On being liberal in a conservative Church

David Heap’s guest posting continues.

I spent my elementary school years in Connecticut in a quasi-suburb of New York. I grew up believing that “liberal” was a synonym for good, for progress, for freedom, for generosity, for openmindedness, for scientific advancement. That not only was it perfectly consistent with the gospel, but that any good Latter-day Saint must be a liberal, and certainly anyone who thought much about it.

We moved to a small, LDS-dominated town in Arizona when I was 12. In conversation with an intelligent LDS friend there, I told him I thought one newspaper was better than another because it was more liberal. I was genuinely surprised when my friend indicated that, for him (and he thought the Church), “liberal” was a bad thing, not a good thing. And over time, I learned that, by considering “liberal” a positive thing, I was out of step with most of my co-religionists, even many who were thinkers and quite intelligent. I had the same experience at BYU.

Even today, most of my white anglo U.S. LDS friends are politically conservative and republican. I think, but do not know, that conservative political viewpoints prevail among the Brethren and have predominated for generations. In my lifetime, almost every time the First Presidency and 12 have made a statement on a political issue, it has been on the conservative side.

There was a time when I thought that, to be a truly faithful and believing member of the Church, it was implicitly required that I become much more politically conservative than was my nature. While I no longer believe that, I suspect that there are many members who do believe this is an unarticulated truth. After all, if members (and leaders) of the Church seek inspiration in voting, and if 80-90% of active members (and perhaps leaders) in the U.S. regularly vote for conservative candidates and positions, isn’t that pretty good evidence that political conservatism must be correct? It is hard to believe that God would inspire the overwhelming majority of active members to vote the wrong way.

So how do I handle being out of step, apparently, with the current views on politics of most of the U.S. membership and probably most of the Brethren?

1. When the Brethren say the Church is politically neutral and nonpartisan, I believe them. I do not believe that there is an implied wink-wink that I should interpret to mean that God wants me to be a conservative republican.

2. I do believe that God inspires individuals on both side of political disputes. Thus, I think, at the constitutional convention, those representing the interests of large states and those representing small states were both inspired, and that it was by considering the interests of both that an acceptable solution was found. I think the same is true on most political issues of the day.

3. While the structure and pattern of Church leadership may result in a large representation of capable leaders who are politically conservative, I think the fundamental teachings of the Church support a liberal political view. I embrace, in particular, the universalist, inclusive, hopeful, healing, participatory, redemptive, egalitarian, democratic and tolerant themes of the teachings of Jesus and of Joseph. While I know my conservative brothers and sisters also embrace those principles, I see those principles, as a general matter, as more consistent with a liberal political worldview. Reasonable minds may differ of course.

4. I generally try to avoid political discussions at Church (which would be good advice for me even if I were more conservative). When overt discussions occur, I try to change the subject, or at least avoid participating in the discussion. In those cases where it is impossible to remain silent, I try to couch my comments in terms of commonality of beliefs, taking ownership of my opinions (using “I” words and not “you” words), and acknowledge implicitly or explicitly that I may be wrong.

5. My differing political beliefs, though, are sacred, not secret. While I try to avoid political discussions at Church, I do have a “pro-life democrat” sticker on my car, and my wife and I both had Obama stickers during the campaign. We parked our cars at the Church buildings, and never had our windows broken (even though they were the only Obama stickers as far as the eye could see). My views are pretty well known, and most people are cautious about saying negative things about Obama or democrats in my presence.

How do others deal with the conundrum of either (1) being liberal in a conservative Church, or (2) as a conservative in a conservative Church, reaching out to and accepting liberal members?

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Comments

  1. As a conservative in the church, it isn’t hard to accept a liberal with such an open-minded, humble attitude. I think most difficulties come when people have the attitude you describe in your opening paragraph; i.e., all good and decent people share MY (liberal or conservative) viewpoint.

  2. Ooh good post. I try to keep a low profile because people assume you are immoral if you are a lib. I have had several conversations with people who say that you can’t be a good member of the church if you vote lefty but I learning more and more that there are more of us out there than you think.

    We are lucky in that we are in a fairly liberal community in which more than one car in our church parking lot had both Obama and Prop 8 stickers.

    For the most part I don’t hide it but I don’t alert people to my leaning unless they are at my house where I figure they can just dust their feet off on the way out if they are offended.

  3. After all, if members (and leaders) of the Church seek inspiration in voting,

    That’s a monumental assumption! Some may, and we all should, but that “80-90% of active members” vote the way they do because of prayer inspiration is, I think, unsupportable. It’s been my experience that we expect the Church to change according to our political views, not that we allow our religious views to shape our politics.

    All that aside, I agree with you. The way I handle any disparity between my political views and their apparently divergence from those of others is to remember that “liberal/conservative” is not “black/white” or “all/nothing.” It’s a sliding scale. The gospel is conservative in that it encourages us to “remember” and to “hold fast to that which is true” and to “honor thy father.” The gospel is liberal in that it seeks to “liberate the captive” and “confound the wise” and “go forward in faith.” We look backward and look forward at the same time; we cling tightly to and discard at the same time; we save and destroy at the same time, and on and on.

    Each of us needs to accept the possibility of genuineness in one who says that his political views — those very views that differ from our own — are guided by his faith in the gospel. They very well may be.

  4. I pray for those who make the statements Lee describes with the prayer “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

  5. Ack. Supply/delete word endings as necessary to make my comment intelligible.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Politics only rarely comes up at church, so it hasn’t been much of a problem for me. And although I think of myself as politically liberal, (a) I’m not a political junkie and (b) I’ve come to political liberality relatively late in life. I can still remember holding more conservative viewpoints, and even now I remain more of a fiscal conservative and social liberal. I think those factors help me to negotiate the rare times that it becomes an issue in the church context.

