On Being a Social Mormon


Marching against the 12-hour workday, 60-hour workweek

A while back I met a friend (I’ll call him Steve) and several of his colleagues for lunch. Steve is a good member missionary and his colleagues know he’s a Mormon, and I eat often enough with the group that they know I am too. Anyway, I mentioned that I’d seen a recent article in The New York Times featuring the work they do and even a photo of someone from their department. Steve’s boss exclaimed:  “What’s a Mormon doing reading the Times?!” His jaw dropped further when I told him I’m not just a reader but a subscriber to boot. 

The dismay expressed by my friend’s boss was mostly in jest, and naturally there is much political diversity among the global church membership, but I imagine if push came to shove most would agree that American Mormons tend to identify with the conservative side of the American political spectrum. Which is why I decided to wear my BYU hat to the demonstration last week against the Austrian government’s plans to weaken employee protection laws and allow employers to mandate 12 hour days and 60 hour weeks—to defy stereotypes and let it be known that Mormons too will take to the streets for workers rights!

I don’t know if American workers would feel much solidarity with such a protest—having long ago sold their collective bargaining birthright for a mess of promises regarding the unattainability of the American Dream absent great personal sacrifice—but it was moving to see the diversity of protesters—women and men, old and young, union members and freelancers, old school socialists and…drum roll, please…conservatives!—who turned out to try to keep the clock from being rolled back to the 19th century. (Alas, the bill is scheduled for ratification today.) In fact, a number of conservative organizations took part in the march that day, but the most striking that I saw was a group of men and women wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Social Blacks”:

Three things that are important to understand the significance of this: First, political parties in Austria are associated with colors. The traditional color of the Austrian People’s Party, a conservative Christian democratic party, is black (since 2017 there’s been an effort to rebrand the party and change the color to turquoise, but black still enjoys the strongest party association). Second, the chancellor of the coalition government making this change to employment law is the chair of the Austrian People’s Party. Third, the use of “social” in this context refers to the common good, serving the general public; governing and promoting human relations in the community and protecting the (economically) weaker members of that community.

So these were members of the Austrian People’s Party demonstrating for social reasons against a policy being promoted by the leadership of that very party. At a time where the partisan divide in the United States seems as wide as ever, their willingness to overcome tribal tendencies to find common cause with ideological others struck me as a good thing. Of course, it’s easy to be generous when the other side is crossing over to yours, but a willingness to cooperate can be fostered by graciously accepting the offered support, and indeed I saw no heckling of or among any of the groups in the demonstration.

We saw a similar willingness on the part of church leaders to break with what I suppose are their traditional political partners over the US administration’s immigration deterrence by way of family separation policy (see John F’s summary here); have you found yourself in a similar situation, aligned on social issues with perhaps unlikely bedfellows?


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    12-hour days and 60-hour weeks? Yowza. Thanks for standing up against that.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    My bishop in one ward in Northern Virginia worked at the Koch Foundation. I told him I worked at Brookings. His response: “Sure!”

    I’m sure ETB raised an eyebrow in whatever Gary, Indiana-looking part of the afterlife he presumably inhabits, but whatever.

  3. Andy Hardwick says:

    I am an active temple attending LDS who has been a bishop and served on the high council several times I cannot stand the current republicans who are all hypocrites with their holier than thou stances They say the dems are a bunch of godless and licentious group but at least they don’t mask it I vote for the person not the party There are noble people of every stripe to be found all over this great country I do not hide my un conservative affiliation from anyone in church and have never gotten grief for it

  4. Seriously, Kevin; we’ve got ourselves a neoliberal revolution underfoot that threatens to undo the postwar bargain that shared a little prosperity with the working class that made the economic boom possible.

  5. Terry H. says:

    Kevin, as a fellow attorney, I’m sure you’d appreciate that schedule. I know I would.

  6. Geoff - Aus says:

    In Australia we have a conservative government which has a one vote majority in the lower house, but which has about 5 very conservative members, one of which was topled by the current leader, and who undermines a lot especially on climate change, immigration, anti muslim, and social issues. This group admire Trump. Our PM is the leader of the party with most members in lower house.
    I am a labor party supporter, because the Saviour taught to care for the poor, not the rich. Etc.
    Last November we had a vote on gay marriage, which passed with over 60% for. It was observed by the very conservative group that mormons were one of the blocks working for the no vote, and mormons are now being recruited by this extreme group to help them take more power in the conservative group. We are becoming part of the extreme right.
    This is not too surprising as many members seem to think being republican is what is expected by the church. Follow the prophet.
    Not sure whether I can still be a social mormon?

