Righteous Dominion

Source: Unrighteous Dominion

Faith and Righteous Dominion

"...it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." D&C 121:39

While the principle of "Unrighteous Dominion" is something I learned growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it is a universal principle that applies to all forms of human relationships regardless of religious affiliation. These are principles my Dad went to great length to teach us. These principles apply in the work place. They are often used as a basis for parenting or marriage. Government is just one of many forms of human relationships. In all relationships, there are power and authority structures that can either be abused to harm others, or used to lift, serve, and strengthen others. What a world it would be if all people treated each other, regardless of authority structures, with the kind, humble, compassionate principles represented here.

In my life experience as a land developer, I see up close on a regular basis elected officials and government staff and the level of understanding they have for the principle of righteous dominion. Some act with impeccable integrity and fairness. Others relish the authority they have and use it with no concern for harm they cause to others. Many fall somewhere in between. As I've tried over the years to communicate what I believe is the ideal application and use of government authority, this principle of righteous dominion is foundational to me. For that reason I have compiled my thoughts and perspectives online.

Although these principles are not limited to the context of my faith or any other, it can be very informative to see how the principles apply both in the teachings and history of that faith. My great-great-grandparents were among the early members of the church in the 1830's and 1840's. They experienced first hand extreme examples of governments abusing their authority and flagrantly neglecting their duty to protect the rights and freedoms of ALL people. My great-great-grandfather Lewis Barney was driven off his farm outside of Carthage and Nauvoo, Illinois losing a lifetime of labor. In those days, there was very little difference between the violent mob, tar and feathers in hand, and the local government. Whether they were driven by hate for his religious liberty, or the need of an excuse to take his property, or both, the result was the same. His property and entire livelihood was taken from him at the hands of public theft.

While the Mormon Pioneers, as they were called, are only one of countless faith groups, races, cultures, and peoples to be beaten down by the heavy hand of unrighteous dominion, it certainly makes the liberty this country was founded to protect that much more personal to me. I have never experienced anything remotely as extreme as they did. They faced truly dark, corrupt, and evil men with only disdain for human rights and liberty. But, I have experienced the negative impacts of government overreach. I have experienced government seeking to take the use of my property for their benefit. I have experienced the demands of others (sometimes fair and reasonable, sometimes not) relegating my own rights to utter irrelevance. Even if my experience is at the hands of good people with good hearts with sincere intent to do the right thing, any government overreach or public theft of any scale regardless of intent must be kept in check. This is the balanced pendulum of righteous dominion we as a people should strive for.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Unrighteous Dominion

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion" (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39).

Full source and context: Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-43

Authority, Tyranny, and Unrighteous Dominion in Scripture

Old Testament

Psalm 71:4
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.

Proverbs 29:2
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

Isaiah 10:1
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

Book of Mormon

2 Nephi 26:29
He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.

Mosiah 23:12
And now I say unto you, ye have been oppressed by king Noah, and have been in bondage to him and his priests, and have been brought into iniquity by them; therefore ye were bound with the bands of iniquity

Mosiah 29:17
For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!

Mosiah 29:23
And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

Alma 10:27
And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.

Alma 51:5
... for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.

Additional Faith Based Warnings Against the Tyranny of Man

March 2007 Church News Article

Full Article Click Here

This article points out that:

"the Prophet [Joseph Smith] and his people [early members of the church] had been subjected to unrighteous dominion in the form of outrageous mobocracy, state-approved human rights violations, and treachery from false brethren."

  • Mobacracy is Mob Rule. See more here.
  • State-approved human rights violations is the use of government authority to take life, liberty, and or property from individuals. For an example, see more here.
  • We chose by election whether we are governed righteously or by the "treachery of false brethren". See more here.

The article identifies among many, the three attributes of unrighteous dominion:

  • It fails to honor the God-given moral agency of men and women.
  • Its objective is worldly acclaim and gratification of pride and vain ambition instead of divine approbation.
  • It emphasizes tasks and agendas at the expense of human relationships and the welfare of souls.

What can we take from these points?

  • Agency, choice, freedom, liberty, all these are essential to righteous governance. To rule by force, coercion, or theft of rights and property from individuals, all that is a wicked tyranny.
  • The purpose of government is to serve and protect the people, not to advance or aggrandize the government or the politicians who have been entrusted with that government.
  • While plans, programs, and vision are a key part of a good government, when those are advanced to the harm or needless deprivation of individuals, that is unrighteous dominion.

The article gives points out how the scripture gives clear direction that good leadership is by kindness, compassion, not by force, leverage, or aggression:

We read that power and influence under the priesthood cannot or should not occur unless it is by means of "persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

"By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile" (verses 41-42).

Politicians often don't realize the grave harm they can cause individuals through the misuse of the authority they have been entrusted with. The principles of leadership and governance in this scripture teach us to govern with compassion, empathy, restraint, and careful consideration for the well being and welfare of ALL the governed. It is all too common for a politician to deprive the rights of one in order to appease the demands of the many. That type of mob rule is not careful consideration for the well being and welfare of ALL the governed because it excludes the one. True righteous dominion seeks the fair and equitable treatment off ALL.

History of Tyranny as a Lesson

We learned this principle of unrighteous dominion from the Prophet Joseph Smith. He and the early church experienced first hand the tyranny and oppression of unrighteous dominion. The United States of America and the Constitution authored to protect our freedoms was still only a few decades old. In the American frontier of the 1830's and 1840's, in places like Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, "mob rule" and "government persecution" wasn't just a metaphor. Joseph and others were literally dragged out of their homes, beaten, tarred and feathered, and illegally jailed. These actions were sanctioned or even led by government officials as high as the Governor of Missouri. In D&C Section 123 he makes in inspired plea from the ironically named Liberty Jail in Missouri:

D&C 123:7


1 And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State;

2 And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property;

3 And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.

7 It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole dearth groans under the weight of its iniquity.

8 It is an iron yoke, it is a strong and; they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell.

12 For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—

13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—

14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.

Those were extreme times and extreme circumstances. History from ancient to modern is full of the extreme suffering that comes from extreme unrighteous dominion. Sadly, there are places even today that extreme forms of government tyranny, oppression, and abuse of power continue to destroy lives. For those who have never experienced extreme or even mild abusive government, it can be easy to to turn a blind eye to seemingly harmless acts of governmental overreach. But all of history, including the history recounted here as just one of many, warns us not to turn a blind eye to government crossing that sacred line from righteous to unrighteous dominion.

Pendulum Jail for Morrison

Graphic: The Balanced Pendulum of
Government Control
(PDF Version)

"Still Mine" Movie: The Proper and
Balanced Role of Government


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Jason Barney | jason@jasonbarney.com
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