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August 12, 2015

“Father of Lights”, the Constitution, a Land of Liberty

We recently celebrated the fourth of July, which is a holiday commemorating a pivotal point in our nation’s history, leading up to it becoming a land of liberty. During such holidays, we typically feel a heightened sense of patriotism. We may demonstrate this patriotism by flying the flag or going to patriotic events. We may even spend some time remembering the countless numbers of individuals who sacrificed everything to preserve this land and give us the freedoms we enjoy. We may even consider ways in which we can go beyond our typical civic responsibilities and contribute to the maintaining of this land as a land of liberty.

As worthwhile as such activities may be, I would suggest that there is something we can do, which has more power and is more effective in maintaining this land as a land of liberty. It is also the best thing that we can do for ourselves and is also the greatest contribution we can make to our fellow citizens. To introduce what I wish to speak about, I want to tell you of an experience I had, while serving as a missionary in Germany.

My companion and I were tracting out a rather large high-rise apartment building, going door to door without any success, which was typical back then. On one of the upper floors, we knocked on a door and a man opened it. In our best German, my companion and I told him who we were and why we were there. Sensing something in our accents, a smile crossed his face and then his whole face lit up with excitement. He said “you’re Americans aren’t you.” We told him that we were. Then he enthusiastically invited us into his home.

At this point, I was thinking that he might perhaps be someone we could teach the Gospel to, but that is not why he invited us in. He extended his hospitality to us, providing us with a very wonderful meal, then listened politely to what we had to say. When we had finished, he told us that what he really wanted to do was to tell us why he had invited us in and extended his hospitality to us. He was eager to tell us his story. This, then, is Karl’s story.

Karl had been a soldier in the German army during WWII and early in the war; he and several others were captured. They were sent to POW camps in America. Karl was first sent to Louisiana, where he admitted that he had some fear as to how he would be treated, seeing that he was an enemy of America. His fears were soon erased, as he recognized that he was well fed and well treated. “In some ways” he said, “I was fed better and treated better as a prisoner of America than as a soldier in my own army.”

He was then transferred to Texas, where he spent the majority of his time, and then later, he was transferred to Utah, where he remained until the end of the war.

During his time in Texas, he told us that the guards came around and invited any of the prisoners who were willing, that they could leave the prison camp each day and work on local farms and ranches. In exchange for their labor, they would be paid. Karl told us that he was paid $29.00 each month for his labor. “Think of it,” he said, “America, the only country in the world that pays its prisoners to be prisoners.”

Karl then told us that he had the opportunity to work on one family farm for many months, and that he had become quite close to the family and they became rather fond of Karl, to the extent that Karl got special permission on a couple of occasions from the prison camp to take the daughter of that farm family to see a movie. “Think of it, “ he said, “I was a prisoner and I got to go on a date.”

Karl told us that every morning when the sergeant came around with his clipboard to take roll, that the Sgt. would often say, “How are you today Karl?” then Karl said he would stand up straight and tall and respond “I am very proud to be a prisoner of America today.”

Karl was then transferred to Utah, where he told us that a representative of our church came around to invite any who were interested, to take a tour of Temple Square, or as Karl put it, “to see the building with no nails,” referring to the Tabernacle. He told us that several thousand prisoners signed up, but when the actual day came to take the tour, only about 10 percent showed up. Karl was very embarrassed for his countrymen, thinking it quite rude not to show up, after having been treated so well.

The war finally ended and Karl and the other prisoners were informed that they would be repatriated to the countries of their origin. Hearing this, Karl begged the guards to allow him to stay in America, but this was not to be.

After several months of coordination, Karl was sent home to Germany. When he got to the front door of his family home, his mother opened the door. At first, she did not recognize Karl. You see, he had gained 20 pounds, was the picture of health and well being, and had a pocket full of money, which he had saved from his farm labors.

When she realized it was her son, she fell to her knees with tears of gratitude, seeing her son returned to her in such a good condition, having feared the worst. You see, what Karl didn’t know was that his brother had arrived home a couple of days earlier. Karl’s brother had been captured late in the war by the Soviet Army and had been so harshly treated that he was literally skin and bones and very ill. In fact, Karl told us that his brother had passed away shortly after returning home, due to his harsh treatment.

When Karl saw the condition of his brother compared to his own condition, he vowed right then and there that if he ever met Americans that he would treat them with kindness and respect, in some small way to re-pay them for how he had been treated.

I shall never forget, as we left Karl’s apartment that evening and began to walk down the hallway, there stood Karl in the hallway, singing out loud, in his broken English, his own unique version of “God Bless America.” Words cannot express the feelings in my heart and the pride I felt to be an American at that time.

In the early 1830’s, a famous French statesman and philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, came to America to discover for himself, the source of America’s greatness. For many months, he traveled throughout the land, talking to the people in their homes, in their churches, in their businesses and in the taverns. After his exhaustive research, he concluded “America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Alex de Tocqueville stumbled upon part of the source of America’s greatness, the goodness of her people, but he did not know the whole story, he didn’t know that the Lord’s hand was in it.

In 2 Nephi 1, the Lord tells us that the people brought to this land were brought here by the hand of the Lord. First the Jaredites, then Lehi and his group, then the Mulekites and later Columbus, the Pilgrims and many other Gentiles, all brought here by the hand of the Lord. Referring to those brought to this land by the hand of the Lord, we read in 2 Ne 1:7 “And if it so be that they shall serve Him (Christ) according to the commandments He hath given, it shall be a land of liberty.” You will note that this is a conditional promise and is the crux of what I wish to talk about today. This land will remain a land of liberty so long as we are found serving the god of this land, which is Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord’s hand was in it.

