First Presidency Adds New Statement to Letter on Political Neutrality

The First Presidency has written the expected letter on political neutrality and by now it has been read over most pulpits throughout the U.S. But this year as I sat in Sacrament and heard the letter, I could swear there was a new addition. As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong. (You can view the full text of the letter here.) The last line in this year’s letter reads, “In addition, members who hold public office should not give the impression they represent the Church as they work for solutions to social problems.”

For those of us living in Utah, this (at least at first glance) seems like an obvious allusion to the Utah State Legislature (which is 90% LDS). In recent years the Legislature has prompted almost half a dozen statements from the Church in an effort to clarify its position after the Church was cited as a reason behind proposed legislation. One such statement addressed the issue of concealed weapons in Church. The ultra-conservative legislature insisted those with concealed weapons permits have a right to carry their 9mm glock into a school or church building. Some legislators expressed their genuine shock and surprise when the Church announced it was opposed to weapons in their buildings and would take the steps necessary to prevent such weapons.

Another surprise for conservatives in Utah came when the Church announced it did not oppose a bill to create hate-crime legislation. Gayle Ruzicka, director of the Utah Eagle Forum (a group so conservative they make John Birchers look like socialists) insisted the Church’s statement on the hate-crimes bill had been misunderstood, and then she graciously took the time to tell everyone exactly what the Church really meant. In response, the Church actually released another statement effectively chastising Ruzicka (a member of the Church) by reiterating that it did not oppose the hate-crime bill and that any attempt to attribute any other meaning to their first statement was a mistake.

Most recently, a political group that supported a bill that would have made it impossible for undocumented workers to get a drivers license, cited LDS teachings of honoring and sustaining the law as a reason why the bill should pass. The group also insisted the Church would not give a temple recommend to an illegal immigrant. The Church issued yet another statement, saying it had no position on the bill in the legislature, and that illegals can have temple recommends, since they are issued based on personal worthiness, not nationality.

So for the millionth time in the bloggernacle, what is it with some Mormons and politics? I just learned that church-owned Deseret Book has received several complaints from customers who are incensed that the store would dare carry Bill Clinton’s memoir. As one customer put it, “Deseret Book used to be my safe haven. Now I can’t even trust it.”

Are most Mormons political conservatives who just can’t fathom that someone would be a Mormon and a liberal? Or are a few squeaky wheels getting lots of oil in the media and in our minds? Am I just so annoyed at people like those who complain to Deseret Book that I magnify them in my own mind to be more representative than they really are?

Comments

  1. “…illegals can have temple recommends, since they are issued based on personal worthiness…”

    So personal worthiness is independent of whether you are breaking the law even as you sit for the temple recommend interview? That sounds like a dangerous position for the church to hold.

  2. Nate Oman says:

    “At what point, though, does political involvement become politicking?”

    When the FEC or the IRS says that it is…

  3. “Steve Evans of the Verbosity Police.”

    LOL!

    JWL, you know you have a lifelong exemption from this policy…

  4. “The conservatives think that the church is making a carefully worded nod towards bi-partisanship, while still maintaining support for conservative positions–a read between the lines approach if you will.”

    Ah, so true, so true. I’ve actually heard the theory put forth that the Church really wants us all to be Republican, but they have to make this statement so that we’ll maintain our tax exempt status with the government. So basically people are accusing their church of lying to save tax dollars.

    No matter how much effort the Church seems to put into dispelling the myth that all Mormons are political conservatives, there’s always those who find a way around it. On the Church’s website, there’s an article about political neutrality that points out that different leaders have had different political leanings. The leadership really does seem to be doing its best to combat the notion that we’re all Republican, but some members just won’t listen.

  5. (cont.)

    However, for this to work Latter-day Saints have to accept the concept that the Prophet isn’t going to tell us what to do and think about every issue. Some we are supposed to work out on our own, and these include the vast majority of “political” issues.

    Yes, exactly, and if the majority of Church members are coming to conservative political views based on the doctrines of the Gospel, then that might indicate something. It is unlikely that this majority is in error, but it is true that the Prophet has not commanded them politically, so they are free to be in error. Still, the impass seems to be that the liberal Mormons are discounting this quantum of individual thought and substantive position taking, simply disregarding it as blind obedience or worse, committing your WRONG #2. At the very least, they are very annoyed that so many Latter-day Saints choose to be politically conservative.

