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?