We’re delighted to participate in this annual review.
This year’s annual review considers religion’s contribution to strengthening American democracy. Our remarks today are more narrowly centered, however, on Joseph Smith and how he, as a religious leader, contributed to strengthening American democracy.
We’ve relied heavily on the Joseph Smith papers, including Vol. 14, which is being prepared for publication and the excellent historical context provided by church historians.
We can see both the promise of the lofty goals and the results of the omissions and compromises that were made in drafting the US Constitution. The freedoms promised to all were not available to all.
Many have experienced these contradictions. Among them are Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days, and early church members, despite the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution of the free exercise of religion, the right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The early saint struggle to practice their religious beliefs without interference.
Church members were prevented from physically gathering and establishing roots in a geographical location of their choosing due to repeated forced evacuations from New York to Ohio and from Missouri to Illinois. Persecution and unlawful arrests followed Joseph Smith and other church leaders.
Joseph wrote to the five candidates for president of the United States, asking what they would do to help the Saints redress the legal wrongs they had suffered. Two did not respond. The other three said they would do nothing. With frustration mounting, leaders of the church met and encourage Joseph to run for the United States presidency. On the 29th of January 1844, Joseph announced his candidacy.
Joseph’s campaign was cut short due to his death. His campaign was intended to muster sympathy for the church’s cause and give the Saints an agreeable candidate in the election.
Underlying Joseph’s thinking on democracy in the United States was his firmly held belief that constitutional rights, freedom of religion and universal freedom should be available to all, including those in minority groups. His very approach to democracy is one that is still being debated and examined.
Today, Joseph supported the participation in the democratic process of those who might vote contrary to even what he would have wanted. He took a principled stand, anyone who qualifies under law to participate should be encouraged to do so, especially minorities, religious or other.
I’m so grateful for Joseph Smith for his prophetic role in restoring the Church of Jesus Christ of the Earth. And I have a new appreciation for him as a champion of religious rights and democratic principles. His efforts on behalf of the Saints are inspiring. I’m grateful for the rich legacy in our church of promoting democratic freedom for all.