In the world today, religion and politics are like oil and water—they just don’t go together. Politics is the “art or science of government … or influencing governmental policy.” And the government, according to many people today, doesn’t need or want religion. But Elder M. Russell Ballard — an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—said politics and religion are very much related:
Believe it or not, at one time the very notion of government had less to do with politics than with virtue. … [James] Madison, [George] Washington, and [Abraham] Lincoln all understood that democracy cannot possibly flourish in a moral vacuum and that organized religion plays an important role in preserving and maintaining public morality. Indeed, John Adams, another of America’s Founding Fathers, insisted: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” (John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles F. Adams, 1854.)
Yet that is precisely the position we find ourselves in today. Our government is succumbing to pressure to distance itself from God and religion. Consequently, the government is discovering that it is incapable of contending with people who are increasingly “unbridled by morality and religion.” 
But no book shows the connection between politics and religion with as much depth and clarity as The Book of Mormon—another testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Bible and a record of God’s dealings with the peoples who lived in the ancient Americas.
The Book of Mormon—A Witness and a Warning
Modern prophets and apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ have called the Book of Mormon “a witness and a warning” for our day. The ancient prophets are witnesses who testify of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and teach the truths of His gospel. And they warn of the consequences of those who choose to disobey the commandments of God—consequences to individuals and entire nations. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, a past president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:
I know of no other writing which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on this Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. But with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.
No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to his commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard him and his word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death. 
The Book of Mormon is a warning for those who live in the modern Americas. The Lord tells us that this land—called the Land of Promise—is a land of liberty, and those who are here were led by the hand of God. People who live in the Land of Promise must obey God’s commandments or they will “be brought into captivity” (2 Nephi 1:7). Mormon, the ancient prophet who compiled the records that became the Book of Mormon, witnessed the destruction of his people. He also saw our day. With the unique insight of his people’s demise and the divine guidance of the Lord, he carefully and painstakingly chose the information that would be most helpful to those who would read this book—us, the people who live in the modern days.
It is often said that hindsight is 20/20. Through the hindsight of these ancient Book of Mormon peoples, we are given the foresight to prevent and correct the same problems in our day. The hindsight of the Book of Mormon shows us that government and the righteousness of its people are inseparably intertwined. If the government becomes corrupt, the people must enact a change. If the people become corrupt, the government must rely on the prophets to preach repentance. When corruption goes unchecked, calamities and destruction follow.
Democracy: The Power of the People to Remain Righteous
Throughout the thousand-year history of the book of Mormon, the balance of power and the systems of government changed many times. But through the lens of history, Book of Mormon prophets show us that democracy is the preferable choice of governments. Righteous kings work well, but wicked kings pervert the ways of God and lead their people astray. A democracy is ruled by the voice of the people. It’s common for the majority of people to choose righteousness and only a small part to choose wickedness. When the majority of the people choose wickedness, problems arise. (See Mosiah 29:21-27.)
In a democracy, people are responsible for their own actions. If they turn away from God, they can’t blame a wicked king. Thus, a democratic government reflects the level of righteousness of its people. Government leaders are chosen by and beholden to the people. The voice of the people voted them in, and the voice of the people can vote them out. When the majority of the people choose to ignore the corruption of their leaders and the perversion of just laws, they are held accountable to God. Righteousness is a foundational tenet of any democratic society. James Madison, often called the father of the Constitution, said:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of the government—far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God. (Russ Walton, Biblical Principles of Importance to Godly Christians, New Hampshire: Plymouth Foundation, 1984, p. 361.)
The Book of Mormon has severe warnings for those who live in a democracy. A free people are obligated to defend and protect their freedoms—from enemies within and without their government and country. In times of prosperity, people are quick to forget the Lord and are often lulled into a false sense of security. But in all times and in all ages, people must elect “wise, honest and upstanding leaders.” If they don’t, their situation can deteriorate rapidly. The late Ezra Taft Benson, a past president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:
Too many Americans have lost sight of the truth that God is our source of freedom—the Lawgiver—and that personal righteousness is the most important essential to preserving our freedom. So, I say with all the energy of my soul that unless we as citizens of this nation forsake our sins, political and otherwise, and return to the fundamental principles of Christianity and of constitutional government, we will lose our political liberties, our free institutions, and will stand in jeopardy before God. No nation which has kept the commandments of God has ever perished, but I say to you that once freedom is lost, only blood—human blood—will win it back. 
That sentence is a warning to all free nations: Once freedom is lost, only human blood will win it back. America’s Founding Fathers and those who fought with them sacrificed their blood to establish the Land of the Free. American blood was spilt in the fight to free black people from slavery and again to reaffirm their right to equal treatment under the law during the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom is never easy to obtain and should never be taken for granted. If the modern examples aren’t enough proof, the Book of Mormon offers many more.
