“The Standard Works of the Church Are Not Opposed to the League of Nations”

By: J. Stapley - April 29, 2005

Among the eschatology that Mormons have shared with their more radical Evangelical friends is a view that the United Nations is the Great World Conspiracy. While I have serious concerns with the United Nations, I take council in the sentiments of the Leaders of the Church at the end of WWI. Considerable differences in opinion existed between General Authorities over the League of Nations. However, President Grant championed the Treaty, entreated the church for its support, and repudiated any scriptural based opposition to it.

Many of the General Authorities viewed the League of Nations as a threat to American Sovereignty and employed the Book of Mormon in their attacks. Notable and outspoken opponents of the Treaty included Elder/Senator Reed Smoot and J. Ruben Clark.

However, the 1919 Fall General Conference saw an outpouring of support for the League of Nations. Nine of the speakers, including B. H. Roberts, the Elders Young and President Grant, lauded the League of Nations in their addresses. More specifically, President Grant had spoken several weeks before at a Stake Conference on the matter and referred to his preceding words:

I did think of making some remarks similar to those I made here two weeks ago today, but I believe that I will do as the congressmen do. Instead of referring to my position upon the League of Nations and other matters, as I did two weeks ago, I will simply have printed in the conference proceedings the sermon that I then delivered, and you can read it at your leisure. It was printed in the Deseret News, I believe, a week ago last Tuesday.
President Heber J. Grant Conference Report, October 1919 pg. 12

His antecedent discourse was reprinted in the Conference Report, the Improvement Era (vol 23 no. 2) and in Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vol. 5 pg. 137-142. The following is an excerpt from a manifesto that he quotes and states to have signed:

Standing at a distance from the conflict in the senate chamber, we plead for immediate ratification without delay. Our land requires it. A state of nervous strain, tension, and unrest exists, manifesting itself in disturbances, which in some cases have no self-evident connection with the war, but which are in fact its aftermath. The world is put in imminent peril of new wars by the lapse of each day. Dissensions between us and our former allies are being sown. We firmly believe and solemnly declare that the states and cities in which we dwell desire immediate peace.

He comments stating:

I replied as follows:

“I have pleasure in joining ex-President Taft and other leading Americans in signing manifesto as outlined in your telegram of yesterday.”

The sentiments contained in the above manifesto express my personal position with regard to the League of Nations; and since signing the telegram I have neither heard nor read anything that has in any degree changed my position on this important question.

I regret exceedingly that the standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been brought into this controversy, which has now become practically a partisan controversy. It is my opinion that this important question should have been kept absolutely out of politics.

On one important matter I desire to place the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fairly before the people. An illustrated hand-bill has been circulated and has been widely republished in newspapers under the heading: “Mormon Bible Prophecies Become Issue in Opposition to the League of Nations.” The position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the standard works of the Church are not opposed to the League of Nations.
President Heber J. Grant Conference Report, October 1919 pg. 15-18

I wonder if we could say the same thing about the United Nations?

10 Comments

  1. I think that the key difference between the league of nations and the UN is that the League of Nations was clearly an attempt for independent and sovereign powers to come to some agreementa s to how they would pwork together to maintain their separate rights. This is the reason that the LoN was notoriously weak and unable to arbitrate conflict, as I understand it. The United Nations has been, especially recently, tending to imagine itself as a body for cosmopolitan rule of law. Sovereignty, in it’s principle is opposed to outside government, purely by definition. Thus, I think that if there were those who felt that the UN represented threat to US sovereignty, as on the point of submitting US soldiers to international courts, they might have a different basis for their arguments than with the Legue of Nations.
    Still, I think this is a different thing than saying that the scriptures do or do not support the league of nations. I think that would depend on the principles for which the league of nations stand. I don’t see the scriptures as having much of a say on soveregnty as a principle of nationhood. They do say, however, that if priestcraft were to be enforced by the sword, then it would be the complete undoing of the people. the question is qhether the league of nations would be enforcing unrighteousness by the sword, and what are the degrees of such a thing. Does the US ever do such a thing? Would the UN, in it’s use of foce, be closer to or farther from the order which should, ideally be enforced?

