Heber J. Grant on politics

I am deeply troubled by the actions and attitudes of some our people with regard to politics. I encourage you to read John Fowles’ guest post at Millennial Star for further context. What follows is a post from a number of years ago that highlights President Grant’s message with regards to politics that I believe is timely (particularly the last quotes).

Perhaps not unlike our current Church President, Heber J. Grant was fond of telling stories in Church meetings. He told of the time when Eliza R. Snow blessed him at least five times in General Conference that I have found; and I have run across journal entries that described him telling the story at various stake conferences. It seems that he was also fond of a particular humorous story on politics and repeated it at General Conference at least four times that I have seen:

You know, I have contempt for politics, because, as I have said for many years, they are like the measles, if you will just take a little saffron tea and keep the measles on the surface, they will not hurt you, but if they set in on you they turn your hide yellow and make you cross-eyed. (Laughter.) (1)

This is not to say that President Grant did not appreciate difference in public policy. He was actively engaged in Utah and National politics (Prohibition!); however, I think there is no question that he valued the well thought-out and diverse opinions of others. What he apparently loathed was loss of agency, thought and civility to political parties:

Many of the Latter-day Saints have surrendered their independence; they have surrendered their free thought, politically, and we have got to get back to where we are not surrendering the right. (2)

Previously, he had stated:

I regret exceedingly that in political controversies men seem to lack that courtesy and that respect for their opponents that I believe all Latter-day Saints ought to have. I have never yet heard a Democrat make a political speech that I felt was fair to the Republicans. Being a Democrat, I shall not say anything about what I think of the speeches of Republicans regarding Democrats…From my own personal contact with dear and near friends, Republicans and Democrats, I have not been able to discover the exercise of what you might call charity, if you like, for the opinions of others who oppose them politically; at least not as much charity as should exist among our people.

I am a thorough convert myself to the idea that it is not possible for all men to see alike. You know the remark made by a young man once: “It is a splendid thing that we do not all see alike, because if we did, everybody would want to marry my Sally Ann”; and the other man remarked, “Yes, thank the Lord. If everybody saw your Sally Ann as I see her, nobody on earth would have her, and she would die an old maid.” (3)

I am aware that the political climate today is different than that during the first half of the 20th century. However, the issues that President Grant raises in opposition to his contemporaries are equally applicable in the 21st century.

_____________________

  1. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1941, pg. 131.
  2. Ibid., pg. 144.
  3. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, October 1919, pg. 19.

Comments

  1. Wonderful stuff J.

  2. Wise man (I’ll leave it ambiguous as to whether I mean HJG or J :) ) I’ve generally avoided political discussions on the bloggernacle (and always in real life) after learning early on that politics too often trumps religion in forming a man’s opinions. I don’t understand it. At least I can take on faith an announcement from a prophet that I may not initially understand, but why would anybody profess loyalty to *any* party (individual questions, yes, but blanket party loyalty?) when the motivations for parties are always power and greed? There are even commenters who grant a depth of loyalty to a political party that they withhold from the prophets. IMO.

  3. I regret ever studying politics at BYU. I rue that day. One of the worst decisions in my life. I should have taken basketweaving instead.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    Dan, BRM condemned basketweaving in even stronger terms in the ’58 edition of MoDoc (likened it unto self-abuse, if I recall correctly), so I’m not sure your choice of majors was a bad one. :)

    AB

  5. I find it frustrating when the separation of church and state breaks down. For example, when visiting my parents’ church a month back, they had the meeting times and places for the local Republican party posted on all the bulletin boards in the building. I took them all down.

    I have a similar frustration when politicians evoke the name of God to support their pet projects and wars.

    Like Ardis and Heber, I don’t believe that one should pledge loyalty to any one party. I also assert that voting the party line is political laziness and shirking one’s civic duty.

  6. Aaron,

    I didn’t know basketweaving was condemned. Jeez, is there no safe career out there?

  7. Dan, I believe that Nibley might say farming or something.

    Thanks Ardis and Steve.

  8. It is the hyperbolic bile that permeates politics that turns me off the most – and it’s no worse now than it has been from the beginning. Some of the campaigns of the 1800’s are downright vicious, libelous and unbelievably distorted. I love studying politics, but I loathe much of the practice of politics.

