Believing in the Big Lie

Almost exactly a month ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey looking at partisan and religious belief in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

To be clear, the assertion that the election was stolen is stupid. The only basis for the assertion is that people can formulate the concept in a (grammatically) coherent way. Donald Trump’s attorneys had dozens of opportunities to assert that there was something illegal about the election in court but were unable to convince judges of any political persuasion. State Attorneys General support the fairness of the election. The Big Lie is, precisely, a lie.

And who believes it? According to the PRRI survey, 61% of white Evangelical Christians. But not that far behind them?

Mormons. Forty-six percent of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (in the United States) mostly or completely agree that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

This represents an existential threat to the future of Mormonism.

The previous sentence may well seem hyperbolic. After all, so what if nearly half of our coreligionists believe something dumb or even dangerous?

The thing is, the idea of discernment is critical to Mormonism. Upon baptism we receive the Holy Ghost, which, among other things, helps us discern the truth. We teach things that are not obvious, things which require this type of discernment to evaluate and believe.

But if 46% of us believe something that is completely and obviously untrue, what does that say about us? It undercuts our claim to recognize and embrace truth. It suggests that, collectively, we are as easily deceived as any other group. And if we can’t tell simple and obvious truth from lies, why should someone trust that we can differentiate religious truth from lies, especially where, when it comes to religion, truth is far less obvious and provable?

So what to do about it? As individuals, of course, we need to push back on the Big Lie. But individual pushback is probably insufficient. This is one of those cases where the church needs to make a formal statement. And not just a vague statement about how insurrection is bad. The church–be it the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve or both–needs to explicitly say that the United States election was fair, that Joe Biden won, and that, as members entitled to the Holy Ghost, we can read the evidence and come to that conclusion for ourselves.

I’m a little hesitant about this recommendation. After all, the U.S. election is, well, a U.S. thing. And the church often focuses too heavily on the U.S. Still, the church does address things of interest to the U.S. And this is one of those moments that could portend both the beginning of the end of democracy and the beginning of the end of our religious credibility. It seems like a great candidate for actual church engagement. Not, probably, as a conference talk, but definitely as an official letter to be read in every U.S. sacrament meeting.

Will that reduce the number of Mormons who believe the Big Lie to zero? Absolutely not. We’re not automatons. Contrary to some public perception, we don’t act in lockstep. But we collectively trust the church leadership and, I suspect, a statement would substantially reduce the number of members who believe the Big Lie.

Will the church lose some members? Perhaps. There’s a tribalism to modern politics and some may be more attached to their political priors than their religious priors. Still, to the extent young (and even not-so-young) people see their former bishops and YW/YM leaders spouting obvious lies, to the extent people curious about the church see its members adopting impossible conspiracies, they will legitimately question those people’s claim to recognize and speak truth. And that will have long-term effects on the church going forward.

(If you want to read mostly this post but with less detail and more GIFs, I tweeted it a couple weeks ago.)

Comments

  1. This is precisely the reason I do not look forward to returning to in person church meetings. I was already fed up with the arguments against “the world” (where else do you propose we live?) and had a difficult time with the idea that as many as 60% of the women in my ward voted for Trump in 2016. The past 15 months have been a healing and refreshing break even given the pandemic.
    I would hope that a letter read from the pulpit would have some influence in moving people from the prevailing group-think. One conference talk is not enough. As pointed out in the post – too much is at stake.

  2. After I read this, I tried to figure out a way to make this announcement effective while also not making the church leadership seem so focused on the US. While I don’t love the idea of the First Presidency or the Quorum making an announcement, as it definitely highlights just how US-focused the church is, making the North American Areas (all 6 of them) make a joint release will not have the same power. A recent example of First Presidency efficacy vs Area presidency was just last year when the Utah Area Presidency released a letter urging Utah members to wear masks and be COVID responsible. There was HUGE push back with members saying “Unless Pres. Nelson tells me to do this, I’ll refuse to listen”.

    Do we worry that members will say the church is being too political by proclaiming the truth?

  3. Thanks for your comment, Klee. I agree.

    Mic, I also agree. It’s not obvious how to formulate this but, given the importance to both country and the church, I think it’s critical that the church say something. In my tweets I tried to formulate a not-overtly-political way to frame it. I came up with something to the effect of, “The election was fair and, as members of the church, we have an obligation to recognize the duly elected president. We know some of you are elated by the election results while others are disappointed. The church doesn’t take a stance on electoral politics and members in good standing are encouraged to not only have political opinions but to work to ensure that their political preferences are enacted.”

