America faces a critical choice, Elder Callister says during patriotic service

America now faces a critical choice on whether to continue the legacy of the Founding Fathers or to cast it aside — “to be a nation under God or without God,” said Elder Tad R. Callister, an emeritus General Authority.

Speaking during the Patriotic Service of America’s Freedom Festival at the LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on July 4, Elder Callister, a former lawyer, highlighted the Founding Fathers’ divinely appointed mission and the need for a moral and religious people to uphold the Constitution today.

Intermittent rain threatened to shorten or cancel the Sunday night event, but the program — which included patriotic hymns and musical selections performed by the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras such as “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America, The Beautiful,” “How Great Thou Art” and “God, Bless America” — commenced after a short delay.

The Millenial Choirs and Orchestras performs during the Patriotic Service of America's Freedom Festival held in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on July 4, 2021.
The Millenial Choirs and Orchestras performs during the Patriotic Service of America’s Freedom Festival held in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on July 4, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Callister began his remarks “on this memorable day of gratitude” by asserting that the Founding Fathers did not coincidentally appear at the same time. The burst of talent embodied in the Founding Fathers was not produced by a series of random births or genetic aberrations, he said. 

“God sent them forth at a specified time and place to fulfill their divinely appointed mission. And what was that mission? It was to form a government that would establish our God-given rights, including freedom of speech and religion, so we would become a nation under God, not a nation without God.” 

On July 4, Americans honor the Declaration of Independence, which defines those God-given rights, Elder Callister said. “But in and of itself this Declaration was not sufficient. We needed a document that would not just define these rights but also protect them — hence the Constitution.”

He quoted James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, who said, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”

Elder Callister noted that those who disparage the Founding Fathers are able to freely criticize, protest, vote for change, run for office and exercise freedom of religion — or irreligion — because “the Founding Fathers made it so.”

To those who speculate America’s democracy would have eventually evolved anyway, Elder Callister contended: “At the time of our Founders’ noble experiment, there was nothing like it in the world. For centuries, even millennia of recorded history, there was no comparable democracy that had the breadth of liberties and lasting power of what they created. Theirs was a bold and ingenious initiative, from which many other countries would subsequently pattern their governments.”

But as inspired as the Constitution is, Elder Callister said, the Founding Fathers knew it could not be a viable document without a moral people. He quoted John Adams who said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The Founding Fathers understood the principle that the more the morality and religion, the less the need for government intervention and compulsory enforcement, Elder Callister said, “and thus the greater our liberties.”

Since religion is the best vehicle “to encourage living God’s moral laws, the Founding Fathers demonstrated by their words and actions that religion in general should be encouraged in the public as well as private sector without ever fostering a national religion.”

Elder Callister then cited several examples that illustrate the Founding Fathers’ feelings and practices concerning the need for religion in the public sector, including the sanction and construction of monuments by the government that reference God; the use of prayer in each congressional session; and the proposal by Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin of a national seal — a public symbol — with the words “God, or Providence, has favored our undertakings.”

Elder Tad R. Callister, an Emeritus General Authority, speaks during the Patriotic Service of America's Freedom Festival held in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on July 4, 2021.
Elder Tad R. Callister, an Emeritus General Authority, speaks during the Patriotic Service of America’s Freedom Festival held in LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, on July 4, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“The history of the Founding Fathers is clear and unmistakable — they encouraged religion in the public sector. Why? Because it was the best means to promote morality, and without a moral people they knew that the Constitution could not survive as a viable instrument,” Elder Callister said.

He expressed his love for America and respect for the Founding Fathers, “who made incredible sacrifices to establish and preserve the liberties we so abundantly enjoy. … I acknowledge and express gratitude to God for his merciful hand in the origin and destiny of our nation.”

In conclusion, Elder Callister expressed his hope that all might declare, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). 

“Then we will be entitled to the promise of the psalmist: ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’” (Psalms 33:12), Elder Callister said.