    I have thought much about this phenomenon and wonder what the reason is for it. One thing that might be playing a role, I believe, is the general and unfair vilification of “the right” by “the left” in the political arena, which spills over as naturally into this Church context as do the Church doctrines into members’ political choices. In other words, it is common for liberals to use such rhetoric as saying that conservatives don’t care about people or the poor or women or minorities (even though many conservatives are poor, women, or minorities–a fact which seems to outrage the left), etc. By participating in this general distortion of conservative social values in this way and by saying with the left more generally that conservatives only care about big money etc., Mormon liberals, are able to disqualify any substantive, conservative LDS position taking and condescend in the manner that I indicated in my previous comment. I would like to see LDS liberals eshew this approach even though I realize that can never happen in the left more generally. If LDS liberals do this, it does not mean that they will sign onto conservative values; rather, they will simply be less annoyed a la John H. at conservative Latter-day Saints and respect the fact that a very great many of them have indeed come the their substantive political views through years of “working it out on their own,” as you suggested the Prophet lets us do in political matters, and that their position is at least valid (if still unsound from the perspective of an LDS liberal) because it is an independent and thoughtful application of Church doctrine to the social and political issues of the day that has resulted in conservative political views. In other words, from my perspective, many conservative Latter-day Saints, if not the great majority of conservative Latter-day Saints do indeed “accept the concept that the Prophet isn’t going to tell us what to do and think about every issue.” As such they are working them out on their own, especially “the vast majority of ‘pol

  6. (cont.)

    As such they are working them out on their own, especially “the vast majority of ‘political’ issues.” Acknowledgement of the fact that they are doing this is what I find missing from liberal Mormons’ frequent criticisms of both political and doctrinal conservativism.

  7. (cont.) of that type very difficult.

  8. Actually the sentence is not new and has been included in the FP letter since 2000 (that’s as far as the Church New FP letters archives go back). That doesn’t detract from the need for the sentence to be understood by members, though.

  9. Although the Church tries to be politically neutral as an institution, the statement also is clear that it is appropriate for Latter-day Saints as individuals to use gospel principles in forming their politics. In view of the powerful position that the BoM, D&C and modern prophets have taken on many issues of social and economic justice, I think LDS political liberals may do a great disservice to their beliefs if they use the political neutrality position to counter LDS far-right politicians by trying to remove religious perspectives from political discourse.

  10. Nate Oman says:

    As far as I am concerned, the only people who are closed minded are those who disagree with me, which is — of course — what explains their disagreement…

  11. Bryan: Great list. Thanks for sharing. However, seems a bit one sided and prone to produce/induce the same wink wink nudge nduge answer that Judy complains about.

  12. Can’t wait to hear your take. Are you actually attending the convention? Is this going to be serious, or more of a Daily Show treatment?

    I’ll email you when I figure out what my schedule is…

  13. Continued

    What I was getting at in my previous post was to understand why the phenomenon exists. One explanation which is tempting to liberals is that it is a malign effort by conservatives to sway undecided Church members by exploiting the respect which they give to official pronouncements of the presiding church authorities.

    While that may be the case for some, my view is that most Church members who commit this WRONG are sincere. The reason I believe they are sincere is because we do this in non-political matters also. It is the “when the leaders speak, the thinking has been done” strain in Mormon culture, the resistance to doing things “outside the box.” We are hesitant to formulate our own beliefs independent of what the Brethren tell us to do adn believe.

    Now I know that this is an old “liberal” complaint about Mormon culture. However, in fact this has nothing to do with what substantive political positions an individual Latter-day Saint will arrive at based on their own best application of gospel principles. They could well be very conservative. That is another discussion. What is important about the neutrality statement is that here is one area where the Church really officially is telling members to be anxiously engaged without being commanded. Be an involved citizen, but acknowledge that these are your personal views without trying to exploit obedience to priesthood authority to make your case.

    However, for this to work Latter-day Saints have to accept the concept that the Prophet isn’t going to tell us what to do and think about every issue. Some we are supposed to work out on our own, and these include the vast majority of “political” issues.

