Overheard Sunday At Church

Context: Britain is in the middle of an election in which the Prime Minister position is up for grabs. It’s a big deal — heady times. I overheard the following conversation between two active, faithful Church members immediately after Elders Quorum last Sunday while visiting a friend’s ward.

Member 1: I’ve read about the Tories’ proposals on education and find them attractive. I’d like to speak with you more about that.

Member 2: Oh yes, they’ve got a great vision on education policy. [longish boring exposition on Tory education policy — sounds kind of like “independent school districts” in Texas]

Member 1: Interesting. But I think Labour has handled the financial crisis correctly. I will probably be voting for Labour.

Member 2: (Incredulous). Labour’s handling of the crisis was rubbish! Vote Tory!


What was noticeably missing:

– Accusations of following Satan or being evil for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another
– Accusations of not having a testimony for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another
– Accusations of being a “Socialist” (with that word defined as if this were 1968 and the Soviet Slave Empire were still trying to force a godless, rights-abusing communist government and centrally planned economy built on the forced expropriation of personal property and control of the means of production and prices on its own people and the peoples of satellite states, and actively trying to expand the reach of this evil empire abroad) for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another
– Accusations of not following “the prophet”, by which Apostle Ezra Taft Benson is apparently meant, for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another
– Accusations of either having been on the wrong side in the War in Heaven or of perpetuating the War in Heaven here on Earth by seeing a legitimate use of taxes to pay for socially beneficial legislation, enacted through the legitimate democratic process (i.e. a voluntary choice of the people) that gives all citizens reasonable and appropriate access to health care in a society where modern medicine is otherwise readily available only to those who can afford it
– Accusations of working to destroy our “free agency” (by which the scriptural concept of moral agency is apparently meant, which posits that by the Fall of Adam and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have all become morally free to act rather than to be acted upon and in so doing to choose eternal life through accepting Jesus Christ and living righteously by acting morally in all circumstances or to reject eternal life and experience spiritual death by succumbing to temptations in life and acting immorally [2 Nephi 2:26-27]) for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another
– Accusations of making it harder or impossible for us to choose to help the poor voluntarily (i.e., to act morally, see e.g. 2 Nephi 2:26-27) for supporting one set of mundane governmental policies over another (in spite of the fact that any socially beneficial legislation that is implemented in a representative democracy, whether a constitutional republic or parliamentary democracy, is an expression of the citizens of that polity of their voluntary choice to provide for certain needs on an institutionalized, and therefore more reliable, basis through such programs)
– Accusations of stumping to replace worship of a deity with the worship of man based on support of one set of mundane governmental policies over another (thus betraying an intractable misunderstanding of history and of the meaning and benefits, including and especially to Latter-day Saints, of religious pluralism and the separation of Church and State in society)
– Any other unreasonable, irrational, histrionic, outlandish, doctrinally suspect, overly zealous, overbearing, incendiary or otherwise inappropriate accusations or behavior.

This was a good thing. It was a good day that day.

I have heard vigorous argumentation between Tories and Labour at Church and otherwise but it has refreshingly remained on the level of debating the effectiveness, intelligence and/or logic of policies and proposed legislation and has not turned into cosmic, psuedo-religious-theological finger pointing as is almost instantly the case these days in some other countries, such as what I’ve experienced in the United States and understand to be the case in such of the United States’ peers on this particular topic as Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, among others.


  1. >longish boring exposition on Tory education policy

    Who was this “Member 2”? Sounds like Brad Kramer.

  2. Craig M. says:

    I’ll bite. I don’t personally find war in heaven/agency arguments convincing, but are those who are appalled by such arguments against all religious analogy in politics? (At a personal level, of course – I don’t think any of us wanting elected leaders to defend their stances with religious analogy.) Attempting such an analogy seems fair game to me.

    (What is not fair game, of course, is demonizing those who disagree with you, and I recognize that is especially hard to do in this case.)

  3. Craig, I don’t know. What has been occurring over the last year or so has been very unbecoming of Latter-day Saints in the United States. It seems that debating legislative policy with neighbors and fellow Latter-day Saints does not call for alarmist rhetoric and accusations of evil, even if there is fundamental disagreement over the effectiveness or advisability of the policy. A friend recently cogently observed that the current state of political discourse being offered by a growing number of Latter-day Saints is so dysfunctional that it cannot go on much longer or, if it does, it threatens the welfare of Zion.

    A strong argument can be made that when religion comes to equal politics, pluralism and liberty are ultimately doomed.

  4. Re # 1, actually, I think we can all imagine what a conversation between someone on the political Left and someone on the political Right in a Mormon Church in the United States would look like (hint, toggle the list of accusations to be fully applied). Hence, Brad Kramer cannot possibly have been Member # 2 as he is in a ward in the United States.

  5. John,

    How often in your exp do ward members go after each other over politics and start accusing each other of evil?

    I have never personally seen it. Even in wards where political idealogies are diverse

    This may happen over a U of U-BYU game from time to time of course

  6. NanoChron says:

    Where I live I still here the… “We need to be good Mormons follow Bush (now Republican Party).” I want to be able to say I voted for X person who is not a Republican and not get glares of bad Mormon.

  7. Moniker Challenged says:

    Discoursing civilly about politics without vitriolically condemning others (who you haven’t actually listened to) to hellfire is Satan’s way of making evil sound good and good sound evil, and leading us by a silken cord to the pits of commie hell. Europeans don’t know anything ;-)

  8. Steve Evans says:

    I agree, #2 does smack of Kramer.

    Wait… who removed the strikeout from his name?? I did not authorize his rebaptism.

  9. BBell: Thankfully I never hear it because I live in the UK. I understand that it is far too common in the places where there is the highest density of Latter-day Saints, particularly on the Wasatch front, Arizona, Nevada, places like that. It has been my observation from Facebook and other online discourse as well.

  10. Stupid American Mormons.

  11. Eric Russell says:

    John, if there were some six million British Mormons, I suspect you’d hear some of it somewhere.

