During a recent conversation among LDS friends, I bemoaned a certain type of LDS churchmember that I find deeply “annoying.” I used this word in a very specific sense. I described as “annoying” certain right-wing Mormons who seem unable to conceptually distinguish between their own deeply-held political preferences and the doctrines of the LDS Church. I know you know the type I’m talking about.
One of my (conservative) LDS friends interrupted me, conceded that this Mormon personality type exists, but insisted that “left-wing LDS members are no less likely to be “annoying,” as they are equally prone to the same vice.”
I strongly disagreed with this statement. I admitted that the existence of “annoying” left-wing LDS members is possible, but insisted they don’t really exist much, if at all, in the real world. And by this, I didn’t just mean that annoying liberals are rarer than annoying conservatives in sheer number — this is too obvious to dispute, since LDS liberals of all sorts are much rarer than LDS conservatives of all sorts, whether annoying or not. No, I actually meant that given an equal number of LDS conservatives and LDS liberals, you are likely to find the annoying quality I abhor in the first group in much, much larger quantity than the second.
Am I right? Are right-wing Mormons more likely to be “annoying” in this way than left-wing Mormons? Is the political/doctrinal confusion I’m pointing to more prevalent on the Right than the Left, even when you control for numbers? You can argue this is a supremely uninteresting question, because to answer it is merely to identify oneself politically. Thus, LDS right-wingers will likely be sensitive to the claims of annoying left-wing Mormons and see more of them, while Mormon left-wingers will likely see only annoying LDS right-wingers, for the most part. On this view, to answer the question is merely to provide information about your own political preferences and biases. However, I disagree with this view. I believe one can answer this question definitively without resorting to a mere consultation of one’s own political allegiances.
Meet “Mormon Joe.” Joe is American, and he has certain strongly-held political views, located somewhere on the (U.S.) political spectrum, nevermind where. In order for Mormon Joe to be “annoying” in the particular sense I am describing, two conditions must obtain:
1. Mormon Joe must find himself in an environment where a large number of other Mormons share his political views.
2. Mormon Joe must have at least prima facie grounds for convincing himself that his political views are mandated by LDS doctrine.
With respect to (1), because Mormon political liberals are a relatively uncommon breed, it is much more difficult to find them anywhere in large numbers. Even in places like Seattle or Cambridge — both places I have lived — Mormon lefties may be more numerous and vocal, but they still don’t obviously outnumber their right-of-center brethren. So, Mormon liberals congregated in one place and numerically exceeding their political foes are relatively rare.
Why does this matter? After all, one doesn’t need ideological comrades to hold any particular political view! But remember, we’re talking about political views being confused with LDS doctrine. Congregating with like-minded souls is important (even if not absolutely essential) for this problem to fester because congregation lends itself to the sort of ideological groupthink that causes people to forget that not everyone thinks like they do, or that causes them to imagine their views are more representative of the larger LDS population than they really are. And if you’ve convinced yourself that everyone (or most everyone) in a class shares a particular trait, you’re more liable to conclude that the trait is an essential, defining attribute of the class. Thus, since politically liberal Mormons can’t as easily congregate in mass without considerable effort, they have less opportunity to engage in this sort of groupthink or delusion. Meanwhile, for LDS conservatives, opportunities abound.
With respect to (2), LDS conservatives can turn to a host of past General Authorities, Apostles and even Prophets who have made public statements that seem to jive with the political positions of U.S. conservatives. Thus, it is easy to interpret such statements as LDS “doctrinal” statements (and to do so wrongly, in many cases). Mormon liberals may be psychologically prone to the same errors (I suspect they are, as a class), all things being equal, but in the real world they have less opportunity to err, since the Mormon historical record gives them much less material with which to work. (And if a politically liberal Mormon does indulge this tendency anyway, he is likely to be quickly disabused of his notions by his many ideological foes at church).
In short, the conditions necessary to the festering of widespread right-wing Mormon “annoyance” are present, while the conditions conducive to the festering of left-wing Mormon annoyance are largely absent. Political/doctrinal conflation is asymmetrical within LDS culture. Even when we look at the two groups per capita, the conservatives are more “annoying”. And Mormons of all political persuasions should be able to agree on this. Even LDS conservatives.
Personally, I think this is all fairly obvious, but apparently not everyone does, so I thought it was worth spelling out.