  4. Deborah Christensen says:

    A comment from Pres. Oaks with the support of the 12 and the first presidency may help. He could point out that as a lawyer he reviewed the legal cases and the Big Lie is just that…a lie. And a comment that people can’t use the church directories and functions to promote the big lie.

  5. I suspect church leadership feels that Pres Oaks’s recent conference talk addressed the issue. But since he didn’t use the word “Trump,” it left too much room for people to persuade themselves that the talk was about something else.

  6. Adano, exactly!

  7. C. Keen says:

    Sam, you should probably mention the number of members sampled in that survey.

    The other confounding factor is that the survey is to some extent, maybe a large extent, just measuring partisan alignment in the wake of a disappointing election loss. If you had asked Democrats in June 2017, how many of us would have answered that the election was illegitimate and in some respect stolen? Maybe not as high a percentage as we’re seeing from Republicans, but a lot.

    That’s why I think what the church has done so far – congratulating Biden on his election, just like previous presidents – is all that it needs to do, at least for now.

    I don’t think all concern is misplaced. It’s not great to have people even imagining an election was stolen. If it looked like people were going beyond unhappiness over a lost election, to taking actions that treated the elected government as actually illegitimate, I would be much more worried. So far, I’m not seeing it, but maybe I’m not looking for the right things.

  8. CS Lewis Phan says:

    This brings Screwtape Letter #2 to mind.

  9. Sam, the problem is much deeper than “the Big Lie.” A high percent of Mormons voted for Trump. A man who made light of those who served (or are serving) in the military. A man who called poor regions of the world “sh!thouse countries. A man who had no feeling for the world’s refugees. A man who stirred feelings of racism in his followers. Etc ad nauseum.

    He also stirred a distrust in science. Many conservative Mormons are anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, non-believers in global warming, anti-evolutionists, biblical literalists, etc Many believe in other ridiculous conspiracies like QAnon, CRT, etc. There seems to be a major disconnect with reality.

  10. Roger, I agree that the level of support that Trump accumulated among Mormons is not a good reflection on us. At the same time, I don’t think that it’s the church’s responsibility to expressly call that out. But widespread belief in an explicit lie (the Big Lie, but also QAnon) is a poor reflection on our ability to recognize simple truth. And combine that with the democracy-undermining potential and I think it calls for an explicit statement.

    C. Keen, I hope you’re right that the survey was unrepresentative. But, like you said, it definitely reflects a conflation between religious and political beliefs, a conflation that is also not good for the future of the church.

  11. I’m curious where this sort of logic ends. Why the Big Lie and not, say, global warming? That’s just as dumb and potentially more dangerous. Should the Church make a statement about all of all the dumb and potentially dangerous things the plebs believe? Who should come up with the list? I would be in favor of some sort oversight board, preferably staffed with enlightened college professors, who can make statements to correct misinformation. Maybe they could even censor GA talks in real time to prevent the spread of lies. What a glorious world that would be. Discernment would no longer be necessary for the plebs. It could just be turned over to those who are clearly superior at it.

  12. Kevin Christensen says:

    The January 6 insurrection did not happen in a vacuum, but had a great deal of pre-election rhetoric preparing the soil (claims by Trump that the only way he could loose would be by fraud, this despite that the outcome closely reflected internal Republican polling), his premature election night tweet (“I hereby proclaim that I won”), the willful mis-framing of the known fact that Democrats were far more likely to vote by mail (as my wife and I did in Pennsylvania), and the Republican controlled legislatures passing legislation to prevent counting mail in ballots until after the election combined with claims about unwitnessed but suspected “ballot dumps” when Trump was leading before mail in voting and Democratic cities with large black and hispanic and college degreed whites were counted. Then came post election “stop the steal” rhetoric 59 failed court cases, famously public pressure on local Georgia elections officals by Trump, and claims that Pence could somehow overrule the 7 million vote margin, and the Electoral College margin. With the failure of the insurrection, the claims of fraud are now pointed directly at the next election, using suspicion (rather than evidence) in justifying Republican legislatures in passing voter suppression laws targeting cities and minorities, as well as stripping power from every Republican official who publically resisted Trump’s attempts to presure officials overturn the election.

    What is amazing is how clearly the coallition of social groups involved in such attempts to replace Democracy with tryanny are described in the Book of Momon. Nibley’s “Freeman and Kingmen in the Book of Mormon” and his “Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else” are notably prescient.
    “The king-men’s combination consisted of rich Nephites who were outraged by what they considered interference by Helaman and his brethren in their private affairs. Other kingment included monarchists, influential and intriguing families, a self-styled arristocracy, social climbers “lifted up in their hearts” by their new wealth (Alma 45:24), haughty aspiring judges, and power-hungry local officials- including almost all the lawyers and the high priests” men taking advantage of church positions (3 Neph 6:27), and many ordinary members of the church beguiled by the powerful and impressive rhetoric of Amickiah. Only one comprehensive label fits that combination.” (Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, 370.)

