By Drew Clark
November 7, 2012 – I am a Mormon. I am certain that my feelings of sadness on this day after election day reflect those of millions of other Mormons.
Don’t get me wrong: my Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took no position in the presidential contest. And this statement is not merely for show. Church authorities, from Salt Lake City to the local wards and stakes throughout this country, insisted that we not use the Church for political purposes, including endorsing candidates, advocating political positions, or mobilizing voters. I include myself in this instruction in that I, too, serve in the Church in my ward in Springfield, Illinois.
Nor would we Mormons want to use the Church in this way. In my last ward, where I previously lived in suburban Virginia, I attended a priesthood quorum with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Our family counted, and still count (save for the constraints of time and distance) Brother and Sister Reid, their children and grandchildren, as family friends. There is no difference, no hint of “outsiderness” in Reid’s being a Mormon Democrat. This is so because the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we practice it in the Church, is not about promoting a kingdom on earth.
There is a common saying that we Latter-day Saints use to define ourselves. It is almost an injunction or an aspirational goal. We should “be in the world, but not of the world.” To be in politics and to be a political leader is to be in the thick of it. You need to understand everyday voters. You need to empathize, and to show that you feel that empathy. You need to connect to that majority – no matter how bare it is – and get them to commit to you, and stand with you and not against you. The fact that Mitt Romney could not pull this election off makes me think: can a truly good man ever be our president?
Like many millions of other American citizens, Mormons and non-Mormons, I approached my electoral obligations seriously, even religiously. As with any other weighty matter, I researched the subject. In the case of this presidential contest, I considered the candidates’ positions, personalities and character. I studied it out in my mind. I prayed. I sought a confirmation that my choice was right. I learned this very pattern of decision-making through my participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As taught by a prophet of the Lord, after our petition to “ask [the Lord] if it be right,” the Lord declares: “if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9)
Yesterday was the first occasion in which I could vote for a candidate whom I knew would follow this pattern. I felt that the more the American people could see about the decision-making capacity of Mitt Romney, the more likely they would be to select him as their political leader.
They did not. Now keep in mind that Romney is a Republican. He ran as a Republican, not as a Mormon. Politics is about parties, not about churches. So, when my wife and I talked this morning about last night’s election results with our eight-year-old and our 12-year-old, we asked each of them why they were so distraught. “Why would Mitt Romney get so close, and yet not be elected president?” asked my son.
Many people did indeed see the good in candidate Mitt Romney, and for a multitude of reasons. And yet more Americans cast their ballots for the president. What if the Democratic candidate had been Sen. Harry Reid, we asked our children? While I suspect that Sen. Reid and Gov. Romney have some personal fence-mending to do (now that the election is over), this hypothetical question momentarily tantalized our children and our entire family. We see and we understand the conviction and the character of both Gov. Romney and Sen. Reid. Indeed, if we lived in Utah, or another place with a Mormon majority or plurality, every election year would greet us with Republicans and Democrats, many of whom would be of our faith, squaring off against each other. They, too, would run on their values, their records, their accomplishments and their fitness to serve as a leader.
So what makes the Mormon moment that has just ended so different from such a normal-sounding occurance?
I believe the answer can be found in our national civic religion. We are – the United States of America – as a city set upon a hill. This very phrase comes from the Savior, in His Sermon on the Mount in the Bible.
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
We expect our country to be this light. Well should we demand it of our President as well.
Politics – unlike business, law, learning and religion – is about piecing together majorities. It is about counting the votes. That was as true for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 as it was for Barack Obama yesterday. Piecing together majorities is even more critical for a presidential candidate who goes up against an incumbent president, which neither Lincoln nor Obama has done.
In my lifetime, only two men, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, have successfully unseated a president. On this day of electoral reflection, I see both Reagan and Clinton as able to build up that city upon a hill. Each of these men paved a way for their respective party’s successes by building the intellectual infrastructure of think tanks, advocacy groups, and robust party apparatuses that embellished and enhanced the candidates’ own visions. These followers inhabited that city that is set on a hill.
To a Mormon who sees Mitt Romney and the hope that he offered to America, answering my son’s question is not easy. This is the best that I can do: Last night 50 percent of Americans went to bed feeling that God had answered their prayers in re-electing Barack Obama. Those 50 percent are no less children of God than the other 50 percent that prayed for the election of Mitt Romney.
Or as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural address, speaking of the North and the South, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”