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/29/2005 @ 8:47 pm

  2. Nice post, Justin, er, I mean J. Stapley. I’m pleased the authorities lined up behind an organization dedicated to collective security and the maintenance of peace (the League). In fairness, neutrality was an American tradition (avoiding entangling alliances) and it wasn’t until Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust the the necessity of US involvement in world affairs was conclusively established for everyone except the lunatic fringe.

    Comment by Dave — 4/29/2005 @ 10:32 pm

  3. Very nice post J. It’s interesting that there was nothing in the Standard Works that would run against the League, but I doubt that’s the same thing as saying that the Church would favor it. You’d be hard-pressed, I imagine, to find some statement of approval for it or for the U.N., of course.

    Comment by Steve Evans — 4/30/2005 @ 9:06 am

  4. “Among the eschatology that Mormons have shared with their more radical Evangelical friends is a view that the United Nations is the Great World Conspiracy”

    Really? I have lived in three provinces and served a mission that covered three states, and this is the first I have ever heard of such a view. Is this widespread?

    Comment by Kim Siever — 4/30/2005 @ 9:22 am

  5. Kim –

    I think it is much less common in Mormon circles than in Evangelical circles. I would say that it is not uncommon among the ultra-right political wing of the church…(not very many of those is Canada, I think.)

    Steve E. –

    Nine general authorities supporting it in one conference would seem indicative of Church apporval. Especially when you see language like:

    I have inspiration upon this subject; that it is God’s way of helping to establish peace and good will on earth, and I am not sure but that a fight against the League of Nations as it has been presented to the Senate of the United States for ratification is a fight against God

    or

    But I say, as a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I cannot, at this conference, do my duty, as I understand it, if I keep my lips closed upon a subject that, to my mind, has more to do with the welfare of all the nations of the world than any other subject that has come before the American people since the Constitution was adopted.

    Interestingly, the ratification of the UN treaty did not see the active oppostion in the Church that the League did, which might be reflective of Dave’s sentiment.

    And as to Steve. H.’s questions…help.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/30/2005 @ 1:43 pm

  6. We have not heard any substantive discourse from the First Presidency on the War and Peace issues of the day that I am aware of; in Pres. Hinckley’s first talk after 9/11 he consistently repeated that he didn’t have an opinion or didn’t know of which direction events would take.

    We haven’t heard anything about the Islam/West conflict, the War on Terror, the morality of War, the natural rights of Man, the role of Democracy and Liberty, development of the Third World, Africa development, Aids, Human Rights, China’s suppression of Tibet, Global Religious Freedom, Cloning, Stem Cell Research, and on and on.

    Why are the substantive issues of the day not spoken of? Why aren’t stands outlined and defined? With the exception of same-sex marriage our first presidency is quiet.

    Comment by Ben — 5/1/2005 @ 12:49 pm

  7. Ben:

    President Hinkley’s talk in 2003 did alot to explain the Churches current stance on the war…a lot more than a “I don’t know where this will go.” You are right that the church takes relatively few stands on current issues. There are several reasons (I think):

    We are an international organization and I hope we are striving to be less US-centric. The Church didn’t fair to well during the ERA battle and I think they don’t want to repeat anything similar. I am also currently reading a doctoral dissertation on NGO’s and terrorism that makes a great case for the LDS church’s excellent record for echewing violent confrontations with rebels/terrorists/criminals being tide to remaining politically neutral.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 5/1/2005 @ 4:37 pm

  8. Just for the record, “Ben” is not the same as “Ben S.”
    Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

    Comment by Ben S. — 5/2/2005 @ 4:17 pm

  9. Kim, most of the UN World Conspiracy folks I’ve met are in your very corner of the world. I’m surprised you’ve never met them.

    Comment by clark — 5/2/2005 @ 7:23 pm

  10. I am surely not one of those who would claim the standard works have much to say about this but, it seems to me that a government, despite statements from the church about upholding laws etc., can only be supported so long as it stands for prinicples that are true. I tend to see a lot of the “human rights” approaches of the U.N. to be problematic in relation to church doctrine and I am led to conclude that ringing endorsements from church leaders would not be forthcoming, even if they were making more pronouncements on such things. As for the U.N. promoting peace? The church has said it is fundamentally against war and for peace. However, I think until the U.N. exercises its right to organize its own army, under Article whatever it is, it will be somewhat worthless as a vehicle for promoting peace.

    Comment by Timotheus — 5/3/2005 @ 4:07 pm

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