I recently spent several hours trying to track down the source of a quote that made a significant impact on my life. David O. McKay is reported to have said:

“If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed they not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.”

However, this quote cannot be found in the location it has been referenced (David O. McKay, The Instructor, Feb. 1956, p.34). I struggled to believe that this quote was wholly fabricated, so I did doms digging to understand where this quote came from.

The February 1956 Instructor

The February 1956 printing of The Instructor clearly doesn’t make any reference to forfeiting rights to the Priesthood in any context, so I didn’t understand why anybody would mistakenly reference that source—until I found this quote on the internet:

Next to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world in which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the Unite States. If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed, they not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.” (David O. McKay, The Instructor, Feb. 1956, p.34)

Note: Some references place the quote on page 94 of the magazine, but the correct page no. is 34. Additionally, some versions of the quote start with “Other than being one in worshipping God…” but the correct quote starts with “Next to…”.

The first half of the quote is legitimate, but the second half is nowhere to be found. This is apparently an example of the blog version of the telephone game. At some point, somebody must have positioned two different quotes too closely together on their website and somebody else probably accidentally combined them in a faulty copy paste job. So my next task was to track down the second half of the quote.

Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen

Elder H. Verlan Andersen makes it clear in the Introduction to his book Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen that he believes there’s an intimate relationship between our political involvement and our moral accountability to God:

The power to participate in the governing process is the power to determine under what circumstances it is legal to use force on our fellow men. Governments exist for only one purpose: to make and enforce rules governing human conduct. Every rule or law which is passed has attached to it a penalty. The penalty invariably takes from the disobedient either his life, his liberty, or his property.

Under a government subject to the voice of the people, the ultimate responsibility for laws, and therefore for determining when it is proper to kill a person, jail him, or take from him his property, rests directly on the voting citizen. There is no other place to rest the credit or blame for what is done in the name of government.

This is a moral question of the most serious nature and for that very reason, it is also religious. Thus, the central problem of government, is a religious one, and anyone who assumes that he can form his political beliefs without consulting his ethics, which have their basis in religious conviction, is deceiving himself either about the true nature of government, or his moral responsibility for its actions.

The problem of government is also of interest to Latter-day Saints in connection with the privilege of holding the Priesthood. When we act through government, we are using physical coercion to compel our fellow men to do as we say, or forfeit their lives, liberties, or properties. It should be immediately apparent that we might direct our agent, the government, to use compulsion for wrong purposes, as well as for those which are right. If we do abuse the power of government, who will deny that this constitutes an exercise of unrighteous dominion?

Doctrine and Covenants Section 121 tells us, in effect, that if we exercise control, dominion, or compulsion in any degree of unrighteousness, and fail to mend our ways, amen to our priesthood. Thus, it is possible that we priesthood bearers are jeopardizing our callings by abusing the rare privilege of self-government.

Although I’m specifically looking for the second half of the David O. McKay quote, Elder Andersen is making the exact same point using different words. Compare the statement above with the following quote:

“If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed, they not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.”

The puzzle began to make more sense when I found Elder Andersen quoting David O. McKay in the end of his Introduction:

Latter-day Saint scriptures indicate that it was necessary for the Lord to set this nation up as a free people before He could restore the gospel to earth. (3 Ne. 21:4) They also tell us that the Lord caused our Constitutional form of government to be established so that men could exercise moral agency. (D&C 101:77-78) To enable the Church to continue to exist, and to permit men to continue to exercise their agency in this land, it is essential that this government of freedom be preserved. For these reasons, if for no others, the Lord is deeply concerned about our political institutions and beliefs.

It is not surprising therefore, that the Lord has given us extensive instructions on matters of government. It is the hope of the author that those who read this material may find, as I have, that the words of God’s prophets, together with the United States Constitution, which He caused to be established, provide complete guidance on all important political problems.

If this is true, there is no reason why those who accept the words of the prophets, may not come to a unity of political belief, and thus put an end to that spirit of contention, which, if not checked, may produce serious consequences among us. President McKay has expressed the hope that this will occur. Said he:

Next to being one in worshipping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States. (Statements on Communism and the Constitution of the United States. Deseret Book Co., 1966 p. 6)***

Now it doesn’t seem like so much of a stretch to see these quotes being merged together into one.

The next big discovery was finding the second half of the second sentence in Chapter 3 (The Divine Law of Restoration) of Elder Andersen’s book. He said:

Doctrine and Covenants 76:56-57 states that those who inherit the highest glory will hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, certain other revelations seem to declare that only a few of the many upon whom such Priesthood is conferred in this life will be chosen to continue in their callings in the next. If this be true, then the many will not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.

This is the closest I have come (and expect to come) to finding the original quote attributed to David O. McKay. But the McKay version of the quote seems to be completely out of context and this discovery didn’t immediately answer why someone would write “If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed…” at the front of the quote. Perhaps the essence of the “McKay” quote is still correct, even if it’s an illegitimate quote.

