Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Behavior of Mormon Politicians

Harry Reid the Senate Majority Leader is at it again. This isn't the first time there has been Mormon against Mormon political infighting, but it shouldn't be that way; especially not personal. Nevada saw its share of the same questionable tactics. Proper behavior for those of the same religion dictates a completely different approach. It may be an impossible ideal, but it should be a strived for ideal.

Senator Reid and Governor Romney are not friends. That much is clear. What is more disconcerting is less what they have said to each other, but they should know better. It seems the allure of partisan politics is slowly destroying them.

Release the taxes, Reid demands in his position as the leader of the Democrats. According to him, some unnamed sources say that Romney hasn't paid any taxes in ten years. Worse yet, he proclaims, "your father would be ashamed," becoming judge of both Romney and his father. In reply, Romney challenges, "put up or shut up," with evidence of who makes those claims. The political has become personal.

What has come of this? Non-Mormons are now making religious judgements of Romney that he is possibly a bad Mormon hiding a lack of paying his tithing. Reid is seen by others as starting a "Mormon-on-Mormon war" based on innuendo and flimsy evidence. The justification for all of this is seeking and defending mortal power. Latter-day Saints running for office against each other, or at all, should be much more circumspect and careful. The position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on politics is outlined as follows:
The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established. The Church does not:

Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.

Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.

Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

The Church does:

Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.

Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.

Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Church.

Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.

Notice that one of the requests is that Mormons who run for office are encouraged to be civil. In this day and age of soundbites and talking heads, what constitutes "civility" depends on who is pointing fingers. Each side accuses the other of not acting in civility, but rarely does someone question those of the same party or position. Its a free for all and everyone knows it; not that there has ever been a time this wasn't the case.

Rejecting government is not a solution. Not only can we not get away from those in charge of nations, but the importance of law has been declared by revelation. This includes statements by the ancient Saints, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."(Romans 13:1). We are commanded to obey and sustain the laws, principalities, and governments of the lands where we live. This is especially the case where, "We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life."(Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-2).

When a Mormon runs for office or participates in politics, religious principals cannot be ignored. This includes both behavior and positions. The Lord will hold us accountable always. Seeking His peace and righteousness is still a priority more than party loyalty:
"President George Albert Smith observed, 'There is nothing in the world more deleterious or harmful to the human family than hatred, prejudice, suspicion, and the attitude that some people have toward their fellows, of unkindness.' In matters of politics, he warned, 'Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground.' Speaking of the great mission of the latter-day kingdom, he counseled: 'This is not a militant church to which we belong. This is a church that holds out peace to the world. It is not our duty to go into the world and find fault with others, neither to criticize men because they do not understand. But it is our privilege, in kindness and love, to go among them and divide with them the truth that the Lord has revealed in this latter day.' "

Elder Robert S. Wood, "Instruments of the Lord’s Peace," April 2006. (emphasis added)
Probably the most destructive form of political disagreement is demonization. Individuals become objects of scorn and derision. They are no longer humans, but the symbol of all that is wrong with the world. At worst these negative feelings can lead to wars. Even at best it builds walls and produces contention. As every Mormon learns, "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, such things should be done away."(3 Neph. 11:29-30).

We must be careful not to cause or take offense. It doesn't matter how much we think we are right. Arguing for a position is not the same as making personal accusations. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf powerfully said:
"But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt . . .

. . . My dear brothers and sisters, consider the following questions as a self-test:

Do you harbor a grudge against someone else?
Do you gossip, even when what you say may be true?
Do you exclude, push away, or punish others because of something they have done?
Do you secretly envy another?
Do you wish to cause harm to someone?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to apply the two-word sermon from earlier: stop it!
In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone'

Brothers and sisters, let us put down our stones."

By President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Merciful Obtain Mercy," April 2012.
Politics can get any blood boiling. It doesn't matter what side takes a stand, right or wrong. The temptation to get angry must be suppressed. Nobody is perfect in this, but that is no excuse to attack or get personal. Each of us can decide how to react at any given time:
"To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible.

Anger, Satan’s tool, is destructive in so many ways. . .

. . . May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger and to leave unsaid the harsh and hurtful things we may be tempted to say."

President Thomas S. Monson, "School Thy Feelings, O My Brother," October 2009.
There are legitimate discussions that can and must take place in politics. Each person must decide if the disagreements are fair and honorable, or merely demeaning the person:
"Now a word on politics. This is an election year, and there are many strong and strident voices incident to political campaigning. It’s a wholesome and wonderful system that we have under which people are free to express themselves in electing those who shall represent them in the councils of government. I would hope that those concerned would address themselves to issues and not to personalities. The issues ought to be discussed freely, openly, candidly, and forcefully. But, I repeat, I would hope that there would be an avoidance of demeaning personalities. Said Shakespeare in Othello, the Moor of Venice:

Who steals my purse steals trash. …
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
(Act 3, sc. 3, lines 157–61.)"
Perhaps there is more than disagreements between Mormon candidates. A real grievance or offense has taken place that cannot be ignored. If this is the case, there is still no excuse to bring matters to public examination. We learn from 1 corinthians 1-2, 6-8 ecclesiastical judgements come first:
" 1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? . . .

6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren."
How grievances are taken care of depends on the situation, as Doctrine and Covenants 42 outlines. Any legal issues can be taken up to the law of the land, and not by public opinion. Other concerns should be private or at least contained to those involved:
" 88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
90 And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many."
Sadly, history proves that the Romney and Reid confrontation will only get worse. It is a sad commentary that two Mormons of political prominence have gotten so personal in the name of Party. Stop it!


Tom D said...

I too regret much (but not all) of the partisan sniping currently going on. However, I can't help but think that the clear demonstration that Mormons can be partisans of two different political parties is a good thing. After all anti-Mormon mob actions in Missouri and Illinois were both driven at least in part by fears (and some evidence) of block voting.

The Savior invites us to "be one", but perhaps in temporal, political affairs a certain amount of disagreement can be a good thing. I seldom vote Democrat, but I'd hate to have them completely give up on trying to earn my vote.

Jettboy said...

Thank you for commenting. It really is sad what has happened. Although disagreements are part of life, to be disagreeable is not Christian. The ten commandments are for politicians too.