  12. Godless Brits.

  13. Good point Eric. Let’s hope we see that day then. (Ironic that I’m saying that as this dysfunctional political discourse that in my view is poisoning the Church is so distressing and discouraging.)

    What kind of discourse would we expect to hear with 16 million British Mormons? Maybe we should shoot for that instead.

  14. Upon stating that I had voted for Obama the first reaction I got was a warning not to admit it further, as if it put my friendship with certain people at risk. This is at BYU, where all of my peers are demonizing health care but still have Romney stickers on their cars.

    I’d be fine with them disagreeing with me if they just knew what they were talking about.

  15. I’d have to say I don’t hear arguments at church so much as I hear one-sided rhetoric being spewed. Most of the non-believers are too scared or too polite to speak up against it. Needless to say, we are the only mini-van with a “HealthCare ’09” bumper sticker in the church parking lot. We’ve had someone play a clip of Glenn Beck in Elders Quorum. When I had Obama signs up before the election my visiting teachers asked if it was a joke, then grew terribly uncomfortable when I said it wasn’t.

    Anyway, it’s kept us out of any heavy callings, so, GO DEMON-O-Crats!

  16. Peter LLC says:

    one set of mundane governmental policies over another


  17. Peter LLC says:

    Hey, where did the smiley with the sunglasses go? Typical heavy-handed BCC-Gestapo methods! Trying to restrict freedoms by taking away choice!

  18. The 8 with a closed parenthesis is an old skool smiley so you haven’t been restricted.

  19. Sunny:

    Anyway, it’s kept us out of any heavy callings

    If that is even in the slightest true, and if that is a widespread “consequence” of voting one’s conscience on political issues, then the Church has indeed been severely poisoned and this is truly an obstacle to the establishment of a Zion society.

  20. Peter LLC says:

    There you go being reasonable again, John.

  21. Chris Henrichsen says:

    Thanks for sharing this John.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    If all American politics were about was the structure of the education bureaucracy or the quality of financial crisis management, then we’d argue it more like the British do, but you see, we’ve got guns and religion, so we cling to them or mock those who do.

    More seriously, how do the British do when arguing more touchy subjects? Balancing sovereignty against integration with the European Union, or relations with Israel or Iran, for instance. Also, I wonder how this relates to the comically overblown argumentativeness of the House of Commons; does that help the citizens think of politics as just a fun show not worthy of investing any real feeling into?

  23. John M., the Brits have religion but for some reason by and large don’t seem to see it as equalling politics or as conflicting with reason or reasonableness.

  24. Last year I taught GD. I introduced the lesson on the law of consecration by saying “today we’re going to discuss the law of consecraction or why Joseph Smith would have voted for Obama.” I got a few chuckles. Later the Bishop told me he received a few complaints about my lame joke but he thought it was funny nevertheless. A few weeks later I was released. My Bishop has keen sense of humor as I was then called to teach a combined youth SS class of 14-18 yr olds which included many children of the parents who were offended by my Obama/Joseph Smith joke. I had a good time with the kids for a few months until I was banished to the HPG. I’ve learned my lesson: no more Obama/Joseph Smith jokes in church for me.

  25. I have political preferences, even strong ones. But it would never occur to me to evaluate friends on the basis of their political preferences. Even if I were inclined to be personally affronted by an individual’s vote, I think I’d have to discount that affront to nearly zero to account for the worthlessness of an individual vote.

    By the way, if personalizing the political is a sin of some Mormon Republicans, they could still learn at the feet of leftists, who after all invented the noxious phrase.

  26. gst, you make a very important point that the underlying point here — that alarmist political discourse and overly identifying the religious with the political, especially in a pluralist society — is equally applicable to both the left and the right (which look more or less indistinguishable from each other when viewed from abroad, in any event). It’s just that at the current time, the radicalized/alarmist discourse is coming from one side more than the other and it appears, to my observation, to be having a seriously negative effect on our Church life and interactions. We as Latter-day Saints need to make a decision not to demonize people based on their political consciences. This applies to all, whether left, right or center.

  27. John Mansfield says:

    You dodged the question, John F., in favor of the big swinging pinata. Good eye.

    I’ll try the question again. What are the divisive arguments about in British politics? And how well do the British do at not personalizing those issues? In America, we demonize one another over abortion, same-sex marriage, and the war in Iraq. It’s no big feat to keep a cool, detached head arguing “one set of mundane governmental policies over another.” How do the British handle arguing things of more consequence then choosing who will manage the street sweepers?

  28. Mex Davis says:

    That is one problem with the Missionary Program, converts outside the Jello-Belt. We have deluded the gene pool with forneigners with political views outside the mainstream Mormon-USA thinking. We must adapt the leassion to include some training in this area. Anyway no one gets as excited like a USA Mormon. Had a Sister ask in Stake Conference Adult session to a GA from Africa why we didn’t address all this Socialism in GC. The poor GA was blank at first but siad they we not inspired as of yet to talk about those things, his best guess he said. The truth be told he may not care or even be up to speed on our issues since he wasn’t from the USA.

  29. John M., you had a good example with sovereignty vs. EU integration. Some people get passionate about that but my sense is that it stays political and people aren’t talking about a particular policy taking away “free agency” as that doesn’t seem a realistic argument when discussing legislation and policy in a representative democracy.

    In Britain, a lot of people have strong feelings about abortion. My sense is that instead of embarking on a quixotic quest to get it illegalized, many of them work to reduce its occurence to as close to zero as possible. This includes doing so by working to support legislation that supports women and gives them the hope to be able to decide to keep an unplanned child. Of course there are still some who prefer radicalized discourse and alarmist rhetoric to working on positive legislation that addresses the problem in this way.

    I think you make a good argument though. If my understanding is correct, when the NHS was in the planning stages, there was no lack of rich or upper-middle class people who did not want any of their money going to higher taxes for the purpose of funding health care for the less fortunate (who deserved their fate, in their view). In this representative democracy, they found themselves in the legislative minority and, once the legislation was passed, did their civic duty and complied. I believe the statistic is now above 90% in favor of keeping the NHS when polls are conducting asking the question of whether the NHS should be abolished.