  7. The first thing my husband did when he was asked to be the bishop of our ward was to remove his Obama bumper sticker. Knowing that many of the people we serve do not share our politics has motivated us to simply remove those discussions from the table–and to remove political insignia from our cars. Right now, our focus is on Christ. Our politics are beside the point. We liberals in Utah do, however, have secret handshakes.

  8. I agree with Ardis about the scale. My church friends and I may get into friendly debates about politics (such as on Facebook), but this helps us to see beyond the stereotypes we may have of each other. It also helps me to remember that Lehi taught there must needs be an opposition in all things, and I believe politics are no exception. Like what David said in point #2, the church needs both liberals and conservatives or the work of the Lord that we carry out would be frustrated.

  9. John Taber says:

    But what if you find you’re not liberal enough among the (relatively) liberal subgroup of Church members? The heat I took for referring to Glenn Beck once as “Brother Beck” was one of the reasons I left the Yahoo group “lds-left”.

  10. Liberalism today is often associated with either people who either have no place for religion in their lives or outwardly oppose it (i.e. Bill Maher for an extreme). Liberalism is also often aligned with causes such as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage which in both cases the LDS Church openly opposes. On the other hand, I find the open hostility of many conservatives towards social issues such as immigration and entitlements for the poor and disadvantaged as issues I can’t line myself up with either (unChrist-like behavior in my opinion). I call myself moderate, but that is often categorized as someone who just can’t seem to take sides either way which I feel sometimes. I find it difficult to align myself with either side because both have their rather remarkable flaws.

  11. LOL. In Utah, I learned that open minded is a bad thing, too, at least for some people.

    In the mission field, of course, converts better be open minded. If you are dogmatic, you won’t join a strange American religion.

  12. Re #9: Learning how to negotiate political differences might be one of the best tests of how charitable we have become in this life. Maybe you are better off not spending time with those who were apparently unkind and easily provoked.

  13. PS: I arrived in the United States as a conservative but I have had to conclude that there are precious few conservatives around here.

    Conservatives are skeptical about knowledge claims and the ability of human beings to govern. Therefore conservatives value empirical evidence and pragmatism.

    Conservatives are willing to tolerate privilege because too much equality is the end of liberty. Conservatives value merit including education and expertise.

    Conservatives conclude that privilege implies obligation to society and its less fortunate members.

    That’s why conservatives invented social security, for example.

    In the United States, of course, that makes you a rabid liberal. To be a conservative in the United States, conservatism is rather dogmatic.

    Dogma, however, is rather a mark of radicals, not conservatives who value tradition that requires reform, rather than revolution, as the means of adaptation.

  14. I understand very well the sentiment of John Taber (9) above. My entire adult life in the Church I have felt like a political misfit because I do not identify with either the “Liberal” or “Conservative” wings of the Church’s membership. In my current ward, there is a very large academic segment–both faculty and students–which leans hard left, while the remainder is mostly made up of the stereotypical Mormon conservatives. It seems that, whenever I am around members of the ward–whether it be in meetings or in social environments–I find myself continuously wandering back forth between the two poles in a state of discomfort.

    I get weary of the whining about being an under-appreciated and persecuted political minority from the far-lefts, but find little or nor improvement in the anti-intellectual and might-is-right attitude that is so commonplace among the far-rights.

  15. Natalie B. says:

    Great post. I don’t try to parade my political views – though I think having a more liberal disposition does, inevitably, shape my view of the gospel. However, I don’t hide them either. I had an Obama sticker on my car and Facebook, and if asked, I’d be happy to state my political views.

    I don’t hide my views, because I think it is important that we more actively try to foster the idea that the church is open to members of all political parties. I think it is truly an impediment to our missionary programs and our general mission that so many people believe they must be Republican to join the church. If all that we do is stay mum about politics, then we will just perpetuate the general belief that all Mormons are Republicans.

  16. I’m with Bishop Young–for the nonce I have no politics at church and if the subject cannot be completely avoided I try to make statements that are sufficiently obfuscatory that nobody can figure out what my politics are.

    Speaking of Glenn Beck, though, I saw 20 seconds of his show last night as he interviewed Ramos or Campion. I told my wife this morning that if I were to see him, even at a church meeting, I would be tempted to go punch him in the nose. But with him it’s attitude as much as his horrid political views.

  17. Excellent way to approach this topic, David.

    I keep in mind that each label is relative to the society in which you live – and that the Church has been seen as both dangerously liberal and dangerously conservative in its history. Since the very definitions are so fluid and flexible, I just don’t care how people characterize me with such labels. I couldn’t care less if I’m seen by someone else as liberal or conservative, since I’m both – and since how I’m seen is dependent totally subjectively by the person doing the labeling.

    I’m moderate by nature, so I get it from both sides regularly. Some of the most humorous discussions I’ve ever heard have been when an extremely conservative member makes an “I can’t see how any member could vote for a Democrat” comment in the presence of another member who regularly votes Democrat. When the Democrat ignores the slight and simply discusses overall issues without making it an obvious confrontation, the Republican often agrees the Democrats conclusions – totally oblivious to the partisan leanings of the other. I’ve also seen it reversed, but it happens more with silent Democrats, since they are outnumbered so heavily in general.

  18. I found a very interesting argument against gay marriage.
    This is the best argument I have heard against gay marriage.

