Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated that he feared “as conditions worsen, many will react to the failures of too much government by calling for even more government.” Perhaps the call for more government carries with it more than just social implications, but spiritual as well. Elder Maxwell continued, “What we unwittingly court in such circumstances is learning again, painfully, that “almost all” men can’t handle authority without abusing it.”[i]
The claim of this piece can be found in the title; namely, that government welfare, on any level, is a clear form of unrighteous dominion, and a distinct example of the truth that the call for more government brings with it the lesson that almost all men can’t be trusted to handle authority righteously.
What is unrighteous dominion?
This forbidden conduct is described by three words in verse 37 of section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants—control, dominion, and compulsion. Control is defined “to exercise restraint or direction over.” Dominion is to rule or control. And compulsion is “an act of compelling, or the state of being compelled: subject to force.” Simply put, unrighteous dominion is seeking to exercise control over another by force.
Satan was the greatest example of unrighteous dominion. We read in Moses 4:3 that he “sought to destroy the agency of man.” His whole plan was built upon the principle of exercising control over others by force. Ezra Taft Benson has taught:
“The central issue in the 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? 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.”[ii]
Agency is a stewardship
In his book Satan’s War on Free Agency, Greg Wright taught:
“Agency is responsibility, accountability, and stewardship. . . The word “agency” is related to the word “agent.” An agent is someone with responsibilities who represents someone else in the decision he makes.
The business and responsibility of a steward is called his stewardship. The business and responsibility of an agent is called his agency. An agent is responsible and accountable for the choices he makes as an agent, just as a steward is responsible and accountable for the choices he makes as a steward.
The 1828 definition of the word “agent” is “a substitute, or deputy; one entrusted with the business of another.” It appears that this is the definition of “agent” in the Doctrine and Covenants because all fifteen times it is used, it refers to someone having some kind of responsibility. . . An agent is a steward, someone who is accountable to someone else for the choices he makes.”[iii]
If agency is the ability to oversee and be held accountable for a stewardship, then to destroy the agency of man is to exercise control over another’s stewardship by force. We are given many stewardships by God—our life, our time, our property, the knowledge we have been given, callings, etc.—and we are accountable to Him for them. When we prohibit someone from making their own choices in regard to their stewardships, we are taking it upon our self to be responsible for what God has entrusted to them. In the process we have stolen their agency and have exercised dominion unrighteously.
At this point we must understand, as H. Verlan Andersen has observed, that “governments deal in nothing but force. This is the exclusive means by which they act. They exist for the sole purpose of adopting and enforcing rules governing human conduct. These rules or laws are enforced in one of three ways—by taking from the disobedient either his life, his liberty, or his property.”[iv] This use of force is the sole purpose for the existence of a government.
God has only authorized the use of force for three specific reasons: 1) to punish criminals (Alma 1:13), 2) to wage defensive war (D&C 98, Alma 43:46-47) and 3) to protect the right of individuals to control their own property (D&C 134:2).When we give permission for force to be employed on somebody’s stewardship for anything other than these three things, we are upholding, and engaging in unrighteous dominion.
You will notice that welfare is not among the circumstances where the Lord approves of force. Government welfare takes on a number of forms—social security, medicare, unemployment, food stamps, corporate welfare, grants for education, public schools, etc. Regardless of which type we are talking about, the same thing is going on. Property, which is a stewardship, is being seized by force.
The great Frederic Bastiat pointedly observed that “nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.”[v]
H. Verlan Andersen similarly noted: “Government can give nothing to one person unless it has first taken something from someone else. This taking is usually in the form of taxes which the taxpayer is compelled to pay at the risk of having his property taken by force.”[vi]
This truth is plainly recognizable in this analogy presented by Ezra Taft Benson:
“In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attach and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more.
So far so good. But now we come to the moment of truth. Suppose pioneer “A” wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn’t have the money to buy one, but since pioneer “B” has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor’s good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neighbor’s horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer “B” wishes to keep his property, pioneer “A” has no just claim to it.