    I have a friend who is a lobbyist. I enjoyed the work I did with him for an educational initiative, and I asked him if he thought I might be able to be a lobbyist. His response was simple and straightforward. He said, in essence:

    “No. You are too honest to be a lobbyist. You wouldn’t be able to lie to get what you want. Successful lobbyists are good politicians, and the core of lobbying is the same as the core of politics for many people – the art of lying convincingly and polarizing or demonizing people no matter what it takes.”

  9. While I believe church and state should be closely segregated, I also love them both. My 2 favorite events both happen the same year every 4 years: the Olympics and convention season. I love all the pomp and procedure, the speeches, the delegate counts, and the silly hats and buttons.

    My favorite shows are Sunday morning politics, and in years when I get stuck with 9 a.m. church I have the devil’s choice of missing the last 5 minutes of Meet the Press or missing the opening prayer of church.

    Tim Russert (rest in peace) almost cost me my soul.

  10. Nate Brown says:

    Was HBJ on the verg of prophecy there? Far to many of the church have turned over their agency to political partison parrotting. With such well traveled young people, a multi-national membership, an intensly progressive social welfair program, and the doctrine that we are all God’s children, it continually suprises me how insulary and one sided our political sense has become.

    “Progressive” values are Mormons values e.g. Safe and responsible communities, accountable organizations and leadership, sacred duty to the poor, sick, and downtrodden. Common Utah mo’s… Where my Dems at!?!???… Anyone?

  11. #10’s final paragraph is a great example of Pres. Grant’s quotes. If it is tongue-in-cheek, it is brilliant.

  12. Thomas Parkin says:

    “equally applicable in the 21st century.”

    At least as applicable.

    My badness is in egging on anyone with a political direction. I’m conservative when among liberals and a liberal when among conservatives, and am deeply convinced that everyone is full of h*******t. There are few things that terrify me like witnessing political _belief._ (I use the word terrify because it seems like the best word.) Especially in numbers. I’m sure it can’t be healthy.

    When we lived in Seattle, I almost felt physically repulsed by watching things like the combination of nonchalance, ignorance and arrogance displayed in protest marches. And down here in the boondocks, whenever I hear someone express smugly about liberals I have an urge to knock out their teeth – although I usually manage to only remind that I myself am a registered Democrat, and I’m not all that bad.

    Anyway, there’s my neurosis.

    ~

  13. I noticed three things in this Pres. Grant’s statements:

    1. It is not only inevitable, but also necessary and desireable, that people will have different views.

    2. Rather than framing the opinions of someone with whom we disagree in the worst possible light, we should try to describe them in a way that is acceptable to that person.

    3. HJG cultivated and maintained friendships with peoplw who did not share his political opinions.

    Good work, Stapley. Thank you for this post.

  14. Nate Brown says:

    Thanks Ray. Tongue was in cheek. But now seriously… Progressive values are Mormon values.

    Thomas- a wise man once said politics are too important to leave to the politicians. You seem to have a strong independent streek, you can do even greater service for those you play the foil for and quit quietly remind Dem aint so bad. Speak up, caucus, and put forth your politic, get a yard sign for your candidate. If more of us do it with respect and love it won’t feel so lonely to do so as a Mormon.

    Maybe you already are doing this and if so, Will You share this approach with you neighbors? :)

  15. Both parties subscribe to Satan’s plan of compulsory salvation. They just differ on what part of your life they want to legislate. Neither progressive or conservative are synonyms for righteous.

  16. I think this campaign season was the final blow to my willingness to try and connect my political beliefs with my religious convictions. One is of man, the other of more divine origin, and so even though I am fascinated by politics, I no longer want to try and justify myself in religious terms.

    Doesn’t mean I still don’t have strong opinions, just less likely to wear them as part of my church attire.

  17. Nate Brown says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah… lobbyists are evil and political parties ruin the party for well intentioned saints trying to live in the world but not of it. I don’t buy it.

    Lobbyists provide valuable information on subjects an entire team of underpaid interns and LAs couldn’t provide a lawmaker. Political parties provide a valuable mode of consensus building.

