After discussing the Political Kingdom of God, millennial government with Christ as King, and the future restoration of the Constitution, I’m often asked, “If this is so important, why don’t the brethren talk about this more?” Or, “If this were really true, why hasn’t the church created a program to restore the Constitution?” This brief article will summarize Ezra Taft Benson’s talk called “Not Commanded in All Things“, as well as other resources and ideas that I think will thoroughly address those questions.
The first comment I’d like to make is that in my opinion, the brethren have spoken out about these issues pretty consistently since the very beginning of the church in 1830. Ro this day, many Church leaders remain extremely outspoken on political and freedom/agency-related issues.
Over the past year or so, the Toyota 4Runner has become my dream vehicle, and it seems I now see it everywhere. I’m not sure what this phenomenon is called, but in my experience, the more you learn about something, the more often you recognize that topic as it surfaces. The more we as members of the church invest in studying liberty from a gospel perspective, the more we will have eyes to see and ears to hear when these leaders stand up for freedom.
Not Commanded in All Things
In his talk, “Not Commanded in All Things,” Ezra Taft Benson discussed the importance of personal revelation and private initiative:
Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded “in all things.” This attitude prepares men for godhood.
The overall objective to be accomplished in missionary work, temple work, providing for the needy, and bringing up our children in righteousness has always been the same; only our methods to accomplish these objectives have varied. Any faithful member in this dispensation, no matter when he lived, could have found righteous methods to have carried out these objectives without having to wait for the latest, specific church-wide program.
Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward.
Family Home Evening
Ezra Taft Benson offered the family home evening program as an example of a church program that members could have started practicing long before it was formally initiated by the church:
[T]here are some today who complain that the home evening manual should have been issued years ago. If this is true then the Lord will hold his servants accountable, but no one can say that from the inception of the Church up to the present day the Lord through his Spirit to the individual members and through his spokesmen the prophets, has not given us the objectives and plenty of guidelines and counsel. The fact that some of us have not done much about it even when it is spelled out in detail is not the Lord’s fault.
Ezra Taft Benson then gave the example of the importance of building a year’s worth of food storage.
Warnings of Threats to Freedom
Should it be of concern to us when the mouthpiece of the Lord keeps constantly and consistently raising his voice of warning about the loss of our freedom as he has over the years? There are two unrighteous ways to deal with his prophetic words of warning: you can fight them or you can ignore them. Either course will bring you disaster in the long run.
Hear his words: “No greater immediate responsibility rests upon members of the Church, upon all citizens of this Republic and of neighboring Republics than to protect the freedom vouchsafed by the Constitution of the United States.” (Cited in Jerreld L. Newquist, Prophets, Principles and National Survival [SLC: Publishers Press, 1964], p. 157.) As important as are all other principles of the gospel, it was the freedom issue which determined whether you received a body. To have been on the wrong side of the freedom issue during the war in heaven meant eternal damnation. How then can Latter-day Saints expect to be on the wrong side in this life and escape the eternal consequences? The war in heaven is raging on earth today. The issues are the same: “Shall men be compelled to do what others claim is for their best welfare” or will they heed the counsel of the prophet and preserve their freedom?
Yes, were it not for the tragic policies of governments—including our own—tens of millions of people murdered and hundreds of millions enslaved since World War II would be alive and free today to receive the restored gospel.
Now where do we stand in this struggle, and what are we doing about it?
The devil knows that if the elders of Israel should ever wake up, they could step forth and help preserve freedom and extend the gospel. Therefore the devil has concentrated, and to a large extent successfully, in neutralizing much of the priesthood. He has reduced them to sleeping giants. His arguments are clever.
Here are a few samples:
First: “We really haven’t received much instruction about freedom,” the devil says. This is a lie, for we have been warned time and again. No prophet of the Lord has ever issued more solemn warning than President David O. McKay. Last conference I spoke of a book embodying much of the prophets’ warnings on freedom from Joseph Smith to David O. McKay which I commend to you. It is entitled Prophets, Principles, and National Survival.
Fourth: “Wait until it becomes popular to do,” says the devil, “or, at least until everybody in the Church agrees on what should be done.” But this fight for freedom might never become popular in our day. And if you wait until everybody agrees in this Church, you will be waiting through the second coming of the Lord. Would you have hesitated to follow the inspired counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith simply because some weak men disagreed with him? God’s living mouthpiece has spoken to us—are we for him or against him? In spite of the Prophet’s opposition to increased federal aid and compulsory unionism, some church members still champion these freedom destroying programs. Where do you stand?
