How to Vote: Gospel Principles for Choosing Political Candidates

In anticipation of the upcoming presidential election in the United States, I have asked many people why they support their candidate of choice. I was curious how my own decision making process aligned, or not, with other people’s. Reasons varied, of course, but generally focused around job qualifications and policy stances. Very few people, thought, cited principles, their own or the candidates, when telling be about their decision making process on who to vote for.

The primary and overriding character trait I am looking for from a political official is honesty and integrity. I don’t care how smart, how politically savvy, how well spoken, and how talented an individual is, if I cannot trust that they’ll always act with integrity, then I don’t want them in a leadership position. I would gladly vote for a less qualified, less capable candidate who is honest over a more qualified and capable candidate that I cannot trust.

principles, not people, causes, not candidates, maxwellBut those are my opinions, and this line of thought got me thinking about the eternal gospel principles behind the decision of who to vote for. And I wondered what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches regarding how to vote, as the Church itself remains politically neutral and will not tell you who to vote for, candidates or political parties. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell, said:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship. In this connection, if you are a careful student of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. The declarations are about principles, not people; and causes, not candidates” (A More Determined Discipleship, 10 October 1978).

Here’s what I found from the Church on how to vote, or as I’m calling it, gospel principles for choosing political candidates.

What the Scriptures Say about Who to Vote For

honest men should be sought“And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. 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” (D&C 98:5-10).

What Modern Prophets Say about How to Vote

upright and good and aspirational leaders - ChristoffersonWhen I was listening to LDS General Conference in April of this year, I was struck by something Elder D. Todd Christofferson said about his father, a politician. I wonder if he was subtlety giving us criteria by which we should select candidates to vote for. He said his father, a city councilman, was “upright and good and an aspirational example.” Here’s the full quote in context:

“I myself was blessed with an exemplary father. I recall that when I was a boy of about 12, my father became a candidate for the city council in our rather small community. He did not mount an extensive election campaign—all I remember was that Dad had my brothers and me distribute copies of a flyer door to door, urging people to vote for Paul Christofferson. There were a number of adults that I handed a flyer to who remarked that Paul was a good and honest man and that they would have no problem voting for him. My young boy heart swelled with pride in my father. It gave me confidence and a desire to follow in his footsteps. He was not perfect—no one is—but he was upright and good and an aspirational example for a son” (from his talk entitled Fathers).

John Taylor, the third President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said this in 1855: “We believe that all legislative assemblies should confine themselves to constitutional principles; and that all such laws should be implicitly obeyed by every American . . . .We believe that legislators ought to be chosen on account of their intelligence, honor, integrity, and virtue, and not because they belong to some particular party clique. We believe that the high party strife, logrolling, wirepulling, and political juggling, and spoliation, are a disgrace to any politician, that they are beneath the dignity of an American, and disgraceful and humiliating, alike to the people and statesmen of this great republic” (John Taylor, 1855, Gospel Kingdom, p. 310). This quote was found on TheMoralLiberal.com, among other online sources.

Another guideline was given by President David O. McKay in his October 1962 General Conference talk entitled, The Gospel and the Individual:

“In these days of uncertainty and unrest, liberty-loving people’s greatest responsibility and paramount duty is to preserve and proclaim the freedom of the individual, his relationship to Deity, and the necessity of obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only thus will mankind find peace and happiness. We find ourselves now immersed in a great political campaign in America for the purpose of selecting candidates for office in local, state, and national positions. We urge you as citizens to participate in this great democratic process in accordance with your honest political convictions. However, above all else, strive to support good and conscientious candidates of either party who are aware of the great dangers inherent in communism, and who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our rounding fathers. They should also pledge their sincere fealty to our way of liberty—a liberty which aims at the preservation of both personal and property rights. Study the issues, analyze the candidates on these grounds, and then exercise your franchise as free men and women. Never be found guilty of exchanging your birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:30-34)!”

Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints

As I have studied this subject, I found a great talk by Ezra Taft Benson from the April 1972 General Conference called Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints. In it, he said, “The First Presidency …gave us the guideline a few years ago of supporting political candidates ‘who are truly dedicated to the Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers.’” He went on to list what he called the “four great civic standards for the faithful Saints.” They are:

  1. “First, the Constitution ordained by God through wise men.”
  2. “Second, the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.”
  3. “Third, the inspired counsel of the prophets, especially the living president.”
  4. “Fourth, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Stand Up for Freedom No Matter What the Cost

Finally, here is another quote I really like from Ezra Taft Benson. I put it last because I’m not certain of the accuracy of the source. I only found it one a single website called inspiredconstitution.org. According to the site, this is a statement from Ezra Taft Benson as quoted by Jerreld L. Newquist in his book, Prophets, Principles and National Survival.

“There are some people who hesitate to get into this fight for freedom because it’s controversial, or they’re not sure if we’re going to win. These people have two blind spots. First, they fail to realize that life’s decisions should be based on principles—not on Gallup polls. There were men at Valley Forge who weren’t sure how the Revolution would end, but they were in a much better position to save their own souls and their country than those timid men whose major concern was deciding which side was going to win, or how to avoid controversy. After all, the basic purpose of life is to prove ourselves—not to be with the majority when it’s wrong. We must discharge responsibilities not only to our church, home and profession, but also to our country. Otherwise, we do not merit the full blessings of a kind Providence. There are people tonight all over the world who in their own courageous and sometimes quiet way are working for freedom. In many cases we will never know until the next life all they sacrificed for liberty. These patriots are receiving heaven’s applause for the role they are playing, and in the long run that applause will be louder and longer than any they could receive in this world.

This leads me to the second blind spot of those who hesitate to get into the fight. And that is their failure to realize that we will win in the long run, and for keeps, and that they pass up great blessings by not getting into the battle now when the odds are against us and the rewards are greatest. The only questions, before the final victory, are, first, “What stand will each of us take in this struggle?”; and second, “How much tragedy can be avoided by doing something now?” Time is on the side of truth—and truth is eternal. Those who are fighting against freedom may feel confident now, but they are short-sighted. This is still God’s world. The forces of evil, working through some mortals, have made a mess of a good part of it. But, it is still God’s world. In due time when each of us has had a chance to prove ourselves—including whether or not we are going to stand up for freedom—then God will interject himself and the final and eternal victory shall be for free agency. And then shall those people on the sidelines, and those who took the wrong but temporarily popular course, lament their decisions. To the patriots I say this: Take that long eternal look. Stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost. It can save your soul—and maybe your country. (Ezra Taft Benson, 9/23/63)”

Conclusion

I want to help save the country by casting my vote for someone who will strengthen our nation. But as President Benson said, I am most concerned about the salvation of my soul and that can only be done by staying on the Lord’s side and following his counsel as received through His Spirit, the scriptures, and the modern prophets. That counsel tells me that I should not select candidates for political office based on party affiliation or the way the polls tell me other people are voting. Therefore,  I will cast my vote based on principles, mine and the candidates. I will seek out and vote for the candidate who, in my evaluation, has demonstrated wisdom and competence, who loves freedom and goodness, and who, most importantly, has honesty and integrity.

The Crucible of Doubt

The Crucible of Doubt coverI wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up and began reading The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens. I assumed it was addressed to members of the Church of Jesus Christ who were having doubts in their testimony of the restored gospel, which really isn’t me. But I also assumed it would give advice to faithful Mormons on how to help those who are struggling with doubts. The book had good reviews, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

As it turns out, I really liked the book. It addressed some difficult subjects, such as contradictions in the scriptures and mistakes made by men we hold as present-day prophets of God. I found the book to be educational and faith promoting. It discussed gospel subjects from a perspective infrequently seen in the church, one that is very comforting to me or anyone who is on a quest for greater faith.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book The Crucible of Doubt:

Chapter 5: On Prophecy and Prophets: The Perils of Hero Worship

“[True prophets] have steadfastly refused to be the keepers of an individual’s conscience. Brigham Young protested the perils of slavish obedience and submission: “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.”(Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 2:1008.)

“Elsewhere [Brigham Young] reaffirmed: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwa[r]t the purposes of God. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (Young, Complete Discourses, 4:1941.)

