Joseph Q. Jarvis: By their fruits ye shall know them

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) A woman crosses the street near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 5, 2020. General Conference was held in a small chapel at the Church Office Building because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The political conventions are over, the time has come for voters to make their judgments and cast their ballots.

Many people find it hard to make any judgments about people, including candidates, and so instead vote along party lines. Here in Utah, it is not uncommon for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is my chosen church, to make a judgment that the Republican Party is more “righteous,” or at least “the lesser of two evils,” and vote accordingly.

Raised in Arizona during the Goldwater era, I affiliated with the Republican Party when I became old enough to vote and have, until recently, admired its principles. But I have never allowed the Republican Party to interfere with my responsibility to uphold, “such as will administer the law in equity and justice” (Doctrine and Covenants 134:3).

Four years ago, in its message to U.S. church members encouraging political participation and voting, the First Presidency stated: “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles.” I take that statement as an injunction against voting by party and encouragement to actually judge the people running for office themselves as to whether they individually embody gospel principles.

I am indebted to Sharlee Mullins Glenn, a leader of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, for the observation that the first gospel principle she uses to make judgements about candidates is whether they base their candidacy on fear or love:

“I’m wary of people who try to create division or suspicion toward a particular group. Who assert that if one group gets more, we will get less. Who believe that if we extend basic rights to others, our own will be diminished. Who argue that if we allow others into our country, we will somehow have to relinquish our own safety, jobs and identity. Fear insists that life is a zero-sum game. Love knows that there is enough, and to spare. Fear both proclaims and begets scarcity. Love invites and welcomes abundance.”

Jesus made a succinct statement concerning making judgements about public leaders: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7: 16-17). I take that as a statement that public leaders should harness competence to find and bring good policy to fruition.

When faced with the challenge of a lifetime, such as a pandemic, fruitful public leaders humbly acknowledge what they don’t know, find answers from those who do know and lead their people by best practice towards safety and prosperity no matter the cost of political capital. If, when challenged, public leaders refuse to get out of their comfort zone and instead turn to cronies and familiar methods which are manifestly uninformed, they will provide corrupt governance and the people will suffer.

Incumbent public leaders in Utah, at both the national and state level, have demonstrated COVID-19 incompetence, beginning in February when it was clear that the pandemic was going global. In my judgment as a public health professional, this incompetence failed the “good fruit” gospel standard, leaving us with corrupted public budgets, tainted elections, and unnecessary human suffering. I don’t reward incompetence with reelection.

Good governance begins with the judgments made by each of us as we consider the people running for office and vote. This year, register to vote, get a ballot, and then carefully consider the merits of each candidate, not their party affiliation. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Joseph Jarvis

Joseph Q. Jarvis, M.D., Salt Lake City, is a public health physician and the author of two books, “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care,” and, “What the Single Eye Sees: Faith, Hope, Charity, and the Pursuit of Discipleship.”