J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Message from Jeremiah Morgan: Friendship and Vision, Leadership Lessons From Liberty, Missouri

With the original rough-hewn stones as a floor, the Historic Liberty Jail stands as a reminder of the harsh realities of pioneer justice and religious intolerance. But that is hardly its most important feature or the enduring lessons it provides. What we really learn from the Historic Liberty Jail is leadership. Not just ordinary leadership, but extraordinary leadership.
I am privileged to live just a few miles from the Historic Liberty Jail. And so I have had the opportunity to regularly visit and reflect on what happened there, and to ponder what I can learn from those experiences. It was during the winter months of 1838-39 that the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., and his associates, or rather friends, were imprisoned there. I say friends, because that is one of the great leadership lessons from Liberty.
True leadership means being a friend, especially to those who are otherwise friendless. There is nothing more comforting, nor anything more helpful, in our times of crisis or even in our routine lives, than to have a friend. Joseph was reminded of this very point in the Historic Liberty Jail when he was told: “Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.” Doctrine and Covenants 121:9 Enemies abounded, but there were still friends. Indeed, given the opportunity to renounce Joseph and their religion, his friends would not do so, even for their freedom. So we must also, as members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, be friends to those that need our service and associations. Without friends, we can easily lose hope when faced with even ordinary challenges. It is this hope that is yet another of the leadership lessons from Liberty.
Imagine the penetrating cold of a winter spent on a stone floor of a prison dungeon, without bed or fire to warm oneself. The circumstances were destined to sap both the strength and spirit of Joseph and his friends. Yet, they did not give up hope. Nearing the end of their confinement, in fact, Joseph penned these most memorable words of hope to the Church: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” Doctrine and Covenants 123:17 Can there be any better balm in adversity than hope? We too, as members of the Law Society, must be filled with hope despite the challenges we face individually and collectively in a world where people “call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20 Let us, as friends and lawyers, administer the healing influence of hope.
Just as hope changes perspective, we must also intentionally direct our gaze to a greater cause, one much greater than an hourly rate or an important position. This is the final leadership lesson from Liberty that I would speak about, though there are certainly more to be learned. In the Historic Liberty Jail, Joseph never lost sight of the cause he was engaged in. He had the kind of vision all leaders must have. The crucible of affliction was not for his life or his livelihood, but for the Kingdom of God. Is that not what our education, our resources, our talents, and our capacity are for? So then, “shall we not go on in so great a cause?” Doctrine and Covenants 18:22 As a Law Society and as friends, we must, with hope, direct our vision to what matters most. It is then that we will fulfill our mission and be filled with joy.
Jeremiah J. Morgan, International Chair
photo of Liberty Jail in 1888 courtesy of LDS Archives

Posted: May 5, 2015