  14. Continued lest I run afoul of Steve Evans of the Verbosity Police.

    Acting hopefully in that spirit, I do want to press you on one point. It is true as a simple statement of fact that more LDS in the western US are political conservatives than are political liberals. Further, I acknowledge that there are many thoughtful people amongst them and indeed agree with many of those positions personally. However, stepping back, it is striking that western Mormons’ politics are not that strikingly different than western non-Mormons. In other words, the predominantly conservative political views of Idaho Mormons are not that dissimilar to the predominantly conservative political views of Idaho non-Mormons. I believe the same would be true for Mormons and non-Mormons in Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada, etc. (Utah has some peculiarities). In contrast, I understand that in Britain, LDS are overwhelmingly Labour. Indeed the first LDS MP was Labour. For another example, here in Manhattan one can even find Mormon Democrats who don’t feel out of place!

    I am suggesting that maybe political views of Latter-day Saints are conditioned more by the normal political factors (regional and socio-economic background) than we like to admit, and that we bring in religious factors as justifications rather than as primary sources of our political thought.

    I raise this point not to start a debate over the specifics of whether a particular political position is justifiable on gospel grounds (surely I would be in trouble with the Verbosity Police if I did that). Rather I am suggesting that not only should we humble and reticent about claiming official Church sanction of our political views, but also about claiming that all of our political views are mandated by our own correct understanding of the gospel and scriptures.

  15. Every time they read that letter in church, I just laugh inwardly, because I know that everyone thinks it doesn’t apply to them. The conservatives think that the church is making a carefully worded nod towards bi-partisanship, while still maintaining support for conservative positions–a read between the lines approach if you will. Ruzicka very clearly illustrates that mindset. But the liberals in the audience (myself included) are quite sure that the letter is a slam against conservatives who annoyingly pull in the church for every conservative position–even those that have nothing to do with religion or morality.

    As someone pointed out on the Mental Illness thread on T&S, Mormons are so focused on their religion, that it becomes a “false focus” of mental illness in Mormon patients. I think the same thing is true in politics. We are so used to having a moral roadmap, that there is a tendency to try and decode the church’s position on questions that we should be using our minds and our personal opinions to answer.

  16. hmm. . . . the rest of my above comment is gone, but you get the idea. I am not trying to start a firestorm here but I think that the answers to John H.’s questions are far less complicated and deserving of contempt than those questions imply.

  17. Hmmm. That came out sounding really snotty and condescending–sorry. It’s one of my favorite stories, which I love to trot out whenever some poor wretch says the magic words “the thinking has been done,” and I meant to be magnanimous in sparing you the mini-lecture if you’d already heard it. I guess the line between magnanimous and condescending is rather thin ;).

  18. I am stuck between a rock(thinking churches should stay out of politics because of the possible implied nature of your soul being threatened if you don’t think our way on a subject leveled over you in a subtle threat) and a hard place(understanding that to get the tax free benifits that church cannot endorse a candidate or work against one who is extreme in a view the church find repugnant).
    Now for people to use the church as a tool to get people to support them is a viscious cycle. First they say the church supports them, then they say the church demands you support them or your against the church.
    So the church has gotten involved in several issues and this has lead to people using the name of the church. This will keep occurring as long as the church involves itself in issues that are news worthy and “hot”.

  19. I recall something from T&S about that. Some egregious comment by McConkie that essentially devalued intellectualism completely? If that is not the case, I would love to hear the story.

    (But I also want to emphasize that I have nothing against being an intellectual–in fact I wish I were one–or against the pursuits on intellectuals or their debates with each other, even about the Church, although I sometimes feel that they are unproductive when concerning certain issues, as many of you have doubtless noticed. At the same time, it does seem straightforward to me that policy is not created in this Church as in the Catholic Church, for example, where intellectuals hammer out the issues and find fitting solutions. When the prophet–who is not functioning as an intellectual–lays down policy, it does seem true that the thinking has been done, in the sense that intellectual debates and symposia won’t really change that policy until the prophet communes with the Lord about it.)

  20. I think churches have a right and a responsibility to speak out on issues that they see as a compelling moral issue. The Black churches were a locus in the civil rights movement; is that not political involvement?

    At what point, though, does political involvement become politicking?

