Thursday, August 13, 2009

Being President

Today we learn that President Obama's popularity numbers hit an all-time low -- down from 70% to 47%. (Here's the link).

Since my recent post from the speech of President Harold B. Lee at Ricks College about his optimistic view of America's future, many have asked me how he could have possibly been so positive when there was (and is) so much of pessimism and fear about the direction the country is headed. Don't forget that back in the day of Harold B. Lee's call to the Apostleship, Social Security was in its infancy and was assailed by the Church's leaders as "creeping socialism" that was to be opposed at all costs. I suppose it's all about perspective, isn't it?

It's not easy to be the President of the United States -- just ask any one of them and they'll tell you. As the cartoon suggests, President Obama is seen as little more than a liar and a fraud by his opponents, and it has seldom been the case that anyone in that office has fared any better. (Remember, "Read my lips, no new taxes" followed by tax increases from George H. W. Bush?) It seems you're always in somebody's gun sights for something you did or said that gave offense.

Leadership always exacts a toll on the leader. I remember someone telling me years ago (a wise observer filled with many years of wisdom and insight) that the reason bishops generally serve for only five years is that it takes about that long for them to finally offend everyone in their ward and then they are released with a vote of thanks.

Sometimes it is useful to stop in the midst of the war of words assailing us from all sides of the political spectrum and reflect upon the wisdom of our fathers who laid a foundation of faith in God for this great nation, the sum of which is greater than any of its individual parts.

This morning, I choose to cite George Washington: "No people can be found to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

Then, in advocating good faith and justice toward all nations: "Religion and morality enjoin this conduct, and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it?" And again: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

And now, Abraham Lincoln: "God rules this world and out of seeming contradiction . . . He will develop and disclose His plan for men's welfare in His inscrutable way." Again, he said: "All we have to do is to trust the Almighty and keep on obeying His orders and executing His will." And again: "I am a full believer that God knows what He wants a man to do — that which pleases Him. It is never well with the man who heeds it not." "Without the assistance of that divine Being . . . I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail." "I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God." And finally: "It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow . . . and to recognize the sublime truth that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord."

We may conclude by their words that both Washington and Lincoln highly esteemed religion and morality as the foundation and surest safeguard of national welfare.

This cannot be mere coincidence. I think there are many, many "mainstream Americans" — those 40% who judge themselves to be "independent" thinkers in the middle of the political divide today who resonate with the thought that these two iconic historic figures were selected long before the curtain rose on the play, and that their lines were undoubtedly written and the stage settings prepared ages ago by a Divine Providence who conceived the whole drama from the prologue to the final curtain.

Michael Barone breaks down the electorate this way: "There are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals. That's one of the asymmetries between the parties that helps to explain the particular political spot we're in. The numbers are fairly clear. In the 2008 exit poll, 34 percent of voters described themselves as conservatives and 32 percent as Republicans; 39 percent described themselves as Democrats but only 22 percent as liberals." (Here's the link.) We are, he concludes a centrist nation, not given to believing the extremes on either side.

What most of us are prone to do is to believe in God, and to believe in God is to know that His hand is in the details. The Book of Mormon reveals, ". . .the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. . ." (1 Nephi 9:6, emphasis mine).

Further, "The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men." (D&C 3:1-3, emphasis mine).

Let the political debate rage about whether or not to teach "creative design" versus the "big bang theory" in the schools -- the voice of the Lord is clear.

As the guardians of the sacred record that chronicles the history of this continent's earliest inhabitants, we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declare The Book of Mormon is an accurate chronicle of America's early history. We testify it is a fundamental truth that Washington and Lincoln (and others) were raised up in their respective roles in critical times of this nation's development by the Omniscient Hand who created them and gave them voice in expressing their faith in Him.

I hope the readers of this page are not prejudiced against the record of which I speak only because it came to men today in a very unusual manner revealed by an angel, Moroni, and translated by the gift and power of God through Joseph Smith's instrumentality. Examining its contents thoroughly will yield the conclusion that it is God-given and provides much valuable insight into the origins and the destiny of this great nation regardless of who is in or out of power at the moment.

The leaders of this country are transitory in their passing over the stage of history, but the destiny of America is fixed and immovable, and will continue to serve as freedom's base of operations until Christ comes again to rule and reign one day as King of kings, and Lord of lords. That was the faith of President Harold B. Lee.

While I hasten to forewarn that The Book of Mormon is not primarily a history book, nevertheless its basic history is invaluable. It tells of a righteous and God-fearing people who crossed the seas and came to this land from the Old World many centuries before the birth of Christ. Before they embarked on their long voyage they were told by the Lord "that they should come forth, even unto the Land of Promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people." And they were also told "the decrees of God concerning. . . this. . . Land of Promise," and that "whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God or they shall be swept off when the fullness of His wrath shall come upon them." And they were further assured of God "that whatsoever nation shall possess" this choice land "shall be free from bondage and from captivity and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the Land, who is Jesus Christ." (Ether 2:7-12).

