Conference Report
The Gospel and the Individual
President David O. McKay

David O. McKay, Conference Report, October 1962, pp. 5-8

"What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

"For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour" (Ps. 8:4-5).

Since the dawn of civilization, leaders in organized society have sought the answer to the age-old question: "What is the chief end of man?" Carlyle answered it by saying, "To glorify God and enjoy him forever."

The Prophet Joseph Smith gave through revelation from the Lord the following: "That mine everlasting covenant might be established;

"That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world" (D&C 1:22-23).

He further brought to light the great truth that God's work and glory is: "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).

Throughout the centuries there have been leaders and socially minded men who have desired the better way of living than that which was theirs. The good life, so important to man's happiness, has been the quest of the ages. To sense the need of reform has been easy, but to achieve it has been difficult and well nigh impossible. Ideas suggested by the wisest of men have often been impractical, sometimes fantastic, yet in many cases the world in general has been made better by the dissemination of new ideas even though the experiments proved failures at the time.

In this respect the first half of the nineteenth century was particularly marked by the feeling of social unrest, and many observing people became dissatisfied with social and economic conditions, and thinking men sought for remedial changes. In France, for example, the fanciful theories of Francois Marie Charles Fourier were circulated. He attempted to outline the future history of our globe and of the human race for eighty thousand years. Today, his books are seldom, if ever, read.

Later, Robert Owen, a man of exceptional ability and insight, when about nineteen years of age, became dissatisfied with the churches of his day. He decried their departure from the simple teachings of Jesus and was disturbed also by economic conditions. With a fortune back of him, and with the confidence of the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father, Owen came to the New World in America about 1823. He purchased twenty thousand acres of land in what later became New Harmony, Indiana. He established what he hoped to be an ideal society. Within three years he lost two hundred thousand dollars of his fortune, and his experiment failed.

A few years later, George Ripley, a Unitarian minister, conceived a plan of plain living and high thinking. He and his associates became the founders of what is known now as "The Great Experiment." He had as his associates such able men as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles A. Dana, who afterwards became Assistant Secretary of War in the Cabinet of the President of the United States. This "Great Experiment" came to an end in 1846.

I believe with others that government, institutions, and organizations exist primarily for the purpose of securing to the individual his rights, his happiness, and proper development of his character. When organizations fail to accomplish this purpose, their usefulness ends. "So act," says Kant, "as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, in every case as an end, never as a means only."

In all ages of the world men have been prone to ignore the personality of others, to disregard men's rights by closing against them the opportunity to develop. The worth of man is a good measuring rod by which we may judge the rightfulness or the wrongfulness of a policy or principle, whether in government, in business, or in social activities.

Theories and ideologies exploited during the last half century present challenges more critical and dangerous than mankind has ever before faced.

This present world conflict, affecting the minds and souls of men today, is set forth by a prominent statesman of our country in the following succinct summary:

"On one side are those who, believing in the dignity and worth of the individual, proclaim his right to be free to achieve his full destiny—spiritually, intellectually, and materially. And—on the other side—there are arrayed those who, denying and disdaining the worth of the individual, subject him to the will of an authoritarian state, the dictates of a rigid ideology, and the ruthless disciplines of a party apparatus.

"This basic conflict—so deeply dividing the world—comes at a time when the surge of other changes and upheavals staggers the mind and senses. Whole nations are trying to vault from the Stone Age to the twentieth century" (The Future of Federalism, pp. 60-61).

Thus, today, brethren, we are in danger of actually surrendering our personal and property rights. This development, if it does occur in full form, will be a sad tragedy for our people. We must recognize that property rights are essential to human liberty.

Former United States Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland, from our own State [Utah], carefully stated it as follows: "It is not the right of property which is protected, but the right to property. Property, per se has no rights; but the individual—the man—has three great rights, equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his life, the right to his liberty, and the right to his property. The three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life, but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To give him liberty, but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave." (From George Sutherland's speech before the New York State Bar Association, January 21, 1921.)

The bond of our secular covenant is the principle of constitutional government. That principle is, in itself, eternal and everlasting, despite the pretensions of temporary tyrannies. The principle of tyranny maintains that human beings are incurably selfish and therefore cannot govern themselves. This concept flies in the face of the wonderful declaration of the Prophet Joseph Smith that the people are to be taught correct principles, and then they are to govern themselves. Dictatorship, however, argues that the people should be governed by the individual or a clique who can seize power through subversion or outright bloodshed. Further, the people are declared to be without guarantees or rights, and the regime is claimed to exist beholden only to the plans and whims of the ruling tyrant.

Our founding fathers, despite some natural fears, clearly regarded the promulgation of the Constitution of the United States as their greatest triumph.