  21. I think part of the problem is that recognizing the relationship between laws and ethics, it is deeply confusing to people when they try to deal with all the various writings by GAs historically. I can certainly understand legislators being worried because of blood atonement about keeping the firing squad as at least a choice to people. Having the church clarify that was very helpful for those more familiar with the pre-correlation teachings of authorities.

    The problem is that the confusion is natural given the pre-correlation speculation or theology openly taught. Unfortunately the consequence is now that GAs rarely speak there mind or do so with *so* many qualifications that it gets ridiculous.

  22. Judy Brooks says:

    I think the church does want to have it both ways. That’s why they wrote the Proclaimation on the Family the very year when Homosexuals were beginning to flex their muscles (so to speak) politically.

    It’s a big problem with the church. They don’t tell you who to vote for, but they pull out all the stops on many liberal issues. It is definitely a conservative church, even though they send out these missives every year, directing people to vote for their consciences. Wink, wink…we know what your conscience will tell you to do if you are a good latter-day saint.

  23. Last_lemming says:

    I think you have uncovered one of the few benefits of living in Utah–when the Utah legislature passes wacko gun laws, the Church will publicly distance itself from them. In my parts, the legislature can pass wacko gun laws, the Church says nothing, and the members can go right on believing that they have a god-given right to carry concealed weapons in church. (Not that any of them actually carry, but then they would be concealed…)

  24. I’ve been wondering the same things, John. The RNC is about to hit town, and I’ve been dreading the inevitable Bush/Cheney ties and lapel pins at Church.

    I believe, very seriously, that many cannot distinguish between being religiously conservative and politically conservative. For some reason, the idea of bifurcating your religious and political life is not possible for some people. For these people, it makes sense that the extreme conservative right is the only option, because it seems to be the political equivalent of the LDS church’s culture.

    I think it’s sad, really. So… when the RNC comes to town, I’m getting the heck outta Dodge!

  25. John F.

    Great two points. I often have found the same close mindedness on both sides of the fence.

    I’ve always tried to keep a healthy distance between my religious faith and my political beliefs. I consider myself conservative, because I view the government as a “business” that is in the buisness of providing services. This is in terms of fiscal responisbility.

    I believe many of the liberal movements exist to provide services that people simply do not have a right to. Health care, driver’s liscenses, welfare, the list goes on.

    Oddly, the right that most liberals do not embrace is the right to be offended.

    I do allow my faith to influence my beliefs but what I question is whether it is government’s responsibility to provide some of these social crutches. This is generally where I embrace conservatism.

    With regards to political parties, I favor the Republicans because they have more cohesive platform. They agree to a large extent what position to take on different issues. This is one of the biggest hurdles for the Democrats as they cannot often agree what to agree on. The only thing they can often agree on is to take a unilaterally opposite position to whatever the Republicans take.

  26. john fowles — Thanks for your reply. I think you touch on a good point (which Sam B. made also) which is that there is a lot of judgmentalism and arrogance on all sides of modern politics. Regardless of the substantive merits of any political position, I think that we all would like to keep that contentious spirit aspect of politics out of our wards. I suspect that that is another goal of the neutrality statement. It would be nice if LDS political conservatives and liberals could figure out a civil way of discussing political issues (including using gospel perspectives) which was respectful and non-condemnatory. However, I don’t know if we can stay that clear of the current political atmosphere.

  27. john fowles,
    I definately agree that liberals are at least as at fault (what an ugly sentence!) as conservatives at believing their political truths to be true. I’m having trouble maintaining my 4-years-of-Utah liberalism in the face of a (rather offensive) NY anti-conservatism. So I return to my moderate roots.

  28. john fowles,
    Is it maybe unproductive to think of one political position as being “in error”? I think that’s where a lot of our intra-church political problems come in–not that it’s inherently wrong to be liberal or conservative or something in between, but when we feel our political views are divinely mandated, then everyone else is WRONG. Instead, what if we were to recognize that good people, who want the same end result (a strong USA, say) can come to different conclusions about how to get there?

  29. John H, I can’t believe you left blood atonement off the list! When the Utah state legislature was contemplating getting rid of the firing squad as a means of execution they requested input from the Church, since some members of the legislature felt that the option of blood atonement should be kept open. The Church issued a statement that it would be fine to do away with the firing squad.

