Divine Documents of Liberty

I, the Lord God make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

Doctrine & Covenants 98:8

This is an interesting Fourth of July. At no time in my life, and likely ever in history, have the Founding Fathers been as maligned as they are right now. Even my capitalization of the term likely is suspect. Judged harshly with hindsight, the men behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are seen by many as hypocrites, racists, and human rights abusers.

I certainly understand that view, although I think that such criticism only tells part of the story and discounts the unquestionable good that these men did. I have no idea what my views on issues of race or gender would have been in the 1780s. I know they weren’t admirable in the 1980s. But I think it is hard to judge people in the past by our norms. And it is unfair to judge people solely by the worst things they’ve done. I certainly hope that God doesn’t operate in that fashion when assessing my worthiness.

But putting those political issues aside, I believe that on the Fourth of July we have the opportunity to celebrate documents that bear the watermark of divinity. For what it is worth, let me tell you what I believe about the founding of our country.

I believe that God works through flawed people to accomplish miraculous things. But only all of the time. Moses committed manslaughter. Abraham lied. Noah got drunk. Paul persecuted Christians. But their flaws are not their legacy.

I believe that the men we roughly group together as the “Founders” were as remarkable a group of men that ever has been gathered. I believe that they had prepared themselves to be able to embark on the great adventure that became the United States and to be useful tools in the hands of God. I believe God had a hand in making sure that those men were in that place at that time.

I believe that men behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were inspired by God in the moment they penned those words. Although the Founders were not always in agreement, nor were they perfect in their public or private conduct, in that moment God worked through them to help mankind take an unprecedented step towards freedom. Like the Founders, neither document is perfect, but I do believe they were both inspired.

I believe that each document, the Declaration in particular, embodied and expressed eternal principles. I believe that liberty and agency lie at the heart of our Father in Heaven’s Plan of Happiness. I believe that it was the intent of God to create a place where men and women would be able to make their own decisions, express their own opinions, and worship who and what they may. I believe that mankind was meant to be free.

I believe that even though the Constitution left people in chains and excluded large groups of people from political participation, it built a solid foundation on which good people could build even greater temples of freedom. I believe that has happened and continues to happen, and that countless people continue to enjoy the inspiration of God in those efforts.

I believe that we are a work in progress, and that as long as there breathe good men and women devoted to the cause of freedom, despots will be unable to reverse the progress we have made. And I believe that if we forget the highest ideals of America, we stand in danger of losing our liberties.

I believe that God still has an interest in our nation and still is willing to guide the process, if we let Him. But I also believe that if we abandon our faith in Him, we have abandoned the Author of our independence.

I believe these ideas have dwindled in popularity.

I also believe they are true.

I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed his stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land. I testify that the God of heaven selected and sent some of his choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government as a prologue to the restoration of the gospel and the second coming of our Savior.

Ezra Taft Benson

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