    Many members are beginning to realize Wasatch front culture does not represent the full breadth of Mormonism. But are equal numbers coming to realize Abramoff and bitter pandering politicians don’t represent what politics is about (or should be about for us)?

    The glory of God is intelligence and the glory of politics is service!

    Members (not church headquarters) should be anxiously engaged with it.

    If I have to wear my politics as church clothes, I just might. I’d look really silly in that uncle same outfit though.

    Maybe then people will feel as comfortable bearing their 4th of July Sunday testimony about the patriot Alma giving up the judgeship to preach with longsuffering the gospel of peace, rather than Moroni rending his coat and declaring marshal law.

  18. Good point, Nate. Grant in no way forsook public policy debates. He just lamented how we frequently approach them.

  19. Do I remember correctly that HJG detested FDR and the New Deal and came close to issuing a formal statement that LDS should vote against FDR. As I recall, his counselor J. Reuben Clark (no New Dealer himself) acted as a restraint, and while the Deseret News recommended a vote against FDR (I think it was 1940 or 1944), the FP did not issue a formal statement.

  20. 17. I don’t care if you buy into both parties having agendas. Just don’t say that progressive values are Mormon values. That’s just as perposterous as someone saying the same thing about conservative values.

  21. Nate Brown says:

    Yep. Crow baring the doctrines of Christ to justify political platform would be preposterous! But what’s wrong with comparing values?

    Freedom, Responsibility, Integrity and Security. These aren’t just words that W gets to hand to the press after he’s invaded. They have meaning and application for us all. It’s past time that we as Mormons re-associate ourselves with them.

    Here are two of my favorite progressive values to illustrate the point.

    Equality – Mormons are fanatical about self reliance but don’t simply direct folks to there boot straps. God instituted the bishops store house and commanded us to strive toward becoming a Zion people. We practiced one of the most radical communal living arrangements of this countries great history!!! If we are really living our religion today, we still are pretty radical! We believe “to whom much is given much is required.” Historically and often in our congregations we request more funding, time and talent from members that have then members that don’t. Admittedly we hold to my favorite flat tax of tithing BUT Christ taught his kingdom would have a different type of equality so charitable that it might put a few of us off (see Matt 20 http://scriptures.lds.org/en/matt/20).

    So what are the values we are being taught? Are these cold hearted laze fare free market principles? Are our systems cold and highly unaccountable? No. We foster greater empathy and responsibility while teaching Gods equality.

    Security – Conservative thought tells us to build enough cells to lock up the criminals and de-incentive crime with greater punishments… problem solved. Progressive thought advocates lowering poverty, increasing opportunity and responsibly addressing systemic causes to crime. I can almost hear the Pharisees saying “What manner of politics is this that dares heal, forgive sins, and send ‘em packing with a go forth and sin no more.”

    We should be about administering not judging, healing not warring, giving not hording… wait for it… serving not buying our brothers and sisters.

    Of course I’m really going over the top to make a point. Do you get it? Values are what this whole thing is about and we have become too quick as a people to dismiss righteous values simply because they are liberal, progressive, conservative, libertarian or whatever. We’re really missing out by not having the open conversation.

    Before finding this blog I simply subsisted on the occasional “edgy” elder’s quorum meeting. Thanks BCC!!!

  22. I went to eat breakfast with some fellow Elders after we cleaned the temple a few weeks ago. During the meal, two of the guys went on and on about how Barack Obama is going to raise taxes (the normal republican line). After a while, I was just quiet, not wanting to mention that I was Democrat because I hate the war and everything else our current administration has done. I hate how my fellow church members often assume that to be a member is to be republican.

  23. “Do you get it?”

    Duh, I just disagree. I don’t believe that greater empathy and responsibility is fostered by government compelled contributions through threat of imprisonment. I believe that it is my responsibility to administer, heal, give and serve, not the governments. I believe the Jesus asked the rich young man to sell all he had and give it to the poor, but that Jesus did not force him to. We rejected that way of living in our pre-mortal existence.

