Most of us know that the Church takes a neutral stance with regard to politics. This is because the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “The Lord has not given me a revelation concerning politics. I have not asked Him for one.” 1History of the Church 5:526
The Prophet also explained, “I am not come to tell you to vote this way, that way or the other. In relation to national matters, I want it to go abroad unto the whole world that every man should stand on his own merits.”
But does God care about government and how it is administered? And what, exactly, are those merits?
The answer to the first question is yes. Because He does care, He gave Joseph Smith a revelation regarding what qualities we should look for in men seeking political office because the character of such will reflect how they will rule.
In the Doctrine and Covenants 98 the Lord stated:
Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. 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.Doctrine and Covenants 98:9-10
Interestingly enough, this verse is corroborated by another verse in the book of Exodus that contains similar counsel. This directive was given to ancient Israel in regard to what type of men should be chosen by the people to be judges over them. The Lord said:
Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rules of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:Exodus 18:21
The Qualities of a Good Ruler
From these two verses, we can see that the qualities we should look for in a person seeking political office are the following. Someone who:
- Is able
- Is God-fearing
- Is a man of truth (honest)
- Hates covetousness
- Is Wise
- Is Good
This list of qualities is not necessarily an exhaustive list. However, these are qualities the Lord has clearly identified that men should exhibit and we should observe in them before electing them to positions of power.
What does it mean to be able?
There are certainly many definitions, but one possible definition that may fit best with the context in Exodus 18 comes from the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary: “Having strong or unusual powers of mind, or intellectual qualifications; as an able minister.”
So, in other words, a man must be intellectually qualified for the job. This does not mean he needs to know everything, but he must show that he knows what it takes to fulfill the position, especially when it comes to matters of government.
It is important that a candidate be God-fearing because if he truly is, he will understand that God will hold him accountable for the actions he takes that directly affect the agency and liberty of His children.
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that God “holds men accountable for their acts in relation to [governments], both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.”2Doctrine and Covenants 134:1Should a man in power take away the people’s God-given liberty, God will not turn a blind eye. Although the consequences of such an action will be immediate upon the people, the consequences may not come to the government agent in this life, but they will surely come.
This one ought to be self-evident; we should hope that our political leaders would be honest. Sadly, this is not always the case. How many times has a politician promised something on the campaign, and when the time came to make good on the promise in office, he backtracked?
A great way to know if a man is honest or not is to examine his personal life. If a man is not honest in his family, his business dealings, and with his peers, how can we trust that he would be honest in seeking a position of power? If a man is not honest, he will say or do anything to get elected.
Why would it be important for a political leader to hate covetousness? That seems like kind of an odd quality to look for.
Coveting is the desire to possess or obtain someone else’s property. However, the right to private property is an inalienable right, very important to the Lord.3See Deuteronomy 24:10-11, Deuteronomy 19:14, Numbers 5:7 Political leaders should not desire to take your property away. One of the main ways that politicians do this is through taxes. We should seek for political leaders who hate this kind of covetousness and instead seek to protect what is rightfully ours through the use of our faculties.
What is wisdom? And what does it mean to be wise?
Again, the 1828 Webster’s dictionary: “having the power of discerning and judging correctly, or of discriminating between what is true and what is false.”
Indeed, a representative of the people must be able to judge between what is true and false in relation to the correct role of government. This kind of knowledge usually only comes by way of experience. An inexperienced man has not usually had to deal with difficult situations requiring tact and prudence. It is with wisdom that a political leader can act in the trust of the people to protect and maintain their liberty.
Good could be also be made to read virtuous. A man seeking political office also ought to be a virtuous man. He should hold himself to the highest standards of conduct, especially in relation to his acts in government because he is a representative of the people.
Additionally, the government enshrined in the Constitution of the United States was made only for a moral and virtuous people. For any other people, it will not work. We should expect virtue from our civic leaders for the sake and perpetuation of our form of government.
When we understand the scriptures, it becomes clear that the Lord does care about how we spend our vote, not necessarily which party a candidate belongs to. It is very possible that a candidate from one party fits these qualifications while the candidate from another party does not. Of course, it could also be true that no candidate from any party running for a particular office meets these qualifications.
As Latter-day Freemen, we ought to consider each politician who seeks for our vote to ensure that they exemplify the characteristics that the Lord has set forth in the scriptures.