    Gay marriage doesn’t satisfy life’s purpose

    It is amazing to me the extent that people will go to in order to achieve their personal goals. Take, for example, Prop. 8 that was on the ballot . This is the second time the California voters have passed this law, and yet those who fought against Prop. 8 continue to fight against the will of the people.

    They keep saying this is a religious issue. That is not true. Everyone needs to answer the question of “What is the purpose of life?” Leaving religion out of the answer, as well as the Bible and personal opinions, there is only one answer that can be given that will satisfy the laws of NATURE. That answer is: “Reproduce yourself and your species.”

    Can two female or two male marriage partners conform to this law? No! So, this is not a religious issue alone. It is an issue that defies the laws of nature. The animal, bird, fish, insect, and plant kingdoms all live this law. They reproduce themselves as per nature’s laws.

    If any of these kingdoms failed to live this law, their kingdom would become extinct in a short period of time. If the plant kingdom failed to live this law, there would be no food for man or animals to eat. We would soon become a dead planet.

    Only man wants to defy this law of nature. In so doing, they become destroyers of, rather than contributors to, the human race.

    Society is based on the family of husband wife and children. This is how the next generation rises. I can just see states or countries legalizing gay marriage and then losing population.

    Why is government in the marriage business? States/countries have an interest in keeping their states populated.

  19. “I think the fundamental teachings of the Church support a liberal political view.”

    I completely disagree with this statement. There is nothing liberal or conservative about our baptismal covenants, the oath and covenant of the priesthood, temple covenants, or the two most important commandments (on which hang all the law and the prophets), to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

    It is a shame that political viewpoints and discussions can make people uncomfortable or unwelcome in church as you describe and have experienced. That should have no place in the gospel. Charity is kind, not puffed up, and not easily provoked.

  20. Jon, that is a very interesting analysis. But I would prefer that this thread not become a debate regarding same sex marriage.

  21. David:
    Agreed, however isn’t this a post about liberalism?

  22. I am sure, there are also liberal Evangelicals. But what does that mean or count ? Upper Mormon Church leadership is conservative and all members know and feel this. Personal stories do not change that, only hide it.
    If the Church leadership wishes to change that image, it must bring liberals into it’s upper Church leadership, and start talking with a liberal voice sometimes. Otherwise, the Church will remain on the conservative list with the Evangelicals.

  23. I think I understand were your coming from. There’s a strong tendancey to take opponents’ viewpoints as an indication of stupidity, and they frequently frame issues in terms of the inferiority of the opposition. I get the same thing as a conservative among Sunstone-type Mormons.

  24. Bob, there have been active, vocal Democrats in the upper level of Church leadership for years. Fewer than Republicans, but they’ve been there regularly.

  25. I cultivate unity in a politically diverse church by reading posts like this but avoiding the comments section.

  26. Sorry, meant to specify “reading really fine posts like this.” :)

  27. ZSorenson says:

    What I don’t understand is why there is no consideration of the fact that liberal and conservative are political labels. In other words, they refer to the proper use of government. Government is that necessary evil that exists to compel people to respect mutual rights.

    If liberalism means entitlements to the poor, than that means defining certain things like food or housing or healthcare as ‘rights’. This means the government must enforce them. That requires making decisions for people visavis what they do with their money or how they will receive said entitlements. This removes accountability from society somewhat. Moreover, politics is exactly that: politics. Often, coalitions that form a majority can use their position of power to maintain power and give themselves benefits. That’s not democracy even if democracy was the vehicle leading to the election of said coalitions.

    In other words, all that is liberal about the gospel including being charitable, equality, and progress, open-mindedness etc. does not necessary imply the role of government proscribed by liberalism.

    There are undoubtedly many conservatives in the church who are close-minded and stuck-up or something genuinely ‘illiberal’, but I suspect a lot of that 80-90% majority simply recognizes that personal freedom and accountability might have greater value than actually achieving progressive goals.

    That is, some may want to help the poor, but value society’s right to choose to do this over whether the poor get helped or not.

    Pat Moynihan, famous liberal philosopher and former senator said, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” I believe there is wrong in both outlooks, but the idea of using politics – or forming a coalition of the ‘educated’ vs. the ‘unwashed’ – to proscribe a compulsory cultural change is incredibly evil and totally against the teachings of the gospel.

    While busing or desegregating schools may have been a positive example of such a philosophy, probably what the senator was thinking of, this philosophy is also the central tenet of totalitarian fascism, and communism.

    I want to desperately be sympathetic to liberals in the church, I grew up in a unitarian universalist family in New York City and Washington, DC. I get liberalism, I’m sympathetic to it. I converted to the church.

    My message to church liberals is the following: Although you do have every right to hold political views of your choosing, you should not be dismayed or surprised in the face of the nearly-monolithic political views of the majority of church members.

    There is a reason why it is this way. It is true just because someone is conservative that doesn’t make them at all right on so many issues. I am personally weary of the attitude towards homosexuals (the actual people) of so many. However, I will quote infamous Ayn Rand – who despite rabid atheism, was a master of the mind – she probably didn’t bother thinking of it, but our religion is one of the most objectivist there is, we believe in a physical God, the herald of our founding was a physical book on physical plates, and our faith is basic upon a real valid internal confirmation of truth – not on a mere vague longing for said truth – sorry, tangent, Rand said: “Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises”

    For a church liberal: 1) The gospel makes me want to support liberal policies 2) I believe most members believe in the same gospel values I do 3) Most members support conservative policies

    This is the contradiction that seems to appear as a unconscious question in most blog entries like this one. What to do?