    So maybe this whole storm will blow over and, in the end, everyone will agree that it is unthinkable for a society that has the financial and technological means to allow a substantial proportion of its citizens to watch from the street as the “enterprising” class enters their stylish health clinics and world-class hospitals.

  30. re # 28, Mex, I think it is safe to say that the political concerns of suburban American Mormons are indeed not relevant or desirable for a majority of the world’s population, including most Mormons.

  31. John Mansfield,

    A million Britons took to the streets to protest the Iraq war, Blair and Brown have been hauled in front of an inquiry, and the war is widely considered to have been a terrible, costly mistake.

    Underline the word “mistake”. Generally speaking, despite the anger felt about Iraq, it’s something that will be debated in the election as a policy issue and not a question of good and evil.

  32. Re: Brad.

    Have Brad and Ronan ever been seen in the same room together?

  33. John M.
    I’ll offer you the pinata. Find me the character in Britain who corresponds to Glenn Beck/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh in terms of influence and rhetoric and I will agree with you that the British have an equal problem with personalizing the political. Heck, I’ll settle for the Keith Olberman/Michael Moore equivalent.

    Not that any of that is directly related to how we behave in the community of saints, of course.

  34. While some of these are pretty extreme, I’ve personally had one of these happen to me at after EQ, and three others happen in my neighborhood while talking to fellow ward members.

    I know we’ve talked about it before bbell, but Davis County and Utah County are totally different animals when it comes to the politics/religion mix than what most Mormons experience. In my humble opinion of course.

    There have been times I’ve made decisions on what kinds of politics to discuss with ward members based on whether I think they’ll let my children continue to play with their children after I admit who I’ve voted for.

  35. Adam Greenwood says:

    “In Britain, a lot of people have strong feelings about abortion. My sense is that instead of embarking on a quixotic quest to get it illegalized, many of them work to reduce its occurence to as close to zero as possible. This includes doing so by working to support legislation that supports women and gives them the hope to be able to decide to keep an unplanned child.”

    This is the preferred liberal solution you’ve just outlined. If everyone buys into that, no wonder there’s no disputes. But is this a good thing? Only if you accept that the preferred liberal abortion solution is the correct one, or if you accept that civility is more important than abortion–propositions for neither of which you’ve advanced an argument.

  36. Adam, what I see in Britain is that people are not willing to hold broader policy agendas hostage to a single issue that does not show a realistic possibility of absolute resolution. Therefore, a pragmatic approach is taken with good results in drastically lowering the number of abortions.

    My observation has been that a difference is that over here it is a question of whether someone is willing to do the hard work of creating conditions in which women do not feel like abortion is the only option. There will still be people who choose it (even if it is illegalized, which, because it isn’t on the table as an option does not distract attention and resources from efforts to reduce numbers) so this isn’t about free agency or accountability. It seems to me that it is a reflection on the reality of a pluralistic society and how one can make a realistic and positive contribution in that framework. I’m not sure it’s characterized as a liberal vs. conservative issue over here and perhaps that’s better for overall prospects of addressing the actual societal problem.

  37. John Mansfield says:

    John C., how about Christopher Hitchens? Some complain that U.S. newspapers are very bland compared to the lively, biting rhetoric that British newspapers use. Hitchens’ nasty, personal steamrolling attempts to level all he finds stupid and evil seems a very British style to me. Going along Ronan’s point, though, Hitchens does seem to consider stupidity more damning than evil is, but no less personal.

    Again, what is the deal with the House of Commons jeering and booing each other, while in the U.S. it’s a big, big deal for a Senator to yell “You lie!” or for a Justice to mutter “Not true.” Do the British leave all the foolishness to the professionals so the lives of the rest can be free of it?

  38. John M., perhaps it’s a sign that in Britain the politicians are actually doing the work of politics themselves and it is not left entirely to cadres of aides? Just a guess. In any event, in this parliamentary approach, we see real, extemporaneous debate and reasoning, which often reveals that the politicians involved, including at the highest level, are actually well informed about the particulars of proposed legislation and policy issues. Whether this is a good or bad thing is obviously up for debate but it could be a source for the theatrics in the Commons — the representatives actually know what they’re talking about and have details to back up their arguments.

  39. Mex Davis says:

    john f you are right. I’ll even say that the concerns that American Mormons or Mormons in general have, on any subject, are indeed not relevant or desirable for a majority of the world’s population. Now that we are a Worldwide Church there will be less interest in what happen politically in the Happy Valley or surrounding states. Most people are really concerned about their own world issues that they deal with day to day. I think the real issue is how do we deal with each other and how not to allow such issues to divide us. Left, right or center who cares. Salvation came to all men. All men men will, one way or another, confess that Jesus is the Christ, not much else really matters.

  40. #15: I only wish my vote for Obama had kept me out of any heavy callings; I got called as EQP just months after my vote. And my ward tends to be fairly conservative (although it’s not a Mormon corridor ward). On the other hand, it’s a small ward and a tiny EQ, and they’re desperate for whatever they can get…

    I think there are more LDS Democrats out there than many of us seem to think, and certainly more moderates–even in the US. The problem, as manifested by some comments on this thread, is that we keep our politics quiet because we don’t want to be shunned or otherwise punished for them.
    We may think everyone in our ward is politically the same except for ourselves, but I think often (even in Utah) this isn’t true–it’s just that many in the political minority are afraid to point out their minority status to others.
    A political bumper sticker (which, unfortunately, my wife won’t allow) or even a tactful comment during Sunday School about how a statement made in class is personal politics and we should stick to the gospel instead, can make all the difference to someone else who, up to that point, had felt politically alone.
    Start looking for your political allies. And start putting out hints about your political allegiances. It always helps to know someone else at church thinks the same about politics as you do.

  41. Re: booing in the Commons:

    Remember, the Commons is the lowest chamber. You certainly wouldn’t shout in the Lords, and no-one would ever scream at the Queen. An unfortunate by-product of the POTUS being head of state is that he is therefore accorded due deference; the Prime Minister is not accorded such respect.

