Politics and the True Church

Logan and I recently had an interesting discussion in which, among other things, we discussed how the Church influences its members’ political activity.

Now, I’m really not that politically active and/or savvy. So please forgive if I step on toes / misspeak. I, for one, tend to lean toward the Libertarian way of thinking (though that’s mostly in theory and less in practice; I’m not a member of any party at this point). Mostly I’m just complacent when it comes to politics. Though this is my own fault, I don’t think my affiliation with the Church helps the situation and here’s why:

The Church does not officially endorse any political party, of course. How can it? Especially with the added complications associated with political lines being vastly different across borders. We are an international church. Other than the occasional ambiguous conference talk of “be involved,” we don’t get much direction within this realm. Thus, how important can it be? This is just one stance.

Another stance is that since the Church is “conservative” and the majority of Mormons within Utah are Republican, there is somewhat of an unofficial preference for this party (and all parties like unto it for those of you outside of the U.S., even though that can be more confusing than helpful). This stance can seem somewhat silly (as can the other stance). But, I promise, I’ve seen many a member here in Utah use their Church to directly back their political choices. Thus, political involvement is very important.

So this sets the stage for my dilemma. What we have here, I think, is a false dichotomy: Either politics have little importance in the grand scheme of things or they’re very important but only if you’re on the right team. Surely there must be another answer.

The Church, from what I’ve seen, can spread this sense of moral absolutes that bleeds into everything we do, including politics. This, in turn, can establish a subconscious mentality to seek out the “only true and living political party.”

But then, some might say that if there were an ultimate right way to participate in politics, the Church would have told us by now. This, of course, can spread a sense of inconsequentiality, which in turn breeds complacency. Why should I bother with understanding something that is neither absolutely right nor absolutely wrong and/or not endorsed by my leaders? I’d just as soon fill my time with prayer and scripture study instead.

So where am I going with this, you might ask? Well, for one, I was trying to blame my political complacency on something other than myself. And for another, I’m looking to understand how and why I should become more active in politics.

Comments

  1. The doctrines, and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially those found in our Standard Works support the platforms of the Democratic Party and repudiate those of the Republican Party.

    You cannot be a believer in the Book of Mormon and be a Republican.

  2. The US Church members vote about 80% Repub and about 20% Dem. Thems the facts and do with it what you want.

  3. Bob, I don’t think there is any need to apologize for political complacency. Sometimes, it just seems like that is the only reasonable approach a grown-up can take.

    It gets so tedious listening to the True Believers claim that if only their guy were voted into office, or if only this or that legislation were passed, all would be well. The willingness to believe in a political platform as though it were an article of faith displays a naivete and credulity that would make a 19th century snake oil salesman green with envy.

  4. The two parties in the U.S. are very similar in most cases. I end up voting for the candidate who most closely matches my feelings on topics ranging from foreign policy to taxes. In the past 10 years it’s usually been 70% Democrat, 30% Republican, and I’ve never felt like I wasn’t worthy to take the sacrament or go to the temple because of it.

  5. Edward. Can if I want.

  6. Bob Caswell says:

    I’m going to give Edward the benefit of the doubt and assume he was using sarcasm.

    Mark IV,

    My actions being called reasonable was a pleasant surprise. I suppose, though, one of my points that probably wasn’t clear was that for all my activity in the Church right now, I don’t know that I’m contributing too much to helping those around me with life right now. Our belief system has a heavy focus on things to do in order to be ready for something great to come later. The irony is that, for all the stereotyping associated with political activists, they are potentially doing more good for society (for the here and now) than I am. Thus, I wouldn’t mind being part of that, if I only knew how. This may sound like faulty reasoning, but I usually don’t vote because if all I’m willing to do is vote, I’m not doing much. It’s like sustaining the brethren while being an inactive member. What’s the point?

  7. Bob,

    What is your source for the 80-20 statistic?

  8. Bob Caswell says:

    DavidH,

    That actually isn’t my statistic. I’m not bbell. Though for the Church in the U.S., that sounds like it could be right. Either way, that statistic could be whatever and it still woudn’t change much for me.

  9. I don’t know about Mormons in general, but in Utah county in 2004 Bush won over 88% of the votes cast for major party presidential candidates. I expect that means Bush got well over 90% among active Mormons there.

  10. here is the 2004 exit poll data.

    The info about LDS is on page 59.

    http://www.exit-poll.net/election-night/EvaluationJan192005.pdf

    Its either 76% or 80% of LDS that went for Bush.

  11. bbell–thanks for the statistics, although I would be very hard pressed to find the other 20 people in my branch who voted democrat. I live far from UT, but those republicans sure are loud.

