Members of the Church often voice outrage when the Prophet or one of the apostles speaks out on a political issue or offers his thinking regarding the qualities necessary for political office. But nevertheless supporting righteous leaders and opposing wicked ones is a religious as well as a civic duty. In Utah, the First Presidency recently released a statement urging members to participate in our caucuses coming up on the 22nd. I don’t believe similar statements were read over the pulpit in other states, but general statements encouraging civic participation have also been common.
This is not surprising since Latter Day-Saints are commanded, “Wherefore, honest men and wise men 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.”
In the April 1972 conference (a few months before a Presidential election) President Benson spoke of civic standards that we as latter day saints should follow when selecting leaders. Aside from references to communism, most of this sermon could comfortably be delivered next month in conference and be just as timely and topical.
Much of the advice is familiar but still highly relevant. In particular, President Benson lists four standard to rely on when choosing who to vote for: 1) Constitution and its principles 2) The scriptures and especially the Book of Mormon 3) The inspired words of the prophets–particularly the living president and 4) The promptings of the Holy Spirit. Much could be written about these standards. I particularly found the order in which he lists them to be fascinating and contrary to what I might have expected (I would expect to see the scriptures listed before the Constitution for instance, but this is consistent with Ezra Taft Benson’s view that the Constitution or at least its principles was an inspired document). I would highly recommend reading the whole talk.
But today in this post I want to focus on one aspect of President Benson’s talk that immediately resonated with me and felt particularly timely.
President Benson spoke about the great genius of the Founding Fathers in understanding that “[i]t is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority … they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39.) They therefore designed a system where elected leaders “should be bound by certain fixed principles.” Most significantly, a written constitution served both to limit power and to create allegiance to the rule of law rather than to “the arm of flesh.”
President Benson extensively quoted President J. Reuben Clark Jr., who wrote ““God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself. In other countries it is to the individual that allegiance runs. This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom. It is one of the great principles that distinguishes this ‘land of liberty’ from other countries.” (Improvement Era, July 1940, p. 444.)
As I read these remarks, I reflected on the state of affairs in the Republican primary. We have a frontrunner who has taken to asking his supporters to pledge their personal loyalty to him. We have a frontrunner who never speaks about Constitutional restraint, but instead focuses on his own power to get things done through force of will. We have a candidate who is urging people to rely on the arm of flesh rather than on the inspired word of God. Such an individual is frightening and extremely dangerous.
I first read this talk earlier in the week. Then on Thursday night, something that Senator Ted Cruz said at the Republican Debate in Miami last week reminded me of President Benson’s word’s that I had read earlier in the week.
“And we need to nominate and elects a president who remembers, he works for the people. You know, at Donald’s rallies recently, he’s taken to asking people in the crowd to raise their hand and pledge their support to him. Now, I got to say to me, I think that’s exactly backwards. This is a job interview. We are here pledging our support to you, not the other way around. And the only hand raising I’m interested in doing is on January 20, 2017 raising my hand with my left hand on the… bible and pledging to the American people to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of United States.”
On another occasion, Cruz similarly criticized Trump’s efforts to get his supporters to pledge to him by comparing his actions to a king asking his subjects “to pledge loyalty to him like subject to a king.” Cruz continued noting that “[a]nyone who thinks you’re making a loyalty oath to some candidate fundamentally misunderstands this process. Listen, no political candidate is going to make America great again. It’s not going to be Donald Trump, it’s not going to be me. It’s not going to be any candidate. The only power strong enough to restore this nation is We the People. It’s not about us, it’s about the people.
This past weekend, Marco Rubio echoed similar sentiment comparing trump to a third-world strongman and arguing that “[m]ost countries around the world that are failures are because they deposit their hopes in a person, a strong leader who comes forward and says ‘Put me in power. And I will make the country better. That’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Senator’s Cruz and Rubio are exactly right. Our rulers are meant to serve the people rather than the other way around. Failure to understand that basic premise is utterly disqualifying for one seeking leadership of this nation. It is a dangerous path which has led other nations to ruin or dictatorship.
Fortunately, it seems to me that members of our Church have been doing our part to reject Donald Trump and his narcissistic cult of personality. In Idaho which voted this past week, Trump was soundly beaten by Ted Cruz. But in the Mormon heavy counties of eastern Idaho he was not just beaten, he was trounced. In Rexburg (Home of BYU Idaho) he got less than 8 percent of the vote. Polls show Trump doing very poorly in Utah as well. I am heartened to see members of the Church realizing that one who believes solely in his power of persuasion will not be an advocate for religious freedom or other constitutional rights. And that one who routinely bad mouths minorities will not be a friend to religious minorities.
I fear though that as a nation we have become so used to the notion that might makes right that we will elect an individual who asks for fealty to him rather than to the principles of this nation. I fear greatly for this country because we have forgotten the great principles of civic virtue spoken of by President Benson.
To be clear, the Church has not taken a position against Donald Trump and voting for him is not a violation of any commandment. But to any readers seriously considering him, I hope that you will prayerfully consider this talk by President Benson and ask yourself whether he is consistent with the type of leader that President Benson said we should support. Because as President Benson said (quoting Hyrum Smith): ““… to vote for wicked men, it would be sin.”
I read through this session of conference as part of the General Conference Odyssey. For more information on this project and to read other posts from this session and others go here.