    I agree that the culture in many poverty stricken communities contributes immensely to crime. I just disagree that redistribution of wealth will actually eliminate poverty, or increase opportunity and responsibility.

    I disagree with the idea that many people dismiss righteous values simply because they are liberal, conservative, libertarian or whatever. It only seems that way because most people are one or two issue voters, and extremists tend to be the most vocal.

    Most of all, I disagree that anyone’s political values should be construed as righteous, whether conservative or liberal. Except mine. ;-)

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Taxation – Satan’s plan!

  25. Only when a King Noah tax looks attractive by comparison.

  26. Kyle – Sorry if I was too brash with the “Do you get it” comment.

    Constructing a façade of political righteousness around religion is what many conservative republicans have done for years. You’re right that it’s wrong. I’m not advocating that.

    HBJ is right. The Jeremy #20’s of the church deserve more charitable ears from their brethren and the Thomas Parkin #12’s shouldn’t have to couch belief in terms of devils advocacy to be considered in a crowd of saints.

    Perhaps when we have a voluntary funding system for
    Schools
    Citizen care
    Information systems
    Transportation systems
    Judicial system
    Utilities
    and other basic services, I will be more willing to humor your comment about taxes being “compelled contributions through threat of imprisonment.” With that in place, I’d love to discuss the unconstitutional war mongering, immoral corporate subsidies, Paris Hilton tax breaks, and many other ways conservatives express their values and compel the hard earned tax dollars of my children’s children… beyond threat of imprisonment… because we’ve legalized torture chambers in the name of patriotism! How screwed up was that!?!

    Taxation is a true principle and we know that as Mormons. Noah went wrong by glutting himself on the monies of the people and not providing the necessary services he was obligated to provide (for a likening to our day see bumbled Katrina relief, diseased peppers in your salad, and rogue security forces killing innocents without accountability).

    You don’t follow me if you think I’m just out here advocating redistribution of wealth to, of all people, Mormons.

    I’m saying for Mormons to be true to the faith in the last days, we need to take a hard long look at who we are and how we treat others with our political choices. Maybe then we will realize our best choices are not all packaged in flag red.

    It’s typical for even mild progressive Mormon expressions to be quickly dismissed by members as hobbyist, overbearing, or unrighteous. Yet I sense no hesitation for members to pontificate endlessly about the righteous God given values America was founded on and how the priesthood will hold the constitution together when it’s in shreds. How do I get in on that action? Wouldn’t a greater awareness of what the constitution means to the people better prep us for the day were are called to hold it together?

  27. You won’t get any arguement from me that the services you listed are good and necessary. I have no problem paying taxes for good programs. I think your examples of glut and excess are spot on, and there are many, many more under the guise of progressive and conservative values. I know I pay an honest and fair tax, and then a King Noah tax on top of that. And that’s still not enough to stop us from borrowing money from other countries to fund the King Noah’s in government and their power brokers.

    You also won’t get any arguement from me regarding the Republican lemmings in church. I think Ann Coulter is just as bad as Alan Colmes. As a fiscal conservative (like you didn’t guess that), I have no party. I’m supprised, though, that in Seattle you find this to be a big problem. It certainly is not the case in Bellevue. Even the summer security system sales associates visiting from Utah don’t talk like that. Then again, I don’t socialize with Mormons. They annoy me.

  28. Nate Brown says:

    As a fiscal conservative, I hope O’Bama has your vote. His tax plan is 1.6 trillion more affordable then McCain’s. See executive summary at:

    http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/411742_updated_candidates_summary.pdf

    And as the number crunch, McCain’s tax code revisions “…would cut taxes by almost $7 trillion over the ten-year budget period and cut taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.” I’m all for fiscal conservatism but just can’t figure how McCain thinks he’s going to butcher government revenue to 1958 levels amidst the largest deficit ever known to man while funding a 100+ year occupation of Iraq. Whoops!!! I meant victory plan in Iraq.

    You are right. I enjoy much less conservative dogma living where I do but have many relations to Utah and both my family and wife’s family live there.

    Thanks for socializing with this Mormon Kyle.