Freedom of Religion is the Foundation of Democracy
If the Book of Mormon offers us any examples, it’s this: Freedom of religion is the foundation upon which a democracy is built. A democracy is government for the people, by the people. This in and of itself implies that the people within the system are trustworthy and willing to be accountable to each other and a higher power for their actions. Each person—or at least the majority of the people—must be willing to put the needs of others and the country ahead of their own selfish desires. In a democracy, everyone has to work together to get anything done. Where does one learn to be honest, charitable, trustworthy, work well with others and to uphold the good and the decent? They learn these concepts at home, at church, and in the scriptures.
Churches and the religious conscience not only provide a moral compass for the people, they are also a safeguard against government corruption. Elder Ballard said:
The framers of the Constitution probably assumed that religious freedom would establish religion as a watchdog over government, and believed that free churches would inevitably stand and speak against immoral and corrupt legislation. All churches not only have the right to speak out on public moral issues, but they have the solemn obligation to do so. Religion represents society’s conscience, and churches must speak out when government chooses a course that is contrary to the laws of God. To remove the influence of religion from public policy simply because some are uncomfortable with any degree of moral restraint is like the passenger on a sinking ship who removes his life jacket because it is restrictive and uncomfortable. 
A recurring theme in the Book of Mormon is this: If you want to enact change among a people, teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. This change doesn’t happen overnight, but over a period of time. Alma, the high priest and chief judge, relinquished his government position to preach the gospel to the people. The people were beginning to forget the Lord, and problems were arising. “As the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
Rooting Out Government Corruption & Secret Combinations
The Book of Mormon spells out in no uncertain terms the dangers to peoples, governments, and society as a whole posed by secret combinations—which are groups of people who meet in secret and plot to lie, cheat, murder, steal and eventually take over governments. How bad are secret combinations? “The regulations of the government were destroyed, because of the secret combination of the friends and kindreds of those who murdered the prophets” (3 Nephi 7:6). For those who feel that these threats don’t plague the modern times, the ancient prophets have specifically told us otherwise.
And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes … and have put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain. … And there are also secret combinations, … according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of … murder, and works of darkness” (2 Nephi 26:20, 22).
Conspiracy theories make great movie plots, but they are often disregarded by the public—until it’s too late. Ancient and modern prophets have warned against being blinded by the wiles of corrupt government leaders. President Benson said:
[The Book of Mormon] … states that the downfall of two great American civilizations came as a result of secret conspiracies whose desire was to overthrow the freedom of the people. … (See Ether 8:21.) Now undoubtedly [the ancient prophet] Moroni could have pointed out many factors that led to the destruction of the people, but notice how he singled out the secret combinations, just as the Church today could point out many threats to peace, prosperity, and the spread of God’s work, but it has singled out the greatest threat as the godless conspiracy. There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon —it is a conspiracy fact.
Then Moroni speaks to us in this day and says, “Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you” (Ether 8:14). 
President Benson spoke more than 30 years ago, and yet the “godless conspiracy” is alive, well and thriving today. It’s time to awake to a sense of our awful situation. Secret combinations are rampant—they are in many places and come from all walks of life. They are not just in criminal organizations. They enact unjust laws and they tear down righteous laws enacted by the voice of the people. They mock the laws of God and the people who would follow them. But the foresight extended to us through the Book of Mormon includes the solution to this growing problem—preaching the word of God. This is the only way to root out evil from among a people. The Book of Mormon clearly shows that bad governments are more than dictators and tyrants—they are all systems of government that pervert the laws of God and limit freedom of religion.
The Power of the Word of God and the Pain of Ignoring the Threat to Freedom
Two groups of people—the Lamanites and the Nephites—gave us powerful examples of what a righteous, faithful people can do, and the awful consequences that follow a righteous people who are seduced by the wiles of secret combinations. A secret band called the Gadianton Robbers was overrunning the Nephite and Lamanite nations and threatening their utter destruction. Their responses to the threat led to the safety of one nation and the destruction of the other. The Lamanites hunted down all the Gadianton robbers and “they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites” (Helaman 6:37). The Nephites, however, “did build them up and support them… until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more righteous” to believe in their works and eventually joined in their wickedness (Helaman 6:38). The Gadianton Robbers took over the Nephite government, destroyed their laws and persecuted the humble followers of God (Helaman 6:39).
There is no more powerful witness and warning for our day than this—the Lamanites who hunted down and preached the word of God to the wicked in their midst were spared. Their government and freedoms were saved from destruction at that time. The Nephites who rationalized, justified and finally joined the wicked ways of the robbers lost their freedoms and their government was overtaken. How will we react when the secret combinations of our day overturn our just laws, threaten our freedoms and work to tear down the protections of our God-given Constitution? The threat is real, and the time to act is now. Will the righteous among us—regardless of religious affiliation—stand up for the morals, values and freedoms we hold dear? Or will we, too, succumb to the wiles of the wicked, lose our freedoms and have to wrest them back through the shedding of human blood?