The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of modern revelations given to prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons. Mormons believe God continues to speak to His children through revelation as we work towards the final days of the world.
The religion began in the early 1800s, a time when the federal government did not have the power to force states to obey the Constitution. As a result, they could not—and would not—prevent the states from violating the First Amendment rights of Mormons to practice their faith. This led to intense persecutions and even to murder and the government did not stop it.
Because of this, the early Mormons spent a great deal of time thinking about their nation. To them, the United States played a sacred role in their faith. It was the hiding place chosen by a young man named Moroni, who was charged with hiding the records of his people, an ancient group that settled in the Americas and mingled with the existing population. That same Moroni, now an angel, revealed the protected spot to Joseph Smith at the start of the restoration of the New Testament faith. The nation had not been chosen randomly. God had chosen it as a place where freedom of religion would be promised so the new faith could grow. Mormons struggled to maintain their right to the free practice of religion.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations that came to Joseph Smith and others as a result of specific questions put to God. Many of these questions related to the nation and the Constitution and Mormons struggled to find their place in American society.
On August 6, 1833, the Mormons were experiencing intense persecution in Missouri. Joseph Smith was then in Kirtland, Ohio, and, although he knew a little of the problems the Missouri Mormons faced, he did not know the full extent of it until he received revelation concerning it. The revelation addressed the issue of the Constitution, and the natural longing of those persecuted to take revenge on their attackers. In Section 98, the Lord tells the people that their trials will all be for their good in the long run, helping them to learn and to grow. He explains to them how to approach the laws of the land, which were not always constitutional. (Missouri would enact an extermination order against all Mormons.)
4 And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.
5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
God instructed them to seek wise and good leaders for their nation and to support those people in elections.
By December of that year, the Mormons had been driven from their homes and had their crops and possessions destroyed. They had faced violence, illegal imprisonment, and even death. In Section 101, the Lord warned them that some of their trials were allowed because some were disobeying God. He also explained His role in the Constitution of the United States. God said He had allowed it to be established to protect the rights of all people according to just and holy principles and that people had a right to freedom, which was why no one should be in bondage to another. The Mormons were anti-slavery, a factor which impacted their acceptance in many of the places they lived. God said He had established the Constitution through wise men chosen by Him for that purpose.
In Section 98, God said that the Constitutional laws of the land that support freedom belong to all mankind and that they are justifiable before God. The Mormons were instructed to support and befriend the inspired portions of the Constitution.
Mormons consider the United States to be very important. The Doctrine and Covenants reports that a special city is to be built there under God’s command, a new Zion. The early Mormons began the project, but were not obedient to commandments and lost the privilege, much as Moses’ people lost the right to enter their promised land through disobedience. However, at some time in the future, the city will be built and a temple will be there.
To Mormons today, though, its importance is more related to the establishment of the gospel, restored in its fullness again in a nation that was founded in part to provide freedom of religion. Mormonism is not an American church, but it did begin there. Today it is a world-wide church with members in nearly every nation. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, not just Americans.