  30. John H. asks:

    “Are most Mormons political conservatives who just can’t fathom that someone would be a Mormon and a liberal? “

    Yes. Get used to it.

  31. John,

    I don’t think moderate and liberal people are intolerant of conservative Mormons, but many are intolerant of conservative Mormons like Gayle Rukzika who consistently vocally interpret the gospel and church teachings to support their personal and political views on things. I don’t think that Gayle and her ilk are consciously trying to misrepresent the position of the church, or lack thereof (that would be far easier to deal with)–rather they are unwilling or incapable of believing that their views aren’t divinely mandated. They seem to think that because they believe in the church and because they believe in political agenda X, political agenda X must be God’s will (how else do you explain someone who, when their political views are obviously rebutted by the church, goes ahead and tells you what the church really means). Yes, the syllogism is deeply and obviously flawed, which is exactly why the behavior is so obnoxious.

    Are there liberal Mormons who do the same? Sure, but since the church is predominantly conservative I think it is fair to say that you find what one would expect–far fewer of them. Perhaps you find more people like Gayle in Utah because they live in a largely politically homogenous area and have not learned the basic social courtesy of moderating tone based on the audience and social setting. And that is probably really the key–I haven’t sat through too many meetings where a member insisted that gay marriage was part of God’s plan. OK–I’ll cop to having heard vegetarinism is part of God’s plan . . . clearly this is a heresy of the worst kind.

  32. John, for the sake of the sanity of all I’m going to have to ask you to restrain your answers to one haloscan max at a time! That’s a whole lotta going-on…

  33. John, this is a tangent, but you do know the history of “when the prophet speaks the thinking has been done,” and G.A. Smith’s repudiation of that statement, right?

    Just checking.

  34. JWL wrote I am suggesting that maybe political views of Latter-day Saints are conditioned more by the normal political factors (regional and socio-economic background) than we like to admit, and that we bring in religious factors as justifications rather than as primary sources of our political thought.

    That is a very good point and I think you might well be on to something there.

  35. JWL:

    Perhaps the “individuals” in the LDS church have already acted on their own agency & made their “individual” choice?

    Of course, John already made that point, but I thought I’d put in simpler & blunter.

    While it might not be the answer you like, it could be the answer that is.

    Of course, why dont’ we just wait and have this debate in another 20 to 50 years? Then we can look at things historically, instead of knee-jerk “I’m in the majority” or “I’m in the minority.”

  36. JWL: It is the “when the leaders speak, the thinking has been done” strain in Mormon culture, the resistance to doing things “outside the box.”

    But JWL, what about the idea that once Church leaders have spoke authoritatively on a moral issue, in a revelatory way, or in other words as the mouthpiece of God on a certain matter, then indeed, the thinking has been done. I take this point of doctrine in the sense that such guidance is obtained through inspiration or revelation and not through intellectual dialectics, like the doctrines of the Catholic Church were painfully hammered out over the centuries after the Apostasy. Thus, one cannot be committing the WRONG of your #2 if, e.g. one votes against repealing Prohibition merely because the Prophet says to do so, one’s own rational misgivings to the contrary notwithstanding. It seems to me that simply believing this will relegate me to the category of a pseudo-intellectual a la Mathew’s post (I’m actually not claiming that that is not what I am) in the eyes of Latter-day Saints who are “liberal.”

    However, in fact this has nothing to do with what substantive political positions an individual Latter-day Saint will arrive at based on their own best application of gospel principles.

    I understand the sense in which you say this but I disagree as to your conclusion because that is exactly what liberal Mormons are saying: if you arrive substantively at conservative positions based on your evaluation of Church doctrine, then you are not really thinking for yourself. In John H.’s post, he seemed to be railing not only against those who commit your WRONG #2 (taking a substantive position and then claiming that the Church commands such a position), but also against those who do not commit your WRONG #2 but rather merely conclude that the Church’s doctrines command that substantive position (note that this is completely independent of whether the Church has taken an express political position or not). If the state of the liberal Mormon criticism were really as you describe (i.e. that the liberals had absolutely no problem with conservative Mormons who merely come to their politics through their own evaluation of the doctrines) then I would have no problem with that because I similarly wish to let liberal Mormons believe whatever they want politically, even though I might wonder how they can hold to certain things and still be consistent with certain positions of the Church that might seem straightforward to me. I might even try to convince them of this, but in such an effort, I feel that many if not most liberal Mormons will assume that I am committing your WRONG #2 when that is not the case.

