Yesterday the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve released a statement congratulating president-elect Trump on his victory and praising Secretary Clinton on her campaign. The letter, something of a post-U.S.-presidential-election tradition, is, I think, laudable, and functions as a valuable reminder that we need to both pray and work for the success of the country we live in.
And it makes me think of another letter that I’d like to see. It would go something along these lines:
At every election, we encourage members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to engage in the political process. We want to clarify and expand the scope of this engagement.
Surveys show that, in the United States, the vast majority of church members identify as Republican. There are undoubtedly many reasons for that, including a belief that the Republican party better matches members’ values. But undoubtedly some believe (and not without justification) that the Republican party’s platform is consonant with LDS values (or, conversely, that the Democratic party’s goes against LDS values).
To the extent that members believe this, we wish to disabuse them of the idea. The Republican platform does advocate many values that we hold dear. The Democratic platform does, as well. Similarly, the Republican party embraces policies that we cannot reconcile with God’s will, as does the Democratic party. Each member of the church must recognize that each party can both help and hurt people’s temporal and spiritual progression, and decide for her or himself which better aligns with that member’s values.
To be completely clear: no political party has a monopoly on morality or on truth. Both parties can help us create a more Zion-like society, and both can hinder the coming of Zion. As members of the Church, however, we are constrained in our pursuit of Zion by our political institutions, and must engage and use those institutions to the best of our ability. But there is nothing in LDS doctrine or teachings that requires members to belong to one party or the other and, while we must remain civil in our political discourse, we must also accept and embrace plurality in our political ideals.
A couple notes:
- That’s a super-rough draft of what I would like to see. Before the Church released this message, it should certainly be cleaned up.
- It does not endorse or oppose a candidate for office. As such, it does not threaten the Church’s tax exemption.
- I realize it’s U.S.-centric. I think there should be a more general statement, too, that says that no political party is all good, and basically none is beyond the pale, but I do think (for non-cultural-imperialist reasons) that disentangling party affiliation from the Church in the U.S. is particularly valuable. There is a long history of subtle and not-so-subtle official support of things that would lead reasonable members to believe that the GOP was the One True Political Party, and I doubt there has been a similar tacit endorsement in other countries. If I’m wrong, then a specific letter should be written in those countries, too.
- Doing this soon would be propitious timing. After all, almost a quarter of Mormons who have historically voted Republican didn’t vote for president-elect Trump. We, as a body politic and the body of Christ, are, perhaps, ready for official repudiation of the idea that good Mormons can only be members of one party.
Will the Church make this kind of statement? I don’t see any reason why it will, though it would be great if it did. Would it result in Mormons leaving the GOP? Again, no idea. But it would be great if it did. I don’t think we can create a Zion society where we only have a voice in one political party (though query how big our voice is there, since we’re generally a given for Republicans).