(Seventh:) And now as to the last neutralizer that the devil uses most effectively—it is simply this: “Don’t do anything in the fight for freedom until the Church sets up its own specific program to save the Constitution.” This brings us right back to the scripture I opened with today—to those slothful servants who will not do anything until they are “compelled in all things.” Maybe the Lord will never set up a specific church program for the purpose of saving the Constitution. Perhaps if he set one up at this time it might split the Church asunder, and perhaps he does not want that to happen yet for not all the wheat and tares are fully ripe.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared it will be the elders of Israel who will step forward to help save the Constitution, not the Church. And have we elders been warned? Yes, we have. And have we elders been given the guide lines? Yes indeed, we have. And besides, if the Church should ever inaugurate a program, who do you think would be in the forefront to get it moving? It would not be those who were sitting on the sidelines prior to that time or those who were appeasing the enemy. It would be those choice spirits who, not waiting to be “commanded in all things,” used their own free will, the counsel of the prophets and the Spirit of the Lord as guidelines and who entered the battle “in a good cause” and brought to pass much righteousness in freedom’s cause.
Brethren, if we had done our homework and were faithful, we could step forward at this time and help save this country. The fact that most of us are unprepared to do it is an indictment we will have to bear. The longer we wait, the heavier the chains, the deeper the blood, the more the persecution and the less we can carry out our God-given mandate and world-wide mission. The war in heaven is raging on earth today. Are you being neutralized in the battle?
It has been argued that the “elders” referred to by Joseph Smith and other church leaders are speaking of the brethren, as opposed to the members. Under this interpretation, the members would be waiting for the church leaders to initiate a movement to restore the Constitution. However, Ezra Taft Benson offers clarification on this issue:
I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. But it will not be saved in Washington. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—men and women who will subscribe to and abide by the principles of the Constitution.
We must learn the principles of the Constitution and then abide by its precepts. Have we read the Constitution and pondered it? Are we aware of its principles? Could we defend it? Can we recognize when a law is constitutionally unsound? The Church will not tell us how to do this, but we are admonished to do it.
Although he recognized a formal program to restore the Constitution may never be initiated by the Church, Ezra Taft Benson taught that Church leaders should speak out on freedom-related issues:
Some two years ago, however, a critic from Washington, D.C. claimed that a person who serves in a church capacity should not comment on such matters. He charged that the separation of church and state requires that church officials restrict their attention to affairs of the Church.
I, of course, also believe that the institutions of church and state should be separated, but I also do not agree that spiritual leaders cannot comment on basic issues which involve the very foundation of American liberty.
In fact, if this were true, we would have to throw away a substantial part of the Bible. Speaking out against immoral or unjust actions of political leaders has been the burden of prophets and disciples of God from time immemorial. It was for this very reason that many of them were persecuted. Some of them were stoned, some of them were burned, many were imprisoned. Nevertheless it was their God-given task, as watchmen on the towers, to speak up.
It is certainly no different today.
To Moses God said: “….proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Lev. 25:10)
Why? For God knows full well that the gospel – His plan for the blessing of His children can prosper only in an atmosphere of freedom.
Government Restrictions on 501(c)(3) Nonprofits & Churches
According to CharityNavigator, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a 501(3)c
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT, and is a 501(c)(3) organization. EIN: 87-0234341. Donations are tax-deductible. The IRS NTEE classification code is X21, Protestant within the Religion-Related, Spiritual Development category. The IRS ruling year for tax exemption was 1941.
The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) system is used by the IRS to classify nonprofit organizations. “X21” refers to the category of nonprofit (X Religion, Spiritual Development > X20 Christian > X21 Protestant). NTEE codes are listed here and discussed further here.
The Internal Revenue Service
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.
On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.
The 501(h) Election
According to the National Council of Nonprofits, most nonprofits (not including churches and private foundations) are allowed to engage in minor legislative lobbying activities. However, a nonprofit can apply to apply to have the propriety of their activities measured by the “expenditure test” rather than the “substantial part” test by applying for the 501(h) election:
Federal tax laws already allow every charitable nonprofit to engage in some legislative lobbying activities. There are spending limits and technicalities that curb nonprofits from spending all of their time and money engaged in legislative lobbying, but knowing your rights ensures your organization’s participation in the public policy process. The language Congress put in the Internal Revenue Code in 1934, rather than imposing an absolute ban on all lobbying by charitable nonprofits, instead sets a limit, providing that, “no substantial part of the activities” may be for “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation.” Source: 26 US Code, Section 501 (c)(3). Thus, while many people do not realize it, all charitable nonprofits may freely engage in legislative lobbying as long as that activity amounts to only an “insubstantial” amount of the nonprofit’s activities.
