This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
As I read the General Conference talks, there are a couple of pet issues I keep in the back of my mind that I’m interested in learning more about. One of those, and this might be a little bit of an odd one, is the question of how Mormons should vote. I have a hunch that we worry more than we should about politics and ideology and not nearly enough about the character of our leaders.
I get that it’s not easy to get an accurate feel for a person’s moral character from afar. It’s not like we know public figures the way we know the people of our daily lives. But then again, we don’t always know the people in our daily lives as well as we think we do either.
So, while an accurate assessment of a politician’s moral character might be impossible on a case-by-case basis, I do think that we ought to have pretty high standards for the behavior of our elected officials, and be extremely unforgiving when they fail to live up to those standards. Forgiveness is great for the people in your lives, but turning a blind eye to corruption in our leaders does nothing but foster a corrupt environment that brings out the worst in the people who have the most power.
At least, that’s the hunch. And I feel like it’s something I’ve picked up from Mormon leaders. Is it? Well, yeah. My list of quotes to support this notion keeps growing as I read these talks, and Elder Tanner provided yet another one in his talk from the Saturday morning session of this General Conference:
We need to be governed by men and women who are undivided in honorable purpose, whose votes and decisions are not for sale to the highest bidder. We need as our elected and appointed officials those whose characters are unsullied, whose lives are morally clean and open, who are not devious, selfish, or weak. We need men and women of courage and honest convictions, who will stand always ready to be counted for their integrity and not compromise for expediency, lust for power, or greed; and we need a people who will appreciate and support representatives of this caliber.
Being cynical about the moral caliber of our leaders is trite and counterproductive. Accurately gauging moral caliber from afar might be hard, but expressing intolerance at the voting box for outright corruption isn’t nearly as difficult. We can do that. And we should do that.
The reality is that a lot of the questions people fight about the most are extremely difficult policy questions where the answer is unclear and about which good people can disagree. I think we have a lot of room for mistakes and errors and experiments in most of our policies.
But I don’t think we have anywhere near as much room for error when it comes to the quality of our leaders.