Guest submission from Laurie DiPadova-Stocks
A few weeks ago in Relief Society, we had a solid lesson on President David O. McKay, which made reference to President McKay’s view that we can participate in the positive transformation of society. This prompted comments detailing how the sisters have been pleased and at times surprised to find other groups that hold values similar to ours, and by aligning ourselves with these groups, progress can be made.
As an aside, I always find myself surprised at being surprised. We were in SLC in 2001, in a very established ward in a rather high-end area. In Sunday School and Relief Society meetings there were numerous comments of surprise as members discovered people’s acts of heroism, such as giving one’s life to save others in the World Trade Center—and these people "weren’t even members of the Church!" I have been musing on the dynamics of this isolationism in the Church ever since. Perhaps it’s our emphasis on teaching people in the mission field, omitting the value of learning from them.
Anyway, the discussion in RS a few weeks ago had this sort of tone to it, and was reminiscent of the SLC experience.
Then the Relief Society President made a comment. Making implicit reference to the 2004 presidential election, she mentioned how nice it was to find other groups who believe in "moral values" like we do.
At that point I offered that we needed to be careful about aligning with other groups (I actually think it is healthy for members to do so, but for the purposes of this comment, I framed things differently), as some of them may not have the priorities that we do–for instance, some of those groups do not consider it a violation of moral values to support policies that deprive children of necessary health care in the richest nation on earth, or deprive children of food, shelter, and education. This was not what I, at least, consider to be consistent with moral values. Further, I made reference to listening to good sermons on the radio–because I like to hear good sermons–but I also noticed that the ministers’ views of moral values were not the same as mine.
After the meeting, the Relief Society President thanked me in private and said she had not looked at things that way but she certainly agreed that it was not consistent with anything moral to have children deprived.
I agreed, and proceed to offer that it was highly unfortunate that our administration, which represented itself as Christian and which was elected by 22% of voters on a moral values basis, had perpetrated the Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal, whereby we made fun of the sexual purity standards of another religion, and tortured and humiliated people, and what a betrayal those offenses are to our American ideals. When she objected, I explained Gonzales’s role, our new AG, who had written the opinions that relinquished the US from being held to the Geneva Accords. Her response was that the administration did not know that these acts would happen, I said that sure they knew–or else there would be no reason for refusing to be held to the Geneva Conventions. To my credit (maybe?) I did not share how we send prisoners abroad to be tortured, and then try to get those nations to accept our form of government. But I did indicate that everything I had said was well-documented and a matter of public information.
Now I admit to some discomfort. I am aware that many members tend to hold that "dissension is of the devil", and I do not hold that view. Different points of view are valuable. As Professor Gordon Allport said: "Where everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much." But in Church, there is a tendency simply to agree in order not to be divisive.
Obviously I did not do that. I hope I do not appear arrogant, and I most fervently hope that I am not arrogant. I certainly would not have initiated this conversation.
We are told not to have partisan political activity in Church–and I certainly agree. While in our Kentucky Ward, before Sunday School one day there was a lot of discussion amongst the sisters about then-Governor Patton’s latest indiscretion–which led to derogatory comments about Democrats. (By the way, in several Utah stakes there has been serious discussion regarding if Democrats can get Temple Recommends, but that is another story…) Everyone was chastised by our teacher, a wonderful African American woman who is blind and who minces no words.
But I am left to wonder–how can I not say anything? How can I find ways to offer these sorts of views so that they will not be offensive? What are my responsibilities as a Church member and as a citizen? Are we fulfilling our role as engaged citizens by being quiet?? Are we fulfilling our role as church members by being silent, and refusing to share and to be vulnerable? I would be very interested in how you handle these situations.