    For a nation as healthily brash as the US, it’s bizarre your political fora are so staid. Maybe that’s why Talk Radion (sic) fills the vacuum.

  42. Adam Greenwood says:

    “Adam, what I see in Britain is that people are not willing to hold broader policy agendas hostage to a single issue that does not show a realistic possibility of absolute resolution. Therefore, a pragmatic approach is taken with good results in drastically lowering the number of abortions”

    Which is, again, the preferred liberal solution for people who think that abortion is wrong: that they mostly set aside their position except when it comes to funding social programs.

    So the fact that the British don’t have fights about abortion is because one side of the fight has won.

    I too am all for civility, if it means that pretty much everybody agrees with me.

  43. So conservative people in Britain who disdain abortion but who work to reduce its occurence through realistic means are actually “liberal”?

    I’ve learned something today.

  44. john f. (#19),

    The statements in the first paragraph of my comment were true. The last line of my comment was said tongue-in-cheeck. Does facetiousness not translate across the pond?

  45. …and by cheeck I meant cheek. :)

  46. Sunny, as a faithful Mormon, I have no sense of humor. Everything is serious, especially when it threatens the welfare of Zion.

  47. Peter LLC says:

    So the fact that the British don’t have fights about abortion is because one side of the fight has won.

    What is that supposed to mean?

  48. You have humbled me sufficiently. I apologize for my light-mindedness. I will resume the wearing of the hairshirt.

  49. John Mansfield says:

    “So conservative people in Britain who disdain abortion but who work to reduce its occurence through realistic means are actually ‘liberal’?”

    What makes you think they are conservative? Don’t most liberals disdain abortion as well and want it to be “safe, legal and rare.”

  50. There are Glenn Becks in Britain, France, and Germany. They are called tabloid newspapers like the Sun, L’Express, and Bildzeitung.

    They are trying to get blue collar workers to vote for conservative parties. Their basic recipe is soccer, jingoism, and sex.

    With a few exceptions, such as the New York Post, there are no tabloid newspapers in the United States. However, Ruppert Murdoch has imported that format to television journalism with Fox News.

    The difference is that the girls in the Sun are naked and the “anchors” at Fox wear very tight sweaters.

  51. Peter LLC says:

    What makes you think they are conservative?

    Opposite of Adam’s “liberal”?

  52. re # 49, yes, that’s what I think is actually the case but I’m not sure if Adam thinks that is true about “liberals”. We’re talking about this as a conservative vs. liberal issue on his terms as I do not know if conversation on this particular topic can be had with him outside of that framework.

  53. Hellmut, there are tabloid newspapers in the United States but just not of that stripe. The tabloids in the United States, like the National Enquirer, are of even less repute than the tabloids in Europe but they are just spinning tales and not playing politics, like the tabloids in Great Britain and Europe.

  54. John M.
    I’m skeptical that Hitchens influence is greater in Britain than in the US, where he is known primarily for being anti-religion and writing articles for Vanity Fair. I am also skeptical that his influence over there rivals that of our favorite cable/talk radio pundits. O Brits of the ‘naccle, can you confirm or deny?

    Re: abortion,
    What is the preferred conservative approach? Legal restriction?

  55. I should say that I would treat most political commentary coming from the Sun much as I would most political commentary coming from the NYPost: not very seriously. But my preferences may not align with great influence and rhetoric.

  56. There are a number of reasons why tabloids are less successful in western Europe than in the United States. The most important one is probably the role of trade unions.

    First, trade unions counterbalance the efforts of the tabloids. In fact, the tabloids were founded to balance the influence of the unions in the working class. However much working class Germans or Britons might detest immigrants, western European workers know that they do not have much to expect from bourgeois parties with respect to the bottom line.

    That’s because their union educated them about their economic interests.

    Second, trade unionism privileges interest politics. The tabloids try to transform that by appealing to workers’ identity, hence the jingoism. However, the potential of those efforts has inherent limits (due to the economic interests of workers).

    In the United States, on the other hand, identity politics is much more virulent. First, there is the weakness of unions. Second, there is the strength of organized religion. Third, there are the racial cleavages.

    So the short answer is that although identity and interest politics occur everywhere, in western Europe, it’s more about interests since World War II and in the United States, it’s more about identity.

    Differences over interests are more susceptible to compromise. It’s pretty easy to share a dollar. It’s different with regard to identity politics. The president either is a white, southern male or not.

    And that is the short answer as to why the Glenn Becks are more influential than their British counterparts such as The Sun.

  57. Yes, John. I agree The National Enquirer is an altogether different animal. Fox is just like The Sun though. So is the New York Post.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    Greenwood says accepting legal abortion as the status quo and doing what you can to get girls to not arrive at that junction is the liberal position.

    Fowles says it sounds like a conservative position to him.

    Mansfield says “safe, legal, and rare” is a liberal slogan.

    Fowles says that the liberal position is to do those things that Greenwood lables the liberal position, but he called it a conservative position in order to use Greenwood’s terms.

    Puzzle for the reader: In what sense was Greenwood using terms identifying as conservative a position that he and Fowles both think is held by liberals?

  59. #56 Correction: There are a number of reasons why tabloids are less successful in western Europe than in FOX the United States.

  60. According to Edmund Burke, who knew a thing or two about the nature of conservatism, conservatives reject dogma in favor of pragmatism.

    Therefore, efforts to reduce the numbers of abortions in ways that work is compatible with conservative principles. Dogmatic prohibitions are not compatible with Burkean conservatism.

    Part of the problem is, of course, that there are hardly any true conservatives who remain in the Republican party. Most American “conservatives” prefer the zeal of the Jacobins to the restraint and caution of Burke.

  61. John M., I think you might have misread me.

    In my # 52, I did not even answer your first sentence in # 49 (What makes you think they are conservative?) because frankly it wasn’t worth answering. It was not a legitimate attempt at discussion about the issue.