    However, for this to work Latter-day Saints have to accept the concept that the Prophet isn’t going to tell us what to do and think about every issue. Some we are supposed to work out on our own, and these include the vast majority of “political” issues.

    Yes, e

  37. JWL: we are so accustomed to working within the institutional structure of the Church that we find independent action and thought to be foreign

    Is this really true JWL? This is the kind of condescending tone that I am talking about. Are the many brilliant yet still conservative members of the Church (see Quorum of Twelve Apostles, First Presidency, etc.) really unable to take independent action and independent thought? And what exactly do you mean by independent action? Every action any of us (even conservative Latter-day Saints) takes is independent and we will be judged accordingly.

  38. Karen,

    I’m up for a little dinner. As for Steve’s blatant attempts to embarass me for neglecting my blog duties–they work. I will provide commentary on the RNC–should be fun.

  39. Kristine, sorry, rereading your comment, I realize that I don’t know what you are referring to.

  40. lyle,
    Except that the list Bryan introduced is expressly political–it makes no claim of political neutrality. Rather, it’s trying to (re)claim that signers’ religious beliefs can underlie a less conservative set of political beliefs than those of the “Religious Right.”

  41. Mathew wrote: They seem to think that because they believe in the church and because they believe in political agenda X, political agenda X must be God’s will (how else do you explain someone who, when their political views are obviously rebutted by the church, goes ahead and tells you what the church really means).

    Yes, this is a problem that occurs when people like Gayle Rukzika (I wasn’t arguing that annoying people like her don’t exist in the Church) put the cart before the horse in exactly the way that you identified. But the answer to John H.’s question seems to lie in properly ordering what happens when a majority of Mormons (not of the Rukzika ilk) naturally gravitates towards the conservative platform because it resembles or approximates a belief system already in place through how they interpret the doctrines of the Church. In other words, adherence to the doctrines are there first and then political choice comes into play. So when Rukzika and those like her display the tendency to say that since they believe it, it must be right, then that is getting the process exactly backwards (and I might add seems hardly representative of conservative Latter-day Saints, whether in this country or abroad, as John H. seems to imply).

    John is irritated that these people say that the Church supports this or that political position, and he has every right to be annoyed in such situations. These people should not do that to the Church but could have the same effect by merely legislating according to what they perceive are the accepted norms of the local religious majority (although that still constitutes a minority overall). Just eliminate that rhetoric and you still have the same Utah legislation that annoys John H., just absent the inaccurate statements that it is so because that is how the Church wants it. If these people eliminated such statements from their legislative agendas, would John H. still take this critical tone towards Mormons who are political conservatives? I suspect he would, and if so, then what role do such statements really play in John H.’s criticism? Isn’t the heart of it that John H. is simply annoyed that many Mormons have chosen to be conservative and as such believe that those who have chosen to be liberal are in error (just as those who have chosen to be liberal believe that the conservatives are in error)?

    One final point to Charles: I agree with your emphasis on separating political stances from stances relating to internal, doctrinal dialogue. Thus, one can be politically conservative but relatively liberal in their views on Church doctrine, as the Bell brothers ferreted out in their navel-gazing post a while back. The problem is that because Mormons who are politically conservative have chosen to be conservative because they believe that the political platform better embodies the doctrines themselves. So this aspect of political choice naturally conflates the two and makes disentanglement o

  42. Nate, you kill me. That’s the ironic truth.

  43. Nice post! I am traditionally conservative and Republican but Utah politics often make me think twice. I’ve considered joining the Democratic party just to demonstrate that Mormons are allowed to do so and can still be “good Mormons.”

    I really do think that many of the more/most conservative Republican LDS folks are indeed convinced that their politics are a natural offshoot of their religion. I’m also convinced that the same often look at those who are liberals (Mormon or not) as breaking with eternal gospel truths.

    Though I’m not a Clinton supporter by any means, I was amused and pleased to hear that Deseret Book carries the Clinton memoir.

