Pray for our nation and its leaders, senior apostle Ballard urges Latter-day Saints — ‘we need prayer again’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks at the North America Northeast member devotional in the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.

At a time when the American president faces impeachment proceedings and a potential constitutional clash looms, a senior apostle is urging members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pray for the country and its leaders.

“Our nation was founded on prayer, it was preserved by prayer, and we need prayer again,” M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told thousands of members at a devotional Sunday in Worcester, Mass. " ... I invite you to join in a new movement. Invite your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends on social media to pray for this country.”

Ballard quoted Latter-day Saint scriptures, warning that “when the wicked rule, the people mourn” and that “honest men and, I add, women should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil."

He said members “must stand boldly for righteousness and truth and must defend the cause of honor, decency and personal freedom,” according to a transcript of his speech.

The LDS Church maintains a neutral stance in partisan matters, saying it “does not endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.” In late 2016, the Utah-based faith congratulated Donald Trump after his stunning election victory, although the church-owned Deseret News previously had condemned his White House candidacy and the denomination itself has been critical of some of the embattled president’s policies, especially on immigrants and refugees.

Latter-day Saints in the U.S. are overwhelmingly Republican, but they are much less enthused about Trump, especially given his personal style and conduct.

“I plead with you this evening to pray for this country, for our leaders, for our people and for the families that live in this great nation founded by God,” Ballard said in his Sunday sermon at the DCU Center in Worcester. “Remember, this country was established and preserved by our Founding Fathers and Mothers who repeatedly acknowledged the hand of God through prayer.”

Ballard delivered his address as part of a journey to the Northeast with fellow apostle D. Todd Christofferson that included a stop at the birthplace of Mormon founder Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vt., according to a church news release. Ballard is a great-great-grandson of Smith’s older brother, Hyrum, who was gunned down with his brother in Illinois in 1844.

“I can’t get anywhere near this birthplace without having deep affection and love for the prophet Joseph Smith,” Ballard said in a separate release. “I feel obligated to do everything I can to declare and to teach that the gospel is once again on the earth.”

The longtime apostle, who turned 91 this month, said in a video interview that he often reflects on his ancestors. “I hear them say, ‘Get going, boy, do something worthwhile. Tell the world what’s happened.”

Christofferson said he is struck by the 16.3 million-member faith’s progress in New England and across the globe.

“It’s exciting just to contemplate a couple hundred years later where things have grown to in this location,” he said, “as well as the rest of the world.”

During their trip, the two high-level church leaders spoke to Latter-day Saint missionaries and young single adults. They also met with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

For his part, Christofferson had a front-row seat during another pivotal time in U.S. political history. He worked as a law clerk in the 1970s to the federal judge who played a key role in exposing attempts by then-President Richard Nixon and his allies to spy on their political rivals by bugging the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

“Judge John Sirica and I listened to the subpoenaed audiotapes from the White House meetings," Christofferson said in 2017, “that demonstrated clearly the complicity of President Nixon in the effort to cover up who was responsible for the break-in at the Watergate.”

In a 2017 address at the University of Oxford, Christofferson said Nixon might have been able to save his presidency.

“It seemed to me that there were many points along the way when Nixon ... could have called a halt saying, ‘This is not right, we will not continue, let the chips fall where they may,’ and he might well have outlived the inevitable criticism and finished his term," he said. “But he never did say stop. Instead, he got deeper into the cover-up conspiracy himself.”