    So my # 52 was an answer to your question Don’t most liberals disdain abortion as well and want it to be “safe, legal and rare.”

    As I said in # 52, in response to this particular sentence, yes, I believe that is actually the case with most people who identify themselves as “liberals” in the United States — they would prefer as few abortions as possible in society and zero if possible. I know it takes a lot of goodwill to believe that about “liberals” but I think that is the realistic assessment of their view on the issue.

    As to whether conservatives exist in Great Britain who oppose abortion on the same types of accountability grounds as Adam G. and “conservatives” in the United States, I think it is very clear that they do exist. But as I’ve mentioned, my observation has been that since illegalization of abortion is not on the table, the efforts are aimed at reducing abortions to the extent possible. This has included, to my knowledge, “social” legislation that addresses women’s issues specifically.

  62. John M., here’s a puzzle for you:

    For the sake of this puzzle, let’s assume that you agree that people who identify themselves as liberals in the United States would prefer as few abortions as possible in society and zero if possible.

    If, in the United States, conservatives want to illegalize abortion to achieve zero abortions and liberals want as few abortions as possible and zero if possible by working to address the underlying problems that lead women in a pluralistic society to choose abortions, then who is responsible for a continued high level of abortions if any and all programs, policies or legislation from a pragmatic perspective are blocked in the interest of a no compromise effort to illegalize abortion?

  63. #62: Very well put.

  64. This is a great post, John. I applaud your continued quest for civility and reason in our approach to each other as fellow saints, and ultimately in furtherance of building Zion.

  65. I know it was way up there in the comments, but I want to say in answer to bbell in #5 that I’ve personally witnessed it a few times. The worst was at a 4th of July flag raising when a member of my ward asked if I’d like to have a friendly discussion of politics because of the holiday. I agreed, but only if we could be respectful of all positions, and he agreed. However, as soon as I showed support for social programs he told me to my face that I was brainwashed and fraternizing with evil groups. (I hadn’t even told him yet that I was a Democrat — he must have been some kind of clairvoyant.) He said, “oh, that’s right. You went to public school, didn’t you? That explains it.” He informed me that my testimony was already slipping away.

    I was absolutely shocked that he responded in this way and promptly told him that the discussion was over. So it does happen. I now don’t tell anyone at church about my political views until we know each other pretty well and I have a better idea of how they’ll be received.

  66. John Mansfield says:

    I worked out the puzzle. Using the most recent data published, the abortion rate for England and Wales is 18.2 per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44 (link). For the United States (excluding California. Louisiana, and New Hampshire) the abortion rate is 16.1 per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44 (link). Those are pretty similar levels for two different countries with many differences. Whatever British liberals and conservatives are accomplishing together that American conservatives are blocking doesn’t appear to achieve much, if any, reduction of abortion.

    [Back when it still reported abortion data, California accounted for over a quarter of U.S. abortions, so the total U.S. rate may be something closer to 16.1 * 4/3 * (307-37)/307 = 18.9 per 1,000. California and New York are in a class apart with abortion rates double and one-and-a-half times third place Delaware.]

  67. Looks pretty much even. Do you think those numbers would change at all if abortion were illegalized in both countries or would the numbers stay the same in any event?

  68. John Mansfield says:

    I also appreciate John F.’s comment 61 for its low-key positing of the question “Mansfield, who has more blood of aborted fetuses in his conscience? Liberals, or conservatives like you?” It’s a nice demonstration that when the topic is divisive enough, even those devoted to reason and reasonableness in political debate like John F. will find the temptation to personalize the argument and demonize the opposition more than they can completely resist.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    So glad that this discussion could prove John F.’s point so handily.

  70. I see John M. You seem to have misunderstood the post and comments to be making a claim that people cannot talk about these issues at all or ask questions about responsibility for failed policies and tactics.

    In fact, however, the post laments that people cannot seem to talk about these things reasonably in our Church family, without toggling all the accusations listed in the original post to be fully applied.

  71. I’m so glad to have another discussion about conservatives behaving badly. That it dovetails with a discussion about abortion is icing on the cake.

  72. Speaking about some conservatives behaving badly, and in an effort to dovetail with Norbert’s Word of Wisdom post, is it against the Word of Wisdom to attend these Tea Parties that we read so much about in the news these days?

  73. I only attend Herbal Tea Parties.

  74. Okay, got it. That gives me some peace of mind. Is there “Reload, not Retreat” displayed at those?

  75. jjohnsen says:

    Is it a caffeine-free iced tea party? Because I think that’s allowed.

  76. I don’t know if iced tea is allowed even if caffeine free, though it’s a mystery as to why iced tea itself wouldn’t be allowed as it’s not a hot drink.

  77. John Mansfield says:

    “Looks pretty much even. Do you think those numbers would change at all if abortion were illegalized in both countries or would the numbers stay the same in any event?”

    For England and Wales where all the doctors work for the government, it would be pretty tough to evade a ban on abortion. Apart from that, my link to the England and Wales data leads to a graph showing rates since 1970, the Abortion Act 1967 having gone into effect in 1968. It shows an increase over that span from 8 abortions per 1,000 women to 18 per 1,000. There were periods of a few years with small declines now and then, but for every year, the rate is higher than it was ten years previously. The laws alone don’t make the change, but culture adapts with law as a factor.

  78. #77 “For England and Wales where all the doctors work for the government”

    This is not true. There is a private sector in British medicine.

    Prior to 1968, the private sector was where the wealthy acquired abortions (illegally of course).
    The non-wealthy went to unqualified people with knitting needles and soap.

  79. Steve Evans says:

    I would think even qualified people had knitting needles and soap! I mean, in the United States lots of people have soap. And at least open access to knitting needles. Unless you are saying that the non-wealthy went to unqualified people [looking to pay for their abortions] with knitting needles and soap, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me unless Britain has some sort of prison currency exchange system.

  80. John M,
    Fair enough. You’ve shaken your garments in Britain’s general direction. I should note that John F. didn’t ask about blood being on anybody’s hands and that he asked what seemed to be a sincere policy question. As Steve points out, you’ve proven John F’s point admirably.

