A Political Gospel?

Despite claims to the contrary, many LDS church services are full of political opinion. Conservative political opinion, that is.

Whether about national, state, or local issues, these opinions come out over the pulpit, in the hallways between meetings, in Sunday School lessons, during Visiting Teaching visits, and really anywhere else Mormons tend to be. Now, if you’d ask most Mormons, they’d tell you that political opinions have no place in Church. The thing is, most conservative Mormons in the US honestly believe that their political opinions are actually religious ones. In other words, when a well-meaning Sister expounds upon the Satanic agency-reducing effects of redistributive taxation, she is not talking politics, she’s talking religion.

We here at mormonliberals beg to differ. We don’t accept conservative politics as automatically equalling the Gospel. This site means to demonstrate that liberal politics have just as much Gospel backing–if not more–than do conservative politics. We certainly don’t believe we have a monopoly on truth, nor do we believe our perspective is the only one credibly backed by LDS doctrine.

But, we do believe ours is most credibly backed by LDS doctrine. Otherwise we would have to be Mormons despite our political beliefs. We firmly believe we are liberals because of our Mormon faith, not despite it.

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13 Responses to “A Political Gospel?”

  1. Timothy
    September 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Religion IS politics. The distinction only exists to prop up the ideology by an appeal to authority, attempting to shield it from a rational analysis.

    Teasing out a liberal idea here or there from the fabric of a conservative ideology is a fools errand. The question is not so much did Prophet X or Religious Figure Y believe or teach any liberal principles, they may very well have, rather, the question is what is the political structure of the community that they built or supported? Because much more important, over time, and to the larger community, is the structure of the community itself.

    For example…China is an authoritarian state. That doesn’t mean that an individual Chinese leader couldn’t espouse liberal or seemingly democratic values. Ever heard the term “benevolent dictator?”

    A person can act in contradiction to their own core values. We’re all a bundle of conflicting ideas, because as finite beings, none of us can fully contain ideas of communal structure. I can’t, on my own, devise the best plan for any group of people; I see too narrowly, and I can never escape that narrow view. That’s a core element to understanding the foundation of pluralistic democracy.

    Pluralism is an ideology that understands the limitation of the one, and seeks to cohere the many.

    Mormonism specifically, along with Christianity, seeks to exalt the one. The God. The prophet. The Son. The Gospel. While we may be able to tease out a liberal teaching or a progressive idea here or there…in the end, the structure of the ideology is irredeemably conservative. The core structure of the ideologies will always and inevitably lead to conservative outcomes, no matter the liberal bent of any individual within the system.

    You can’t change the course of this river. I recognize your desire to hold to that which you know (mormonism) and to want more of that which you feel (liberalism). But, these are not compatible ideologies. You do more harm trying the “work from within” approach, both to yourself and to your community, then good.

    Here’s an essay I wrote as to why I’m a progressive. It deals, a bit, with these themes.


    Be well. Good luck in your journey.


  2. geoffsn
    September 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Tim, thanks for the comment. I appreciate your perspective on this.

    I have a very different take on mormonism it would seem. I very much disagree that mormonism seeks to exalt “the one.” There are entire conference talks on how exaltation is a group effort. Mormonism itself is a heavily communal religion. Law of Consecration/United Order? The practice of ‘sealing’ families together in an effort to create a chain of relationships uniting the whole human race? I see vastly more communal teachings and practices than those which lead to individualism.

    Ironically, I would say that my mormonism is largely “felt” as that is the nature of religion and faith (not knowledge), while I know liberalism more after much study into many issues ranging from economics to science to history. In any case, I hope that over time this site might change your mind on the nature of mormonism, and thanks again for commenting!

  3. Jeff
    September 17, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    I think Tim has touched on one of the core reasons for this site–the belief that liberals/progressives can’t be good Mormons, and that Mormons can’t be good liberals/progressives.

    I disagree with both of those beliefs, though, and I think liberalism and mormonism have a lot to learn from each other. First and foremost that they aren’t as far apart as many think.

  4. Timothy
    September 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Jeff…by not participating in mormonism, what do I lack?

