In the midst of a tumultuous election year, it is easy to get swept away in the drama and seemingly overwhelming consequences of the race.It is common to so pundits speaking of this being the most important election of our lifetime. And bloggers and commentators insist that if their candidate does not win, American Democracy as we know it will come to an end.
President Harold B. Lee spoke on the cusp of another election year and provided a valuable antidote to this hyperbole:
“This year is again a most important year of decision for our day. Some have even said that this is the most critical period in the history of this nation and of the world.
“In its loftiest sense, controversy may mean disputations because of honest differences of opinion. In its most degrading sense it may mean quarreling, strife, and name-calling. An example of that which degrades is the bitter personal abuse that so frequently is heaped upon an opposing candidate. Name-calling is continued throughout the whole season until listeners are left with doubt and mistrust that honor and integrity are to be found in any of those who may eventually be elected. The obvious hazard is that when these elected leaders have been maligned and down-graded, the seeds of disrespect to authority and law and order are sown in the minds of youth, particularly, instead of respectful obedience to counsel and to the laws enacted by those whose integrity and honesty have been thus impugned.”
Is it any wonder that trust in public institutions is at an all time low. We grudgingly hold our noses and vote for the lessor of two evil. And we have become so accustomed to calumny and bitter accusations. Since 1972, we have gotten so much coarser in our public discourse. Today, mean personal attacks and questions of character are commonplace. And we are sowing the whirlwind as public service minded individuals flee from the call to govern.
I love instead, a story that President Lee related of how they told the President of the United Stated “that no matter what his name or his political party, we too were frequently on our knees, praying God that he and the leaders of this nation and of the world would bring us through the crises of the present.” This is an attitude that I think we could all stand to learn from.
President Lee again offered this prophetic injunction for each member of the Church: “Wherever you are, wherever you live, pray for the leaders of your country, for remember that they too hold in their hands all that you hold dear.”
President Lee also had prophetic guidance for elected officials, which I wish could be written down and sent as a personal epistle to every member of congress and every senator.
First, President Lee shared some advice that he received from a Church leader as a young public official.“The only thing we will ever ask you to do is to vote for that which in your heart you feel is right. We would rather many times over that you would make a mistake doing that which you felt was right, than to vote for policy sake.”
He added a second peace of advice that “those of you having heavy responsibilities in public office or elsewhere should meditate prayerfully and give the Lord a chance to aid you in solving the problems of life.”
In another very timely and topical reminder, he warned public officials that in public office “there is always the imperative necessity of deciding whether or not demands on a controversial issue are being made by a well-organized loud minority or by a greater majority of those who might be less vocal but whose cause is just and in accordance with righteous principles.”
Powerful minority groups (what the Federalist Papers refers to as Factions) are always present in a democratic republic, but our government was designed to insulate public figures from this kind of undue pressure and allow them to act according to the public interest. For as King Mosiah noted, “it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore … do your business by the voice of the people.” Our leaders would be wise to head this counsel.
Fourth, President Lee counseled “Church members and the honorable of the earth everywhere to “[b]e alert and active in your business and political interests. The great danger in any society is apathy and a failure to be alert to the issues of the day, when applies to principles of the election of public officials.”
President Lee also emphasizes that statesmen must ask “‘Is it right and is it good for the country or the community?'” rather than, “‘Is it politically expedient?'”
Finally, President Lee quotes General/President Eisenhower who gave this piece of advice “This is what I found out about religion: It gives you courage to make the decisions you must make in a crisis and then the confidence to leave the result to a Higher Power. Only by trust in God can a man carrying responsibilities find repose.” I believe that President Lee is correct that faith in a higher power is an important element of Presidential character and the character needed to make difficult decisions in spite of worldly opposition.
I believe that if we follow President Lee’s advice, and seek elected officials that meet these attributes and characteristics, that we will improve civic virtue and will have a higher standard of morality and civility in society