    A contradiction, maybe the premises are off. They are: there is a difference between social values and political values. That is the distinction.

    It is of course, okay to be a liberal in the church. However, being liberal means being willing to defend one’s beliefs, because there are REASONS why people disagree, if a person is unwilling to confront those reasons, they should not use their politics as a reason for feeling excluded.

    But it is best to leave politics out of church. I agree

    Sorry if this offends anyone, I’m just trying to articulate my views.

  28. Living outside of Utah helps. I felt a lot less lonely being a liberal when I moved to Chicago. But it’s not a cure-all. My in-law’s ward in Pittsburgh is very conservative, for example.

    It’s hard for me to stop my temper from flaring up when people make naked political statements in church that I disagree with – it’s so inappropriate and makes me feel that I’ve been robbed of the few hours I get that are “not of the world” each week. Once, after the 2004 presidential election, someone got up in testimony meeting and said some things I simply could bear to see go unanswered. So I got up after him and said how lonely it can feel to be in the political minority at church and can we please leave this at home. After Sacrament meeting, several people who I had no idea were Democrats came up to me and thanked me. So I guess there are more of us out there than one would think.

    The web helps, too. I wish my DH would get into internet communities of lefty Mormons because I think it would make him feel less alone. But alas, all he wants to do on the web is read about cars.

  29. This is an interesting post. In my (Bay Area, CA) ward, I experience the opposite. My ward is fairly liberal. I can count off the top of my head about five conservative members that I know of. (Six if I count myself, though I’m more of a libertarian.) Generally, politics don’t come up at church, with the possible exception of the 90-year-old high priest in gospel doctrine who spouts off occasionally. (Every ward seems to have one of those.) I’ve never asked the conservative members how they feel being in the minority in the ward.

    My extended family are all very vocal liberal Democrats from Utah, so I never grew up with the idea that political liberalism was against the gospel. In fact, they were mortified when I registered as a Republican when I became old enough to vote. The first time I had an inkling that most church members were conservative was on my mission when I had a companion who was absolutely scandalized that I support the legalization of marijuana, and she said that liberals couldn’t be good church members. (I have no idea how the topic came up. She was constantly baiting me politically.) Later in my mission several members of the ward I was serving in were making comments behind the back of the only Democrat in the ward, questioning her faithfulness in light of her politics.

    Personally, I’m happy to have anyone of any political persuasion at church, but I prefer if everyone checks their politics at the chapel door. There are no -ites in Zion.

  30. #27 – “you should not be dismayed or surprised in the face of the nearly-monolithic political views of the majority of church members. There is a reason why it is this way.”

    That is both right and wrong, frankly. In Utah, it has been “nearly-monolithic” for a long time. There are specific political reasons for that, and it’s not because one label fits the Gospel better than the other. Outside the Inter-Mountain West, it is not. Majority, yes; nearly monolithic, no.

    As I said earlier, I just don’t care about the labels – usually. The only times I am bothered by these labels is when someone tries to say that one is more “Gospel-compatible” than the other, specifically because that implies those who choose to self-identify the “wrong” way are less righteous than those who “get it” and vote the “right” way. That’s the only aspect of this discussion that bothers me – and it happens on both sides.

    I personally believe that there are both “liberal” and “conservative” aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as those political terms are defined in our modern American culture, and the biggest problem I have with using those labels in the realm of the Gospel and the Church is that they too often become dogmatic in and of themselves – as if the political parties and platforms somehow represent the will of God. I have a hard time with either extreme, since I just don’t see life and the fullness of the Gospel as being in either camp. I see the Church as having a generally conservative practical approach and a very liberal theology, so I am totally fine muddling around in the middle trying to figure out the best balance.

    Finally, an extreme conservative is nothing more than an extreme liberal with more friends. In both cases, they are right – and everyone who disagrees is wrong.

  31. John Taber says:

    In my ward the 80-year-old high priest doesn’t just spout off; he brings in Wall Street Journal clippings to hand out, and teaches Gospel Doctrine.

  32. Sorry, the following sentence is backward.

    “an extreme conservative is nothing more than an extreme liberal with more friends,” should read, “an extreme liberal is nothing more than an extreme conservative with more friends.”

    The more narrowly someone defines “the Truth”, the fewer people with whom that person will agree – but both extremes define “the Truth” largely in opposition to the “Truth” of others.

  33. David H, as you may know I grew up in a liberal area and was a political liberal until about a decade ago. (Voted Dem in all major elections until 2000). For me, life has taught me that things are more complex than what I believed when I was younger. It has also taught me that the more compassionate, loving way of politics is also the one that emphasizes self-reliance, not government welfare, protects life and traditional values and supports a strong national defense because that is what prevents war. I thought I was being compassionate when I was a liberal, and I believe I’m being more compassionate now. But given that I know how liberals think, it doesn’t surprise me that many people disagree with me.

    As Ardis mentions, there is room for a continuum of belief — life is more complex than the political corners into which some people like to paint themselves. I am a conservative, but I am against the death penalty and in favor of immigration and amnesty for illegal immigrants and lifting the embargo on Cuba. I know many liberals who have a similar mix of beliefs.

    Let me just say that mixing politics and Church does not seem to work — that’s why I discuss politics on M*, so I can get it out of my system and concentrate on the Savior on Sundays. Seems to work for me.

