What I Want the Church to Say

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:

  1. 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.
  2. It does not endorse or oppose a candidate for office. As such, it does not threaten the Church’s tax exemption.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).

Comments

  1. “After all, almost a quarter of Mormons who have historically voted Republican didn’t vote for president-elect Trump.”

    Uh, this makes the rest of the post superfluous.

  2. Not really. I doubt the quarter who didn’t vote Trump are a permanent shift; the next time the Republicans nominate a mainstream candidate, I would be shocked if the Mormon vote weren’t in the 75-80% range again.

    Moreover, not voting for Trump =/= working within a different party to establish a Zion society. Just like I don’t think the shift was permanent, I also don’t think that historically Republican Mormons who didn’t vote for Trump see themselves as leaving the Republican party; even the correct party can sometimes make the wrong decision.

  3. Did you go to church last Sunday? Did they not read a statement from the 1st presidency from the pulpit? It basically said exactly this without being so needlessly wordy.

  4. Aaron, you mean the statement I linked to in the first paragraph of my proposed letter?

    Because if so, it functions differently than what I’m proposing. It says that the church remains neutral; the church’s neutrality doesn’t speak against six (or more!) decades of explicit and tacit endorsement of a particular political party. Certainly it hints at it, but hinting at the end of an unwritten order is probably not sufficient to repudiate it.

  5. A couple of years ago, after President Uchtdorf’s excellent talk on diversity, my EQP gave a lesson on the talk and expressed surprise that political diversity could be a good thing. He had gone his entire life believing that Democrats were evil, and that good church members couldn’t be Democrats. Clearly the short 1st Presidency statement we get every few years before elections is not enough.

  6. “What I want the church to say” could be the title of the blog. Indeed, of the entire bloggernacle.

  7. Chalk me up as another person who argues the church needs to make it crystal clear that good Mormons can be Democrats.

  8. “Both parties can help us create a more Zion-like society….” My ballot had 13 parties to choose from. Why limit this effort to just Republican and Democrat parties? Surely the Socialist Workers Party has something to lead us to Zion, too.

  9. Sam, the statement read in Sacrament meetings last Sunday.
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/first-presidency-issues-letter-encouraging-political-participation-voting

    It includes this sentence “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties and candidates.”

    Just wondering if you saw it or just think it didn’t go far enough.

  10. It includes this sentence “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties and candidates.”

    Just wondering if you saw it or just think it didn’t go far enough.

    That’s the kind of anodyne boilerplate guaranteed to not offend anyone and therefore likely to be ignored.

  11. Thanks, Aaron. I didn’t see that (we had the funky regional stake conference broadcast from Salt Lake thing last week).

    I wouldn’t say it doesn’t go far enough. I would say, though, that it doesn’t do what I see my rough proposal doing. That is, it tells people (in a sentence in the middle) that it’s okay to vote for people in different parties. It says that, though, in the context of encouraging people to vote, and it doesn’t say that affiliation with different parties is all right.

    It probably shouldn’t be necessary—and maybe it isn’t—but it would be valuable, I believe, to have an explicit statement blessing and encouraging actual diversity in party affiliation.

  12. I know that in conversation with Gordon Hinckley, Rep. Bill Orton asked for such a letter. It never materialized. How I wish such a letter appeared.

  13. “Chalk me up as another person who argues the church needs to make it crystal clear that good Mormons can be Democrats.”

    I disagree. I argue that the church need to make it crystal clear that good Mormons can’t belong to any party because “the Republican party embraces policies that we cannot reconcile with God’s will, as does the Democratic party”

  14. “It probably shouldn’t be necessary—and maybe it isn’t—but it would be valuable, I believe, to have an explicit statement blessing and encouraging actual diversity in party affiliation.”

    I agree with you in part.
    It shouldn’t be necessary to say it’s ok to be a democrat (as there are high profile democrat mormons like Harry Reid), however I think any statement should be for encouraging political engagement rather than encouraging political diversity. If people are properly politically engaged (and not just putting a placard in their front garden), I’d hope they’d work out for themselves which party best represent their views or ideals.
    (Or is this too much to hope for?)

    As an aside: After the debacle with both major party primaries/caucuses this time around it’ll be interesting to see what happens in the near future as far as official party affiliation goes.

