As the election approaches, I continue to study my scriptures and pray as I prepare to vote.
This Sunday, Nathan and I will be fasting for the election and our nation and have invited our friends to do so as well.
This election has been increasingly frightening, and in my state it seems there really is only a Republican vote or a Democratic vote. Our state (Oklahoma) does not allow write-ins, and if you do so the whole ballot will be cast out – unless there is even a mark anywhere near one of the actual candidates, then your ballot will be marked as being for one of them even if you did not intend so. That scares me enough to obey the rules.
My state does have one independent candidate, which I am always interested in researching. In this case, the candidate is Libertarian. However, after my personal study and pondering, I do not see how voting for him is any different than voting for Clinton in this case (by policy), and he does not seem entirely stable and that concerns me. His policy is only Republican in its anti-tax measures and its hatred of Obamacare; but the lives of my children depend on social programs funded through taxes, and my job was deleted because our state already rejected Obamacare-ness, so those issues feel too personal for me to give him a vote on those grounds. That means that if I wanted to vote for his social policy, I might as well just vote for Clinton. I know some may disagree with me, and that is fine, because we need many voices to find the good, but for me, in this case, I have ruled out the third party vote available in my state because of these issues directly impacting my family.
This, in many ways, feels very disheartening.
It also means that I am left with choosing between Trump and Clinton, or, the parties they represent.
Our two party system is complicated because they both contain pieces that are not necessarily inherently related.
In the role of government, Republicans tend to prefer independence and self-regulation. Take to extremes this becomes abandonment of those in need of support from the community. Democrats tend to believe that government has an important role in making our society better. Taken to extremes, this results in bloat and massive reliance on tax revenue.
In our capitalist society, both Republicans and Democrats believe in business. But Republicans tend to want to create the most free, favorable environment for business possible, while Democrats tend to see unlimited business as a threat to the public good, using regulation to rein it in.
Morally, Republicans tend to support issues like traditional definitions of marriage and preserving life for unborn children. Taken to extremes, this can become bigotry and tyranny. Democrats tend to support issues like the continuing expansion of civil liberties to all. Taken to extremes, this can become bigotry and tyranny.
Both sides contain great virtue and the potential for great harm.
Some of the problem, I think, is in some of those extremes he described, and the last few months especially have just spewed hatred.
And I am not okay with that.
Nathan also talked about this when he said:
It is shocking to me that both presidential candidates could have such low ratings. But I think the reason why that is is because things have become increasingly polarized. So many people have clambered so far to the edges of the spectrum that even someone in the middle can’t represent them because there is no overlap on that Venn diagram. The government’s a mess and our country may be doomed, but I think our only hope for salvation will come in the form of increased civility, compassion and willingness to be inconvenienced in the service of others. I guess that’s what I mean when I say progressive values are a part of my Christianity.
And then I quoted the council from my church and asked some questions:
Don’t vote for the least-evil. Instead, we are to “seek candidates who best embody those [gospel] principles.”
The church leaders did not say vote for the political party your parents did, or that you always did, or that Utah has always gone for in the past.
They did not say vote for the political party that you wish was doing better, or that you wish was as shiny as it once was, or that you want to prefer if this or that hadn’t happened.
They said vote for the candidate who most embodies the gospel principles.
So what are the gospel principles?According to our articles of faith, it starts with “The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance…”
We know all the candidates, of the three on the ballot in Oklahoma, have made mistakes, because they are human.
But which one has a history of demonstrating faith?
Which one can at least be called to repentance?
If we agree the system is broken, and the nation needs help, and policies need serious work, then which leader is the most receptive to receiving help to do something about it?
So these have been my questions for the last three weeks, as I have watched the debates and studied the issues and prayed and read my scriptures. What are the principles guiding a nation and what are the principles guiding my vote? What are the principles guiding the two candidates?
Whittling the issues and candidates down to only two also sets up a pattern of back and forth discussion – sometimes in ways that get very intensely heated because people have such strong feelings about it but also because we are scared this time.
This election matters.
But you can’t say you are voting for the Republicans so that the Democratic president won’t nominate scary judges, when Clinton would at least work within the system of checks and balances, while Trump is so rogue that there is no guessing what he would do, whether he was allowed to or not.
