Power – its use and abuse – has occupied societies since Thag and Moog fought to be king of Cave 17.
Actually, even earlier: It was the central issue in the war in heaven.
Lucifer wanted all power: “…send me … I will do it … wherefore give me thine honor” (aka, power).
Our Father, on the other hand, wanted us to learn how to apply power wisely for the benefit of all. He therefore gave us power to be agents unto ourselves – the power of agency – followed in due time with the powers of mortality, procreation, the priesthood, the endowment, and especially the atonement with its promise of ultimate power: exaltation.
Dealing with our spiritual siblings who may not use their agency wisely, we face the challenge: How does a society give leaders sufficient power to accomplish good, but not so much that they become tyrants?
The results have not been pretty.
Most people have had little choice but to hope for a kind and just king – a Benjamin or a Wenceslas. But far too many have suffered under a Henry VIII or an Ivan the Terrible because kindness and compassion are not often associated with those who achieve rank by brute force – or such by their ancestors, the right of familial succession spawning spoiled brats.
The vast majority of God’s children have spent their earthly lives subject to dictators and unrighteous kings.
Except for an occasional experiment with democracy, true principles of how to handle power had to wait for God to inspire such philosophers as John Locke in the 16th century who, in turn, had substantial influence on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the other Founding Fathers.
Those principles? The people are sovereign, government is the creation and servant of the people, and power must be shared: (1) the separation of powers – legislative, executive, and judicial – with attendant checks and balances, (2) the division of powers in which the states counterbalance the central government, and (3) the specific enumeration of powers.
All found in the Constitution of the United States.
Given history, people are rightly suspicious of power and those who seek it. So it is no mystery that a candidate for high office who belongs to a minority religious group would trigger extra scrutiny. And be more susceptible to distorted accusations.
In a national poll my firm conducted, we asked 1000 randomly chosen Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement:
If Mormons had enough political power, they would try to force people to convert.
Believe it or not, 38% agree. What are they thinking – that we want to saddle America with some Mormon version of Sharia law?
We find it silly that anyone would think that Mormons would ever use political power for a religious advantage. But how do we convince others?
Referring to our history may help. If ever there was an opportunity to exercise political power to force conversions, it was the 1850’s in Utah. Brigham Young was not only the leader of the Church, but was also territorial governor. Was there any religious pressure on Catholics or Methodists or Baptists who came to the Salt Lake Valley? No. In fact, we helped them build their churches and sanctuaries. Our missionaries were zealous, as always, but not a whiff of “join the Church or else.”
We could tell people that if a Mormon abuses any power he may be trusted with, he violates a God-given principle.
We could explain the Church’s strict neutrality regarding political candidates, a statement read from the pulpit before each election day.
And we could point to our past record – that Salt Lake would no more tell a President Romney what to do than it has told LDS Senators and Representatives from eleven states, governors from six states, and cabinet secretaries in a variety of administrations what to do. Which is never.
All useful, but we’re overlooking the trump card.
What guards against abuse of political power is the Constitution. So whatever suspicions our fellow citizens may harbor about a Mormon in high political office can best be laid to rest with the answer to one simple question:
What is the Mormon position toward the Constitution?
It is found in no uncertain terms in D&C 101:80, the Lord speaking:
“And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose….”
Think about that. No other religion of size in the whole world has as part of its canonized doctrine – as part of its canonized scripture – that the U.S. Constitution was established by God! Not just inspired by, but established by the Lord Himself.
No other religion exceeds our support for this God-given document. We respect the Constitution, we revere the Constitution, we will protect the Constitution.
So how could a religion so subscribing ever undertake to use political power for cheap denominational advantage and thus violate such a central tenet?
I am confident that he would never do it, but if a President Romney ever abused political power for the benefit of his religion, Mormons themselves would be first in line to impeach him.
Further, the Constitution is not reserved for Americans only:
“According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh….” [Emphasis added]
All people, not just citizens of the United States. Even present inhabitants of Cave 17.
Thus, if Mitt Romney is elected President, he will have the duty to honor the Constitution not just for the benefit of his fellow citizens.
He will have that duty to the whole world for more reasons than one.
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Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and author whose most recent book – “Mormons Believe … What?!” – answers 24 common misconceptions about the Church. Available at all LDS bookstores and Amazon.com.