  15. The Church will never truly feel welcoming to Democrats until at least one or two members of the First Presidency and the Twelve are registered with that party. The stanglehold of Republicans in the highest quorums sort of undermines whatever salutary statement they might put out. Perhaps at some point the political onesidedness in American congregations (which is not good for missionary work, retention, or public reputation) will become problematic enough that the President of the Quorum will simply assign two members to take on that responsiblity (let them vote however they please), as it is rumored that Utah leaders in the early days of statehood once did with congregations in which no one was willing to register as a Republican.

  16. James Faust was a registered Democrat I believe

  17. Yes, Faust was the last once. Since he died in 2007, there have been six new apostles–half the quorum–and not a one is a Democrat (someone correct me if I’m wrong.) What kind of message does that send to the membership? Democrats may be tolerable at the local level, but we don’t trust them to run the Church, or even to be part of discussions at the top.

  18. Pretty certain Elder Renlund’s a Democrat.

  19. Pretty sure Renlund is.

    But it isn’t “Democrats may be tolerable at the local level, but ‘we’ don’t trust them to run the Church, or even to be part of discussions at the top.” If this sentiment is true than it is “Democrats may be tolerable at the local level, but [He doesn’t] trust them to run the Church, or even to be part of discussions at the top.” And that is up to Him, not me, and not “we”.

  20. Although most of you won’t know of her, Salt Lake people, especially those interested in women’s issues, will recognize Ally Isom. She has formally and publicly withdrawn from the Republican Party, illustrating a part of your desired statement: One need not be a Republican to be a Latter-day Saint. In fact, at times and places and in some lives, perhaps one must not be a Republican to be a Latter-day Saint.

    http://www.sltrib.com/news/4568475-155/rolly-herberts-former-spokeswoman-and-now?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

  21. Should it make us feel better or worse to assert that “God doesn’t trust [Democrats] to run the Church, or even to be part of discussions at the top”? Do you think that God hands the prophet the name of the next apostle and there is no influence whatsoever from the prophet’s mortal experience or thinking or connections or assumptions? Since there are lots of qualified men to choose from in the Seventy, or even outside the Seventy, I’ve always assumed that God could confirm the deliberated, prayerful decision of his Prophet concerning any of several men whom he trusted and felt comfortable working with. That was the way things often worked in the bishoprics I served in. Would a different prophet have chosen a different apostle in any of the appointments since 2007? But I don’t really know how it works in the First Presidency, and I assume that you don’t either.

    By the way, I would be thrilled if Elder Renland identified as a Democrat, and everything I have said would thereby be moot. If you can find a source, please let me know. A quick search on my part didn’t turn up anything definitive.

  22. Thanks, Ardis. I was not aware of that.

  23. “By the way, I would be thrilled if Elder Renland identified as a Democrat, and everything I have said would thereby be moot. If you can find a source, please let me know. ”

    Looking at a copy of the Utah Voters database from min 2013 shows a Renlund, Dale G with a matching date of birth, as a Democrat.

  24. That’s pretty sweet. It would be very helpful if Elder Renland came out publicly and owned that affiliation. Especially this week.That’s what I want the Church to say.

    Public Affairs, are you listening? It would go a long way toward healing or at least starting to patch up some of the divisiveness that has made its way into the household of faith. (And I take some blame for that.)

  25. Nope, the Church should stay away from politics. Perhaps, talk about values and principles that we wish to promote and leave it up to us ADULTS to figure out which candidate supports that the best. Except the problem I have with that is that this does not address the problem of coercive government, albeit “caring”.

  26. All politics have moral implications, with millions of people affected positively or adversely by national elections. Mormons look to the Brethren for moral leadership, and if they say nothing substantive apart from the anodyne statement they regularly release–that itself says that they are quite happy to oversee a very pollitically lopsided denomination. I wouldn’t want them to enter very far into the treacherous seas of specific legislation, but it would be helpful if they could model for the entire church a quorum where upstanding men from different political parties can work together to build the Kingdom. The urge for monolithic unity at the top may be a hindrance to the sort of diversity the Church needs to truly prosper.

  27. Mormons need to be aware of the fact that for a couple of decades now the Republican Party has moved further and further to the extreme. And with this election, the party embraced a man whose values are entirely antithetical to LDS values. The GOP is now the Party of Trump, like it or not. He reshaped it in his own image, and he will continue to do so. The conservative ideologues like Paul Ryan, who think they can tame the beast, are going to have to learn to bow before the Great Pumpkin. The Republican Party of the past has ceased to exist. What you saw in Trump’s campaign is where the party is now and where it will be in the future. Time to really ask yourself if you want to be a part of this. Don’t be foolish. Many Mormons in 1930s Germany supported Hitler. He said all the right things. He was the law and order candidate. He blamed certain religious and ethnic groups and foreign countries for Germany’s problems. He got the economy humming, albeit through military build-up. Any of this sound familiar? Take a good hard look at what Trump promised. The only way he can achieve much of it is through authoritarian tactics. From what at least one of his inner circle has said, he has been keeping an enemies list and has a long memory. In good conscience, I cannot be a Republican. I made that decision long before Trump came along, because I could see where the GOP was headed. Guess what? They have arrived.