  12. A good reason to not promote either of the two major political parties in the Church is the fact that they are both corrupt to the hilt.
    I’ve spent too much time looking into political issues, international economics etc. and just when I was about to take up my sign and march in protests the spirit whispered to me I needed to study the scriptures more and tend to my family. That doesn’t mean I think political complacency is ok. I apply the verse in the D&C, which says we are to waste and wear out our lives in bringing works of darkness to light, to politics. There is plenty to speak up about without getting partisan. I’m probably the most radical mormon I know since my opinion is that the powers that be in the USA are card carrying members of the Gadianton society. We can’t sit still and just watch that happen according to the Book of Mormon. That’s my opinion in a nutshell.

  13. I take my political cues from what supposedly happened during the “War in Heaven”: any politician who seeks to pass laws or start wars in order to coerce people into doing “the right thing” gets mentally filed away as having switched sides since that original conflict, and doesn’t get my vote.

    As time goes by, there are fewer and fewer who seem worthy of my vote.

  14. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    Both parties have their strengths and weaknesses (but mostly weaknesses). I am really in between Republican and Democrat they are both so far left or right nowadays. I mean. what America really needs is a good leader. because we haven’t had one of those for a while (imo). We need to stop dividing everyone with petty differences and bring em together.

  15. Right now I am (supposed to be) preparing my Gospel Doctine lesson on “Being Good Citizens,” so this particular topic is very relevant. I’m trying to anticipate how I’ll direct the class discussion if it takes on an overtly partisan flavor. (Don’t worry, I’m a master of tactful dismissiveness and diversion.)

    One thing that I’ve given a lot of thought to that I haven’t seen brought up here is the fact that much of the Church’s official position might be influenced by the fact that the Church must remain politically neutral to maintain its status as a non-profit charitable organization (i.e., to make sure that tithing and other Church contributions remain tax deductible, etc.) I don’t know the extent to which this fact of the Internal Revenue Code influences Chuch policy, but I think it’s naive to assume that it doesn’t affect it at all.

  16. Bob Caswell says:

    BTD Greg,

    I’d be very interested to know how you handle that one, Greg. Your point about the Church remaing politically neutral is valid even if a cop out in the long run. But even as it stands now, the problem of “being a good citizen” turning into a discussion that is ambigiously buzz-wordy causing no reason for anyone to take anything you say seriously vs. the overtly partisan flavor where you’re taken too seriously… Surely you’ll find middle ground that avoids the pitfalls of the two traditional paths. I’d love to hear more about it.

  17. Well, there are the tax reasons not to endorse any political party. However, I think that even if that wasn’t there the Church still wouldn’t endorse a party. I’ve found Democrats I liked and Republicans I’ve liked, and people on both sides I’ve disliked. To wholely supoort any single party is stupid for an individual, let alone the Church. The Church will only comment on certain legislation, such as abortion, gambling, and gay marriage. I think it’s more important to be politically active at the local level of gov’t because you can actually do something there. If everyone took care of their neighborhood, then the needs of the state and nation would take care of themselves.

  18. Bob,

    The lesson went well. We pretty much stuck to the script, had a pretty good discussion of Section 134 and the civic duties of Latter-Day Saints. I gave bi-partisan props to both Harry Reid and Mitt Romney and talked about Ezra Taft Benson and J. Reuban Clark. There were a few moments when I though it might get dicey when I floated my theory that Section 134 supports a strict view of separation of Church and State, and one of the members of the bishopric had an interesting observation about verse 4 and how it might apply to punishment of hate crimes which, though interesting, made me somewhat unconfortable.

    CJR,

    Fair points, of course. I don’t think there are any but the most stridently partisan among us who would try to argue that one party is all good, while the other party is all bad. Just the same, I do wonder if the Church’s official policy would change if the tax implications of endorsing particular candidates were different. The issue of the Church’s political neutrality didn’t come up in the lesson. We actually spent a lot of time discussing your point about local-level activism/participation/service. That was probably one of the highlights of the discussion.

  19. Bob Caswell says:

    BTD Greg,

    You sound like a solid Sunday School teacher. Wish I was there… Did Joseph Smith running for president work its way into the discussion at all? How about millennial things like the two capitals with different roles, etc.? While separation may be the preferred ideology at present, I wonder if it’s founded in the fact that leaders are imperfect. Too much power under one roof always seems to be a bad thing… Unless you’re perfect.

    CJR,

    I think you’re spot on with your “local level” comment. The nation gets all excited around elections. Citizens start wearing crazy “VOTE” shirts. I wonder where all the enthusiasm goes when other, more pertinent elections happen.

  20. I meant to mention Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign, but forgot. It’s come up in previous lessons, though.

  21. Hey, Bob, this is another Bob.

    Me, I am completely independent. I vote for the candidate, not for one’s party.

