In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief.  In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. Even if external causal factors do not tell the entire story, there is no doubt that one does not simply walk into Mordor–even if possible, modifying political belief would at minimum be an epic and grueling quest. I think “political conversion” would work along the same lines. Yes it’s possible and it does happen, but again, when we change our allegiances it is because we are captured by events and other factors that we did not create ourselves. (Perhaps in the end any conversion–spiritual, political, etc–is a function of grace).
If this is true, it has significant ramifications for those who engage in the task of political and cultural sifting. In a more immediately Mormon context this political and cultural sifting is being manifest in a war being waged for the heart and soul of Mormonism. Each side believes that the the Mormonism of the other side is in some sense illegitimate or corrupt, and not genuine Mormonism at all. And many (perhaps not all) on each side believe that the other side injects its politics into its religious commitments and that its own commitments are either free of political taint, or that its politics just so happen to cohere with the core principles and teachings of the Gospel or the Church. I think it is possible and even necessary to establish how such a claim to legitimacy can be made–how we define Mormonism is a legitimate intellectual inquiry that has serious consequences for the lives of those who claim the Mormon identity. However, I don’t think that such an inquiry can be made on political grounds unless one believes that the whole of religion (and our religion) is derived and instantiated politically. Even apart from causal origins, that’s a problematic claim, but if we are truly “captured” in some way by our political leanings–if we find it virtually impossible to see any other ideology as appealing–then it is simply impossible to define Mormonism along these lines, or, perhaps even more importantly, to attempt to define others’ Mormonism along these lines.
Are we really to accept, then, that certain folks who claim the Mormon identity must by force of will transform their political thinking, must force themselves into a contrary political paradigm (which is additionally asserted to be intimately connected to the REAL Mormonism)? Or is Mormonism bigger and more expansive than politics? In my view, when we inquire into the legitimacy of the parameters of the Mormon identity we are inquiring into a genuine Revelation such that all political paradigms–conservative, liberal, and everything in between–are superseded by something from the outside that is meant to transform and rebirth every aspect of us, from the level of the individual to the level of the community. Then we say that what is ultimately at stake is how the Revelation that is Mormonism might be allowed to define my politics (and everything else) instead of the other way around. As a Revelation Mormonism is meant to be a third way, always “another way” no matter how many ways are possible, something that comes to us from elsewhere and completely and constantly alters our worldview. (That Christ said HE was the way has direct bearing on this, I think). Our religion is supposed to call us to continual repentance, not enable us to call others to political and cultural repentance. Is not the nature of religious commitment totalizing and all-encompassing in a way that nothing else, really, should be? If so, then there is something about my religion that transcends my politics by embedding itself within me so that my politics are seen by its lights rather than the other way around.
This also means that it is simply impossible that our political and ideological commitments align perfectly with our Mormonism. Any discussion of the legitimacy of Mormon boundary markers must, in my opinion, spring from this point. There is something about the Mormon identity that makes Mormons of various political persuasions hold closely to their Mormonism instead of simply abandoning it in favor of something else (for those who persist, of course). What is that something or somethings? Perhaps we initiate a dialogue there instead of claiming that there are those who are erroneously projecting their politics onto their religion. Most everyone does this and I am arguing here that not only is it unproductive, it simply does not work. This is not to say that religion itself (or at least its lived practices and interpretations) is free of social, cultural, political derivations. It is simply to say that, at minimum, the nature of religious commitment intrinsically demands our fidelity in ways that other commitments do not inherently possess.
This is not a naive call to attempt to free ourselves of political beliefs in the name of adhering more closely to religious beliefs. (Of course I am obviously arguing that such willful conversion is not largely possible and it is therefore unjust and irrational to require it of others). It is instead to see our religious commitments as necessarily transformative of our political commitments, no matter what our politics are. We are constantly and ceaselessly being called to repentance by the Revelation that is Mormonism. We are meant to be revisionist in that way about our ideologies and hypotheses, but not just loosely and generally revisionist. The Gospel calls us to always rethink ourselves and our communities such that, to crudely put it, as much widespread redemption and reconciliation as possible can occur. Perhaps this is one reason why the spiritual gift of charity is so highly lauded in scripture, because it requires us, not merely to consider only our religion as valuable, but rather to value everything else under its lights–the pure love of God. Such a love is the only thing that can transcend those things about our natures that are simply a part of us and do not, for the most part, ever leave us.