“[Brigham Young’s] beloved younger colleague, the colorful J. Golden Kimball, reminded his audience that “There are not enough Apostles in the Church to prevent us from thinking, and they are not disposed to do so; but some people fancy that because we have the Presidency and Apostles of the Church that they will do the thinking for us. There are men and women so mentally lazy that they hardly think for themselves. To think calls for effort, which makes some men tired and wearies their souls. No man or woman can remain in this Church on borrowed light.”(J. Golden Kimball, in Conference Report, April 1904, 97.)

“However, in 1945, a Church magazine urged upon its readers the exact opposite, that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” Many are familiar with that expression; fewer are aware that when President George Albert Smith learned of it, he immediately and indignantly repudiated the statement. “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking,” he wrote, “is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.” (The offensive statement was published in The Improvement Era, June 1945. Smith responded in a letter to J. Raymond Cope, a Unitarian leader who expressed concern. Dialogue 19.1 (Spring 1986): 35–39.) Regrettably, this myth persists in the minds of many Latter-day Saints, even as leaders disavow infallibility and urge upon members personal responsibility.”

“Whatever spiritual intimations he received of God’s mind and will, however powerful the fonts of inspiration at which he drank, Joseph had to transmit eternal things into the idiom of common English. And that, he found, was no easy task. As he complained to a friend, “Oh Lord God, deliver us from this prison, . . . of a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”(To William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 287.) And so he related both the epiphanies of celestial brilliance and the merest glimmers of heavenly truth to ready scribes. And then he reworked the language—and enlisted other respected associates to the task of refining and remolding the wording—in an effort to depict more accurately the Divine mind and the truths the Spirit communicated as “pure intelligence flowing unto” him.(Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1994), 5.)”

“Outside of Joseph’s scriptural production, his words ranged from wise and inspired to simple opinion—with his audience, then as now, seldom attuned to the differences. Joseph himself complained that “he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen—that of free speech. He said that when he ventured to give his private opinion” about various subjects, they ended up “being given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him.”(Jessee W. Crosby, in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People Who Knew Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974), 140.) When not speaking with prophetic authority, in other words, he claimed no authority at all—which is why his pronouncements on subjects from Lehi’s New World landfall to the prospects of the Kirtland Bank were as liable to error as other men’s. Mormon leaders—like the great souls of other religious traditions—are never assured an unvarying inspiration when they speak or write.”

Chapter 6: On Delegation and Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh

“[Austin] Farrer’s effort to balance God’s divine purposes with the imperfection of His human instruments suggests one way Mormons might think about faith-wrenching practices (polygamy), missteps and errors (Adam-God), and teachings that the Church has abandoned but not fully explained (the priesthood ban). Practices, in other words, that challenge and try one’s faith; teachings whose status as eternal truth is either disconcerting, questionable, or now denied. Here is what Farrer said: “Facts are not determined by authority. Authority can make law to be law; authority cannot make facts to be facts.” (Austin Farrer, “Infallibility and Historical Tradition,” in The Truth-Seeking Heart, ed. Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006), 83.) Or, as Henry Eyring once quoted his father as saying, “in this church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” (From Henry J. Eyring, Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 4)”

“If a bishop makes a decision without inspiration, are we bound to sustain the decision? The story is told of a Church official who returned from installing a new stake presidency. “Dad, do you Brethren feel confident when you call a man as the stake president that he is the Lord’s man?” the official’s son asked upon his father’s return home. “No, not always,” he replied. “But once we call him, he becomes the Lord’s man.”(Personal conversation reported to authors by Robert L. Millet.) The answer disconcerts initially. Is this not hubris, to expect God’s sanction for a decision made in error? Perhaps. It is also possible that the reply reveals the only understanding of delegation that is viable. If God honored only those decisions made in perfect accord with His perfect wisdom, then His purposes would require leaders who were utterly incapable of misconstruing His intention, who never missed hearing the still small voice, who were unerringly and unfailingly a perfect conduit for heaven’s inspiration. And it would render the principle of delegation inoperative.”

