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Timothy R. Clark: Let's focus on the art of being free

Published: Monday, Jan. 30 2012 7:16 a.m. MST

As a member of the Mormon faith, I have been surprised by the ire directed at the LDS Church from evangelical Christians during the course of this presidential campaign. It is true that some tenets of LDS doctrine differ from those of evangelical Christianity. For that reason, evangelicals do not consider The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints part of the mainstream Christian fold. But in all of this controversy, is it not the habits of heart and mind that really matter?

When she visited the United States some years ago, Margaret Thatcher reminded Americans that the Ten Commandments represent the “origin of our common humanity,” and that if we lose sight of them, the roots of democracy will weaken. May I suggest that we “close the circle of our felicities” — to use a Jeffersonian phrase — by focusing on the moral cornerstones that we share.

What really threatens America is our unwillingness to pass down what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the art of being free.” Long before the Puritan founding of 1620, political power began to leave the hands of the few and divide into the hands of the many. When it reached American shores, it was extruded, sometimes violently, sometimes silently, through the medium of religion. Only then could political power be fit for the people, and the people for the power.

American Christianity vouchsafed liberty from the beginning, and it has sustained it in a way that defies history. Until the American experiment, liberty was always a tenuous and temporary backdrop, bound to collapse into revolution and anarchy. “How could society escape destruction,” wrote Tocqueville, “if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened?” As he unraveled the inter-workings of our civil society, what did he find? The Constitution? No, that’s just a set of institutional arrangements. As he drilled down, he found the Constitution anchored in a common morality. And where did that morality come from? It came from religion, which, although "it did not give them the taste for liberty, it singularly facilitates their use thereof.”

We should close the circle of our felicities based on our shared and unapologetic support of Judeo-Christian morals and values. In doing so, let us carefully examine the candidates before us on the basis of character and competence — both the core and the crust. And let us remember the sage advice of Warren Buffet, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."

What concerns me is that we have become inured and even numb to the derailing character flaws of our leaders. There is no perfect candidate, but we need to shine a light on our candidates and scrutinize their moral bearing capacities. We need honest men and women to lead this country. We need people who can be trusted with power. George Washington was the indispensable man, not because of his military or political genius. At root, he was the rarest of creatures because of his moral strength.

At this particular time, we need a president with high moral strength and low need for approval. Because that’s what it will take to solve our economic problems, which at root are also moral problems.

Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on the Americans.” Sadly, we are not showing ourselves to be reliable or responsible. In rough numbers, our government spends 25 percent of GDP and takes in 15 percent in tax revenue. What cannot continue will not continue, and so one way or another things will change. Congress and the presidency have shown themselves to be crisis-activated institutions with very little appetite for accountability or real leadership. America must spend less and we must have growth. These are two incontrovertible facts.

In Federalist 2, John Jay wrote, “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people.” We cannot afford to let the fabric of the nation fray over doctrinal differences between LDS and evangelical theology. Let’s focus on the art of being free. Let’s close the circle of our felicities and do it together.

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark Partners, a management consulting and training organization. He earned a doctorate from Oxford University and is the best-selling author of "Epic Change" and "The Leadership Test." E-mail: trclark@trclarkpartners.com

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