  7. My experience living in ultraconservative parts of the Mormon Belt is that conservatism itself has become more of a religion than Mormonism is. Most members here–especially older members, but also many of the younger ones–reject the church’s stance on things like immigration and instead worship at the altar of Donald Trump.

    On the other hand, I know a lot of people elsewhere–both on the Wasatch Front and outside the Mormon Belt–who are more moderate and more willing to overcome some of their tribal tendencies, especially during these last two brutal years.

  8. Terry, as members of a “liberal profession,” lawyers in Austria are not subject to the Working Hours Act anyway. This applies to people on the factory floor and in offices who take rather than give orders with little to no discretion about setting their working hours.

  9. Interesting OP, Peter. I can’t recall any experiences of people crossing over, but have had some interesting experiences when it comes to expressed or perceived political philosophy. Here are a few things possibly related to the theme you are expressing:

    *I made a comment in priesthood one time about the fact the church’s official stance on the creation is that we don’t know what means of creation God employed. I said this is a real blessing for scientists who work within the theory of organismic adaptation, or evolution. After, a quorum member corned me in the hallway, “I didn’t know you were a liberal.” My response, “I’m not sure what you mean, but I am a scientist.”

    *After returning from my mission in the 90’s I shared a story with my hometown quorum about a gay convert (I served in a progressive metropolitan area with a large gay population) blessing the sacrament, how I had the honor of interviewing him for baptism, and what a great experience it was for me to learn about and appreciate his life’s story. A member blurted out, “Are you kidding? How can that be? How can someone gay bless the sacrament?” I explained what my quorum brother misunderstood. He stared at me with mean eyes and said, “I can’t believe that city turned you into a raging liberal.” I said, “No, the city and the church turned me into a missionary.”

    *I noticed over my life that some of my views on issues have changed but many have not. Where I grew up I was regarded as a moderate. On my mission, I was regarded as a conservative. Living in Utah I have always been regarded as a progressive. I haven’t changed much. My location has changed.

    I’m not sure if what I have shared means anything other than our society and our church culture primarily use a political lens through which expressed viewpoints and experiences are evaluated and judged. It seems needlessly restrictive and often leads to flawed conclusions about who we are as individuals. It is unfortunate it is our dominate bias.

  10. I do my best to avoid mixing worldly politics with my religious beliefs. It does nothing but make me judge you and recognize that when push comes to shove, I have very little in common with other humans aside from a gripping sense of self preservation. At any moment when the political winds are blowing, You will unashamedly seek to leverage your gender, sex, orientation, education, abilities, values, friendships, affiliations, priveledge, culture, socioeconomic status, citizenship status, or social clout to form the world in a way that benefits you agains me or another. Religion focused on invisible power. Politics are real world power. Religion seeks to save the soul and share the cup of eternal life. Politics seeks to crush the souls and drink from the skulls of the vanquished.
    If you consider bringing politics to church, then prepare to desicrate the altar of the lord and sacrifice our covenants of charity and goodwill.

  11. At church I pick my spots carefully with long gaps of silence. Out in public I am pretty open about being Mormon (often with an adjective) and pretty far left on many social and economic issues. I sometimes get the response “I guess Mormons are not as weird as I thought” (an actual quote). I consider that my member missionary work for the month.

  12. I’m bothered by church members who are rabid republicans, especially those who fawn over Trump. I’m also bothered by members who wait until “the brethren” or President Newsroom issue a statement about a social issue (such as immigration) before deciding what to believe. Grow a pair people! Stand up for what is right! (And hint: Trump is rarely right)

  13. Angela C says:

    I would have thought one point on which both sides could coalesce was that women shouldn’t be abused, sexually or otherwise, or at least that this view would be shared among women. Nope. Been disappointed with the “boys will be boys” and victim blaming that is prevalent among many of the LDS women of my acquaintance. Apparently all men will rape and abuse women if the woman lets them get away with it or doesn’t feed and sex her man enough, and that’s just how it is so we should get used to it. I felt like I was trapped in an episode of Mad Men.

    I should clarify, that was not true in my prior ward where common sense often prevailed, and more moderate viewpoints were the norm.

  14. ___123___On Being a Social Mormon – By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog___123___

  15. This is a really great post Peter — somehow I missed it when it first went up. I am very envious you live in a decent society where people realize the social good is something worth standing up for.

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