  44. Oh, and Steve, please don’t leave town during the RNC! I am, amusingly, coming up to New York for the convention. I was hoping we could have a little BCC reunion with you and Sumer and Mat and Gigi…..and any other NY takers….

  45. Sam B. I agree with you that if everyone would have a little more respect for others’ beliefs–that includes liberals respecting conservative beliefs–then it would lead to more comity and less conflict. In fact, that was the entire point of one of my earlier comments on this thread.

    But when you write that much of our problems start when we feel our political views are divinely mandated, then everyone else is WRONG, I have to point out that JWL seemed to be arguing that that would actually be okay, as long as his WRONG #2 is not committed by claiming that the Church itself demands such a position. Rather, if you come to the exact conclusion as your quoted language through merely comparing the doctrines of the Gospel with the current political spectrum, then that is actually what is required of you (i.e. the prophet expects you to work your political views out on your own). So the next step to thinking that your views are right and opposing views are wrong based on your analysis of the doctrines should be just fine as long as you concede that it is your interpretation of the principles that has brought you to your position and not that the Church has mandated that position. So, since that is what I understood JWL saying, I wrote my Steve-Evans-chastizement-worthy response with essentially the same point of your beautifully succint comment. I was just more caustic against the liberal side because I truly do see a huge inconsistency in that they seem to be willing to tolerate/accept everything accept a conservative position.

    In the end, I fully agree with you that what is really happening in this insanely divisive atmosphere is that many good people all have good intentions and end-goals but are vilifying the other side, both justly and unjustly (largely determined by which side of the political spectrum you are starting your analysis).

  46. Bryan Warnick says:

    Some of you might be interested in a petition that will be published (hopefully) during the Republican national convention. A group called Sojourners is driving it. Here is the text of the petition:

    [L]eaders of the Religious Right mistakenly claim that God has taken a side in this election, and that Christians should only vote for George W. Bush.

    We believe that claims of divine appointment for the President, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his re-election constitute bad theology and dangerous religion.

    We believe that sincere Christians and other people of faith can choose to vote for President Bush or Senator Kerry – for reasons deeply rooted in their faith.

    We believe all candidates should be examined by measuring their policies against the complete range of Christian ethics and values.

    We will measure the candidates by whether they enhance human life, human dignity, and human rights; whether they strengthen family life and protect children; whether they promote racial reconciliation and support gender equality; whether they serve peace and social justice; and whether they advance the common good rather than only individual, national, and special interests.

    We are not single-issue voters.

    We believe that poverty – caring for the poor and vulnerable – is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2)

    We believe that the environment – caring for God’s earth – is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)

    We believe that war – and our call to be peacemakers – is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ policies pursue “wars of choice” or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9)

    We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)

    We believe that human rights – respecting the image of God in every person – is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)

    We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13 )

    We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates’ positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS-and other pandemics-and genocide around the world obe

  47. Sorry Karen, I’m gone! We’re off to Vancouver, Canada and happy LASIK eye surgery. So next time you see me, you won’t recognize me…. er… even more than you already wouldn’t.

    I think Mat and you should do a few RNC reports for BCC!! How awesome would that be?

  48. Sorry, that should have been “tolerate everything except a conservative position.”

  49. Sorry–“that _the_ signers'”

  50. Sorry. Good point.

  51. Bryan Warnick says:

    The rest of the petition can be found at:

    http://go.sojo.net/campaign/takebackourfaith

  52. We haven’t heard from John H himself on this thread, so I hesitate to speculate about what he *really* was getting at in his post. However, I believe we need to break the question into two very distinct issues:

    (1) what political views Latter-day Saints might hold individually based on their own best understanding of gospel principles as well as whatever other secular viewpoints they feel are relevant, and

    (2) official positions taken by presiding Church authorities on matters which come before various government bodies.

    I think what the neutrality statement is saying is we should do (1) but it is a WRONG to imply that what you come up with under (1) also is authoritative as per (2).

    I will not dispute that more Church members (at least in Utah) tend to be more politically conservative than not. However, I also think that it is indisputable that there are very, very MANY of these people who commit the WRONG of implying official Church endorsement of their personal political positions. Perhaps liberals notice this more than conservatives because they are more riled by the specific politics being advocated, but it is a very pervasive phenomenon in Mormon culture at least in the western US. The important point I see in the neutrality statement is that our Church leaders are condemning this phenomenon.