You can vote for him if you want.
But not because you expect him to follow the rules or do what the Republicans want.
He has not shown any evidence of being a promise keeper, personally or professionally, and he has never been one to play by the rules.
But you also can’t vote against him for the same reasons, because in theory, that kind of scenario is exactly why we have a system of checks and balances in place. So that even if Trump were elected, the Republicans would have some built in support to help him learn to play nice with others. Theoretically, right?
On the other hand, do you vote for Clinton because of her experience and history working with Congress and the State Department and other countries? Or do you vote against her because those same connections are too close-knit, or too shady, or too personal interest for those who have already been on Capitol Hill for ages?
Politics are not a clean game, mostly.
So we either panic and vote as we always have, or we fight to keep our wits about us and vote consciously by principle.
And then you play devil’s advocate, to double check and make sure you are voting.
“I vote Republican because voting Democrat means saying abortion is okay.”
Or, voting Democrat on that issue means voting for agency, “the right to choose”, which is a pretty important theological construct to those who share my faith tradition, even though not everyone uses their agency the same way you would prefer.
Or maybe you vote for agency by voting Republican and its goal for less government regulation.
On the other hand, some say Trump threatens agency by threatening free speech, which threatens freedom to worship and even freedom to blog or write or testify.
Regardless, we have to think about things differently than we have in the past.
And if I understand anything, doing so is only going to get harder as we enter these latter-days of the Latter-days.
We think it’s hard to choose now between the choices given us?
I think this is only the start of things, and that future choosing is going to be even more difficult.
I think even more important than who we vote for in two weeks is that we work our muscles in learning how to do so, practice seeing through the smoke, and get to work at developing our spirit of discernment.
This morning I was reading Mosiah 7, and discovered several principles that were helpful as I continue pondering my vote. Read verses 3 and 4.
3 And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.
4 And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander.
So here’s the thing about verse 3: instead of choosing a priesthood leader, they choose “a strong and mighty man”.
And, because they did not have a priesthood leader, they lacked the revelation to tell them which way to go.
There is not a priesthood leader option in my vote, though some other states have that third party option.
But it still seems to me in this place, there is something to be said about having wisdom and experience rather than only aimless aggression.
Next in verse 6, instead of listening to a prophet or following a spiritual leader, the people gang up together with temporal leaders: Amaleki, Helem, and Hem.
These were leaders in the world rather than spiritual leaders – like business leaders. Ever since the Davidic times when the priesthood split from the kingship, this has happened. People could either follow a wise leader who knew how to lead the people as a nation amongst other nations, or they could follow these kinds of business men who exploited the people for their own gain – almost always resulting in both war and poverty.
Further, in verse 13, we learn he is a descendant from those in Zarahemla, which makes them Mulekites, not Nephites. This means they descend from the only surviving son of Zedekiah, which means they are the people who escaped Jerusalem at the last minute rather than leaving when the prophets warned. This cost them the priesthood, and their culture, and even their language.
I cannot vote for someone who would put my faith or my family (because of my faith) in danger.
We also have the pattern of the two parties in the Book of Mormon, as we read the story of the Nephites and Lamanites throughout.
For generations, the Nephites are the good guys and the Lamanites are the bad guys.
But when the Nephites do not keep their covenants, things change.
We read in Jacob 3 how the Nephites, who should have the full gospel, are not keeping their covenants. But the Lamanites, who only have pieces of truth, are at least keeping the covenants they have made thus far: caring well for their wives and children. It is this very reason that the Nephites are eventually destroyed, while the Lamanites inherit promises still being fulfilled. Read verse 5:
“Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness… are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord” (verse 5).
Watch how it unfolds!
First, Jacob is saying that the Nephites, who should know better, are hating on the Lamanites.
The biggest problem with this is that people of God should never be haters.
God is not a hater.
I cannot vote for a hater.
But not only are they busted for hating, they are also busted for not being covenant keepers.
We know that someone who is being a hater is not someone who is keeping covenants (even of the truths they have thus far) because hating is not of God, and so when we are haters we are not of God.