    (A precuror to Amalekiah was Amlici, whose followers marked themselves with red on their foreheads.)

    “..the cities swarmed with fast-talking operators who could always get it for you wholesale and whose skill at making something super-colossal out of nothing was excelled only by their know-how at the art of smearing.” (Nibley, The Ancient State, 256.)

    Just recently, Rachel Maddow interviewed Ben Rhodes on a book, After the Fall:
    “RHODES: Well, I put it this way, Rachel. Look, when I peeled myself up off the ground after the 2016 election, I kind of went abroad looking for answers. Sometimes you can see more clearly what`s happening here abroad. And the starting point for me was I was talking to a Hungarian opposition figure and I asked him how has your country gone from being a democracy to a single party autocracy basically in a decade?

    “He said to me, well, it`s quite simple. Viktor Orban, our prime minister, was elected on a right wing populist backlash to financial crisis, packed the courts with right wing judges, redrew the parliamentary districts to favor his party, change the voting laws to make it easier for his supporters to vote, enrich some cronies on the outside who bought up the media, created a right wing media machine that supported Viktor Orban, and wrapped it all up in a nationalist bow of us versus them. Us is the real Hungarians. Them is immigrants, Muslims, liberal elites, George Soros.

    “And he is talking and I`m thinking, well, he could be describing what`s happened in America over the last decade with the Republican Party. And, oh, by the way, you know, Viktor Orban, he got that playbook from Vladimir Putin. I think what I needed to reckon with was someone in a position of power honestly. Because if I can talk to people like Alexei Navalny, talk to people like the Hong Kong protesters and that Hungarian situation.

    “I had to resolve, how did America become part of this trend? What did we do to contribute? But also, what could we do to get out of it?

    “And I did find some hope in all those progressive movements that I allude to, particularly young people stepping forward that there is a pushback here. There`s a chance to steer the pendulum back in the other direction. But I was — I was going to be honest. That`s not preordained in any way.”

    In the discussion, he observes that the weakness of the authoritarians always turns out to be corruption. So it is important to not only point it out but to hold them accountable.

  13. I like that RobL’s reductio ad absurdum for this is the Church making a statement on global warming. That would be fantastic! I would love for my church to issue such a statement, thank you for the suggestion.

  14. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    It would be wise for President Biden to, in the very near future, arrange a trip to SLC to meet with Church leaders and visit Welfare Square. This might force their hands and produce a statement of support for the current administration. I mean, if Trump can visit and get Church leaders to suck up to him and praise his efforts to protect religious freedom, Biden might be able to get…something. Maybe not, but simply meeting with the President (of the United States) could look like a tacit recognition that he’s legitimately the President? Although, I’m sure I underestimate the intransigence of that 46%.

  15. Tracey Lee Snoyer says:

    Indirect conference talks are rorshach tests. We see what we want to see.

    When needed, a call to repentance…for the idolatry of political partisanship…should be clear and unequivocal. By itself political partisanship is not idolatry, but there is a flavor of it that absolutely is, and it’s not reserved for one side or the other. If the people choose their partisan leanings over guidance from church leaders, that is idolatry.

  16. Kristine says:
  17. Public Library says:

    This post takes for granted that the Americans who dominate the Prophetic & Apostolic leadership and are overwhelmingly Republican aren’t Big Lie believers themselves. We’d have less grounds to wonder if they are provided international Church leadership had formally accepted the election results and congratulated Biden in a timely fashion (as they had for all previous U.S. Presidents). They did not.

    Their long delayed acceptance of the results tracks with other ‘election truthers’. In such circles even if Biden is in the Whitehouse and therefore President he may not be entirely legitimate. This line of reasoning is how GOP Legislators dance around denying the Biden Presidency without formally accepting the results and attracting the ire of truthers. It’s also how LDS election truthers inoculate themselves from the reality the Church formally accepted Biden’s Presidency, but not his legitimate win. We accept the rule of law even when it’s unjust would be the disclaimer.

    The Church opined here already, but they did so in a way that aligns with GOP narratives. It’s the same lens through which they (via Oaks) interpreted BLM protests unfavorably as riots against law, order, and property rights masquerading as a just cause despite virtually universal peacefulness. Somehow we also entirely overlooked ‘Patriot Movement’ insurrections like the one the halted the U.S. government on Jan. 6th and others led by Saints, such as the Bundy’s.