In D&C section 101 the Lord tells us of his direct involvement in establishing this land and its constitution. In D&C 101:77 we read, “…the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.” The constitution is just that, based on just and Holy principles.

We read further in D&C 101: 80 “And for this purpose have I established the constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”

The founders knew that the Lord’s hand was in it, as many of them spoke of it and wrote of it. During the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, for example, when both the temperature and the tempers of the delegates were rising, they were at an impasse and could not agree. The convention was on the verge of collapse and failure. Seeing the critical situation, Benjamin Franklin stood to be recognized by George Washington, who was the president of the convention.

Franklin gently rebuked his fellow delegates and reminded them that many of them in that room that day had been in that very room, years earlier, during the recent conflict with Great Britain. He reminded them that they had sought the “Father of Lights” for divine assistance and that their prayers were answered, in that very room.  He then went on to ask, “How is it that during this convention, we have not sought the “Father of Lights” to illuminate our understanding?” Then he concluded by saying, “If a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, is it probable that a great nation can rise without His providence?”

Humbled by the words of Franklin, the delegates adjourned the convention and returned to their various places of residence in the city and reflected, pondered and prayed. Being sufficiently humble, the Lord’s spirit could move upon them and when they re-convened, they were able to create the constitution, a divinely inspired document.

They gave to us, a constitutional republic, similar to what King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon gave his people when they changed the affairs of the government from a monarchy to a system of judges, elected by the people to judge them according to their law.

Since the time of the founders and since the time of Alex de Tocqueville, America has become less good. Over the last several decades we see the more part of the people beginning to choose wickedness. We see them, as prophesied; call good evil and evil good. We see them driving every reference of God out of the public square and as indicated in the Book of Mormon, we see the guilty go free because of their money, their influence and their connections, while the meek and humble are trampled upon.

When the more part of the people begin to choose wickedness then the Lord removes His blessings from the land and sends forth drought, disease, pestilence, the sword and natural disasters, all in an effort to humble his people and to awaken them to a sense of their awful state, that they perhaps might be persuaded to turn back to God and be blessed.

In Mosiah 29:27 we are told, “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time He will visit you with great destruction even as He has hitherto visited this land.”

I believe that there is even a connection between how we live upon the earth and how the earth itself responds because In D&C 123:7 we read, “The whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.” This indicates to me that there is a direct correlation between how the people live upon the Earth and how the Earth responds, either positively or negatively.

We know, for example, that when the people live, as they should, the Lord tempers the elements and the earth for their good. We read such things as, the fruit of the vine does not cast its fruit upon the ground prematurely; the rains come when they should and the harvest is bountiful. We also read that their flocks and herds do increase and that they are blessed and prospered. When the people do not what He says, as indicated in D&C 82, they have no promise.

I know that there are many people in the world that are concerned with what is called global warming and climate change, and the perceived negative effects, which will stem from it. I would suggest, however, that all of the computer models, all of the scientific theories and all of the well meaning people have not nearly as much power to alter the climate for our good as does the power of righteous living upon the Earth.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my talk, I believe there is something we can do, which has more power and is more effective in maintaining this land as a land of liberty, it is the best thing we can do for ourselves and is also the best contribution we can make for our fellow citizens. It is, in my mind, the most powerful form of patriotism we can exercise to preserve this land as a land of liberty. This formula is found throughout the scriptures, but I have selected two.

In Moroni 10:32 we read “Yea, come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness…” In Alma 7:23 we read “And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times…”

In short, if we are striving to become true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, if we are found keeping His commandments and His counsels, and in conjunction with our stake theme, being found following the prophets and living upright and moral lives, we will be blessed.

I know there is great power in righteous living in preserving the land because of what we learn from Gen. 18 when Abraham is conversing with the Lord about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham asks the Lord that peradventure there be 50 righteous in the cities; will not the Lord spare the cities for the righteous sake? The Lord assures Abraham that if 50 are found, the cities would be spared for the sake of the righteous.

Emboldened by this, Abraham goes on to ask peradventure there be five fewer than 50, for a measly five fewer would the Lord destroy the cities? Again, he is assured that the cities would be spared. Abraham gets the Lord down to ten, saying peradventure there be ten righteous found in the cities would the Lord not spare them? The Lord responds by saying that if there are ten righteous found in the cities that the cities would be spared for the sake of the righteous.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the conditions in the cities would improve much, but that they would be spared for the sake of the righteous. We know in the account that there was not ten righteous found and so, after Lot and part of his family were allowed to escape, the Lord utterly destroyed the cities.

I believe there is something to this heavenly math that peradventure there be a sufficient number, whatever the number is, both in and out of the church, striving to live as they should, keeping the commandments, that the land will be spared for the sake of the righteous. This may be the most powerful catalyst, which will prevent the land from being destroyed and in my mind, is the most powerful form of patriotism. I also believe that the negative effects due to the tribulations, which will surely come because of wickedness, may even be mitigated for the sake of the righteous.

I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that God our Heavenly Father lives and like any good parent, when His children get out of line, He will correct and discipline them in the hope that they will turn again to Him and be blessed. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He had both the capacity and willingness to perform for us the atonement. His atonement not only paid the price of our sins, but also, because of its infinite nature, has the power and capacity to fix everything that is broken, repair everything that is damaged and will make everything right in the next life, if we will but apply to it. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The pattern played out time and time again in its pages is being played out before our very eyes in our day. After all, the book was written for our day. Among the many things the book is, it is also acts as a warning voice, that in the words of one of its prophets, “we might be wiser than they.”

It is my invitation and prayer that we might be wiser than they and that peradventure there be enough of us, both in and out of the church, striving to live as we should, that this land might be spared and remain a land of liberty for the sake of the righteous.

Ron Forstner

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