Friday, January 27, 2017

Teach them correct principles, and . . .

Joseph Smith understood the importance of context. He said, “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer” (HC 5:261).

We can apply this to something else he said: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 284).

It is sometimes misquoted as, “I teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves.” It is a small difference in wording, but the correct quote suggests the people are properly exercising their agency.

Even more importantly, the quote needs to be put into context. The context is that a visitor to the city observed how obedient the people of Nauvoo were, and complimented the Prophet on it, and asked “how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order” (Ibid.).

The conversation, and therefore the quote, would not have taken place if the people of Nauvoo, as a whole, were disobedient. For example, this conversation would not make sense:
Question: “Why are you unable to govern your undisciplined, chaotic city?” 
Answer: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
To liken this to our own lives, the manual states: “Leaders teach correct principles and help those they lead learn to govern themselves” (Ibid.).

If we teach obedient people correct principles, they will govern themselves appropriately.

If we try to teach the same principles to rebellious, disobedient people, it is unclear if they will properly govern themselves.