    Our current uninspired approach to American politics is hardly new or limited to rank-and-file members. Young Elder Benson shaped generations of LDS political thinking, which President Hugh B. Brown worried about. The present situation is in many ways a continuation of that extremely influential know-nothingness. The leaders of today were largely proteges of an older Benson with more mature authorities no longer around to censor or censure his excesses.

  18. lastlemming says:

    The point of the OP is that the Church needs to be proactive. Issuing a formal statement may be a bridge too far for the Q15, but waiting for Biden to visit Welfare Square is too passive (although it would be great if it happened). Maybe they could request an audience in the Oval Office to present Biden with an updated copy of his family history (he already got one in 2016 when he visited Salt Lake). Biden would be an idiot not to grant the request. It would only take 15 minutes and would generate a photo op that would benefit both him and the Church. The question is, are either Nelson or Oaks willing to make that trip. Nobody else has the gravitas to pull it off.

  19. John Mansfield says:

    Eh, the Trump lovers, bless their hearts, are just ramping up the 2016 disbelief of Clinton supporters. Using the handy-dandy BCC select-a-month archive and dialing to November 2016:
    “I’ve never been much of a believer in the end times. But I’m starting to believe.”
    “I fell asleep late last night and like so many of us woke in the early hours of the morning to the shock of a reality I did not believe would or could happen. I rose with a pit in my stomach.”
    “And while I hold out a sliver of hope that the Electoral College—our weapon of last resort—will be put to good use, denying the presidency to a creature so un-prepared for and ill-disposed to that high office… I can’t really wait around for that bit of intrigue to play out.”

    I wonder, if polled, what portion of BCC post authors would affirm that Trump became president due to interference in the election by Russia and Facebook? And now this “Big Lie” dogwhistling that one’s political opponents are all a bunch of wannabe nazis.

    The 2016 election was a disgrace that neither party put up a compelling alternative to Trump, which really should not have been even a bit difficult. My thanks to the Democrats of 2020 for choosing a candidate who could win against Trump, which shouldn’t have been asking for much, but in these times seems to be.

  20. It was obvious to me in November of 2016 that the gift of discernment, if it had ever existed at all, was gone. It wasn’t long after that that I came to the conclusion that Mormons had been primed for this moment, not by recent events, but from the very beginning, by stories about angels and gold plates and special glasses for translating said plates and polygamy and priesthood and Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael and a Mother in Heaven and any number of interesting doctrines and beliefs that have fallen from favor after history has determined that a lot of things we were taught just weren’t so. Which is why, at the beginning of 2017, I told my bishop I no longer belonged there. There’s no fixing the Trump problem because there’s no fixing the Joseph Smith problem.

  21. John, that’s an inapt comparison. I can’t say nobody, because there’s always an exception, but virtually nobody argued that once the Electoral College had voted that Trump wasn’t president. A significant portion of the population—including me—was deeply disappointed with the result. I even posted about it. Even the arguments you claim demonstrate some sense of bothsidism were ex ante arguments. They weren’t serious assertions that the election had somehow been stolen. They weren’t calls to arms. They weren’t dozens of frivolous lawsuits and claims that corporate entities had somehow conspired with long-dead South American dictators to change the results of an election. They weren’t democracy-destroying or conspiratorial.

    So I hope you’ll forgive me if I dismiss your comment as an attempt at an irrelevant distraction.

  22. Sam, I agree with your conclusion but not your reasoning. Because I have a different view of the zeitgeist. I think the idea of LDS confirmed people or LDS ordained leaders having some kind of special discernment is gone. I see a lot of members still thinking through the “so what?” but I think the basic belief or expectation is gone. In the Millenials and younger, if not in all of us. Also, I think the idea of Church leaders being reserved about political matters is gone. I think the general understanding now is that they will speak up about what they want to speak up about, measuring their words only by tax law requirements and visa requirements, country by country.

    Because I believe the general membership believes there are only practical/pragmatic constraints on what Church leaders say in a political sphere, we now live in a world where silence or reticence carries as much or more content as speaking out. They should speak up about the Big Lie because not to do so communicates to the membership and the world that they also believe the Big Lie, or that they support the U.S. Republican Party, or that they fear the number of members who do. To not speak up, in the world of 2021, is to say the Church has been taken over by politics.

  23. kgrant85 says:

    I don’t know about making a US-centric statement about the 2020 election. But fertile soil for a general conference talk from Oaks would be an expression of concern over rising levels of anti-democratic and authoritarian sensibilities generally. Our freedom of religion is dependent on classical liberal principles of civil rights and protections for minority religions.

