John Taylor, the third president of the Church, once overheard a member of the Illinois Legislature, who was visiting Nauvoo, speaking to the prophet Joseph Smith.
The gentleman asked the Prophet Joseph how he was “enabled to govern so many people and to preserve such perfect order, remarking at the same time it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else.”
“Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’ ”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 281–91).
This trait — to teach correct principles and trust that people will use those to make good choices — has defined the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the beginning. Today, with a membership of 15 million, it would be impossible to lead any other way.
“Joseph Smith’s inspired statement, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves,’ still applies,” said Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his April 1993 general conference address. “The Lord uses that pattern with us. You will find correct principles in the teachings of the Savior, His prophets, and the scriptures — especially the Book of Mormon.”
One recent example of this principle is the invitation from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to use social media to share goodness with others throughout the world.
“What has been accomplished thus far in this dispensation communicating gospel messages through social media channels is a good beginning — but only a small trickle,” said Elder Bednar. “I now extend to you the invitation to help transform the trickle into a flood. Beginning at this place on this day, I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth — messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy — and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.”
He shared with members four principles which would help them. Then he asked them to get to work.
1. Be authentic and consistent. “Our messages should be truthful, honest and accurate.”
2. Edify and uplift. “We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than argue, debate, condemn, or belittle,” Elder Bednar explained.
3. Respect intellectual property. “We and our messages should respect the property of other people and organizations,” he said.
4. Be wise and vigilant. “We should remember that the Internet never forgets,” Elder Bednar cautioned (“To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood,” BYU Education Week, Aug. 19, 2014).
Other recent events also show the trust the Church leaders have in Latter-day Saints. For example, to assist members in creating uplifting gospel messages, Church leaders announced that the content in the Media Library on lds.org, unless otherwise indicated, has been cleared for use by members without seeking permission from the Church.
In addition, the Church is telling its story through a new documentary, “Meet the Mormons.” Church leadership did not select the families that were featured in the film, nor did they tell them what to say during interviews.
The film’s writer and director, Blair Treu, said Church leaders knew members would represent the Church’s values and principles in the film. “[Church leaders] never once, not once, ever told us who or where or what to shoot,” he told the LDS Church News. “We were tasked with one thing: ‘Try to capture, as best you can, who we really are.’ That is it. … They wanted us to be authentic and real” (www.deseretnews.com/article/865609258/Meet-the-Mormons.html?pg=all).
President Gordon B. Hinckley said during his October 1982 general conference address “that among all of the many wonderful and significant things which the Prophet Joseph Smith said, there are few that are of greater import than his declaration to a traveler who had asked how he governed so heterogeneous a people. ‘I teach them correct principles,’ he said, ‘and they govern themselves.’ My brethren and sisters, having been taught correct principles, let us go from this conference with a determination to govern ourselves in accordance with these principles.
“There is so much of evil in the world, and so great a need for good to overcome it …,” President Hinckley said. “We ought to become as a light from which goodness and truth and beauty and virtue may spread across the world.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that “if the Lord reveals a doctrine, we should seek to learn its principles and strive to apply them in our lives” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , p. 492).
During the early years of the Restoration, the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, faced severe persecution. Tensions grew and, in November 1833, mobs forced them out of their homes.
In response, the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was living in Kirtland, organized Zion’s Camp, a group of Saints to march to Jackson County. Despite problems, Joseph Smith taught the members of the camp important principles of leadership as he led them day by day. Zion’s Camp did not return the Saints to their homes in Jackson County, but it accomplished the Lord’s purposes and had long-lasting spiritual results.
It was in Zion’s Camp that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others gained practical training that enabled them to lead the Saints. From their experience with the Prophet, these brethren had learned to lead in the Lord’s way. (Teachings: Joseph Smith, chapter 24, “Leading in the Lord’s Way”).
Church leaders today still follow this pattern. May we look for the principles in their teachings and appreciate the trust they have placed in all of us.