    Also, that reporting of abortions should increase once they have become legal should surprise absolutely nobody. I fail to see how that demonstrates anything, but I have a limited imagination.

  81. John Mansfield says:

    John C., John F. asked “who is responsible for a continued high level of abortions?” Do you think Cynthia L. responded with a “Very well put.” because John F. had so aptly phrased a sincere policy question, or more because she thought he had placed some blame somewhere she thinks it belongs?

    On the abortion increase question, I don’t think a continually four-decade increase supports the notion that all we are seeing is underground abortions coming into the open. I think in a very few years after legalization that that shift into the open would have been complete. I think the continual decades-long climb stems from a change in attitude to more and more people seeing abortion as a legitimate solution to a problematic pregnancy and that legalization was a huge catalysis towards such legitimacy.

  82. John M,
    I seems to me like a sincere question (is the intent of the American conservative position being accomplished by its policy positions? Would other policy positions do a better job?). You certainly have the option to interpret John F in the manner you did, but we’d all get along much better if we gave one another the benefit of the doubt. You, in particular, always seem to me to be itching for a fight when you grace this blog with your presence, but I frequently misinterpret and see ill intent where there is none. Perhaps you may be similarly mistaken.

    In any case, by your own calculation (including California), Britain is doing a better job of keep abortion down (probably not a statistically significant better job, but that’s okay, too). If nothing else, this seems to indicate that both approaches are roughly equal, which also seems to imply that neither is more effective at actually cutting down the number of abortions.

    Also, I’m a little surprised that an increase of 10/1000 over 40 years (if I’m reading your stats right) is meant to be greatly significant. Of course, the US has gone higher over certain periods of that same timespan (the earliest data I found had us at 25/1000 in 1980, but I didn’t look terribly hard). Perhaps we should consider the current (apparently low) level of abortion in our country to be the result of more stringent restriction, which makes me wonder what could be accomplished if both the UK social method and the US legal restriction method were used together. But we don’t seem to have the political will to listen to one another anymore, as this thread continues to demonstrate. Na ja.

  83. I don’t personally find war in heaven/agency arguments convincing, but are those who are appalled by such arguments against all religious analogy in politics?

    I don’t agree with such arguments, but I actually think them quite relevant and powerful. That said, they lead one to become a libertarian whereas few using them are libertarians. (Typically they are made by liberals or conservatives who only selectively apply them)

  84. I actually don’t think that they necessitate libertarianism and the attitude that they do is the problem at the core of this post.

  85. So who in the US is responsible for widespread abortion?

    I have seen a lot of studies that indicate that somewhere around 35-40% of all US women have had an abortion by the time their child-bearing years are over. UK stats would probably be similar. Ask any mission president in the US how often he interviews women who are getting baptized and have had an abortion.

    Abortion in the US is essentially Safe, Legal and very very common

    Is it the clinics?
    medical schools that train abortionists?
    politicians that support the abortion infrastructure?
    Our culture in general?

  86. I’m sorry=you totally lost me at “independent school districts in texas”. oh you mean the schools so controlled by the state test that more than a month of every year is spent preparing for them? A state curriculum which includes a script for elementary school grades? (really with hoped for student answers in italics and suggestions on how to achieve these answers). State wide text books which mean texas is the largest buyer and thus a major controller of text books.

    carry on…rational political discussion-good

  87. bbell,
    I tend to think that women who get abortions are responsible for their own abortion (assuming threats with guns were not involved). Ditto teens who get pregnant (or who get other teens pregnant). I don’t know that we have to look further for culprits.

  88. bbell – those are really what you imagine the causes of abortion to be? Do you think these “abortionists” trained at medical schools talk women into having abortions? Absurd.

    I’ve heard shockingly high statistics about abortion rates myself, but I’ve also heard responses to those rates that explain that it always comes back to economics. Women have abortions when they do not have the support to care for the child or carry the child to term. Whether you feel that support should come from the private or public sector is up for debate, but the reasons for those abortions is well documented.

    Like here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf

  89. S.P. Bailey says:

    Is it really about civility? Or has the liberal entitlement state ship already sailed in England to the point that “mundane government policies” are the only things left to debate? I too would find it hard to get very excited about debating which party makes a more efficient overseer of the bureaucracy.

  90. S.P. Bailey says:

    Another thought: Mormons are persecution obsessed. Claims of persecution of lefty Mormons by their righty brethren reads like an extension of this obsession.

  91. SP,
    You must have been bored in civics.

  92. Another thought: Mormons are persecution obsessed. Claims of persecution of righteous/rightist Mormons by their bureaucracy-adoring/agency-denying/entitlement-state-dependent brethren reads like an extension of this obsession.

  93. S.P. Bailey says:

    John C.: I am a C-Span watching geek. That doesn’t make bureaucracy non-boring. You must be the kind of person who could write a press release like this with a straight face.

    Brad: can you direct me to a single blog post in which a conservative Mormon complains of persecution at the hands of a liberal Mormon? (N.B.: No need to get all emotional and snarky with me; I don’t really have a dog in the partisan politics race.)

  94. At the hand of a liberal mormon? Perhaps not. At the hands of liberals? I think I might be able to scrounge up an example or two…

    I also don’t think that “Claims of persecution of lefty Mormons by their righty brethren” is a remotely accurate representation of sentiments of this post or the comments expressing agreement with it.

  95. Steve Evans says:

    “can you direct me to a single blog post in which a conservative Mormon complains of persecution at the hands of a liberal Mormon?”

    Really? it seems to me, upon even cursory reflection, that there are dozens of comment threads that run this way — and vice versa.

  96. Brad: Why so snotty? You’re usually more level-headed.

  97. Christine, you again?

  98. Brad is level-headed? Since when?

  99. Lurker: Brad isn’t feeling level-headed because he needs a new buzzcut.

  100. (MP*) Brad is level headed.