Here is the H. Verlan Andersen quote in context:

Why is it that the justice of God demands that those who have committed evil must have evil restored to them? Or, defining evil as the destruction of freedom, why is it that those who have undertaken to destroy the freedom of others must lose their own? Is this merely an act of divine revenge, or is there some fundamental reason which requires the execution of this law?

Let us first consider the problem from the viewpoint of those who would be the victims. If those who desire to use their freedom to destroy the freedom of others were to have their powers and opportunities to do so continually increased, then joy, the object of existence, would be unattainable. In its place misery would prevail because, as we have seen above, the denial of freedom is the very essence of unhappiness.

Now let us consider the matter from the viewpoint of those who are punished with a loss of their freedom. Are their interests best served by having their freedom taken from them? Or must we conclude that the interests of men are basically antagonistic so that the evil-doer must be harmed to prevent unjust suffering by those whose freedom he would destroy?

In trying to answer this question, let us first recall that we have defined evil as the motivating force which causes people to destroy freedom. But those motivated by evil are themselves miserable. No one has ever seen a person motivated exclusively by hate, envy, lust, etc. who was happy. The more intense the hate and the desire to destroy others, the greater the misery. Wickedness never was happiness. (Alma 41:10) For the good of such a person, his capacity to destroy freedom should be decreased.

Thus it is seen that men’s interests are harmonious. It is for the benefit of everyone concerned that those who seek to destroy freedom shall have their power and opportunity to do so diminished. Furthermore, where repentance is possible, there is an additional reason for taking freedom from those who abuse it. The loss of any of the elements of freedom is painful to bear and one who is called upon to suffer such a loss may come to recognize the error of his ways and repent of his evil desires.

In contrast to that part of the law of restoration which requires a diminution of the freedom of the evil doer, let us observe the operation of the law on behalf of those who work only righteousness. One who would act only to increase freedom may safely have his powers to do so increased without limit.

Having in mind the divine law of restoration, let us re-examine the definition of good and evil given above which labels as evil acts which destroy the elements of freedom, and as good, those acts which provide or protect them. It is immediately apparent that such a definition is incomplete as it stands. Someone must enforce the law of retribution and, in doing so, must destroy the elements of freedom in the process. To preserve freedom it is imperative that those who act with the purpose of destroying it should have their power and opportunity to do so curtailed. Thus, it is justifiable and proper to destroy another’s freedom under this circumstance—to execute the law of retribution.

In commanding man to utilize the police power to punish criminals, the Lord directed him to learn His law of justice and co-operate with Him in executing it here on earth. When a person breaks a criminal law by destroying life, liberty, property, or knowledge, the Lord wants us to punish such a person by depriving him of one or more of these elements of freedom.

If we destroy these elements for any other reason, the law of retribution operates on us to cause a loss of our own freedom. This, then, is the answer to the great problem of government: under what circumstances does a group have the moral right to deprive their fellow man of his life, liberty, or property?

We desire to more fully discuss the Lord’s answer to this question but before doing so, let us take a more comprehensive view of the operation of the law of retribution. Let us note its enforcement in both the pre-mortal and the post-mortal life, as it applies to the right to exercise the power of the Priesthood.

THE DIVINE LAW OF RETRIBUTION AND THE EXERCISE OF PRIESTHOOD POWER

In the pre-earth life, God offered His children His divine power, the Priesthood. (Alma 13:3-4). This power has been described by President Brigham Young in these words:

The Priesthood of the Son of God is the law by which the worlds are, were and will continue forever and ever. It is that system which brings worlds into existence and peoples them, gives them their seasons and times by which they…go into a higher state of existence. (John A. Widstoe, Priesthood and Church Government, p. 33, Deseret Book Co. 1939).

One in full possession of such a power would be able to accomplish any and every righteous desire. He would have complete and absolute freedom. No one can imagine greater power and freedom than this. It is the supreme power of the universe.

Some to whom this power was offered in the pre-earth life used it for proper purposes, and were permitted to continue to exercise it here. Others sought to abuse it and lost it. It appears that Satan was one of those to whom God offered His power for we are told he was:

An angel of God, who was in authority in the presence of God. (D&C 76:25) However, because he …sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down. (Moses 4:3)

God’s authority was thus denied Satan and the one-third of the hosts of heaven who followed him because of their desire to destroy free agency. They were also separated from the other two-thirds whose freedom they sought to destroy. Of course, they are here on earth as spirits, enticing man to murder, to enslave, to steal and otherwise destroy freedom, but they are powerless to do these things themselves. Neither can they have children, organize the earth’s raw materials, or otherwise increase freedom. This is the first instance of which we have record where the Lord’s divine law of retribution was made effective.

Though the other two-thirds of God’s children rejected the doctrine of compulsion and elected to follow Christ, the danger that we will even yet subject ourselves to the penalty of the law of retribution is extremely great, because the scriptures tell us:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:39)

From this we learn that almost all men are still afflicted with a tendency to destroy one another’s freedom. Unless we overcome this weakness, it is inevitable that the Lord will find it necessary to withhold from us His power for the simple reason that we cannot be relied upon to use it exclusively for righteous purposes.