  34. Utah routinely elected Democratic Senators and Governors for decades back when the state population had a far higher percentage of Mormons than it does now. I suspect that there were a few key turning points that shifted the LDS membership from Democratic to Republican:

    The New Deal and related programs under FDR during the 30s and 40s. The Church spoke out repeatedly against the ‘dangers of the government dole’ and revived the Church’s own welfare system in response. LBJ’s “Great Society” efforts merely cemented that shift.

    The sexual revolution, the sharp rise in drug usage and related “counter-culture” movements during the 60s and 70s. Having lived through those times, I can tell you personally that Democrats were seen as being in favor of the above, while Republicans were seen as opposed.

    Protests against Vietnam, and what was seen generally as an anti-military attitude, again starting in the late 1960s. Mormons tended to interpret (not with cause) much of this as “blame America first”.

    Note, by the way, that I was a registered Democrat from 1971 (when I turned 18) until last fall, so I’m not seeing all this through ‘Republican eyes’. Having lived in the DC area for eight years, I met and knew plenty of Mormons all along the political spectrum, including Senators Orrin Hatch, Gordon Smith, Bill Bennett, and Harry Reid. In fact, I knew Sen. Reid the best; he and I were in the same ward for six years, and I was in the bishopric for a good portion of that. There is much that Bro. Reid and I disagree upon politically, but he is a good and thoughtful man and a worthy temple-goer, and I love him. ..bruce..

  35. In fact, I knew Sen. Reid the best; he and I were in the same ward for six years, and I was in the bishopric for a good portion of that. There is much that Bro. Reid and I disagree upon politically, but he is a good and thoughtful man and a worthy temple-goer, and I love him. ..bruce..

    A different number of years in a shared ward, and I was never in the bishopric, but otherwise I could have written these lines. It’s a good example of leaving politics out of the chapel and of seeing the individual instead of the party stereotype.

  36. Emily, #28 “Living outside of Utah helps. I felt a lot less lonely being a liberal when I moved to Chicago. But it’s not a cure-all. My in-law’s ward in Pittsburgh is very conservative, for example.”

    Once you get outside of Utah (probably even in Utah), I think it’s probably more of an urban vs. suburban/rural difference. In contrast to your parents’ ward, the ward I was in when I lived in Pittsburgh (in the city) was the most refreshingly liberal congregation I’ve ever experienced. Now I’m stuck in suburbia (near Buffalo) and my ward is full of inappropriate politics over the pulpit and the assumption that to be faithful is to be Republican. Obviously, the liberal=urban/conservative=suburban connection is not unique to mormonism. Given its frontier beginnings and western location, Utah would probably have been conservative whether or not the Mormons settled there. The problem arises when Utah culture is confused with church culture and when church culture is confused with church doctrine.

  37. A different E than #1 says:

    In my lifetime, almost every time the First Presidency and 12 have made a statement on a political issue, it has been on the conservative side.

    In the fairly recent past there have been statements coming from the Brethren toward illegal immigrants that have been a lot closer to what is considered a “liberal” political position than the “conservative” one. In the Utah Legislature, the admonitions were widely ignored by the same folks who have trumpted implicit church endorsement on various other issues that they agree with.

    Also, in the past year, the leadership has indicated that the church doesn’t oppose limited legal rights for gay couples (not quite the same as supporting, but nevertheless showing some tolerance), but there seemed to be few Mormons in the Legislature who were willing to be accommodating at all.

    On most issues, however, there has been official silence from Salt Lake City. That doesn’t displease me in the least. While I’m generally left of center, church isn’t the place to dwell on political issues. Only when people make statements that the Gospel demands a certain political viewpoint do I say anything, and in those case I’m polite and brief about it.

  38. Good point, Markie. I think you’re right.

  39. I mostly try to laugh a lot and if I say scandalous things to do it warmly and in good humor. I really haven’t found it a problem to be a politically liberal faithful Mormon. My ward members may beg to differ, but I don’t recall any bad feelings.

  40. Naismith says:

    Politics only rarely comes up at church, so it hasn’t been much of a problem for me.

    I can only wish. Tonight at stake conference the temple president said something about, “…before Al Gore invented the internet.” And everyone laughed.

  41. On being conservative in a liberal bloggernacle: Because a couple of my good friends are liberal, I had always thought that I was very understanding of the liberal point of view, and even shared it to some extent on many issues. However, sometimes the more I read liberal points of view, the more conservative I start to feel.

  42. Although my parents are extremely conservative, I grew up looking up and listening to my older siblings. My two sisters are Democrats, my brother is a Libertarian. So you can guess where my political views lie…

    Actually, it had never occurred to me that my fellow classmates had different views on political issues, until one day when my friend turned to me and said, “you’re one of those liberals, aren’t you?” This was a year ago, so I was 14, and it was a huge awakening for me.

    Since, I have found that when talking to my LDS friends, when I express my political opinions, they usually agree with me. It seems to me like it’s tradition to be conservative, so we, the younger generation, assume that we are the same as our parents.

    I haven’t found it difficult at all to be openly liberal, even in my extremely conservative Seminary class, because we usually skirt around the topic, or we just agree to disagree.

  43. Bruce Rogers says:

    Many of the above posts use the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. What do those words mean in an gospel environment? We are told to turn to the scriptures for answers. When I looked up those words in each of the four standard works, the result was none for the word ‘conservative’. For the word ‘liberal’, Joseph Smith used it only a few times in the BofM, D&C and PofGP. It is used 8 times in the Bible. Each of its uses in all of the scriptures is very positive. If the word is always used in a positive sense in the scriptures, I would ask, why is it not used in a positive sense by people who use it today? If anyone has any scriptural reference in which the word ‘liberal’ is not used is a positive manner, I would appreciate knowing of it. Meanwhile, I will assume that the word ‘liberal’ is a good thing. Some may say that the definition has changed. Yes, some may have changed the definintion. However, the scripture says “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (Isa 5:20). So, I want to be a liberal, in the scriptural sense, and I feel sorry for those who “call good evil”.