If “A” has no proper power to take “B’s” property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that “B” give his extra horse to “A”, they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have.”[vii]
In defense of anyone in pioneer B’s situation, H. Verlan Andersen encourages you to put yourself in his shoes, then argues: “He has already given all he desires to charity. Are you not violating his conscience when you compel him to give more? Would you enjoy having someone dictate how much you must give to your church, a hospital or college? Would not this be a plain case of theft? And if you pass a law and legalize the taking and the giving, have you really changed the essential nature of the act? Haven’t you merely legalized stealing? . . . . Is it not an exercise of unrighteous dominion to forcibly take any property from one to whom it belongs and give it to another to whom it does not belong?”[viii]
Forced righteousness brings no blessings
In 2 Nephi 9:41 we read “and the keeper of the gait is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there.” This scripture teaches us the truth that God alone shall judge. It is His responsibility, not ours. And for that to occur, we must be allowed to make our own decisions.
The arch gnostic Simon Magus questioned Peter: “Could not God have made us all good, so that we could not be anything else but virtuous?” To which Peter responded “A foolish question, for if He made us unchangeably and immovably inclined to good, we would not really be good at all, since we couldn’t be anything else; and it would be no merit on our part that we were good, nor could we be given credit for doing what we did by necessity of nature. How can you call any act good that is not performed intentionally? For this reason the world has existed through the ages, so that the spirits destined to come here might fulfill their number, and here make their choice between the upper and the lower worlds, both of which are represented here.”[ix]
Not missing a beat, H. Verlan Andersen had this to say concerning how forced righteousness prevents the Lord from being able to bless us:
“Most people agree that each person has a moral obligation to be charitable, but is it morally right for us to compel others to be as charitable as we think they should be? Is it not rather our moral obligation to allow them to determine for themselves how much they shall give?
If those who are wealthy fail to voluntarily impart of their substance to the poor, they will be adequately punished by the Lord for their selfishness. (D&C 104:18) But if, through the force of government or otherwise, they are compelled to divide with those in need, how can the Lord either bless them for being charitable or punish them for being uncharitable? The same freedom which permits men to do evil permits them to do good. If you destroy one, you have destroyed both and made freedom of choice, with its consequent rewards and punishments, impossible.”[x]
The Lord’s standard for receiving priesthood power along with the granted authority is clear:
“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”[xi]
I posit that coercing our fellow man to be charitable by forcibly seizing his property through the arm of government, and redistributing it to another, is a refusal to allow him to make his own choices and oversee his own stewardship, and constitutes a blatant form of unrighteous dominion. To support candidates that propose such courses of action, and policies that implement them is to uphold, and take part in the unrighteous dominion.
This is true because “our political desires are an extremely accurate index of what we would do if the Lord made us a king, a judge, or a ruler with power to govern others. If we would exercise “control or dominion or compulsion,” unrighteously, then our support of laws which regiment and control the business and private affairs of our neighbors and deprive them of their stewardships would clearly indicate this. . . We must expect the Lord to use our political beliefs as a measure of our moral or immoral character.”[xii]
Then what is to be done to take care of the poor and the needy? The answer is simple. It is found in the example of the Nephites in the first chapter of Alma:
“And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
And thus . . . they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”[xiii]
The solution is for members of our society to be more charitable and willing to impart of our substance voluntarily through churches and non-profit organizations. Instead of choosing to buy costly apparel—in other words, things you don’t need, that are not necessities—use that money to benefit those people who are in need.
[i] Insights from My Life, Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Speeches 1976
[ii] The Proper Role of Government, Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968
[iii] Satan’s War on Free Agency, Greg Wright, 2003
[iv] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967
[v] The Law, Frederic Bastiat, Dean Russell translation 1950
[vi] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967
[vii] The Proper Role of Government, Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968
[viii] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967
[ix] Clementine Recognitions, III, 26. Quoted in The Ancient Law of Liberty by Hugh Nibley
[x] Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen, H. Verlan Andersen, 1967
[xi] Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-37
[xii] The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil, H. Verlan Andersen, 1972
[xiii] Alma 1:27,30