We also have this statement in the sacred record: "This land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles and there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up unto the Gentiles, and I will fortify this land against all other nations and he that fighteth against Zion [meaning America] shall perish. . . for I, the Lord, the King of Heaven, will be their King, and I will be a light unto them forever that hear my words." (2 Nephi 10:10-14).

The writings of many inspired prophets are recorded in the book. Prophecies are set forth which were made centuries before the discovery of America that are easily interpreted and foretell the discovery of America by Columbus, the coming of the Pilgrim fathers, the struggle of the colonies for independence, and the assurance that the power of God would be exercised to give them victory over "their mother Gentiles," or the British nation. (See 1 Nephi 13).

Prophets of this early American history promised repeatedly that this country would be a land of liberty if the inhabitants would but keep the commandments of God. The book tells of great statesmen in earlier times who laid the foundations for democracy long before America was officially "discovered."

One, in particular, while wearing the last king's crown (Mosiah), urged the people to establish a republic according to "the voice of the people." "Therefore choose you," said he, "by the voice of this people, judges, — that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers which are correct and which were given them by the hand of the Lord." And then follows a timely and timeless discourse on the merits of democracy, again long before the founding fathers of America sat in counsel with each other. Listen to this: "Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right, therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you . . . And now if ye have judges and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge. If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgment, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges shall be gathered together and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people."

Here, Mosiah expounds not only the sovereignty of the people themselves, but a government of law and a procedure by which justice and law may be enforced and irregularities in government corrected. This wise statesman of American antiquity thus closed his great proclamation of government: "Now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this, my people. But I desire that this land be a land of liberty and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike." (See Mosiah 29).

This sacred record, portraying the history of the inhabitants of America for centuries of time, sets forth what is perhaps the most significant and portentous fact in the whole volume, which is, that when the people lived the principles of righteous government and the laws of God, they prospered. And when they departed therefrom, they failed and perished.

I testify of the truthfulness of the divinely recorded history of America from which I have quoted. Does it seem strange to you, or untenable, that I should regard Washington and Lincoln, and their consecration to our country's loftiest spiritual ideals, as part and parcel of the divine destiny of America? My prayer is that we may all come to see that America has a divine destiny. I am certain Washington envisioned it when he said our country "cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established."

President Harold B. Lee on another occasion spoke of "A Time of Decision" (see Ensign, July 1972, 29). In part, he said:

"Some have said that this is the most critical period in the history of this nation and of the world. I believe it is an illusion to say that this is the most critical, decisive time. Write it upon the hearts of all of us that every dispensation has been just as decisive, and likewise that every year has been the most decisive year and time for ourselves, for this nation, and for the world. This is our day and time when honorable men must be brought forward to meet the tremendous challenges before us.

"We are in an era of intense political activity, when men of every persuasion in the political arena are clamoring for attention and acceptance by the electorates. There is controversy, debate, conflict, and contention, which seem to be the order of political campaigns.

"In its loftiest sense, controversy may mean disputations because of honest differences of opinion. In its most degrading sense it may mean quarreling, strife, and name-calling. An example of that which degrades is the bitter personal abuse that so frequently is heaped upon an opposing candidate. Name-calling is continued until listeners are left with doubt and mistrust that honor and integrity are to be found in any of those who may eventually be elected. The obvious hazard is that when elected leaders have been maligned and downgraded, the seeds of disrespect to authority and law and order are sown in the minds of youth, instead of respectful obedience to counsel and to the laws enacted by those whose integrity and honesty have been thus impugned.

"The old story, presumably authentic, is told that during the Civil War when the fortunes of the Union armies, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, were going badly, some concerned ministers called on President Abraham Lincoln at the White House and forcefully urged the dismissal of Grant. To these men Lincoln is alleged to have said: 'Gentlemen, General Grant has under his command all that we hold dear in this nation. Instead of criticism, you too should get down on your knees and pray God that He would see this nation through to victory.'

"We related this story to a president of the United States some years ago and assured him that no matter what his name or his political party, we too were frequently on our knees, praying God that He and the leaders of this nation and of the world would bring us through the crises of the present.

"We were heartened by his reply when he said, 'I think that every president of this country during his term of office has been frequently on his knees praying to Almighty God.'"

We cannot possibly understand the weight of the burdens on the man who occupies the Oval Office as the Commander in Chief over "all that we hold dear." But we can do this -- we can pray for his success and sustain him with our hope and our underlying faith in the future destiny of this great nation, America.

To do less is to deny our faith in the prophets of The Book of Mormon.

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