  44. Thanks for writing this blog post. I’m in a fairly conservative ward in Northern Utah. Sometimes I feel very alone there. I once went out and looked while walking a crying child, my car was the only one with an Obama sticker on it, a sticker which is still there.

    I don’t hide my political views. I’m fairly liberal. Even used to be pro choice until I saw the very early ultrasound of my now 3 year old and had a “mighty change of heart.” You will find my name on the list of donors against Prop. 8 though. Some of the things that people said about Prop 8 were very cruel. Basically I could stay and start swearing and people for being morons, or go check on my daughter in nursery.
    I have sometimes raised my hand and said “Not everyone shares the same political views in this room.” I also wear my LDS Democrat ball cap to the community clean up service project.

    Mostly, for me, I end up biting my tongue.

    And I’ll be honest, the political divide has really given me a great excuse to justify being inactive. Gives me someone else to blame….

  45. I find the labels themselves carry too much baggage with them to be accurate enough to define me. Since they are political they deal with issues of power and how to use power in our particular political system. But in our society they are also used as a way to pigeon-hole people, like a litmus test to see if you’re “one of us or one of them”. Sometimes it’s like the adolescent need to belong that we see at the big football game. It’s like we have a need to “hate’ the other team just because, well, they’re the Eagles or the Rams or the Colts or something.

    I have taught high school U.S. government and used the topic of labels as my last unit. The kids genuinely want to understand it, but it is difficult to explain because it seems to be more about relative perceptions, human needs and desires, and us v. them.

    I tried to get them away from the false dilemma of either one or the other. It’s not just a linear paradigm with liberal on one side and conservative on the other (how convenient to be so absolute). There was a useful online survey that the students could take to help start our discussion.

    It’s called the “World’s Smallest Political Survey” (click here: http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html)

    My main concern with these labels is that since it may be difficult to understand quickly the subtle differences between competing political philosophies and cultural norms that we use them as a sort of shorthand way to judge and categorize others without getting to know them. And in the gospel fellowship that is completely out of place.

  46. I define myself as a Libertarian if I must be defined.

    I’m equally confused by the conservative herd mentality displayed by the majority of Church members as I am with the congratulatory back slapping “we’re the enlightened” attitude of the liberal minority. Both groups seem a little strange to me.

  47. I never gave much thought to political labels until attending BYU where my religion professors pounded into my head the notion that one could not possibly be a Democrat and be a good member of the church. How strange! I had just returned from a mission to a socialist country. No one attacked those good, socialist members of the church, yet in my country Democrats were portrayed as something only slightly better than child molesters. If four years at BYU did nothing else, it is that people who use narrow American political definitions to judge someone’s standing as a church member really aren’t Mormons at all. Their politics have taken the place of religion.

  48. While others have come close to saying it, let me add my succinct opinion. I think that at this time, in the church, I would characterize the primary difference between so-called “liberals” and so-called “conservatives” in this way: The (apparent) majority–because those of us in the minority don’t speak up much, to avoid ruffling the past 30 years of feathers–believe that the “thinking has been done.” This majority are indisputably of the “conservative” group.

    This majority are (seemingly) content to very simply, and without any further thought or study, “follow the prophet.”
    And, almost without exception, though not always with spoken comments, think/label those of us that express thoughts contrary to the “party line” are unfaithful (at best). Though I have been called an apostate and a heretic for expressing my view that not ALL actions/teachings of church leaders (ever, including right now) are inspired by, let alone the “mind and will of God.”

    And, yes, I have a quite unrighteous chip on my shoulder.

  49. I always lived with the apparently illusion that my liberal leanings were being tolerated by my more conservative fellow church members. I avoid discussion of politics at church, but I am known to be a democrat and have not hid that affiliation. I had a Kerry bumper sticker on my car four years ago and I have an Obama sticker on it now. While my husband was the bishop of our ward we tried especially to be careful about political discussions, mostly avoiding them altogether.

    Last fall, this comment was left on my personal blog: http://bandanamom.blogspot.com/2008/09/anonymous-shows-true-colors.html

    I fairly quickly arrived at the conclusion that this is a person who actually knows me – probably someone in my ward. This has sort of changed my view of what I thought was a mutual feeling of respect between myself of my fellow conservative ward/stake members.

    That’s not to say that I think all my conservative friends are as nasty as this comment. I have many friends who I know feel nothing like this person. But it has made re-think the way I view a lot of people. Because this person felt they were anonymous, they said what they really felt/thought.

  50. By The Rules says:

    Politically, I lean towards a consitutionalist. Accepting that the Constituion is an inspired document, and controlling (theorectically) of politics, If a politcal agenda can not be supported in somewhat of a clear manner, I do not support it politically. However, if it is a sound gospel principal, I will support it outside of the politcal arena. I don’t frivously utilize the force that accomapanies governmental intervention. Now if someone could just explain to me whether I am conservative or liberal…..

  51. Mark Brown says:

    The amount of energy we expend on this sort of line-drawing is remarkable. It isn’t clear to me that being conservative or liberal is any more important than being red-headed or left-handed. It is so completely trivial that we demean ourselves when we make it into something big.

