Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Oh Beautiful for Patriot Dream"

As we commemorate the 235th birthday of our great nation, we would do well to remember the history of how our forefathers came to this land and secured freedom for themselves and for us, their posterity. In a General Conference address more than 35 years ago, Elder Paul H. Dunn of the Quorum of the Seventy gave a talk entitled, "'Oh Beautiful for Patriot Dream,'" (Ensign, Nov 1975) in which he spoke of the sacrifices made and the trials endured by our forefathers in order to bring forth on this continent a new nation.

Thanks to modern revelation, we know that this land was set apart and blessed by God to be the promised land long before our forefathers fought and died for our liberty. More than two millenia before the drafting of the Constitution, the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi taught:

Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom [God] shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve [God] according to the commandments which [H]e hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. 2 Nephi 1:7 (see the entire chapter).

So, founded in faith on principles of righteousness, our country came to be the land of the free, one nation under God, indivisible so long as its citizens never forsake the God who gave them life. The founding fathers recognized where they received their inspiration and gave credit where it was due. Those who came before us were not shy about openly expressing gratitude to God for the freedoms they enjoyed. Each of the 50 states' own constitutions refer to God in some way, and most express gratitude to the "Almighty God" for the blessings of civil and religious liberty and freedoms.

Let us not forget the faith of our fathers and the reasons they fought and died for the liberties we enjoy. In our efforts to appease Thomas Jefferson's concept of separation of church and state let us not take God completely out of this blessed land of America when it is, in fact, God who preserves this land as the blessed and promised land. Was it not, in fact, God the Father who inspired explorers to find America in His own time, first led immigrants to this land as they sought religious freedom--freedom to worship God without persecution and not freedom from religion and God, watched over and strengthened the patriots who gave their lives to establish America as a free and independent nation, and inspired those same leaders to write divine documents such as the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution? (For more on the role of God in the settling of America, see 1 Nephi 13.)

But let us also not forget the greatest blessing of our independence and freedom. In this great country, Jesus Christ was able to restore His gospel and His church in its fulness. Just decades after the signing of the Constitution, He called Joseph Smith, a New England native, to be a prophet, starting an unbroken line of prophets and apostles that continues in our day. The Lord brought forth the Book of Mormon as another testament of His divinity. Indeed, Independence Day is not significant only because a new nation, a free nation, was born.

Elder Dunn suggests two ways in which we can express gratitude to God and honor those who have given their lives to preserve our freedom, "First, by striving to make our citizenry the righteous people the Lord requires of us. And second, by telling the story of what the Lord has done for you and me and this great church, and why."

God bless America. Those blessings depend on us and will continue inasmuch as we strive to keep the commandments of our Father in Heaven.

Happy birthday America.