  53. What I don’t understand, in reply to John H.’s query about whether most Mormons are political conservatives “who just can’t fathom that someone would be a Mormon and a liberal,” is why those who are Mormons and liberals can’t just let the conservative Mormons have their beliefs, i.e. tolerate the conservative Mormons instead of trying to convince them all the time that one can be a Mormon and a liberal. It seems to me that there is a huge quantum of condemnatory rhetoric by those “Mormon liberals” against politically conservative Mormons, and it almost always takes one of two tones: (1) we are Mormons and we are liberals and we are just as righteous as the conservative Mormons and so since a majority of Latter-day Saints hold different political views than we do, we are victims in this otherwise conservative Church; or (2) all of you conservative Mromons are stupid and closed-minded, everything the Utah legislature does is idiotic, you don’t question your faith enough and that is the only reason you are actually Mormon and conservative too.

    Until I actually became a conservative gradually over the last decade, I thought that it was better to be liberal because you accepted all people (including conservatives). I mistakenly thought being “liberal” was an open-minded way of life. My understanding of that started changing when I lived with some friends in Holland for a summer about ten years ago. I noticed that being liberal meant open-mindedness only towards “liberal” ideas. True, that means liberality towards every type of social aberration or anything that smacks of revolt against tradition or the old values/order (unless it is in the liberal tradition), but at the same time complete intolerance of people with conservative values. (The conservatives don’t fall prey to this same hypocrisy because they never claimed in the first place to be accepting of anything and everything, so when they are intolerant of the newest and trendy pet social programs they are merely being who they are.) In other words, I slowly began to see that being liberal was just as “closed-minded” as being conservative, just with different catch words and policy agendas.

    Then came the key for me, and also, I think, something that is probably one reason why there is indeed a trend in the Church that Mormons who are politically conservative cannot fathom that someone would be a Mormon and a liberal: morality as taught in the doctrines of the Church. I know this is a highly debated topic, and has been very well discussed in Fred Gedicks’s threads over at T&S when he was guest blogging there, but I think it is safe to say that most Latter-day Saints genuinely believe that “conservative” political platforms generally more closely approximate the moral code by which we in the Church should be living. I am stating this as an observation that should be difficult to refute and which I believe constitutes an answer to John H.’s query (not

  54. What we have here is a classic illustration of the problem of individual responsibility versus institutional authority amongst Latter-day Saints. In theory, we all agree that we should do good things of our own free will and initiative (“anxiously engaged … without having to be commanded in all things”). Yet we are so accustomed to working within the institutional structure of the Church that we find independent action and thought to be foreign.

    For example, whenever we would promote microcredit to Latter-day Saints as a means of helping the poor that is very consonant with gospel principles, the first reaction in a majority of cases is not “how could I be involved with that” but rather “the Church should do that.” The idea of charitable activity independent of the Church is alien to many Latter-day Saints even though they will almost all agree in theory that independent charitable activity is a good thing for LDS to do.

    Similarly, this whole discussion is tied to the same cultural assumption, that a Latter-day Saint can not have independent political views informed by gospel principles without institional Church approval even though the official statement urges us to do just that. The effective argument here is not that whether or not there are political views that the Church *really* believes but won’t say. Rather the effective argument is that we are expected to have independent political views based in part on our gospel beliefs and that we will probably differ and that the Church doesn’t want anyone trying to invoke supposed institutional Church approval in the argument.

    The real question is whether Latter-day Saints can engage in political discourse that invokes gospel principles which is still civil and preserves our religious solidarity. Obviously, those Latter-day Saints who are far right politically either don’t try or are not very successful at it. What I would like to see would be more moderate political expression drawing upon gospel principles where reasonably applicable which does recognize that sincere Latter-day Saints can differ politically. That example would then produce real pressure to follow the spirit as well as the letter of the neutrality statement.

  55. Whoops – hit return too soon…

    The difficulty, and therefore the confusion, is that there is no clear theology of when we are to be libertarians. (Meaning the political movement) i.e. when should we allow something that is wrong.

    Were there more clear theology to that point then I think a lot of problems would resolve themselves.

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