    If we cannot imagine ourselves being married to somebody who votes differently, it is a good sign that we are doing it wrong. When somebody tries to tell us that Jesus agrees with his political opinions, we need to develop the talent of loud laughter.

  52. I am not LDS but a member of another conservative denomination. Part of the problem is that many Christians have been brainwashed with Republican propaganda and also we have Democrats who mistakenly think our party core values are about supporting secularism, absolute abortion rights and gay marriage.

    I consider myself to be a true liberal in the New Deal tradition. We true liberals believe in economic justice for the poor and working families. We need an activist role by government to provide a safety net for the less fortunate and protect workers, consumers and investors. The Democratic Party must be the party of working and middle class families. Until Democrats and others on the left understand that one can be progressive and also pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I am afraid that we are going to make little headway in convincing our fellow Christians that believers don’t have to vote Republican.

  53. Peter LLC says:

    It’s been my experience that we expect the Church to change according to our political views, not that we allow our religious views to shape our politics.

    Preach on, Ardis. Seriously.

  54. Anne (UK) says:

    move out of the US! This obsession with liberal v conservative is purely an American LDS problem. Elsewhere, we’re just glad to see members, and politics is hardly ever discussed.

  55. Alpha Echo says:

    Ditto to jks’ comment about being conservative on the liberal bloggernacle. It’s the reason I no longer even lurk around FMH.

  56. Peter LLC says:

    Elsewhere, we’re just glad to see members, and politics is hardly ever discussed.

    True that. The Central European country in which I live has five political parties in parliament, and although there is a “correct” party for members of a certain mainline religion, I’m unaware of local members of the LDS church identifying with any one in particular.

  57. Gee whillickers, Peter! Warn me to sit down before you agree with me like that! The shock to my system is too … great … must … open … child … proof … medicine … bottle … … … … FAIL … /sound of siren in distance/

  58. Peter LLC says:

    Oops! Next time I hope Steve will intervene and censor any comments of mine that might threaten the status quo ante consensu!

  59. #52: “…pro-life and pro-traditional marriage..” Does anyone have the numbers? Who has the greater numbers of children, and/or the greater number of divorces..Democrats or Republicans?
    I think Conservatives have some very good ideas. I just side with #52’s “New Deal ” thinking. I just want the “bailout” in paychecks for useful work.

  60. I grew up fairly liberal in conservative wards. I served two years in S. Utah and found myself astounded/shocked by the GOP = LDS attitude. I returned home even more liberal than I was.

    Surprisingly though, I’ve found the same kind of brain dead attitudes living here in a liberal hotbed. People seem to be just as ignorant as the conservatives I’ve met.

    E in #1 is right – neither of the parties trouble me too much – its the partisan attitudes that make me sick – especially in the church.

  61. I should add – its not the members of my ward who have brain dead attitudes here. In fact, though my ward is a pretty good mixture of political leanings, politics never seem to come up in church meetings – as it should be.

  62. My message to church liberals is the following: Although you do have every right to hold political views of your choosing, you should not be dismayed or surprised in the face of the nearly-monolithic political views of the majority of church members.

    Does everyone realize that the non-American Saints who know enough of our politics and culture look at us and think we’re funny? “U.S.” conservatism has long been dead abroad.

  63. Ardis stated that It’s been my experience that we expect the Church to change according to our political views, not that we allow our religious views to shape our politics.

    The disconnect between the Church’s view on immigration and that of many members is but one example…

  64. Does everyone realize that the non-American Saints who know enough of our politics and culture look at us and think we’re funny? “U.S.” conservatism has long been dead abroad.

    And what is this supposed to mean? I often marvel at the stupidity of European politics and so do many other American Saints. Sometimes I think they are funny and sometimes I don’t think it’s something to laugh at.

    Should European Saints change their views because American Saints giggle at them as well? And though their views might not be “long dead,” they run the risk of being flat out extinct.

    I don’t particularly care what a foreign Saint thinks of the politics in my country, and I’m sure they don’t care what I think of theirs.

  65. John/64, you’re helping prove the point that one’s political views are not inextricably linked to one’s religious views, that one can be a faithful LDS and think differently from his neighbor.

    Again, no one should apologize for his/her political views at Church. And the Republican Party shouldn’t have any hold on the consciousness of the Church.

  66. Sorry Queuno,

    I guess I misread your post.

    I’m kind of stunned that everyone has politics come up in Church so much. I can only remember a couple of times in 30 years where anything of the sort made it into my meetings.

  67. “And what is this supposed to mean? I often marvel at the stupidity of European politics and so do many other American Saints. Sometimes I think they are funny and sometimes I don’t think it’s something to laugh at.”

    What they think is funny isn’t our politics per se, but how American LDS culture is tied in with US political conservatism, since no one in Europe even comes close to subscribing being US political conservatives. For us the debate revolves around whether you have to be a conservative to be a good Mormon, for them, that’s not even a possibility, really.

  68. This is definately a liberal blog. I disagree with all of you. One only has to look at the Democratic platform and ask themselves whether the espoused declarations agree with Church doctrine. My opinion is that if you are liberal, you don’t have a strong testimony, or you are too lazy to educate yourself on the issues. As for those of you with Obama stickers, I think I would remove them in light of what he has accomplished since being in office. IE. Abortion on demand, same sex marriage, big government, cuts in defense, (lying). You need to read books by Ezra Taft Benson and pay close attention to what he says about giving away our freedoms. We are not given counsel on which party to be affiliated with, but we are taught to seek after those things which are virtuous and of good report. Also, Conservatives are not against immigration: just “illigegal” immigration. We are taught to uphold and sustain the law. You have been lulled into a web of apathy and have been brainwashed by the media. I feel sorry for you.