    Nate

  29. Well done Stapley.

  30. Sheesh Nate KyleM professes a preference for an opinion the role of government (low taxes, low spending), not even talking about political parties and you jump in and start beating him on the head with distorted quotes from McCain, spending plants, etc.

    Let’s go back and re-read and consider the original post and see how it applies to all of us. It’s not a secret code to show you how right you apparent party preference is.

    I really like the sentiment conveyed in this post, even if others appear to use it as code to bash the other side with, while not noting the irony of doing exactly what they claim the Republicans always do in church settings.

  31. Steve Evans says:

    chris, I think you need to take a break from commenting for a while. Come back next month.

  32. Maybe I will learn cross stitching just to make a sample of these quotes to hang on my wall.

  33. Great post. In my bloggernacle career I have a very high success rate on biting my tongue when it comes to political arguments. I mostly regret the few exceptions. Not that it is wrong to talk about politics, just that it’s hard to do it with the courtesy and respect mentioned by Pres. Grant.

    I think one of our main problems is that we put up with people who consistently violate the spirit of what Grant puts forth here and we allow those people to set the tone for all the political discussions that take place. It doesn’t take many people being unfair, harsh, discourteous, etc. to bring the whole discussion down to that level. Perhaps if we shunned the offenders the remainder of the people could have a respectful conversation.

  34. “It is the hyperbolic bile that permeates politics that turns me off the most – and it’s no worse now than it has been from the beginning. ”

    Agreed. If you ever get the chance, go to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. One of the neat things they have is a corridor with lots of angles, and lights set up in a way to have moving shadows. On the wall, hung in slanted and angular frames, are newspaper stories and political cartoons about Lincoln. Today’s political discourse is tame by comparison.

    And really, the whole museum is dang cool. Some of the exhibits are closer to Epcot Center than your typical historical museum.

  35. Thomas, #12,
    “There are few things that terrify me like witnessing political _belief._ (I use the word terrify because it seems like the best word.)”

    Boy can I relate to that. I used to think that when somebody starting talking about “rights”, they were going to use them as first principles upon which to build an argument to be challenged and discussed. Now I know that when they use the word “rights”, it usually means the discussion is over and the incivility’s begun.

    Great post Stapley.

  36. This is great, J; there’s been a number of extraordinarily good posts in the bloggernacle today.

  37. john willis says:

    In regards to post#19 , though Heber J. Grant started out as a Democrat ,after FDR was elected he became very anti-Roosevelt and anti new deal. He could get very angry whenever anyone mentioned Roosevelt’s name. While he never specicifcally counseled the Saints in General Conference to vote against Roosevelt there was no doubt that Heber J. Grant and J. Ruben Clark were very opposed to the new deal. It was an open secret that Clark wrote the Deseret News editorials endorsing Alf Landon the Republican against Roosevelt. In spite of opposition to Roosevelt by the brethern Utah voted for Roosevelt each of the four times he ran. For documentation of this see D. Michael Quinn’s biography of J. Ruben Clark, the uncensored version published by Siganture Books.

    Give the level of anger shown by the tea party rallys in Utah, the campagain against Robert Bennett and the anger against by some so called saints in Nevada against Harry Reid I would hope that someone in general conference this week would specifcally call on the Saints to be civil in their political discourse , recognize that there are good members in both political parties in the U.S. and to not judge any members worthiness or place in the church by their politcal views right or left.

    I’m not holding my breath for it to happen , but I can dream can’t I?

  38. I LOVE this… and yes it is timely. Had an acquaintance trying to use Ezra T. Benson quotes to tell me I was evil the other day… ya, that didn’t go over so well.

    Love to hear a Church leader, no matter the era, tell people to consider that differing opinions is beneficial!

  39. It should be pointed out the LDS Newsroom, something of a quasi-official arm of official Church positions, had a fascinating commentary on civility:

    http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-mormon-ethic-of-civility

  40. john willis says:

    Re post# 39 I have read it agree with it. However given events that have taken place since it was given, such as the cancellation of Harry Reid’s fireside talk this point about civility in political discourse and respect for opposing views needs to made in General Conference with specific reference to the current politcal situation. The same point needs to made it the next general conference and the next…. Maybe then will all the members get the point.

    I know I shouldn’t be counseling the brethern but—–.