    Is (MP*) true? It seems to me that it is. As far as I can see, the very concept of Brad not being levelheaded is unintelligible. The problem is that Augustine and Catholicism conceive of the levelheadedness effected through justification to be a gift transferred from Brad to another person and not a personal quality of Brad.

  101. Brad: can you direct me to a single blog post in which a conservative Mormon complains of persecution at the hands of a liberal Mormon? (N.B.: No need to get all emotional and snarky with me; I don’t really have a dog in the partisan politics race.)

    I feel impressed to say that I am a conservative (ish) Mormon who is constantly persecuted by my fellow permabloggers here at BCC. They always tease and poke fun at me.

  102. Scott, I want to thank you for the useful criticisms and insightful questions about this manuscript that you offered in 1990. However, I should make clear that the text was “finished” prior to use in the class. Any perception that you are being teased or poked fun at is irresponsible; the text was written well before you came to BCC.

  103. S.P. Bailey says:

    Steve: I call your cursory reflection and raise it one unsupported conjecture: maybe I skipped those threads out of boredom.

  104. Brad: Are you that irresponsible? Ha. Ha.

  105. Hrm. I don’t know blog posts off the top of my head (sorry, there are a lot either way). I also agree with Brad that this post isn’t about liberal whining (nor is agreeing with the post inherently agreeing with liberal whining). In fact, I would argue that this is an anti-whining post (although perhaps John F. should clarify).

    That said, if you would like an example of a conservative mormon feeling persecuted by liberal mormons, look no further. Or if you’d like an example of a conservative positing that the liberals are actively ruining his writing career, there is this.

    Neither side of the divide (in or out of the church) seems to lack for whining whiners or those who perceive persecution.

  106. Peter LLC says:

    can you direct me to a single blog post in which a conservative Mormon complains of persecution at the hands of a liberal Mormon

    Well, at Millennial Star they don’t complain as much as just delete comments, but you could try there for starters.

  107. John,

    I would like to point out that I was not persecuting anyone on that that Times and Seasons post. I was merely doing a good bit of eye-poking.


    M* has to delete my comments. I make too many people cry over there.

  108. Blake, it is important to note that there are senses in which an irresponsible-responsible distinction exists between Gods and humans in Mormon scripture because all that exists owes its existence, in its current form, to God. Yet it is not an onto-theological distinction.

  109. ExploringMormonThought,

    I highly doubt that “Blake” is responsive here; we’ve had some problems with an apparent troll named “Christine” posing as Blake Ostler on another thread–so I wouldn’t take the “Blake” above very seriously, in the event that we’re dealing with the same person again.

  110. Scott, the creation of this text occurred by organizing the manuscript not from nothing but from preexisting words. There was a head writer who presided over the council of writers, and Blake was his name. Not Christine or Lurker, who are lesser Gods that preside over me, the text, in the work of creation and redemption.

  111. I understand that Blake has sworn off blogging for a while, which adds some additional doubt here.

  112. Mark D.,
    Yeah, I think it’s becoming fairly clear that all of the comments from “Blake” in this thread and the other one are just from trolls.

  113. Bleak Oyster says:

    There goes the neighborhood.

  114. Boink Olster says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to take a break after this lunatic thread. But

  115. How often in your exp do ward members go after each other over politics and start accusing each other of evil?

    Not since we started calling better gospel doctrine teachers, but we still have a ways to go with RS and EQP.

    Although it’s not direct accusation – it’s the veiled “those people who believe this” references.

    I was at a campout last night and heard this same thread on several instances.

  116. I’m sorry=you totally lost me at “independent school districts in texas”. oh you mean the schools so controlled by the state test that more than a month of every year is spent preparing for them? A state curriculum which includes a script for elementary school grades? (really with hoped for student answers in italics and suggestions on how to achieve these answers). State wide text books which mean texas is the largest buyer and thus a major controller of text books.

    Independent School Districts, who are allowed to set their own curriculum while adhering to standards.

    My school district does spend time on TAKS preparation, but *the content* of the instruction is no different than what I’d expect if there were no TAKS. They’re still learning math…

    And certainly, not every elementary school follows the “script”, as you put it. The better school districts are great school districts. The crappy school districts are actually better off because of the TAKS.

    As far as marketplace dominance of textbooks … go ahead and write your own textbook and get Texas to buy it. It’s fine.

    (That said, I agree that the Texas BOE is messed up … but don’t bash all Texas schools. At least we don’t send kids to socially-mandated religious training during one period each day.)

  117. StillConfused says:

    Those accusations just wouldn’t sound the same with a British accent.

  118. Former UK Resident says:

    89 – from my perspective, the perspective of someone who was born in the USA, moved to the UK, returned to the USA, moved back to the UK, and then returned to the USA – yes, the ship has sailed. Long, long ago.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love Britain and the British saints, and have shed plenty of literal and spiritual blood and tears for them and as one of them – but culturally, the ship has sailed.

    Is it a question of one approach being “right” and another approach “wrong”? I don’t think it’s that simple. That being said – on the world stage, my personal opinion is that the culture foreshadows and enables both the decline as a world power and a decline with respect to the likelihood of the populace to respond to the influence of the Gospel. The UK is a hard, hard place (culturally, economically, and otherwise) to grow up and remain a faithful, active LDS. The western US suburban wards are, in general, silver platters of ease by comparison.

  119. re # 118, are you saying that western US suburban wards have therefore removed an element of free agency, making the choice to remain faithful, active LDS less voluntary?

  120. I know I am jumping into the pool really late here, but just a couple of thoughts as I read through all the comments…

    I find it interesting how many folks feel they were released from a calling, or blocked from a calling, because of political views. Particularly when someone says, “I made a comment about Obama while teaching, and then a few weeks later I was released from that calling.” I have as of yet to see a bishopric act that quickly on a calling. Maybe these folks just have super efficient bishoprics, though.

    I love how a post about civil political discourse has someone once again revealed, through the comments, that Lefty Mormons are, in reality, more righteous than their right-leaning counterparts. Because, you know, being all smug about it is very becoming.