It is observed that Latter-day Saint doctrine teaches that there are three degrees of glory in the hereafter with subdivisions within these different degrees and that man, if he lives worthy, may inherit the highest, or celestial degree where God and Christ dwell. But our doctrine also teaches that relatively few Church members will merit such an exalted state. Christ told both the Jews and the Nephites that but few of them would enter in at the strait gate. (Matt. 7:13, 14; 3 Ne. 14:13, 14). A similar warning has been issued to members of His Church in these latter days:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this (the highest) glory. for strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. (D&C 132:21-22)

If it be true, as appears to be the case, that the group to which this revelation is addressed are the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is certain that only a few of this membership will prove worthy of exaltation and continuation of lives.

Perhaps the most explicit confirmation of the fact that only a few of the members of Christ’s Church will inherit the highest degree of glory, is provided by those scriptures which discuss the fate of the majority of those who hold the Priesthood and the requirement that those who enter that highest degree be worthy to exercise this power.

Doctrine and Covenants 76:56-57 states that those who inherit the highest glory will hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, certain other revelations seem to declare that only a few of the many upon whom such Priesthood is conferred in this life will be chosen to continue in their callings in the next. If this be true, then the many will not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.

Those scriptural statements which most fully discuss the condemnation of the majority of the priesthood are found in D&C, Sec. 121.

This section says not just once, but twice that many are called but few are chosen. In each case, the passages are referring to those who hold the Priesthood. Does this mean that the great majority of those upon whom the Priesthood is conferred in this life will have it taken from them in the next? Is this what is meant by not being chosen?

It is difficult to place any other interpretation upon the language used. It is incontestable that the Lord in speaking of the many who are called is referring to bearers of the Priesthood. It is from this body of men that only a few will be chosen.

There is this much which is certain about the statement: the many are going to be denied some privilege or blessing which only the few will enjoy. That this privilege is the right to hold the Priesthood seems to be indicated by other verses in this section.

Verse 37 states that even though the rights of the Priesthood may be conferred upon one, he may lose them again. The words which state that a man’s Priesthood may terminate are these: Amen to the Priesthood or the authority of that man. One of the ways in which one may lose his power is by using compulsion unrighteously upon his fellow men. Part of verse 37 reads as follows:

When we undertake to…exercise control, dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness…Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Then verse 39 tells us that almost all men have a disposition which causes them to do this very thing. The conclusion drawn in verse 40— Hence many are called but few are chosen—seems to have only one meaning; amen to the priesthood of almost all men.

Verse 36 supports this interpretation. It says that the rights of the Priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven and that the powers of heaven cannot be handled only upon principles of righteousness.

Thus, while we are permitted to exercise the Priesthood here on earth, though still afflicted with a weakness to abuse authority, the powers of heaven and the Priesthood which is inseparably connected therewith, cannot be controlled by one with such a disposition.

If, at the end of this life, we are still inclined to exercise unrighteous dominion and thereby deny others that freedom to which they are entitled, the divine law of retribution will demand that our power and opportunity to affect the freedom of others be restricted. The Lord will have no alternative but to assign us a place in the hereafter with that great majority who cannot be trusted to use authority only for the increase of freedom. God’s power cannot be used to defeat God’s purposes.

It may seem strange that although we have made a decision in favor of freedom and against compulsion in the pre-earth life, we should be called upon to make it once again. The reason is, of course, that almost all of us are still disposed to exercise unrighteous dominion. By our decision there we gave ourselves a second chance to completely overcome this satanic tendency.

But the only way we can do this, it seems, is to be subjected to Satan’s teachings once again. This time, however, we must make our choice under different conditions. Having been rejected by us once, Satan must present his plan in this world in disguise and under circumstances where our physical appetites and desires tempt us to accept and believe it. We must walk by faith and experience a trial of that faith. Only with such tests facing us is it possible to completely reject his philosophy and rid ourselves of this weakness.

Summary

While the scriptures and commentary in this chapter seem to be referencing explicit acts of abusing political and/or priesthood power, the “McKay” quote apparently assigns the consequence of “forfeiting rights to the priesthood” to acts of omission—a failure to save the Constitution from corrupt leaders and other abuses.

If this were Snopes, I would rate the quote as maybe half true. Here are the facts:

  1. David O. McKay certainly didn’t say it in any recorded platform.
  2. Only the second half of the sentence is an actual quote, but from H. Verlan Andersen (not David O. McKay).
  3. The first half of the sentence mischaracterized the context of the actual reference.
  4. The scriptures and brethren have said that it IS possible for us to forfeit our rights to the priesthood through abusing our priesthood or political power.

The original quote said:

If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed they not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.

I don’t think it would be very difficult to defend this as a doctrinal thesis using scriptures and statements by the brethren, and I believe the concept to be true in any case where a person has received a testimony of the Constitution and then fails to uphold it. However, as it stands, this statement should absolutely not be circulated or attributed to David O. McKay.

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