    I have voted for Nader for President three times (and lost), and I wrote my own name in for Congress

    and for my state Legislature in 2004, because I thought all the other candidates sucked.

    Only one of mt candidates won, but, I cast my vote, and I got my name on the list of official candidates for those offices.

    Regardless of who won, however, they are in office to serve me (and my neighbors, of course), which

    they cannot do with any degree of accuracy unless they hear my voice.

    So I write and I call and I have made several visits to my state’s legislature, to testify in

    committees, and the like.

    And I lobby the supervisors of governmental agencies, too, just to make sure they know where I stand

    and what I want from them.

    But that’s just me.

    It’s all part of what I believe to be Sustaining the law.

    How important can it be?

    Ask the six million vicitms of Nazi Germany Concentration camps.

    One person can often make a big difference. Ask Rosa Parks.

    When I see a law I don’t like, I do my best to get it changed. Not only by lobbying, but, if it can

    involve an arrest, I allow myself to get arrested so that the Courts can overturn it.

    I have three arrests, zero convictions, and, a handful of overturned laws to my credit.

    I have no desire for my community to become the next Nazi Germany nor the next Zarahemla in A.D.30,

    nor anything like unto it.

    That’s how important it can be.

    Most laws are created with very decent intent, but are written in a way that they can be abused, and

    from my experience, when something can be abused, it will be. So, I do what I can to change things

    that are just plain wrong.

    I see the exact same dichotomy, but it isn’t false. It is very real. But it shouldn’t be.

    In the United States, it only takes six people to change a law. One petitioner and five of the nine

    Justices of the Supreme Court. I have never had to take my petitions that far, though… yet.

    I look forward to the opportunity to do so.

    After three arrests, zero convictions, and five overturned laws, the prosecutors have learned that

    about me. And now, they give me a very wide berth.

    If more people were to do the same, with their pet-peve laws, the United states would be a much much

    better place to live.

    However, a word of caution: don’t break any good laws and expect the same treatment. Many laws are

    good. Some, however are bad.

    That’s my other answer.

    There is no such thing as the “only true and living political party”. Living, yes. True, no. And

    regardless of our political party affilliations, our elected officials need to know where we stand.

    Although the Church CAN spread a sense of moral absolutes, it is NOT supposed to bleed over into any

    polical arena.

    Some people don’t decide to become politically active until late in life. Others earlier. Me, I

    thought I was staying completely out of politics, but, looking back on it, I was my class

    president’s unnofficial cheif of staff for all six years of secondary school, in addition to being

    the Vice President of the Drama Club for two years, the Captain of the Junior High School Safety

    Patrol, and very actively involved in the Bishop’s Youth Committe, the Stake presiden’s youth

    Committee, and the Regional Representative’s Youth Committee from time four of which I served at

    concurrently in my Senior year of high school.

    I just didn’t realize at the time that just because I wasn’t becoming involved in class politics

    that I was still very heavily involved in politics. So, I kept getting my good friend elected as

    Class Pres, until our Senior Year, when he became the ASB pres, and then I lobbied him for

    everything I wanted, and, everything I wanted him to do, he not only did, but it made him just that

    much more popular.

    Since high school, the stakes have changed, but it’s still very much the same game. It’s all about

    getting people to see things your way, and helping you obtain your objectives, or finding ways to

    get around anybody who is in your way.

    If a policeman is in your way, let him arrest you. The worst it can hurt is to put something on your

    record, but it can also help immensely, because as soon as you are placed under arrest, you become

    an officer of the court (until you appoint an attorney to represent you, but you can always get

    around that by not appointing the attorney to represent you, but to be your co-counsel, so that you

    remain an officer of the court) and then you can subpeona anybody who had been hiding out from you,

    and require them to answer all of your questions right there in court.

    And then, once you have their testimony, you can use it to your advantage.

    Edward: why do you say that?

    Curtis: Amen.

    By the way, from my perspective, after having done a bit of study on politics in other countries,

    there really is not a very big difference between what we in the US call a Democrat and a

    Republican. I would say that there is only maybe at most a ten percent shift between the most

    liberal of Democratic Candidate Platforms and the most conservative of Republican Candidate

    platforms in the overall “spectrum” of political possibilities. We just tend to perceive the

    differences as being greater becase of the inherent “us vs. them” nature most humans are born with.

    But, what does the Book of Mormon say about natural man?