What is “insubstantial?”
Here’s the rub. The definition of “insubstantial” has not been provided by Congress or the IRS, and the line between an “insubstantial” and a “substantial” amount of legislative lobbying activities is hazy at best, especially because it depends on how the IRS retroactively weighs the “facts and circumstances” of each situation. Therefore, to avoid the uncertainty of a nonprofit’s lobbying activity being measured with this subjective test, charitable nonprofits should consider filing a short form with a long name: IRS Form 5768 (Election/Revocation of Election by an Eligible Section 501(c)(3) Organization to Make Expenditures to Influence Legislation). Filing the form (also known as “taking the 501(h) election”) allows nonprofits to elect to be measured by the objective “expenditure test” instead. Importantly, a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit taking the 501(h) election remains a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit. The (h) election simply allows that nonprofit to opt out of the vague “substantial” activity test and use the friendlier expenditure test.
The expenditure test has great advantages over the more uncertain “substantial part” test. Indeed, in the opinion of informed attorneys and accountants, filing the 501(h) election is, for the vast majority of nonprofits, the easiest, most effective “insurance” a nonprofit can secure to protect itself from overstepping IRS limitations on lobbying activities.
According to the IRS website, churches cannot file for the 501(h) election—but even with the (h) election, the Church would still be extremely limited in the range of political activity it is allowed to directly or indirectly participate in.
If you operate a nonprofit and wish to transition to engaging in more regular political activities, you have to start over. Nonprofits cannot simply transition their tax status to being a corporation so that they can engage in political activism and campaigning. Websites that claim nonprofits can transition, end up explaining that each method requires the creation of a brand new entity and subsequently buying or renting the old assets of the nonprofit. That’s not a transition. That’s starting over, which really isn’t feasible for a multi-billion dollar church. If the church abandons its assets, the churches and temples around the world will quickly become unsustainable.
Protecting the Ordinances of the Church
Religious freedom has been an extremely important topic in the Deseret News and Church News articles. It seems that every front page weekly issue of the Deseret News highlights threats to our religious freedom, and the church attorneys have expressed some serious concerns.
In 2016, in light of the “Utah Compromise,” Elder Lance B. Wickman introduced the idea that not all freedoms can or should be defended the same:
The top lawyer for the LDS Church proposed Thursday that people of faith should prioritize the defense of an innermost core of religious freedoms.… “Please understand that in labeling some freedoms part of the ‘core’ of religious liberty, I am not suggesting that freedoms outside that core are unimportant or not worth defending,” Elder Wickman said.
“What I am suggesting is that if we want to preserve religious freedom and live in peace in a society that is increasingly intolerant of faith, then we will have to be very clear about what matters most and make wise compromises in areas that matter less. Because if we don’t, we risk losing essential rights that we simply cannot live without.”
Elder Wickman suggested a hierarchy of religious freedoms to an overflow audience of more than 300 in the BYU Conference Center during the university’s third annual Religious Freedom Annual Review. The two-day conference drew experts in law and religion issues to provide an up-to-the-minute review of important developments in religious freedom law.
Elder Wickman assigned various religious freedoms to concentric circles.
The innermost core are basically non-negotiable, he said, and include personal belief and family worship and teaching, the free exercise of religion in public, including missionary work, and autonomy for churches in their internal affairs, such as establishing church doctrine, selecting leadership and determining membership.
The core includes the right of believers to the same free speech and expression in the public square as non-believers, he said. Believers also have the right “not to be punished, retaliated against or discriminated against by government based on religion” or to face a religious test for professions regulated by government.
Finally, the core includes protecting the nonprofit status and operation of religious organizations.
“Unless that core is strongly protected, there is no religious freedom as Americans have known it,” Elder Wickman said. “These freedoms are essential to individual believers and their families in their private lives.”
The more I have studied the threats to religious freedom, the more I have become convinced that the Church really needs to tiptoe carefully around today’s extremely divisive political and social issues. If the statements and activities of the church are arbitrarily interpreted as excessively influencing politics and campaigns, we stand at risk of losing everything. The way I understand it, the Church is not willing to gamble saving the temples and ordinances for a political movement that, dare I say it, a majority of the members of the church are currently—in my opinion—very likely to oppose. The small minority of us that have felt that pull to participate in the restoration of the Constitution needs to do a better job popularizing that message to our fellow church members. I’ll share more thoughts on this another day.