    That said, while I share your dismay, I don’t think these 46% of Mormons are merely misinformed. I think for many if not most of them, they have grown disillusioned with liberal democracy itself, and they are quite consciously rejecting the very idea of free and fair elections, especially where a free election means every vote is afforded equal weight regardless of race, religion, partisan affiliation, etc. In my conversations with conservative family and friends, once I get them to acknowledge the lack of evidence in any election stealing, they still dig in and maintain that the entire political system is rigged. Their politics is almost entirely driven by an pervasive sense that something has been stolen from them. It’s the classic angry white male syndrome. Thus, I am less optimistic that a statement from Church leaders would move the needle much. I think we have to dig deeper to undo the fear and disillusionment, this feeling of constantly being cheated, that is spreading everywhere, including and especially among Mormons

  24. John Mansfield says:

    Prof. Brunson, politicians filing dozens of frivolous, quickly dismissed lawsuits seems to push some button of yours. I don’t know why anyone would cite it as though it were some important matter. To my mind it ranks among things anyone would care about several ranks below, say, congressional hearings into election interference.

  25. John, again, that’s a frivolous statement not worth response. If you can’t differentiate worry over election interference from the Big Lie, that’s on you. (You can, though, and I’m not entirely sure what your insistence here on playing some sort of devil’s advocate says about your priorities.)

  26. DanyalJamil says:

    Sam,

    Should the FP and Qof12 also issue a pronouncement confirming that the results of elections that prominent Democrats claim were stolen? What about the claims from Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen (even after the $30+ million Mueller report confirmed that it wasn’t)? To this day, Clinton continues to make remarks that it was stolen.

    How about the LDS church confirming Brian Kemp as the winner in the Georgia governor’s race? Again, his opponent Stacy Abram and other leading Democrat’s still claim, without evidence, that she won.

    Your blog post is another example of leftist LDS members who can’t see the beams in their own eyes.

    Lastly, there is a difference between saying that an election was “stolen” by falsifying votes, and saying it was “stolen” by a massive coordinated disinformation campaign led by the Democrat tech and media companies. Very few Republicans believe in the former, but many reasonably believe the latter.

  27. John Mansfield says:

    My point in playing “devil’s advocate” is to communicate that you are a part of the problem, you with your big-letter capitalized propaganda label and habitual glib dismissal of what you disagree with as beneath you. Not to communicate it to you, but to anyone who cares to read our words, much as you do when playing off whatever I may write to restate your argument points.

  28. Speaking of 2016, somebody thought it would be a good idea to send the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Trump’s inauguration to sing praises to “the peaceful transition of power”; that would have been cool had it been the case, but the tepid response to Trump’s violent attempts to retain power demonstrates plainly that it was never about the manner in which the transition took place—it was the transition to a conservative administration that tickled the church’s fancy, and as far as a whole bunch of members of the church are concerned, it should have stayed that way.

  29. What about the claims from Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen (even after the $30+ million Mueller report confirmed that it wasn’t)?

    Are you genuinely confused about the historical record or are you just trolling?

  30. DanyalJamil, you make it sound like the 2016 Trump campaign didn’t gladly accept help offered by Russian operatives. If it’s what you say, I love it!

  31. Kristine says:

    peterllc, I didn’t like the choir singing at Trump’s inauguration, but I think they did that because Trump invited them and Biden didn’t, not because they are trying to signal their (dis)approval of one or the other.

    (Of course, there’s a reason that Republicans invite them and Democrats haven’t since Johnson…)

  32. John, I’m glibly dismissing the idea that the election was stolen. Because it’s a stupid assertion.

    I also (non-glibly) dismissed your assertion that there’s some equivalence between the assertion that the 2020 election was stolen and displeasure in 2016 at Trump’s election. And if you object to “The Big Lie,” well, that’s the common usage these days.

    So yes, I will, out of hand and glibly, dismiss the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. I spent enough time reading lawsuits and judicial decision and crazed accusation that I feel no compunction about dismissing it as absurd and stupid. And I will continue to question your motivations in (apparently?) disagreeing with that.

  33. And also, to be clear: the 2016 election wasn’t stolen. As sad as it makes me, Donald Trump was legitimately elected president. And there were no serious arguments that he wasn’t. (There are, of course, a handful of people who made nonserious arguments on Twitter.) But there is no equivalence between people arguing that Trump shouldn’t have been elected president and people arguing that Biden was not elected president. One is ordinary politics. I haven’t been alive forever but I suspect that the former has happened to some degree or another with every president we’ve had. The second? Not so much.

  34. Kristine, your explanation—that they were invited by Trump—is undoubtedly closer to the actual reason the choir sang at Trump’s administration than a strong position on the peaceful transition of power. Of course, the reason they were invited by Trump is because they represent in some way a state/demographic that voted for Trump. Just like they sang for Johnson when Utah carried Johnson, for Nixon when Utah carried Nixon, and so on. I guess my point is that the church’s support for high-minded principles is going to track its membership’s interest in them.

