President Obama famously said “the government is us.”
I don’t think anybody believes this.
Some people might say they believe this when one policy they favor is approved by voters. If you are a tea party supporter, you might have been temporarily cheered during the 2010 elections, or if you wanted Obama to win in 2012, you might say to yourself, “the people have spoken.”
But nobody really believes the government is “us.” The government is almost always “them.”
Skeptical? Think back to World War II. The government (“them”) rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in concentration camps. Was that a government of “us?” How about the many governments of the South that enforced segregation or turned a blind eye to lynchings or fought civil rights in general? Many individual white people in the South, especially business owners who wanted new business, favored integration, but the governments (“them”) prevented it.
Ancient history, you say? What about the NSA spying on all Americans’ phone calls, texts and internet communications? I literally do not know anybody in real life who defends this policy. Everybody I know, from conservative to liberal and all shades of politics in between, finds this extremely alarming. Yet nobody feels like we can do anything about it. “They” are in control. “We” are helpless. This is not a government of “us.”
Here is an easy test to see if you feel like you are in control of your government: how would you feel if you got a call from the IRS? Would you feel uneasy? Would you imagine a painful audit or a pleasant experience? How about being molested by the TSA as you do nothing but take the voluntary action of boarding an airplane? Is that a government of “them” or of “us?”
On a local level, do you really think your local police are concerned about “you” when they set up speed traps? Or are they concerned about raising revenue for “them” and “their” concerns? Speed traps have nothing to do with “protect and serve;” speed traps about about “them” getting away with fleecing you out of $150 (or more) of your hard-earned money.
Now, compare this to your experience at Church.
I guarantee there are people who will mistakenly think that Church is about “them” vs. “us,” but they simply are not thinking through the issue very carefully.
The first point about your experience at Church is: nobody is forcing you to go. You can get up one morning and decide that you don’t want to go at all. Now you might say this would disappoint your family members and/or children, but your problem is with your family members and/or children, not with the church.
In contrast, as a U.S. citizen, you are indeed subject to force. Once you get a job, you must pay taxes whether you want to or not. And if you don’t, you will be fined or sent to jail, and if you resist you will be killed. If you move overseas, you still must pay taxes. Your only way out is to renounce your U.S. citizenship, which takes a long time and is an arduous process. And, by the way, if you mention that the reason you want to renounce your citizenship is that taxes are too high, you will not be allowed to renounce your citizenship. Welcome to our “voluntary” (in the words of Harry Reid) taxation system.
I have seen on these pages the truly idiotic argument that taxation is exactly like tithing. I know: it is difficult to believe that in this day and age there are people who are stupid enough to believe this, but I guess I must spend some time (again) pointing out that tithing is nothing like taxation.
The first point is you can go to church, go to meetings and go to conferences without ever paying a cent of tithing. No people with guns will prevent you from going to any church meeting if you have not paid your tithing. You will not go to jail or be fined. If you move overseas, you can still go to church. If you renounce your church membership, you can still go to church.
What about your temple recommend? Think back to your most recent interview. You are asked by the bishop if you are a full tithe payer. The definition of “full tithe payer” is completely left up to you. Personally, I try to pay 10 percent of my gross earnings in tithing, but note the bishop does not ask you if you have done this. This is a completely voluntary system where you pay not a penny more than you think you should pay, and you will not be audited, and the bishop will take your word for it.
Imagine if taxes truly were voluntary: if you valued your schools and the police and the courts and the fireman and the military, you could estimate how much that was worth to you and you could send in a check to cover those services. But let’s face facts: people who want higher taxes always want other people to pay the higher taxes. Everybody is free to send in extra money to the federal and state treasuries, but very few people do. The reason in simple: taxation is about using force to extract money from other people. This is a mafia system writ large; it is not a system of voluntary contributions.
I think the most important point about seeing church as something we do together (“us”) is to consider the important role of voluntary service. I need to make this point because many people are not going to understand this: you do not have to accept a calling. Any calling. Nobody is forcing you to accept a calling or do anything in the church. Even an “assignment” is still voluntary.
Now, you may feel guilty if you don’t accept a calling or an assignment. That is your problem, not the church’s problem. If you really don’t want to do a calling, don’t do it.
You will hear church leaders say you should always accept callings, and this is true. If you accept that your leadership is inspired by God (which is one of the reasons you are going to church), you will generally accept callings because you will believe the callings were inspired on one level or another. But note: this is about you voluntarily deciding to believe in the church. Nobody is forcing you to believe in priesthood inspiration. You are deciding on your own to believe in a system where certain leaders are given authority by God to ask you to do certain things.
1)You voluntarily decided to join the church.
2)You voluntarily decide to go to Sacrament meetings and other church meetings.
3)You voluntarily decide to follow your leadership.
4)When the leadership asks you to do something, you voluntarily decide to do it.
There is no force of any kind anywhere in this process.
This is a system of “us.” We have decided, through the marvelous free agency given us by God, to create voluntary communities where we help each other in order, in charity and in love. If we truly fuse ourselves to this system, we can help the poor and the needy and the less fortunate, we can edify each other, we can truly be “one people” of one heart and one mind. We can progress together to new levels of sacred knowledge.
The contrast with the worldly systems they have created could not be more stark and more clear.