  5. Timothy
    September 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    I think you’re sliding past my fundamental points, and we’re dancing around language problems. Let me ask some clarifying questions:
    Do you think the LDS Church is Mormonism? Mormonism is the LDS Church?

  6. geoffsn
    September 17, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    I think mormonism is larger than the SLC-based church. There are still many mormon splinter groups in existence which have an equal claim to mormonism but are not part of the Brighamite church.

  7. Timothy
    September 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Geoff…OK, then, what is mormonism?

    Is it the structure of authority implemented by Joseph Smith? Is it a certain teaching?

    Are you a member of the LDS Church? If so, is it because you believe it to be the best representation of Mormonism?

  8. geoffsn
    September 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Well, why not let Joseph Smith define Mormonism?

    If you search all the writings of Joseph you’ll find that he listed two things as “grand fundamental principles of mormonism.” Truth and friendship.
    “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may.”
    “[I] don’t care what a [man’s] character is if he’s my friend.—a friend a true friend . . . I will be a friend to him[.] Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.”

    “Mormonism is truth. . . . The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

    I like to think the the idea of gathering/sealing/at-one-ment is a good way to discuss the central concept of mormonism. Gather ideas, truths, people, families, into one. We have rituals which can be powerful methods for such bindings of people. We have a belief that at the core of every individual is intelligence, or light and truth. So as we as mormons seek to gather all the truth/knowledge/intelligence we can find/gain, we also should seek to bring people together in friendship and love.

    I am a member of the LDS church. All but two of my 32 great-great-great grandparents were members of the LDS church. The church is an integral part of my heritage and identity. I don’t think it is perfect, it has more than a life-time’s worth of work to get it moving in the right direction. Do you feel that I should cease to be a member of an organization if it fails to fully live up to its ideals? If so, how do you feel about being an American?

  9. Timothy
    September 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    ‘Mormonism is truth & friendship.” At best, if we’re to have an honest conversation, I’d accept that these are the desired outcomes, and that mormonism is intended to be a systemic way to achieve these systems. Else why the organization?
    So, our job, if we’re to have a serious discussion about these things, is to define them in a measurable way, and to then ask the question “does the system of mormonism achieve those ends?”
    The problem with defining truth is that as a universal, it’s essentially a meaningless term. We can define truth in a finite, closed system, but not in an infinite, subjective system. Friendship may be easier to define and to measure, but would still require work and agreement.
    I would forward that mormonism is a political theory; an organizing principle for community. As such, the question should be asked “is it better than pluralistic democracy?” I do not believe there’s any distinction between religion and politics. Ideas are ideas. Governing theories are just that and no more, no matter the power of the leader. A posited Universal God does not get a moral pass on human rights.
    This is part of why working toward a successful mormonism and working toward a successful liberal view of democracy are incompatible. You’re simultaneously claiming to work toward a more perfect union of freedom, liberty, rights and justice in one, and toward an authoritarian and closed system in the other.
    The notion of “oneness” that you mention, the power of binding people together in mormonism, is only achieved by the opposite of the liberal value of pluralism. For example, my brother who is gay was forcibly removed from the community. Is that the “binding together” that achieves your zion? Either way, the value of this in mormonism is fundamentally opposed to the value of pluralism in a liberal theory of communal governance. You can’t work for one without compromising the other; they are in direct contradiction.
    BTW, I can match your history with mormonism; my ancestors knew Joseph Smith and crossed the plains with Brigham Young.
    As for your final thought on the imperfections of both mormonism and the United States of America. I believe that it is moral to lend your energy and efforts to open, pluralistic and democratic forms of communal government. I believe it is immoral to lend your energy and efforts to closed and authoritarian forms of communal government.
    Are there immoral actions taken by the United States? Absolutely. Do I agree with every aspect of my Country? No. The difference is that one system provides a means by which I can not only voice my dissent, but am encouraged to actively work for the opposite outcome. In this manner, I escape the moral judgement of supporting what I consider to be immoral laws. The morality of any part of the system only accrues to me insofar as I directly support each individual part.
    To the contrary, closed and authoritarian systems do not allow you to work for outcomes contrary to will of the central power. In such a system, the morality of each act accrues directly to you whether you support it or not; because you are making 1 decision: stay or go. By voting to stay, you are willfully adding your name and support to all acts taken by the authority.

