Cliven Bundy is a member of the LDS Church in Nevada whom Senator Harry Reid, also a member of the LDS Church in Nevada, has called a "domestic terrorist." Bundy refuses to stop grazing his cattle on BLM land, and has refused to pay the fines that BLM has levied upon him for that refusal. He gathered a like-minded "milita" to stave off the BLM's seizure of his cattle. The BLM has backed off to prevent bloodshed, and is contemplating its next move. Various accounts of his actions can be found here, here, and here.

While the 12th Article of Faith states that Mormons believe in being subject to their governments, the Church's practice of polygamy within the United States has always led members to believe that there might be limits to the 12th Article of Faith. Back when he was president of BYU, Dallin H. Oaks intimated as such in an Ensign article:

[E]ven an oppressive government that limits freedom is preferable to a state of lawlessness and anarchy in which the only ruling principle is force and every individual citizen has a thousand oppressors. Abraham Lincoln was espousing this preference when he said, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.” (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, p. 635, 14th ed.)

There are exceptions. The command of loyalty to laws and rulers does not compel a citizen to participate in or submit to a government edict that runs counter to the common consensus of humanity, such as genocide or other cold-blooded murder. Nor should it require a person to violate the fundamental tenets of religious faith. For example, if the current laws permitting abortion (which are highly objectionable) were expanded to requiring abortion in certain instances, an unwilling mother and father who regarded this practice as “one of the most revolting and sinful practices in this day” (First Presidency statement of January 1973) would be justified in refusing to observe the law. Another exception is specified in our Declaration of Belief, which proclaims that “human law has [no] right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion. …” (D&C 134:4.) An additional exception is hinted in the Doctrine and Covenants sections that proclaim the duty of government to protect our rights of conscience, property, life, and religious belief and practice, and which may condition our duty of loyalty to a government that fails to fulfill those obligations. (D&C 98:5–6; D&C 134:2, 5, 7.)

Thus, there are exceptions, but they should not be applied to any but the most extreme challenges to faith and liberty lest the exceptions be trivialized or used to weaken our support for the principle of ordered liberty.

The Bundy episode offers a chance to reflect upon LDS views on civil disobedience. Bundy feels God called him to make his stand, and that much fasting and prayer went into his decisions. And according to Bundy, his bishop has not indicated he is in any trouble ecclesiastically. Should he be, in your opinion?Are the limits on civil obedience outlined by Dallin H. Oaks operative in Bundy's case? More generally, what do you feel are the constraints on the 12th Article of Faith?

We'd be interested in any views you'd care to share, dear Readers, and your comments will be posted in the space below.


Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board (2014) "Readers' Puzzle for Summer 2014: Cliven Bundy and LDS Views on Civil Disobedience," SquareTwo, Vol. 7 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ReadersPuzzleSummer2014.html, accessed <give access date>

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COMMENTS: 2 Comments

I. Richard Ortiz

I have found the following two articles to be good resources in clearing up the potential cobwebs that surround the differing views of the 12th Article of faith with respect to the Bundy Ranch situation. Many members of the Church interpret this Article of Faith to mean absolute compliance to all laws enacted within a political mechanism, while others have used this article to justify a higher principle of natural rights, justice, and morality. Tortoises and cows have absolutely no relevance to the situation in Nevada. Does the Constitution make provision for the federal government to own and control “public land”? The personal idiosyncrasies of Bro. Bundy aside, his position that the federal government has no claim to the land upon which his cattle graze is constitutional and the 12th Article of faith justifies him in opposing a government that does not obey, honor, or sustain the highest law in the country, i.e. the US Constitution.




II. Aaron Trulson

I can sympathize with the argument of both sides of the Bundy v. Feds case.

Federal protection of land for the cause of endangered species or fragile ecosystems is good and necessary.
 I can also sense the frustration of a man whose management of grazing land his family has used for generations is undermined by a federal mandate.

The issue here is God's law versus man's law. Since man cannot fully agree as to what God's law is, we are all subject to man's law.

We may appeal to God's law in protest to man's law, but we can't expect it to free us from subjection to and enforcement of man's law. The 12th Article of Faith is an acknowledgement of that.

One may also argue that adherence to man's law will not free us from God's law. So in that sense, the moral playing field looks even.

My advice to Cliven Bundy would be to use caution as to how he conducts himself.  I have no respect for violence, hateful language, or hindrance to society's ability to function.  Extreme, negative protest behavior may grab attention, but it does more to hinder a cause than help it.

I'm all for, to use a cliche, the tree-hugger chaining himself to the tree to stop the bulldozers. Aside from potential hazards, I see no obvious moral dilemma in that.  Likewise, Bundy's refusal to pay the imposed fines in protest doesn't strike me as morally reprehensible, though it may have some negative impact on the desert tortoise.  I'll let God ultimately judge his action in that regard.

In any case, Bundy should be aware of his subjection to temporal consequences.
I believe all of the Articles of Faith are of equal importance, so it is necessary to adhere to them all, which most definitely includes the 13th:

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men;  indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things,  we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."