Thursday, October 04, 2007

Honest, Good, Wise, and Constitutional

I still haven’t nailed down precisely who I will vote for next month in the city council races for my little town. And I personally know almost everyone that is running. So don’t be surprised that I can’t bring myself to commit to any presidential candidate 13 months ahead of the 2008 election. I don’t personally know any of these people. I only see them through their media filters.

There has been a lot of campaigning and the presidential race has been at the top of the national news for months. I know plenty of people that enthusiastically support a candidate and feel that they have very good reasons for doing so. But I’m a long way from getting to that point. I’ve taken a good look at all of the candidates and I find things I like and things I dislike about each of them.

Someone once said that the only time you’ll find the perfect candidate is if you run for office yourself. Even that is not completely true, because I even disagree with myself or find my performance wanting at times.

Plenty of people are running around saying that they would never vote for a given candidate under any circumstances. I have gotten to that point with only a few. But I’m still quite open to considering most of them.

It’s just that no single candidate currently appeals to me enough to make me ready to choose them and dump all the others. Perhaps I am suffering from the problem grocery retailers have long known about: that given too many choices in a given category, people will often buy none of the products in that category. I’m waiting for the winnowing process to reduce the field of available choices.

The other night as I was contemplating various candidates, a scripture kept running through the back of my mind. Finally, I looked it up. I realize that for the non-religious, it can seem weird (or even scary) that someone would refer to religious texts for guidance on voting. But bear with me here. The scripture is found in a modern book of LDS scripture known as the Doctrine and Covenants, in section 98, verses 5-10:

5 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.
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
10 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.

The way I interpret this scripture, we are admonished to apply four criteria to candidates: 1) they must be honest, 2) they must be wise, 3) they must be good, and 4) they must support laws that are constitutional. We could quibble and say that this fourth criterion actually is directed to the reader rather than to public servants, but if the reader is required to support constitutional laws, it would seem that this extends as well to the reader’s support of public servants.

I find it interesting that when it comes to the laws of man, any that are “more or less” than constitutional come “of evil.” When discussing seeking for rulers, the scripture requires candidates that are honest, wise, and good. Any that are “less than these cometh of evil.” It’s OK if candidates are better than this. But it’s not OK to support a law that is extra-constitutional.

This raises the bar pretty high for candidates. I mean, the first criterion of being honest precludes many candidates right off the bat. You could probably fit all the names of politicians in history that have been renowned for their honesty on a 3x5 card, even using a 20-point font. We are not sanctioned in supporting candidates that are less than honest.

Now, we’re unlikely to find anyone that is perfectly honest 100% of the time. We are talking about humans with faults. However, we all probably know people that we consider to be sufficiently honest to be considered generally honest. In an imperfect world, this is probably the best we can hope for in a candidate.

How do you rank wisdom? It’s a sliding scale. Once again, this is a judgment call that the Lord leaves up to us. It’s easy to spot the fools when the national media make people look foolish. Wisdom is more difficult to judge than foolishness.

Like these other traits, goodness is a judgment call left to us. Jesus said in Matthew 19:17 that “there is none good but one, that is, God….” By that measure, we won’t find a single candidate that is good. The only way to gauge goodness is to take the full measure of the person and decide whether she/he is generally good.

Finally, how do we decide whether a candidate supports only constitutional laws? Do we go by what the Supreme Court has ruled? This is perhaps a decent rule of thumb, but it must be tempered by the fact that the court has pronounced blatantly immoral rulings from time to time. Consider the Dred Scott case, in which the court ruled that black people could never be U.S. citizens and that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. This evil became the constitutional law of the land for a while until it was rendered moot by amendments to the Constitution.

So constitutionality presents a bit of a sticky wicket as well. I’m afraid that the only way to determine what is constitutional is to study the document and related writings yourself. In my mind, some candidates support legislation that should be clearly unconstitutional, although, the courts may rule otherwise.

All of this is to say that all of the criteria we are called upon to apply to candidates is highly subjective and/or runs on a sliding scale. It requires a fair amount of personal effort to find out about each candidate and determine how well each measures up to the criteria. We should avoid a knee-jerk reaction to any candidate. Sometimes we just assume that a person is or is not good because we either like or dislike them, or because we support some of the same issues they support. We are called to apply a higher standard than this.

It seems that we can also be prone to supporting or not supporting a candidate based on a single incident or a single utterance. Occasionally a single event can reveal a candidate’s unworthiness or prove a candidate’s value. However, this is generally not the case. Most often, we should form an opinion based on the weight of a representative balance of evidence. This cannot be done if we only look at the good or bad of any candidate.

As I look at the six individuals running for city council seats in my town, I will do my best to support ones that are honest, wise, and good, and who will uphold the Constitution. As I get serious about considering my support for presidential candidates, I will do my best to apply this same standard. In the end, I think I will feel good about my choice even if it differs from the choices of my friends, neighbors, and family.


Democracy Lover said...

I am glad to hear that the LDS scriptures call on members to vote for people who uphold the Constitution. That should pretty much mean that any incumbent in Washington is not going to receive any LDS votes because they don't appear to care about the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine or the Bill of Rights. That's indeed good news.

Reach Upward said...

That depends on how church members apply this scripture or whether they give the scripture any consideration at all in their political decisions. I'm one Mormon that will do my best to apply the scripture. I can't speak for anyone else.

Anonymous said...

History is written by two opposing forces in mankind. 1. Those who seek power and priviledges over others (including money) and 2. Those who uphold the rights and needs of all people in all circumstances. Progress is made when the rights, needs and dignity of man is supported by rule of law and the powerful and corrupt are held to the rule of law. In America the rule of law has been corrupted (Constitutional law is now a joke-there are no checks and balances left)The elites plunder and corrupt at will all under the political imitation rule of law while the constitution is laughted at by the power elites. The middle class who maintain the stability of society have been terrorized for a long time now. And the judgment is about to be heared. It happened in France during the revolution and it can happen again. Power corrpts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It destroys even the sacred and then the deludge!! God help us all-amen. JC St.Charles, MO

Anonymous said...

"constitutional" in scripture should not, and can never properly be, be interpreted as "Constitutional." The reason being, not all governments have Constitutions! In fact, the (Biblical) nation of Israel had no constitutional. I am not a Mormon, and I can guarantee that I won't ever be, but my "political spotlight" will always be Matthew 22:37-39 where Jesus says "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Thus, the principle Jesus gives applies not just to our daily life, but to politics as well, in this principal: You as an individual will only have as much freedom as you allow others to have via the coercive force of government.

An easy way to see this is the idea of some right-wing conservatives that all laws should be based on the Bible (and specifically, their interpretation of the Bible). If this ever occured, the earthly moral rational for instituting it would be that we live in a democracy. However, that would conversly mean that if Muslims ever came into a majority, the same rational would give them moral authority to institue Sharia law. Thus, the only way to have your own religious freedom is to fight for the religious freedom of ALL religions.