  35. I’m with C. Keen on this one. The views of hardline Trump-supporters with respect to the election is alarming. The specific claims regarding Biden’s “illegitimacy” are unprecedented, and we absolutely have to fight lies with truth. However, the survey simply asked respondents whether they agreed that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump”. That wording leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Stacey Abrams repeatedly claimed that the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election was “stolen” from her, and although I find the claim to be both absurd and childish, it reflects sour grapes rather than a threat to democracy, and in terms of getting at the truth, the claim draws unsupported conclusions from the facts, rather than push a false set of “facts.” It would be hard to know what respondents mean by “stolen”. Some conservative pundits who recognize the validity of the vote count continue to claim that the election was “stolen” due to biased media coverage. That, like Abrams’ claim, is absurd and childish, but (also like Abrams’ claims) does not pose a threat to democracy. As such, I don’t think the Church should go to extraordinary lengths to combat that notion. Instead, Church leaders should continue to talk more generally about accepting the results of elections, being good citizens, responsible civic engagement, etc.

  36. Loursat says:

    I apologize for the gloomy tone of my comment.

    All republics eventually fall. Presumably, that will happen in the United States. We can’t see yet whether that’s what is happening now, but in the long run the church will have to figure out how to exist in a world where the current American political order has ended.

    If that is true, then the greatest existential threat to the church in the context of American politics is the conflation of political and religious belief among so much of its membership. Many, many members are convinced that you can’t be a good Latter-day Saint if you don’t support Trump. A larger number are convinced that you can’t be a good Latter-day Saint if you don’t support the Republican Party. The problem goes even deeper, beyond political partisanship. We have developed the idea that the creation of the United States was somehow necessary for the restoration of the gospel. In our imaginations, the roots of both the church and its native country have been entwined from the beginning.

    Now, this way of seeing history is highly questionable. To believe it, you must deal with the fact that our Mormon ancestors had to flee the United States in order to survive, and that the United States was so concerned about the Mormon threat that they sent an army to subdue the Utah Territory. (And there’s a lot more where that came from.) We’ve managed to work around these problems in telling the current story of super-patriotic American Mormonism, but the point is that another kind of Mormonism is possible. We need to be thinking a lot about what Mormonism will look like when it no longer has the luxury of being tethered to American hegemony.

    This line of thinking leads me to believe that when church leaders talk about politics, they really ought to be trying to cut the umbilical cord that ties Mormonism to American politics. That’s a big, long-term project that requires more than well-judged statements on political events, although a deft hand in politics is essential. We’ll probably also need some doctrinal innovation. I hope it’s not too late to get started.

  37. I would love to see the church make a statement. So much of the recount nincompoopery happening here in Arizona is perpetuated and supported by Latter-day Saint legislators (Andy Biggs, Warren Peterson, Jake Hoffman). Seeing these prominent Latter-day Saints leading the charge in this democracy-destroying nonsense hurts their respectability and their witness of the gospel.

    If a statement was made, based on the reactions to the First Presidency getting vaccinated and acknowledging President Biden’s win, my fear is that people will think that the prophet himself is among the ‘elect who have been deceived’ and double down on their belief in the lie.

  38. john f. says:

    Amen, Loursat.

  39. Michael H. says:

    Kristine: Thanks so much for sharing that Elder Steven E. Snow talk. You’ve shone a little ray of hope into my generally gloomy view of the institutional church.

  40. “But if 46% of us believe something that is completely and obviously untrue, what does that say about us? It undercuts our claim to recognize and embrace truth. It suggests that, collectively, we are as easily deceived as any other group. And if we can’t tell simple and obvious truth from lies, why should someone trust that we can differentiate religious truth from lies, especially where, when it comes to religion, truth is far less obvious and provable?”

    Maybe leave it at that huh? Obviously there’s a problem. Address the problem.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    If a statement was made, based on the reactions to the First Presidency getting vaccinated and acknowledging President Biden’s win, my fear is that people will think that the prophet himself is among the ‘elect who have been deceived’ and double down on their belief in the lie.

    Plenty of people already think that. Have a look at the absolutely bonkers site (LDS Freedom Forum) for extensive discussions.

  42. Lately I’ve been studying a lot about how humans discern truth. It quickly became apparent that we aren’t particularly good at it. It seems the mind is tuned to evaluate ‘truth’ based on its usefulness for our individual and tribal survival. I’ve struggled to figure out how this reality fits in with LDS theology. The belief that life is a divinely orchestrated test largely depends on the idea that truth is clearly identifiable by the honest and well-intentioned seeker. How would we adjust our approach if we recognize that good people are easily mislead due to an imperfect God-given brain? Personally, I think it would result in a more carefully evaluated set of beliefs, more humility, fewer superlatives, and greater charity towards the non-believer. I’d prefer that over church leadership (with their equally biased minds) trying to correct political conspiracy theories.