  28. I agree that it’s important that the church address openly the idea that one can be a good Mormon and a democrat (and any political party for that matter except perhaps the KKK). Personally, I think your statement above is right and is inoffensive to Mormons of both parties. Neither party is completely right or completely wrong from a gospel standpoint. They represent two different problem-solving ideologies, but they’ve also both got a LOT of baggage that has crept in. Those who imagine that their party is consistent with the gospel are probably lacking in self-awareness or are only seeing what they want to see.

  29. I recall listening to a speech given by Chief Justice Thomas Griffith of the DC Court of Appeals. He mentioned, in passing, his friendship with Harry Reid, and a member of the audience raised his hand and asked the Chief Justice, essentially, “How does Harry Reid have a temple recommend?”

    I loved Griffith’s answer. “As far as I know, the Lord has not revealed any doctrine on the top marginal tax rate.” He then simply moved on.

    There are things that each political party get horribly wrong, and things that each party get right. But there are also a very large number of things that we turn into moral questions that are actually questions of efficiency. It is something I have seen both ways. A Republican sees a Democrat desiring to raise the top marginal tax rate from 37% to 39% and sees a moral catastrophe akin to the excess of King Noah. A Democrat sees a Republican advocating the ending of racial preferences in federal hiring and sees a moral catastrophe akin to the return of Jim Crow laws. In either case, the issue is the effectiveness of government in implementing our shared values and the priority of our differing values. But making the case for the efficacy of your position or the primacy of your values is hard — demonizing your opponent is easy.

  30. A letter like this would be second only to the church never talking about politics ever again, even to say how neutral it is.

    The problem with these letters is that they have to be broad and general (nothing so specific as naming political parties) that people can read into them whatever they want, so all they do is confirm people’s pre-existing biases. If the church can’t specifically call people out on their worst partisan prejudices, it needs to just stick with Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world.

  31. Ronkonkoma says:

    Democrats may be tolerable at the local level, but we don’t trust them to run the Church

    Democrats would be clamoring for gay marriage and goddess worship.

    This is why they are not trusted.

  32. “Democrats would be clamoring for gay marriage and goddess worship.” As to the former, no clamoring necessary–it’s legal. As to the latter, if you mean Beyonce, sure.

  33. Ronkonkoma:

  34. If you study the history of political parties in Utah, you will discover that up until the 1960’s, Utah wa a swing state. Back at the time Utah sought statehood, one of the conditions set was that the Mormons give up their people’s party and become Republican and Democrat.Members were assigned a political party, sometimes by taking one side of the congregation and making them Democrat and the other side Republican. Other times they went door to door to assign each family a party. GunnßMcKay, Utah’s Democratic US senator in the 1970’s, was only a Democrat because when the person charged with assigning parties to each family in Huntsville started his assignment, the family in the first home
    was not home.
    The issue that turned the majority of the Church members in the US Republican was abortion. The Democratic position was one they could not countenance.
    As someone who lives in a ward so liberal, the conservatives feel they need to whisper their opinions to each other, I wish people would just leave their opinions at home when they come to church. I go to worship Christ.

  35. Katie, thanks for your thoughts. I do want to push back on a couple things, though. First, although the idea that members were assigned a political party is popular, as far as I can find on a quick search, the main verification is to folklore; the folks at the Hinckley Institute can’t tie it down definitively [here p. 37].

    As for political affiliation with the Republican party: since the 1940s, the percentage of (Utah) Mormons[fn] voting for the Republican presidential candidate has never dipped below 50% (and it got above 50% several times before that). Though abortion may (or may not) have solidified Mormons’ identification with the Republicans, given that Roe was decided in 1973, it wasn’t what turned the majority of Mormons Republican.

    [fn] I know Utah Mormons’ political leanings aren’t necessarily perfectly representative of the political leanings of Mormons writ large, but they’re at least indicative. And you take the data you can find online when you’re blog-commenting.

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