  41. John, sadly I don’t think the most extreme folk would care if Pres. Monson showed up and directly counseled them on the subject. I too would like to hear a talk about it. The nearest thing in recent conferences would be “Christian Courage,” but it is directly about defending the gospel, not talking politics.

    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-947-22,00.html

  42. I think we should just avoid politics completely, especially on the bloggernacle.

    The problem is not being overly committed to parties, but being overly ideological.

  43. Mark D. says:

    Nate B, The problem about most discussions about the way Mormon theology dictates this or that political position is that they tend to be remarkably shallow. The issues about state vs. private action in addressing social problems such as poverty are complex, and in my opinion are not fairly reduced to snap judgments one way or the other.

  44. Thanks for the OP and discussion. Re #37 and conference comments — I was thinking I’d welcome a political civility reminder of some kind, as well, though I wonder how messages for the Amercian church (perhaps even more narrowly the Rocky Mountain church) translate to the international church.

  45. Well said Mark, although I do think there is a fair bit of double standards in the private action bit.

  46. MinJae Lee says:

    Nate B. – do you happen to see the irony in your posts?

  47. What a wild blast from the past! Thanks for the fools day eve resurrection J.

    I was really pit-bullish in my first experience blogging. Sorry all.

    Mark D – You said it very well. Please know that my remarks above represent a virgin attempt to publically counter what I saw as a “God wants us all to vote Republican” mentality. In trying to counter small thinking I slipped to speaking smaller than the principles I espoused.

    MinJae Lee – Grant was right. The political fever of 2008 turned my skin yellow and crossed my eyes. I have since recovered and come to the understanding that there is nothing short of a church authority command that will cause American Mormons to question their relationship to conservative politics. Until that time… please pass the Jello!

  48. JimmyBob says:

    RE #47

    I think it’s unfair to say that “there is nothing short of a church authority command that will cause American Mormons to question their relationship to conservative politics.”

    In my experience, there are indeed many Church members who blindly follow one party or the other (usually the Republicans but not always). But I don’t think that problem is limited to the Church. I’m willing to bet that you find the same mentality on both sides of the political line throughout the country. I think that in most communities, only a fraction of the people put any effort into investigating and weighing the issues for themselves.

    That said, though, that I’m a Mormon and happen to typically vote for conservative candidates (though I don’t identify with any particular party), doesn’t mean that I don’t think about or care about the issues.

  49. Nate Brown says:

    Hi JimmyBob –
    I never said the problem was limited to the Church or that partisan blinders are only found on conservative members. America would benefit greatly from more people investigating and weighing issues. I can only assume from your post that you sincerely think and care about issues.

  50. JimmyBob says:

    Nate B.,

    My apologies. I was rushed in my comment and I don’t think it reflected what I was thinking. I realize, of course, that you weren’t implying that the partisan blinders exist only in the Church. I was merely trying to make two points:

    First, that just because one is a conservative voter, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are in need of church authority commanding them to question that relationship.

    And secondly, I was trying to point out that since the problems of partisanship aren’t limited to Church members, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s the Church leader’s responsibility to correct the problem. That said, though, it seems to me that the First Presidency regularly encourages all members to think about and pray about issues and candidates – in short, to be informed participants in the political process. I think we’ll both agree that it’d be nice if more members did that and if we could all discuss different political ideas without hostility.

  51. Our major issue in this country is our two political parties. Our forefathers knew that a two party system would be our downfall and took steps to try to stop this type of politics, and thus anyone who seriously thinks that politics isn’t corrupt or slaves to Corporate America hasn’t not been paying attention. George Jr. will go down in History as one of the worst administrations in history and I could go on for hours showing why, but my point is that the Obama administration has offered nothing different (besides health reform, granted) and has in fact continued nearly every single Bush program. Obama has almost the same political donors and thus has the same pressures as Bush did. Health reform will turn out to be the most expensive and destructive waste of tax payer money ever. I just wish I could offer a better alternative for other frustrated people, but I can’t and those that think that the tea partiers are the future, remember that Sarah Palin is an important figure to them.

  52. Alert: Invoking of the “forefathers.”

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