Integrity and Virtue More Important Than Superior Intelligence

Called Unto Liberty, Stephen L. Richards: 1953, 20th Century Sermons

I know I don’t have to argue in this company, perhaps not with many of my listeners, for the recognition of moral and spiritual values in the solution of our problems. I take it that we are all gratified from time to time to hear expressions of this recognition by some of the leading men of the country and the world. I am hesitant to say a word that might be construed in disparagement of such statements, but I am constrained to question a little from time to time their sincerity. Is spirituality anything other than a personal attainment and investitute? Is there any such thing as mass morality? The Master taught us that as a man, not the masses, thinks, so is he, not they. It is true that if enough individuals are convinced of spiritual realities, they can greatly influence the society in which they move, but it is the individual and not the mass mind which has the conviction.

I hope you will approve the application which I make of this principle. I don’t believe that men in high places, in government, in business, or elsewhere can successfully divorce their private lives from their public declarations and protestations. Nor do I believe that women who attain positions of eminence can do it either. We often speak of the gullible public, but I am very much inclined to think that there is enough discernment in this public to see behind the idealistic words of speaker or writer, the consistency of performance. I note with growing concern the declination of governmental appointing power to take into consideration morality, except as it affects stealing and treason. The sooner men learn that they cannot teach virtue without living it, the quicker we will attain the respect of those whose cooperation we seek. And what is even more important the sooner we will bring ourselves to our own self-respect.

You will gather from these remarks that I would subject every representative of the American people, from the small community level, to state, national and international position, to the scrutiny and test of virtuous, moral standards. I would. Some will say, you are discounting the value of brains and “know-how” in this intricate business of government and sociology. I am not. I stand in awe in the presence of a great mind with superior intelligence devoted to human welfare. We are greatly dependent upon such minds, but if I had to make a choice, which I ought not to have to make, between talent and integrity, I would choose integrity and virtue, for without them we are lost.

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Source: Stephen L. Richards. General Conference address, October 1953. Stephen L. Richards (1879 – 1959) was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also served as First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.