On June 12, 1955, Sir Percy Spender, Australian Ambassador to the United States, delivered a speech at the Union University at Schenectady, New York, at the time they conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws upon him. I agree with what he said in that speech, relating to present-day efforts, and I quote part of it as follows:

"Today, freedom—political, economic, and individual freedom—lies destroyed or is in the course of being destroyed over great areas of the globe. And it has been destroyed and is being destroyed in the name of freedom. A vast struggle for the mind of man is now being waged—a struggle in which I hope each of you with all your heart will take part. In this struggle truth is distorted by those who have not the slightest regard for truth. All the words which mean so much to us—like Liberty, Freedom, Democracy—are being despoiled spoiled and prostituted by the enemies of Liberty, Freedom, and Democracy. A ruthless dialectical battle is being waged against the Christian way of life, against political liberty, against individual freedom, and it is being waged in the name of Freedom. Black becomes White; Tyranny becomes Freedom; The Forced Labor Camp stands for Liberty; The Slave State is represented as Democracy. This is the deadly challenge of Communism. And in this challenge those who put their emphasis upon man as an economic being—and there are plenty in every so-called free country in the world today who do just that—those who explain man in terms of scientific and chemical facts and the accident of circumstance, those who treat human beings as so many 'bodies,' those who deny man's spiritual and individual existence—each of them aids and hastens the destruction of the political institutions on which our free society rests, and whether he knows it or not, supports the dialectics and the aims of International Communism."

Jesus always sought the welfare of the individual; and individuals, grouped and laboring for the mutual welfare of the whole in conformity with the principles of the gospel, constitute the kingdom of God. Many of the choicest truths of the gospel were given in conversations with individuals when Jesus was on the earth. It was while Jesus talked with Nicodemus that he gave us the message relative to baptism and of being "born again" (John 3:1-5). From the conversation with the woman of Samaria, we have disclosed the truth that they who worship God must worship him "in spirit and in truth." From Jesus' conversation with Mary and Martha, we hear the divine declaration, "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).

Jesus' regard for the personality was supreme!

To the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the worth of the individual has special meaning. Quorums, auxiliaries, wards, stakes, even the Church itself, are all organized to further the welfare of man. All are but a means to an end, and that end is the happiness and eternal value of every child of God.

With wards, quorums, organizations, and auxiliaries in mind, I suggest three major means of winning souls to Christ. These three conditions are: one—enrolment in the Church of every individual; two—personal contact; three—group service.

These three plans, or conditions, are already operating in the Church, but unless they function, they will be ineffective in accomplishing the purposes for which they have been established.

It is the duty of each of these organizations to enroll every individual who belongs to it, not only to enroll, but to know by personal contact the conditions under which each person lives. It is not enough to know, and it is not sufficient to visit, for no person can become enthusiastic with the principles and doctrines of the gospel unless he or she lives them. "If ye will do the will, ye shall know" is a fundamental law of spiritual growth (see John 7:17).

If each of the thousands of officers and teachers in the ward, stake, and auxiliary organizations; if each of the many thousands of priesthood members were to influence for better living one individual, and should labor all his days "and bring save it be but one soul unto me," says the Lord, "how great shall be his joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (see D&C 18:15).

Today, many nations have lost their independence; men, defeated, have been compelled to labor for their conquerors, property has been seized without recompense, and millions of people have surrendered all guarantees of personal liberty.

Force and compulsion will never establish the ideal society. This can come only by a transformation within the individual soul—a life redeemed from sin and brought in harmony with the divine will. Instead of selfishness, men must be willing to dedicate their ability, their possessions, their lives, if necessary, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the alleviation of the ills of mankind. Hate must be supplanted by sympathy and forbearance. Peace and true prosperity can come only by conforming our lives to the law of love, the law of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A mere appreciation of the social ethics of Jesus is not sufficient—men's hearts must be changed!

In these days of uncertainty and unrest, liberty-loving people's greatest responsibility and paramount duty is to preserve and proclaim the freedom of the individual, his relationship to Deity, and the necessity of obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only thus will mankind find peace and happiness.

We find ourselves now immersed in a great political campaign in America for the purpose of selecting candidates for office in local, state, and national positions. We urge you as citizens to participate in this great democratic process in accordance with your honest political convictions.

However, above all else, strive to support good and conscientious candidates of either party who are aware of the great dangers inherent in communism, and who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our rounding fathers. They should also pledge their sincere fealty to our way of liberty—a liberty which aims at the preservation of both personal and property rights. Study the issues, analyze the candidates on these grounds, and then exercise your franchise as free men and women. Never be found guilty of exchanging your birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:30-34)!

God enlighten our minds to comprehend our responsibility, to proclaim the truth and maintain freedom throughout the world, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.