    Mark N: The war in heaven was not started by Lucifer. That is not Lucifer’s way. Lucifer’s way is

    not to start a war to coerce anybody into doing anything. Lucifer’s whole purpose was to convince us

    that his plan was better than our Father’s. I was there. I was allowed to voice my own opinions. I

    don’t happen to remember what all I said, but, based on my presence here, I did not join Lucifer’s

    team. Michael started that war. Okay maybe someone else actually started it, but, it was Michael who

    led the team to drive Lucifer and the one-third our siblings who thought very highly of Lucifer’s

    plan. I don’t believe I was on Michaels’ team, either. At least I sure hope not. I don’t think I

    could live with myself knowing that I was on the team that told my siblings that we didn’t want them

    around anymore just because of them having an opinion different from mine. Heavenly Father sure

    didn’t drive our siblings away. Nor did Jehovah. I would like to think that I was part of a team

    that was more like what Christ was like.

    But, I do vehemently agree with you on that second aspect: anybody who uses laws to coerce people to

    do the right thing is only doing Satan’s job for him.

    Have you ever noticed how many stupid laws there are in Utah?

    In the barbaric Old Testament, where so many infractions of the law are a capital offense, what is

    the worst thing that can happen to you if a guy commits the sin/crime of fornication? He get’s

    married… if the girl wants him. If he commits it again and again and again before he gets

    married, what happens? He becomes ignominally polygamous, getting married to all who will take him

    for their husband. Once he gets married is when he risks losing his life.

    In Utah, neither fornication nor adultery is a capital offense, so in the respect of adultery tht’s

    not such a bad trade, but, in Utah, the crime of fornication carries a prison sentence. Now does

    that make sense? Sorry young lady. We can see that you are pregnant and in need of paternal support,

    but the both of you have broken the law so I guess you can both worry about that sort of thing when

    your three years of prison are over.

    Does that make sense? Not one lick. It’s only purpose is to scare kids away from making a choice

    that their parents and teachers are too lazy to train them up to avoid.

    There are so many laws like this that are just plain stupid. Just because I never found myself in a

    position to challenge that particular law does not mean it’s a good one, because it’s only purpose

    is to do Satan’s job for him and coerce kids into making “the right choice”, which is evil.

    But, the majority of Utahns don’t see it that way.

    It’s especially evil when the kids have to become their own secret combination in order to avoid

    prosecution, because that just trains them how to construct even larger secret combinations later

    on, which unfortunately abound in this world, and in Utah as well.

    And, Mark N, that is why I often vote for myself by writing myself in as the candidate. The only

    time I have ever abstained from casting my vote was for some particular candidate, was in my Senior

    year of High School, for Homecoming Queen. As a Freshman, I led a grass-roots campaign for a girl

    that I felt deserved to be recognized for her unheralded community service, but who was not likely

    to get much public recognition from her other activities, and one third of the freshman class voted

    along with me, likely for the exact same reasons, and she won, in spite of not gaining the most

    votes from any other class, not even her own. (ooh, hey, I just noticed a fractional similarity to

    someone else I’ve written about… can that be a bad thing?). Likewise, my candidate won when I was

    a Sophomore and a Junior, and likewise, it probably had an awful lot to do with my grass-roots

    campaigns. As a senior, however, I was afforded the singular opportunity to be the Master of

    Ceremonies for the Homecoming Coronation Ceremony, so I would be the one reading the name of the

    winner. Each of the candidates were my personal friend and I had absolutely no desire to

    inadvertently offend anyone by inadvertetly appearing to be disappointed by the results. So, that

    was the only year that I did not campaign for anyone, and in front of the entire Senior Class, I

    cast my ballot but allowed everyone to see that instead of marking anybody’s name, I wrote in bold

    letters “Abstain”. But I think the rest of the class knew who deserved to be recognized, because the

    girl that I would have voted for won anyway.

    BTD Greg: Please rest assured that if the Church wanted to try to influence people in one way or

    another, they would do so, and would find a way to do so without losing their non-profit charitable

    status. The Church goes way above and beyond the tax-codes. There is absolutely nothing in those

    codes that would prevent the church from using its buildings for political purposes: meetings,

    gatherings, campaign offices, and the like, and the Church could easily charge a reasonable space

    rental fee to any polilitical candidate or action committee, without any change in their n-p/c

    status. They could also allow their buildings to become polling locations. They don’t however,

    because they don’t want to be seen as influencing the membership to vote in any particular way,

    except campaigning against the modification of marriage laws and specifically campaigning against

    the Communist Party. Quite frankly, I don’t think they should be spending the Lord’s money that way

    without telling everybody exactly how it doesn’t interfere with the Eleventh Article of Faith, just

    like they used to do any time there was a Communist Party candidate anywhere, who stood a chance of

    becoming a contender.

  22. Bob Caswell says:

    Thank you, Bob. That was quite possibly the longest comment I’ve read on a blog. I appreciate your perspective.

  23. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    well. it could have been shortened by at least a third. whats up with the 2 sentence paragraphs?

  24. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    one question bob. why is it bad to go against the communist party. I don’t think that’s a waste of money.

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