  10. Timothy
    September 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    should have done proofing of that before I posted and this system doesn’t seem to allow me to edit. Sorry.

  11. geoffsn
    September 19, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    “the question should be asked “is it better than pluralistic democracy?” I do not believe there’s any distinction between religion and politics.”

    That’s fine for you and I can actually understand why you would view it that way. However, such a view would make the first amendment as redundant and incomprehensible as the description of the trinity is. I think you’re certainly in a minority position with that view, but it at least helps me better see where you’re coming from.

    It seems that you are again making very binary, black and white caricatures of religion and liberal democracy (an approach that typically the religious are accused of with heaven and hell and all that). So if I follow:

    “Liberal Democracy” -> “a more perfect union of freedom, liberty, rights and justice”
    “Successful Mormonism” -> “authoritarian and closed system”

    For me this seems soooo simplistic that it bears only a loose resemblance with reality.

    “The notion of “oneness” that you mention, the power of binding people together in mormonism, is only achieved by the opposite of the liberal value of pluralism.”

    Not if done correctly. It needn’t be oneness in all aspects, primarily in friendship. Brigham was quite adamant that most good people in the millenium would not be mormon.

    “For example, my brother who is gay was forcibly removed from the community. Is that the “binding together” that achieves your zion?”

    It is certainly not and I’m sorry for how he and you were treated. I should also say here that I don’t think the church is for everyone, particularly those who have been harmed by it. I would love to have all join us in friendship and fellowship independent of membership but I understand and recognize that when someone is harmed by a community they need at least some time apart if not permanent separation.

    “Either way, the value of this in mormonism is fundamentally opposed to the value of pluralism in a liberal theory of communal governance. You can’t work for one without compromising the other; they are in direct contradiction.”

    I see what you’re saying, but I think you’re ignoring a lot of nuance. As I just pointed out Brigham and other early church leaders taught that many different faiths would coexist in the same millennial government in peace. Mormons had jews and others in the Council of 50 and let Jews and others use the tabernacle for services in the 19th century.

    I should clarify that in a discussion such as this it frequently becomes an argument in which one person focuses on the negative ignoring the good, and the other focuses on the good ignoring the bad. So I’d just like to say that I don’t think your arguments lack merit. The church has a lot to improve on.

    I think your arguments have more resonance which the hierarchy as they are rarely if ever released and thus are vastly older than most of the population which generally means vastly more conservative. I would make the argument that local leadership has a lot of sway which can majorly change how the church operates in that area. For example, in my stake currently, rather than challenges to talk to people about the church, the leadership is encouraging people to just be friends with people in the community without any intention of sharing the gospel with them. They are advocating an “Ammon” approach to serving rather than a “Samuel the Lamanite” approach. My leaders are asking us to live more like Christ taught, to simply love our neighbors.

    Here’s a final point I’d make. You will likely struggle to make it through this article as it is advocating for the church which has caused you and your family harm and it heavily focuses on the local level church rather than the hierarchy. That said, please don’t dismiss the author. He’s lived in the Bay Area and his experience with local leadership has likely affected his perception. He is unarguably progressive (he recently co-wrote an article praising OWS http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/10-ways-the-occupy-movement-changes-everything ). He founded a publishing company that prints nothing but progressive books: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berrett-Koehler_Publishers

    Anyway, here is his argument that the institutional church is the most progressive organization he’s aware of:
    I doubt it will convince you and some parts are certainly stronger arguments than others, but hopefully it will highlight some progressive aspects of the church you hadn’t considered and maybe allow you to grant church members more room to perhaps be both progressive and mormon.

  12. Timothy
    September 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Geoff…I’ll certainly read the article you linked, and consider and respond to your points.

    But, if you’d indulge me, a question: Is there any organization you can conceive which if you were a member of it, supported it financially and in all other ways, would be contradictory toward supporting a liberal pluralistic democracy?

    • geoffsn
      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

      I’m not sure that I totally understand what you’re asking. Do you mean can I conceive staying in such an organization, or can I imagine that one could in theory exist and what would it look like?

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