  121. Former UK Resident says:

    john f – no, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. In response to 89, I was attempting to convey two points:

    1) Culturally, my assessment was that the “left” and “right” were and are less far apart in the UK than in the USA. In my view, one of the significant contributors to this was the fact that, as 89 phrased it, the “liberal entitlement state ship” had been in operation for so long, that it had permeated the culture to a far greater extent. The dole, the NHS, the local council and attendant housing entitlements etc – they are norms.

    2) Culturally, the UK is a difficult place to be LDS. Religion in general is, frankly, frowned upon. Culturally, there is a strong “crab” mentality. Most CofE and similar churches have dwindling attendance composed mostly of the elderly. LDS youth, in particular, face incredible challenges in school and among peers. I have the utmost respect for the LDS youth who stay strong in such a difficult environment.

    In contrast, in the western USA, religious belief in general is accepted as normal and mainstream. Many Christian churches are strong and thriving. Honest effort, achievement, and success are still seen as good things. Bottom line – from a cultural perspective, in my estimation – the suburban western US wards have it very, very easy. (and to a related thought to your point – it is easier to “coast” in a ward there and be simply a cultural Mormon as compared to the UK).

    That’s not to say western wards don’t have their own unique challenges (particularly in Utah where I spent much of my youth, where, because of the high concentration of LDS people, for teens and young adults “expressing your individuality” or being “cool” often meant being, shall we say, less than valiant…), but the challenges are different ones. As an aside, I saw less of the cultural issues arising from a critical population density of LDS people in AZ and CA, where I also lived.

  122. John Mansfield says:

    Since there is some fresh commenting here, I’ll throw out something that I wondered about: Margaret Thatcher. My impression was that Thatcher-haters were every bit a match with the worst Bush- or Clinton-haters, and not hard to find. Was that an uncommon situation? Did the partisan feelings of that time ever find religious expression among the religious?

  123. John M

    I’ll give you a poor answer as I am too young to remember and to ignorant to know. But I’ll answer as best as I can. Maggie was loved by the conservative south, but hated (a strong but accurate word) by the labour north. The north had an economy based on heavy industry, e.g. coal mining, steel works and manufacturing. Maggie broke the Unions and refused to support the industries. The service sector based south went relativley unscathed compared to the north – I am generalising here and correction on any point is welcomed by my fellow brits. So it was a north and south divide, religion did not come into it. In fact I have a couple of northern mormon friends who say that what maggie did was in the best interests of the country – they are the only people I know from the north and although they will be strongly but respectfully disagreed with no one would dream of pulling religion into the conversation. The only time I remember members getting mixing maggie and religion was when word got round she had been speaking at BYU(?) and had received a fat fee, as well as being told by the then prophet that the mormons in the US would vote for her if they could. The saints here in Scotland, that I knew, were very unhappy at the misappropriation of church funds and a clueless statement of political support. But I’m sure the saints in the south would have felt quite different.

  124. Former UK resident

    I found your comments interesting. It’s always good to hear from someone who can provide a balanced perspective because of varied experience. I concur growing up in such a godless society can be tough; I joke with my kids ‘I was the youth program’. However, the church has grown in the UK and my present stake has a strong youth program and youth have a good circle of member friends. As someone who has contemplated a move to the states (my wife and I can get green cards on account of her profession), one of the things that prompts me to stay is the social programs: the dole, housing benefit etc. Let me be very clear I am not on the dole, I do not claim housing benefit and so forth. And I do not expect to. I am finishing off a PhD (or at least I will be when I stop blogging!) and should I return to my previous salary I will be doing quite nicely. Also my kids are being reared in a house where education is important and work is valued. So hopefully we will not produce parasitical wasteful offspring. However, despite not appreciating the heavy taxation of this country (understatement of the year) I wholeheartedly believe in social programs that support a person when they are sick and down on their luck. Whereas conservative Americans seem to decry the ‘evil of the dole’ (as has the church) and would seem want to do away with such a thing, I would rather see it with all its inefficiency rather than see families sleep in cars. I believe I am part of a better society because of our welfare provisions. If everyone was mormon and could go and see their bishop when they lost their job or other unintended setback occured, then perhaps state intervention would not be necessary, but in reality that’s not the case. With regard to politics: yes we are despondent and disillusioned and I found the US presidential race to be far more exciting than I am finding the present UK elections. Also this year I will vote conservative or lib dem, but that is not prompted by my religious beliefs, because under the different manifestos, coloured ties and stated intentions, there is no real moral difference between any of them, none of them will radically change the country, I just hope the Tories can halt the budget deficit and get our house in order so the global markets don’t give us a good spanking in the near future. No one is talking about what most of the electorate is talking about: immigration and Afghanistan. In the subsequent election I might vote labour, it won’t make me any less mormon. I guess that might be down to our disillusionment with politics and seeing the main parties as 2 heads of the same monster. Alternatively, it would seem Americans see their main parties as representing different ideals, republicanism: self-reliance and traditional values/selfishness and narrow mindedness; democrat liberalism: provision for all and freedom of expression/high taxation, inefficient use of resources, encouragement of free riding and the support of immoral, and dangerous groups and lifestyles. So perhaps it is a bad thing we, in the UK, don’t disagree with each other passionately and throw religion into the pot. Then and again perhaps we are simply more respectful in the way we treat each other. Certainly the American psyche seems to produce more vociferous people. I’ve always been a bit schizoid in my estimation of the persona America seems to produce. On one hand the brash arrogance is unappealing and rude. On the other I admire the confidence and debate it leads to. Anyway enough rambling from me.

  125. I think the model should be the inspired organizational patterns of Joesph Smith. It is key to note that while Joseph had intricate social and community structures in place by the time he died, none of them were civic, state or federal government in nature. Each was predicated on conditions of voluntary involvement between people who shared a common desire for builid up Zion.

    That is where I draw my lines in the sand regarding taxation and mandatory social programs. We are addressing the same struggles, but the fundamental approach is completely different.

    If nothing else, the national debt load will crush us. Unfortunately, 2 plus 2 still equals 4, in spite of all our hoping.

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