It’s a big, serious deal.
But the specific example Jacob uses has to do with families.
Jacob is saying that the Lamanites, who do not have the full story, who do not know the full Gospel, are at least keeping the commandments they do know… while the Nephites, who have the full Gospel, are not keeping the covenants they have made.
Do the Lamanites have the full story? No.
Are they being obedient to the law they have thus far? Yes.
Are the Nephites, who have the whole story being obedient? No.
This reminds me of our Muslim brothers and sisters in our day. So many so-called-Christians hate on the Muslims as a whole, without even knowing individual people. Christians should not be haters. God is not a hater. And if we are going to stereotype Muslims into one population as a whole, then what the truth is about them is that they are way better at keeping covenants than we are. We cannot and will not make an impression on them or share conversion stories with them until we first learn to keep our covenants as well as they already do.
“And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people” (verse 6).
What blessings do they receive? Love.
“Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands” (verse 7).
Notice it doesn’t say that they stay married because they have to, or that they do married things because it’s what the other person wants, or that they do what they are supposed to do because it makes other people happy.
No. It’s says they LOVE each other.
They also love their children: “their husbands and their wives love their children”.
That’s the love of family that comes from complete obedience to God and complete fidelity to spouse.
Jacob then goes on to explain that “their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers” (verse 7).
The Lamanites are being faithful to what they know.
This goes all the way back to Lehi’s sons.
Nephi was obedient, including passing down the records of the family and the scriptures they had.
Laman and Lemuel were the murmurs who were not obedient and did not pass anything down.
So the Nephites got the memo, but the Lamanites didn’t.
Yet, now, the Lamanites are still being obedient to what they DO know, while the Nephites are NOT.
That’s a big problem.
The Lamanites are not held accountable for what they do not know; that is the sin of their fathers, not their own choice.
The Nephites, however, know better, but are not being obedient to what they know.
So Jacob slams them with the reality that they have become the enemy, even an enemy to God.
They, who were the chosen ones, became the ones they once hated.
They, who were the righteous ones, became the ones doing the hating.
They, who were the defenders of family, became the ones tearing families apart by accusing others while not keeping their own marriage covenants.
This sounds like some of the debates that were more like high school spats than actual political debates. Trump consistently points out Clinton’s husband’s affairs, though he himself has a frequent problem with serial monogamy – having affairs and then marrying mistresses, not counting the allegations continuing to come forward about unwanted sexual advances made against them. It seems that maybe would have been an area it would have been better for him to just not bring up.
Jacob spoke to the people in verse 12, “warning them against fornication and lasciviousness, and every kind of sin, telling them the awful consequences of them” (verse 12).
Both candidates have made some pretty serious blunders that have had “awful consequences”.
I think that’s part of why it’s been so hard to decide about our votes.
Comparing those ugly moments has only made the election season even uglier.
It also brings back to mind what I shared about what Nathan said earlier:
The government’s a mess and our country may be doomed, but I think our only hope for salvation will come in the form of increased civility, compassion and willingness to be inconvenienced in the service of others. I guess that’s what I mean when I say progressive values are a part of my Christianity.
Our only hope, he says, is increased civility, compassion, and willingness to serve.
Those things just happen to be exactly what makes a good marriage, too.
So that’s what I’m watching for in these final moments of the election season: who can show an increase of civility without being cruel or targeting others, who has compassion on the oppressed, and who is willing to serve within the context of a checks-and-balances kind of government and within the context of the greater world in which we live surrounded by so many other countries.
This is what I am fasting to discern, because we are promised that “by their fruits ye shall know them”.
In contrast, we have the definition of “Politician”:
(pŏl′ĭ-tĭsh′ən) noun.1. One who is actively involved or skilled in politics, especially one who holds a political office.2. One who deceives or outmaneuvers others for personal gain:
I will vote for the most civil of the two politicians.
I will vote for the most compassionate of the two politicians.
I will vote for the most charitable of the two politicians.
I will vote for the one who has tried to do good rather than destroy, the one who offers peace rather than dissension, and the one who has the most skills in working for the goodwill of the people as a whole.
I will vote.