Chapter 7: Mormons and Monopolies: Holy Persons “Ye Know Not Of”

“In words that should shame those moderns who believe the medieval church was a spiritual wasteland, President John Taylor paid tribute to those holy ones of the past, counterparts of the holy ones Joseph was alerted to in his own day: “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards and Samuel W. Richards, 1851–86; repr. Salt Lake City, 1974), 16:197–98.)

“Brigham Young could be similarly generous in his conception of who would be found elect in the end: “I never passed John Wesley’s church in London without stopping to look at it. Was he a good man? Yes; I suppose him to have been, by all accounts, as good as ever walked on this earth, according to his knowledge. Has he obtained a rest? Yes, and greater than ever entered into his mind to expect; and so have thousands of others of the various religious denominations.” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1480.)

Chapter 8: Spirituality and Self-Sufficiency: Find Your Watering Place

“If there is a perceived need, the Church is there with a solution. Perhaps, one leader has chastened, at a cost: “In recent years we might be compared to a team of doctors issuing prescriptions to cure or to immunize our members against spiritual diseases. Each time some moral or spiritual ailment was diagnosed, we have rushed to the pharmacy to concoct another remedy, encapsulate it as a program and send it out with pages of directions for use. . . . Over medication, over-programming is a critically serious problem.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Let Them Govern Themselves,” address given 30 March 1990,)

“Mere months after the organization of the Church, Joseph was told that this, the last work of the Lord, was to be created “first temporal[ly], and secondly spiritual[ly].”(D&C 29:32) One way to read this is as a reminder that the formal, institutional parameters of the New Jerusalem are easy to put in place. The organizational structure, the blueprints for temples and plats for Zion came readily enough. Forging a people sufficiently sanctified to constitute the people of Zion is another matter entirely. According to the sequence alluded to by the revelation above, we would expect the spiritual qualities of Church members to lag behind the temporal templates—the buildings and programs—within which we work out our salvation.”

“In Salt Lake’s old Thirteenth Ward, Bishop Edwin D. Woolley frequently found himself at odds with President Brigham Young. On a certain occasion, as they ended one such fractious encounter, Young had a final parting remark: “Now, Bishop Woolley, I guess you will go off and apostatize.” To which the bishop rejoined, “If this were your church, President Young, I would be tempted to do so. But this is just as much my church as it is yours, and why should I apostatize from my own church?”(Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints without Halos (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1981), 61.) That sense of ownership, or, better, of full and equal membership in the body of Christ, was Bishop Woolley’s salvation. He wisely realized, as not all do, that forsaking the Church out of hurt or frustration would be as unprofitable as any other form of misdirected energy.”

“We have all bemoaned the traffic congestion at rush hour, or the heavily populated mountain path where we had hoped to find solitude. We forget that from the perspective of the other travelers—and from any objective point of view—we are the problem we bewail. We are part of the gawking crowds at the overlook, we are an impediment to other anxious shoppers in the checkout line, we are the head and shoulders blocking a perfect view from the moviegoer behind us. Just as we are a part of the Mormon culture we lament. If we allow ourselves to be co-opted by practices or attitudes we deplore, we share in the collective guilt. The pressure to conform to what we see as a dominant cultural orthodoxy is often more imagined than real. A silent majority may be more receptive than we realize to our own yearnings for greater authenticity, honesty, originality, and individualism. Brigham Young was. “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint,” he said, “and do not believe in the doctrine. . . . Away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1668.)

Website review: Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith

Our family has a tradition to celebrate the prophet Joseph Smith’s birthday on Dec. 23rd of each year.  A friend recently commented that they did not feel there is much to celebrate about Joseph Smith based on many of the things they have read about him lately. We inquired what this was about and they answered that it was about Joseph’s plural wives and other information they had read on a website called Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith, wivesofjosephsmith.org.