  69. Mark Brown says:

    Dottie, you can keep your pity, as well as your accusations of laziness, weak testimony, apathy, and brainwashing.

    One reason people might want to self-identify as liberal is to just create a distinction between themselves and folks like you.

  70. Mark (#69), speak for yourself. Dottie’s well-reasoned and thoughtful, yet stern voice of warning has persuaded me to switch my party affiliation back to the Republican party. As she points out so eloquently, Democrats hate freedom, love killing babies, and love lying.

    My weak testimony that came as a result of my withdrawing my membership in the Republican party four years ago is quickly improving, and I can once again declare with every fiber of my being that the GOP is true, and Rush Limbaugh is a prophet.

  71. Mark Brown says:

    I’m glad you are back on the strait and narrow, Christopher.

    One of the most appealing things about conservatives is how they seem to instinctively understand that there is more to life than politics. And one of the least appealing things about conservatives is how often they forget that, and make everything a matter of politics.

  72. RE #68
    Why in the world would anyone turn to a book written by ETB for political guidance? Didn’t he toy with the idea of running with George Wallace? That alone disqualifies him from any serious discussion about politics. If your politics are informed by that crazy strain of political thought you are in for a very, very difficult four, and possibly, eight years of BHO. I hope your commune is sufficiently stocked.

    With respect to God and politics, I think God looks down on our forays and attempt(s) at self governance the way I watch my kids play house. To him, I think it all seems like child’s play. Lord knows, judging by the very recent performance of our government, the children are clearly in charge. But, their actions have zero impact on my ability to repent and worship God. They just bring out the cranks like Dottie.

    It is absurd to claim to find the hand of God in any political party.

  73. Thanks Dottie. That was the funniest post yet. The “illigegal” thing was hysterical. You’re a genius.

  74. I am absolutely certain that Dottie is a liberal troll who has posted here in order to embarrass conservatives and make them look as profoundly thoughtless and stupid as possible. Take your anti-conservative antics elsewhere!

  75. I love being a liberal in a conservative culture; it’s delightful.

    Then again, I’m ever the contrarian and I love a meaty discussion on progressive views.

    I do get right angry when it’s even suggested that I’m not a faithful member because of my beliefs. Look, if you’re going to call me to repentance, like some nut case did on my brief political statement after the ’08 election, I’m going to challenge you right back. I don’t mind people who come by their political beliefs with honest thought; it’s the mindless line repeating and the absolutely horrific tendency to nearly deify saturnine demagogues that riles me.

    I see nothing incongruous with my progressive tendencies and my faith. In fact, I’m more than a little shocked that there aren’t more of my brothers and sisters who feel the same way that I do.

    You’d think that after twenty years I’d be over the shock…

  76. #63 — Amen and Hallelujah.

  77. esodhiambo says:

    I think of being a liberal LDS as a non-stop missionary exercise. I like to demonstrate to my friends that you don’t have to be an uptight Republican to be Mormon and I like to demonstrate to my ward that you can be a faithful Christian and lefty. As has been amply said, so many on each side don’t realize you can be both, and do them both well.

  78. “After all, if members (and leaders) of the Church seek inspiration in voting, and if 80-90% of active members (and perhaps leaders) in the U.S. regularly vote for conservative candidates and positions, isn’t that pretty good evidence that political conservatism must be correct?”

    Or it could be seen as a symptom of just how pervasive the conflation of conservative political views with Mormon theology is.

    I have only met a small hand full of people who begin to understand the distinction between ideology and theology and the serious problems that occur when they are combined. This being the case rather than discussing liberalism as a political ideology in relation to LDS theology, I think we may want to emphasize the significance, productivity and value of liberal theology itself.

  79. Let us not label each other as liberal or conservative but try to understand our social gospel . Please visit my blog at http://www.mormonzionproject.wordpress.com.

    Read below.

    As Latter-day Saints, we come from a heritage of people who had “a vision of a different world, a world where injustice and oppression, poverty and ignorance would be dispelled and a world where men and women would be brothers and sisters” (Alexander B. Morrison, in Church News [14 Oct. 1995]: 4). We have been urged by Church leaders to work towards making that vision a reality in today’s world by being “full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs,” “using gospel principles as a guide and…cooperating with other like-minded individuals” (First Presidency letter, 15 Jan. 1998, in Ensign [Apr. 1998]: 77).

    LDS scripture and prophetic teaching speak out strongly for social justice: for peace, equality, democracy, human rights, and wise stewardship of the earth’s resources. Latter-day Saints are enjoined to “plead the cause of the poor and the needy” (D&C 124:75) and to work towards a society in which “there [are] no poor among [us]” (Moses 7:18). We are challenged to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16). The Book of Mormon teaches that “there should be an equality among all” (Mosiah 27:3) and calls us to stand against racism, gender inequity, and injustice on the principle that “black and white, bond and free, male and female;…all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). The scriptures commend democracy, constitutional law, and human rights (Mosiah 29:26; D&C 98:5; D&C 101:77), while speaking harshly against inequity, exploitation, oppression, and violence (2 Nephi 20:1-2; 3 Nephi 24:5; D&C 38:26; Moses 8:28). Scripture teaches us that we are stewards of the earth and its resources, which should be used “with judgment, not to excess” (D&C 59:20).

    As Latter-day Saints, we seek the guidance of the Spirit and look to the teachings of Church leaders in our efforts to achieve equality and social justice in our communities and the world at large

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