  43. Aussie Mormon says:

    Moss: “If a statement was made, based on the reactions to the First Presidency getting vaccinated and acknowledging President Biden’s win, my fear is that people will think that the prophet himself is among the ‘elect who have been deceived’ and double down on their belief in the lie.”

    I’m not sure they’d double down, but there’s a very real chance that they would just ignore it like they did with the covid19 related requests.

  44. What happened to Masked Mike’s comment that was here just a minute ago? It was the most coherent thing I have read in the entire discussion.

  45. The other chad says:

    I agree with christiankimball. Our religion should inform our politics. A stronger statement than Oaks’ must be made or we risk our politics permanantly deforming our religion. As an undeclared voter I’ve spent 20 years on a project to understand principled Republican Mormons, asking them a set of 20 questions. I’ve asked dozens of (current) national, state and local leaders, friends and relatives: Is there anything that would change your affiliation? Would a prophetic request do so? The answer is almost always: No (with varying rationales).

    And to Loursat’s point — having just spent a few years among non-American saints, I can say I was amazed that these demagogue-hating people felt Trump must be a good man because so many American saints supported him. They were truly skeptical when told the “fake news”about him was rarely fake.

  46. Geoff - Aus says:

    The church leadership do need to call these members to repentance. It is not just an American problem because many overseas members also believe you have to be a republican to be a good member. Part of the problem is that the church has been redefining what morality means, and so members can accept trump without a gag reflex.

    Can America remain a democracy when only one side of politics believes in democracy? Not only the big lie but the attempts to prevent opponents from voting, and gerrymamdering bounderies, and opposing laws to ensure elections are fair.

    Pres Biden is trying to unite the democratic world, against China and Russia, while being crippled by republicans at home. Democracy used to mean everyone united behind the president after he was elected, now he can’t even get his legislation passed by a majority, it has to be more. There is so much undermining democracy in America, I am not sure it can operate for much longer.

    That 80% of members over 40 support this situation? Vote for those trying to destroy freedom?

    It needn’t be like this. In Aus we have an independent electoral commision (a government body, but not political) that sets electoral boundaries, register the voters (voting is compulsory), set up the polling stations, and conducts the elections including the count both state and federal. Our elections are always on saturday, and many schools are used as election stations, and postal, and absentee voting are available. There is usually a BBQ run by the school p&c selling democracy sausage on bread.

    No one questions the result or fairness of elections here. Imagine that?

  47. steffel says:

    Amen! Apparently this means that you can disregard 50% of the testimonies in an US testimony meeting.

  48. I echo what Mark N. said. To overcome the Donald Trump problem we need to overcome the Joseph Smith problem. Now I fully recognize how offensive that is to most people here, because most people here are believing faithful members of the church. But the real flawed reasoning is the assertion that Mormons have some special ability to discern truth. What Mormons have been exceptionally good at is interpreting their feelings as truth, and claiming that truth can be known through feelings (a.k.a. the spirit). Mormons, and the church, long ago rejected evidence-based truth, unless of course you can rely on promptings of the spirit as evidence (I think that is absurd). I am not trying to be controversial, but controversy is unavoidable in matters of religion and politics, precisely because it all depends on feelings. While Joseph Smith and Donald Trump are clearly different in so many ways, we must also admit the similarities. They both were skilled at generating strong loyalty through rhetoric and charisma, regardless of the ideas they promoted. The personality was the message. They tapped into what a group of people wanted to hear. They were skilled at manipulating the emotions of the crowd. Because the followers dedicated themselves to the person, the message became irrelevant, the adherents would believe almost anything, no matter how illogical or crazy. There is no logical jump from believing in angels with drawn swords to believing in the big lie. Once a person surrenders evidence based reasoning and objective reality for feelings, emotions, or promptings of the spirit, that person is susceptible to believing and following almost anything.

  49. Wondering says:

    Some “believing faithful members of the church” do not “dedicate themselves to the person” and believe neither JS’ story of an angel with drawn sword nor the “big lie.” Maybe we have different definitions of “believing faithful member”.

  50. I’m deeply skeptical that Sam wants this as a forum for discussing the pros and cons of empiricism as a means of discovering truth. It is tangential to the post.

