Doctrine: Politics has never been about picking the perfect leader. There is only one perfect leader, and that is Jesus Christ. Therefore, national and world politics has always been about our responsibility to seek to support good, honest, and wise candidates, and to uphold moral agency in the land that all may be accountable for their own sins in the day of judgment.
I have always loathed politics, and I’ll tell you why. Politics seem to breed contention, back-biting, slander, dissension—even among friends—and a long list of other negatives. In fact, I struggle so much with the political “environment” that I often check out completely. When it is time to vote, I seek out the least biased material I can find and research the issues and the candidates for myself. Then, I make my selections based on some very clear gospel doctrines—which will follow.
Politics, however, are not completely bad. In a very real way, government is a godly institution. God is our King. He is a perfect ruler, but He does expect us to be subject to His laws if we are to gain the glory of His divine leadership both now and in eternity. Learning to be subject to law is something we must to do learn to become like God, and to live with Him.
So, though earthly government is a poor substitute, it is indeed an actual substitute, therefore it is godly-instituted. God has said, “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:22)
However, though government is a form or substitute of being subject to God, it is intended to be enacted and carried off in such a way that moral agency is preserved. Moral agency is our right to choose between opposing choices of all kinds and to be accountable, as an individual, for our choice. That accountability includes consequences, whether positive or negative.
God “raised up men” to design our current constitution and He has commanded that the constitution: “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment…And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land…” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80).
God has also said in Doctrine and Covenants 98:6-11:
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 [constitution], 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.
And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.
In the scriptures, God always tried to set up governments that preserved moral agency and allowed for as much individual choice and accountability as possible. That’s because, ultimately, in God’s plan, we do not approach Him as a nation, state, city, or town. We approach Him as individual children. Every choice we make is, in the end, individual.
So, in the scriptures, laws and consequence were dispensed from God through His prophets. God intended to have His people governed by prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers, etc. However, almost without fail God’s people always wanted to be “like everyone else.” They begged for kings and monarchs—absolute rulers. They wanted governments led by men. Not God.
In the Old Testament and Book of Mormon there are several accounts where the righteousness or wickedness of the ruling monarch often caused, by default, the subjected people to be righteous and or wicked. That’s because if a wicked king said something wicked in God’s eyes was okay, people could engage in it and avoid godly consequences (for the present), and the rest of the people had to bear with it. Therefore, as well, the king or ruler carried the majority of the accountability for the righteousness or wickedness of the people. There was still individual accountability, of course, but not quite full accountability.
In the Old Testament God tried to give the Israelites what they wanted through a compromise. He instituted judges. The judges were public intermediaries (similar to a democratic system) and unlike prophets were not always as righteous or as fair or as helpful as they could have been. And because of this they often failed in saving Israel and were often destroyed themselves. In the Book of Mormon, during a particularly righteous period the Nephites had a very righteous king, Benjamin. When he died his son Mosiah became king. He was also very righteous. The people enjoyed both righteousness, peace, and prosperity. Then, when Mosiah was dying there was contention about who should be the next king. To avoid the political turmoil, Mosiah encouraged the people to elect a system of judges instead.
“And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their king. And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land…but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike…that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.
And now it came to pass, after king Mosiah had sent these things forth among the people they were convinced of the truth of his words. Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.”
So, politics and the type of government we choose are something God certainly cares about. However, He can counsel us on what to seek for and then the accountability for our choices is left up to us. He will allow nations to fall or rise based on the consequences of our political choices.
However, it seems in our country, that we long ago forgot about what was most important in choosing a candidate. We have gotten caught up in financial concerns, welfare concerns, and many other worthwhile and interesting issues. And these issues are critical and important. And yet, in the concern for these issues we have cast aside the importance of individual moral agency. We still talk about it and preach it, but we sidestep it when something else we want for our city, state, or nation takes precedence in our mind. We place some other objective in the line of importance over agency when agency is the one objective/right God will never breach.
C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, Book 1, Chapter 2 Some Objections, roughly paragraph 5:
“…The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out Justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity’, and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”
In the place of “man” I might insert “nation.”
While our nation and its main political candidates preach equality and opportunity and the love of humanity, they absolutely and unequivocally leave out the need for honesty, justice, and personal moral agency and personal accountability. In fact, much of the legislation in the past years has been about protecting people from the power and the personal effects of moral agency.
Currently, we have a very strong two-party system—though it seems to be weakening a bit based on this most recent presidential election. People are afraid to step outside this two-party system. In fact, people limit themselves to two choices because any other choice, they argue, won’t matter. Why vote for someone I like who won’t actually have a chance to get elected? So, people justify voting for a candidate they really don’t like because they feel that their vote has to change the election outcome in order to matter. But, what people have forgotten is that the vote is about trying to elect a good and honest person to office—as God commanded. It’s about doing our part to support moral agency—as God has commanded—for “more or less than this cometh of evil.” In fact, we are to “forsake all evil.” We are not to support a lesser evil.
So, if there is no good or honest person to elect, do we simply pick the best of the worst? Do we vote for someone who is not good or honest and wise simply because that’s all there is to pick from? Do we vote for someone to keep someone else who is less terrible out of office? What motivation are we placing as the justification for our vote?
Each person must answer these questions for themselves. I can’t tell anyone how to vote and I would never dare. I can only state the doctrine. That God has commanded us to seek good, honest, and wise men (and or women). He has commanded that we forsake all evil, not just some of it. He has never suggested that we settle for evil simply because good can’t be found. He has asked us to uphold moral agency. He has said that if the majority uphold evil (even a small bit of it), then we will individually, and as a nation, mourn.
Finally, as a last note. Popular vote is not what elects our president. It is the electoral college. And even though those who sit in the electoral college are supposed to uphold the popular vote, they don’t have to. We have elected them to uphold our best interests and if they don’t agree with what we’ve chosen, they can choose differently. So, does our vote matter if it doesn’t actually contribute to or effect who gets elected?
Yes. And I’ll tell you why.
Each of us is accountable for our political choices to the same being for which we are accountable for everything else: God. God has given clear guidance on how His people are to act politically. Whether our vote contributes to the election of an official we like or dislike; whether our vote keeps the greater of two evils out of office, won’t matter in the eternal scheme of things. What will matter is our intent behind our votes. Did we seek to uphold good and honest candidates who would also maintain the doctrine of moral agency? Did we uphold God’s laws? This is what matters about our votes. This is a hard doctrine to swallow, but it is nonetheless true.
Our votes are about our souls. Our votes are about our willingness to follow God. We are commanded to make these votes. We are encouraged to choose honesty and goodness. When honesty and goodness cannot be found, our votes still are a part of our individual eternal makeup. If we make them so that we are in good conscience with our God, then we can have peace that He will manage the rest. Nations come and go under His all-seeing eye, and yet we know that the Kingdom of God will break down and absorb all the rest (Daniel 2:44). So, what are we so afraid of?
Though politics make me upset and frustrated and frankly, I can’t stand them. I know my role as a citizen of this country, and more importantly as a child of God. That is how I make peace with the current political environment. That is how I weigh what matters most in my individual political contribution. I do what I feel is right in my standing before God; and I don’t just hope He’ll take care of the rest. I know He will.