text not covered elsewhere.

  23. Nathan000000
    June 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Vontrapp, could you share some of your many quotes?

    Outside the Corridor, I agree with those verses that we should oppose sin through personal action first, and that it is freqently more effective or long-lasting. That does not conflict at all with President Kimball and Elder Oaks’s statements. Also, I’m not looking to call anyone unrepentant or heretical. And it’s six zeroes. :-)

    Jeremy Lyman, I promise I am not trying to bash. I’m trying to synthesize. I don’t like to play one prophet off of another, and because of that, I want to harmonize as many statements as I can. That is why I ask for statements—because I genuinely want to make my views conform to the prophets’. I always try to delay the “it’s just opinion” resolution as a last resort, after thoroughly searching the statements available. It’s hard for me to chalk up the statements I’ve provided as mere opinion until I’ve been compelled to by seeing alternate statements, which is why I’m grateful for your help in my own personal study.

    Thank you for providing a source. I’m very familiar with and love President Benson’s speech and have given it to friends numerous times. You’re right that, given his premises, it’s really hard to come up with a justification for government restricting alcohol sales, or prostitution or gambling. However, given his premises, many things in the Constitution do not appear justified, such as taxation. I see it as my duty to try reconciling those things somehow.

    Some would say that his speech was not given in an authoritative, official context, so it doesn’t carry as much weight as general conference talks by sitting presidents of the Church. I try not to resort to that approach too quickly. Another way of reconciling them that frequently seems to fit is to assume that one statement is an ideal that we need to work toward in the long-term, but that the urgent question is always “How to get to there from here?” I think the prophets are blessed with insight about when and in what sequence to change the laws toward the inspired ideal. If many presidents, current and recent, say “Don’t repeal prostitution laws, or porn censorship, or marriage laws,” then I assume that such positions are the most immediately needed—tailored to our current day and time, and to the relative preparedness of society to adapt.

    The scriptures are filled with stories about a living prophet conveying the Lord’s will, and the people ignoring them in part because it doesn’t seem consistent with past prophetic counsel (e.g., Jeremiah on submitting to Babylon). The wise thing to do is to maintain the philosophically consistent ideal while getting there through the steps laid out by the current prophets.

    And by the way, I am very empathetic toward your thoughts on abortion.

  24. Jeremy Lyman
    June 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Nathan,

    As to your apparent conflict that the many things in the Constitution do not appear justified, such as taxation, why does that surprise you? The Constitution allowed for slavery. Should it be surprising, then, that other parts of it are not perfect?

  25. jimz
    June 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Jeremy lyman,
    Opinions vary as to when a person becomes a person. Does the LDS church have an official statement about when exactly a person becomes a person in the womb? Some believe that someone gains personhood when they have the potential to take their first breath. That is when the head comes out of the birth canal. Thats based on the statement in Gen. 2:7, where adam becomes a living soul after receiving the breath of life. To me that seems a bit late, but a child that is being born is obviously a person.

  26. Nathan000000
    June 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Jeremy, and yet in that same talk, Ezra Taft Benson says that “all officers of government are under duty to obey” the Constitution. If it violates the principles he laid out earlier in the talk, how do you follow President Benson’s counsel?

  27. Jeremy Lyman
    June 22, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    You can’t possibly believe that ETB meant that since he is a supporter of the Constitution that he would support slavery if the Constitution hadn’t been amended.

    Do you really need me to answer the question for you?

  28. Nathan000000
    June 23, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Of course ETB wouldn’t want anyone to support slavery. But the Constitution is filled with plenty of provisions that violate the principles mentioned in “The Proper Role of Government.” If those good principles were supposed to be our only considerations, why would he add that we should also follow the Constitution? If those wise principles (i.e., delegated rights) were the only yardstick, we would refuse to pay taxes, and yet dozens of times, the Brethren have told the saints to pay taxes.

    My point is that President Benson himself appears to admit the possibility of falling short of those principles in the interest of priority, of immediate context, of present societal conditions. If President Benson, in that same talk, admits the possibility of conceding to tax laws, etc., it doesn’t seem consistent to use him as a reason to not submit to, say, prostitution laws.

    Maybe another way of putting it is this: I’m not really even trying to harmonize one prophet’s statements with another’s. I’m trying to harmonize one prophet’s statements with his own other statements, in the same speech.

  29. chris
    June 27, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    It should be pretty clear from the quotes Nathan provided that several apostles of the Lord have a different view of this matter than many of you.

    I do not use that as a hammer to beat you back into line. But I think it becomes very unprincipled for someone to claim the appropriate religious view point means you should support X, when several apostles of our religion say we should support Y.

    The only leg you have to stand on is that you interpretation of our religion is different than that of the Apostles, and that further you feel the Apostles are not actually standing on a watch tower in this case while you argue amongst yourselves, but that instead it is you who are on the tower and the Apostles who are passing off their opinion.

    Sorry guys, there is a LOT that is very persuasive about libertarianism. And I feel that every action government takes should probably be informed by libertarianism — but not dictated by it. The outcomes can not be predicted by a simple little equation that either prescribes endless laws on one end, or free reign on the other.

    I sympathize with the position you guys are in, but there has not been an instance in my life when I’ve noticed my thinking out of line with the brethren that I did not feel the guidance of the spirit leading me toward the truth — and that truth is closer in the direction of what the brethren have to say. This is not say that they always express it right, or even that they have all the details right. But the principles of what they say are true, and I respectfully disagree some of the policy prescriptions you have outlined here, has much as I agree with the principles you use in support of it.

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