For the Latter-day Saint, life is a test of faith. Saints continuously face tests of faith, which challenge them to choose their faith first, over worldly matters.
Sen. Mitt Romney recently faced such a test. After swearing an oath, before God, to exercise impartial justice in the impeachment trial of his own party leader, Romney concluded that the president was guilty of the first article, abuse of power.
His conclusion placed him in a difficult position. To be true to his oath – and hence, to his faith – he would need to vote to remove the president. To be true to his party – the party of his father, family, friends and community – he would need to deny his truth and vote against removal.
Mitt called this the most difficult decision he ever had to make in his life. Indeed, when two core tenets of our identity – say, our faith versus our community – come into conflict, psychologists have a term for the discomfort we feel: cognitive dissonance. And it is difficult to endure.
Mitt had enormous incentive to deny his conclusion. We are social beings, and we seek the affirmation, esteem and blessing of our community – all of which would be threatened by his vote to remove. Sure enough, once cast, before the cock could crow two dawns, his tribe raged to censure him.
Mitt could have easily avoided the public crucifixion. No one knew Mitt’s conclusion except for Mitt. He could have persuaded himself that, because his vote was unlikely to change the outcome, he may as well vote with his party, or even abstain. His self-deception would be rewarded. And who would know the truth?
Then again. For the Latter-day Saint, life is a test of faith. Mitt, like his father before, has always fascinated the Saints. He was to fulfill a prophecy, or so the whispers went, made in 1844 by my great-great-great-granduncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith. Many believed they were bearing witness to the manifestation of that prophecy in 2012, when Mitt sought the presidency atop the Republican ticket. He captured 73% percent of Utah’s vote – 10 points higher than the 30-year average. And the Saints could vote exactly as they preferred. No difficult decisions were required.
Many see themselves as conservatives first, so voting for the Republican was easy. But the manifestation of prophecy is not easy. Tests of faith are not easy. When my great-great-great-grandfather, Hyrum Smith, chose to accompany his brother to Carthage Jail, it. was. not. easy.
The Saints have demonstrated they will vote with Mitt when it’s easy. Will they also vote with him when it’s hard? Faced with the same test – faith versus party – could we endure the same cognitive dissonance? Could we be, as my Uncle Joseph said, “the staff upon which the nation shall lean and … bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction”?
A vote for the manifestation of this prophecy is a vote to remove the president. There is only one candidate you can vote for to remove the president. A third-party candidate will not do it. Abstaining from voting will not do it. Writing in the name of your wife will not do it.
Romney bore his cross in public, but no other Saint need do the same. We vote in private with no obligation to disclose our vote to our friends, our bishop or even our spouse. “This people will be the staff,” my Uncle Joseph prophesized. Not this person. Not this one. This people.
All these years we speculated Mitt Romney would be the Saint to rescue the nation “when the Constitution [was] on the brink of ruin.” But what if the Saint who must recognize the signs is you?
Could your prophet, Joseph Smith, God’s chosen instrument on Earth, have foretold to your forefathers you would? If you had to tangibly prove to yourself – with your private vote – that you hold your faith above all else, that you choose faith over party, especially when it’s difficult, could you do it?
After all, for the Latter-day Saint, life is a test of faith.
Ben Rolly is the great-great-grandson of two presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant. He is also the son of longtime Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly. He works in communications and lives in Long Beach, Calif.