I decided to check out the website. The friend thought it was a credible website, so I wanted to see for myself. While I’m no historian or Mormon Church history expert, I have read a lot of Church history, including a significant amount on difficult subjects like polygamy. As I perused the websites, here are some of the red flags I saw:

Red Flag #1: The Site Author Remains Anonymous

There is no indication of who runs the wivesofjosephsmith.org website.  There’s no about us section or copyright notice. This causes me to wonder, why are they hiding who they are? Even when site visitors have emailed the author and asked who is the sponsor of this website, they still did not answer (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Who.htm ). All the author will state is that “I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” And when asked if he or she is a member in good standing, the author says “Personally, it has been difficult for me to be comfortable with many of the events surrounding early polygamy – and I suppose this has distanced me somewhat at church.”

Red Flag #2: Bias Comes through in Prejudicial Language

Though the author of the site claims to be simply presenting the unbiased information, he or she lets their true feelings come through often by their comments, conclusions, and by the information they choose and choose not to reveal. The author’s bias is loud and clear when he/she says “My greatest hope in this regard is that one day the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy as appropriate.”

On their FAQ page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/FAQ.htm, the use of quotes shows their skepticism regarding Joseph’s revelation on plural marriage. The author further comes to the conclusion that the church phased out the practice due to intense pressure from the government, not because of revelation from God, again showing prejudice. While it is true there was intense pressure from the government, it was ultimately revelation to the prophet that ended the practice of plural marriage and the sites makes no mention of that.

Red Flag #3: Leaving Out Important Background Information

The author of the site quotes Oliver Cowdery, in reference to Joseph’s first plural wife, Fanny Alger, calling it “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” What the author leaves out is a lot of important background to this quote. Oliver’s falling out with Joseph and the Church had largely to do with polygamy. When Oliver found out about Joseph taking an additional wife, he accused Joseph of adultery. Ultimately, Oliver Cowdery who was excommunicated and it was under these circumstances that the quote from Oliver comes.

Red Flag #4: Leaving a False Impression

On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Praise.htm, the site author quotes material that is clearly out to make Joseph Smith look like a sex crazed maniac, preying on any woman, no matter how young, who stayed in the same home as him. The author wants to leave the impression that polygamy was simply about Joseph satisfying his manly urges. I don’t believe that’s true of Joseph Smith, and I don’t believe there is evidence that Joseph was that kind of man. There’s no evidence of him bragging of his sexual exploits, as you would expect if he really were a sex-crazed maniac. There’s nothing in Joseph’s language or in the record of his associates to support that conclusion. Joseph’s eye was single to the glory of God, and an honest study of his words and deeds shows that.

The purposeful leaving of a false impression reminds me of Elder Neil L. Andersen’s talk on Joseph Smith in the October 2014 General Conference in which he talks about a misleading photograph taken of Elder Russell M. Nelson. “The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression.”

Red Flag #5: Pinning Statements on Others

Even thought he author remains anonymous, he or she still feels compelled to pin statements the he or she clearly agrees with, on other people. On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Why.htm, the author of the site does not take responsibility for the statements below, pinning them instead on “an increasing number of LDS church members,” but it’s clear these are the author’s feelings:

  • “Joseph Smith’s behavior seems inappropriate or manipulative – perhaps even abusive.”
  • “All this seems foreign to the God they worship and the principles they honor and love.”
  • “They hope for the day when the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s behavior in polygamy as appropriate.”
  • “I just want you to know that I don’t think this was appropriate, or of God.”

Again, there is nothing unbiased or objective about these statements. Whether these statements are the author’s or someone else’s, they are jumping to conclusions that are contrary to the teachings of LDS Church leaders.

Conclusion

It is clear that the author of that website feels that Joseph’s practicing of plural marriage was manipulative, inappropriate, and not of God, and he or she is trying to persuade others to draw the same conclusion. The author quotes select information, fills in the blanks with conjecture, and implies conclusions that are subjective.

While I have read much of the same historical material as the author of that website, I have come to much different conclusions. I see Joseph Smith as a man and a prophet of God. He was a good man, but not a perfect man. He made mistakes, but he was faithful to the end in his calling as a prophet of God. While some people choose to attack Joseph Smith, I am going to continue to do my best to defend Joseph Smith, honor him as the great prophet of our dispensation, and testify of the wonderful truths and blessings he brought forth as an instrument in the hands of God.