Independence, Liberty—And Charity


On the 4th of July, let’s celebrate our liberty while remembering that “Love will beget tolerance and kindness”

by Tom Christofferson

A member of the Affirmation Board of Directors, Tom Christofferson lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his partner of sixteen years.

At this time of year in the United States of America, we celebrate Independence Day and give thanks to live in a land of liberty.

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty published in 1859, sought to describe a relationship to government where people would be entirely free to control their lives insofar as they did not do harm to others, and he spoke of liberty both as the freedom to act as well as the absence of coercion. A generation later, Elder Erastus Snow delivered an address in the afternoon session of General Conference on April 4, 1881, in which he said: “The Gospel as understood and expounded by the Savior and his ancient Apostles, is a perfect law of liberty. Everything pertaining to the spirit of the Gospel, as taught and expounded and practiced by the Savior and His disciples, tended to liberty. All the revelations which God ever gave to man from the beginning of the world tended to liberty.”

In the context of acting as a citizen of a nation and, more importantly, as a follower of the Savior, it seem paradoxically that the greatest freedom involves a willingness to restrain one’s own actions in order to demonstrate love for eternal parents as well as to each of their children.

In my lifetime, Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader, has demonstrated the idea that freedom can exist in captivity. The Prophet Joseph Smith in the oxymoronically named Liberty Jail also demonstrated it. The LDS historian Leonard J. Arrington wrote in an article entitled “Church Leaders in Jail”: “Do we dare regard Liberty Jail as another ‘wilderness’ for the Prophet—a haven for contemplation and reflection? With few visitors, and with drab and depressing surroundings, the principal escape for Joseph and his companions during their confinement was into their own minds and hearts. The Liberty Jail experience gave him time … to communicate in an unhurried manner with the Lord. The literature which comes out of the Missouri imprisonment—the revelations, letters, diary entries—is magnificent, exalting, and eloquent. Here is found sublime poetry and evidence of that mystical communion which made Joseph Smith a Prophet.”

To my mind, one of the most profound scriptures in the latter-day canon comes from that experience, found in Doctrine & Covenants 121:7-8.

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Many members and friends of Affirmation may call to mind adversity and afflictions that have likewise caused them to call on the Lord and to seek His peace. Some of those trials may have related to liberty that at times has been abridged for LGBT/SSA individuals.

On this particular Independence Day, we are therefore deeply aware of the recent ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the case United States v. Windsor, where Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “For same-sex couples who wished to be married the State (New York) acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status. This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgement of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the state worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages. It reflects both the community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understating of the meaning of equality.”

Many of us rejoice at those words and the practical implications of this ruling; others of our faith see matters quite differently. In this circumstance, as we celebrate our liberty with special fervor, perhaps the counsel of President David O. McKay can guide us: “Love will beget tolerance and kindness. Now I bespeak that during the next month or so, when our towns and cities and states will be more or less stirred up by political contention, that we remember to have charity and love for one another. Oh, let us not deal in personalities and tear down a brother’s reputation and hurt his feelings! We are striving to establish the kingdom of God; let us hold to that fact as the anchor of our soul and then breathe forth charity and love to those who may not see just as we do. I mean that while we are urging our particular political beliefs, that we avoid dealing in personalities; we cannot afford to hurt a brother’s feelings and wound him” (From Conference Report, October 1912, page 122).

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