  51. Sam,

    I’m sorry to circle back to this, but your dismissal of the 2016 comparison as “ a handful of people who made nonserious arguments on Twitter” is absurd. Let’s review:

    1) Protesters shut down airports and freeways in the days after the election.
    2) Elizabeth Warren raised millions in a matter of hours to mount a recount effort in three states.
    3) Many people were hoping the electoral college would “do the right thing” and vote for Clinton.
    4) Aided by non-stop media coverage, many were convinced that Trump colluded with Russia in a disinformation campaign.
    5) His opponent still makes statements that imply the election was stolen.

    How many Democrats would have said the 2016 election was stolen in June 2017? Were the pollsters asking? I don’t know, but I guarantee it wasn’t a handful of nonserious arguments on Twitter.

  52. John C. makes an important point here: the church does not have a Joseph Smith problem. We approach and discern religious truth differently from the way we approach empirical truth. That’s the nature of religion. The problem here is that an inability to discern empirical truth undercuts our claim to be able to discern the more difficult religious truth.

  53. RobL, let’s pretend you’re right and that there’s some correspondence between 2016 and 2020. Even if that were the case, absent more it would be irrelevant to my post or this discussion unless you demonstrated that not only was there a significant section of the US citizenry that believed the election was invalid (there wasn’t, but let’s go with it) but also that a significant percentage of members of the church believed it. Because I’m not talking election broadly: I’m talking about the impact of church members believing an obvious lie on the church’s claim to have access to truth.

    If 30% of Americans believed that the 2016 election was invalid but 4% of Mormons did, I wouldn’t see any particular duty of the church to make a statement on the fact. In fact, that kind of statement would strike me as presumptuous and parochial for a religion that claims to speak to the world. it is precisely because nearly 50% of members polled claim to believe an obvious untruth that this becomes relevant to the church.

  54. Brother Sky says:

    Tim: “What Mormons have been exceptionally good at is interpreting their feelings as truth.” The problems and complications that stem from this fact cannot be overstated. What Mormonism teaches in this realm is remarkably similar to our current political milieu: What is “felt” to be truth IS the truth, simply because it is felt. We see exactly the same dynamic playing out in current political discourse (such as it is). People “feel” the election was stolen, they consume media that validates those feelings rather than providing facts, and therefore, not only do feelings become the truth, but also the truth is determined by feelings. This is one of the most potentially damaging tautologies of which human beings are capable and we’re seeing the consequences playing out in real time. And as Tim points out, there is a fine line (no line?) between subjectively arrived at “truth” and the kind of zealous belief that is eroding our democracy and, IMHO, any claims to divine authority that the church makes. It is certainly not surprising, though it is disappointing, that so many Mormons have fallen under the spell of Trump. Add to the mix the more cultish aspects of obedience as the church teaches it and it’s no wonder so many LDS folks responded positively to Trump. I always thought that we’re supposed to walk by faith, not by absolute certainty in the truth of things, but maybe I’ve just been misinterpreting the scriptures all these years…

  55. RobL,

    I am not unsympathetic to your point; many liberals and progressives (as opposed to most leftists and socialists) have generally received Trump as summa malum, as absolutely the worst possible thing ever, and so are pretty unwilling to admit that his behavior and the behavior of his supporters have any parallels anywhere. That said, your parallels simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    1) Protests involve dozens or hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people; we are talking about tens of millions of Americans.
    2) Recounts are, in fact, a legal procedure, and while they can easily be lumped into a general rejection of legitimacy in the popular mind, there is no necessarily logical connection between someone asking for a recount and someone claiming that the results of the recount will only be accepted if they demonstrate the fraud that they are already convinced exists (as is, by all accounts, happening in Arizona right now).
    3) This becomes complicated, because while it’s true that many people (I’m raising my hand) were, if not actively hopeful, then at least fearfully and/or desperately as to whether or not the Electoral College would reject Trump, that wish, to the extent it was articulated, was at least as much a complaint about our electoral system generally as it was about Trump winning it. Speaking only for myself, I would actually respect believers in the Big Lie a little more if their complaints were less about supposed fraud and more about something structural (like, I don’t know, claiming that people without property shouldn’t be able to vote or something).
    4) Yeah, the Russia thing absolutely got weird. But even at its height, the evidence is that slightly less than 1/3 of all self-identifying Democrats and Independents doubted the validity of the 2016 election, which is significantly less than what we’re dealing with today.
    5) Hillary Clinton (who is, please remember, one person) absolutely has the right to say and believe the sorts of things that are important for her mental health.

    This may have already been shared, but please, read this article. It summarizes the data, and why the Big Lie is a terribly dangerous expansion upon the discontent which the confusion (and bad actions committed by Trump & Co.) of 2016 introduced, very well: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/more-republicans-distrust-this-years-election-results-than-democrats-after-2016/

  56. BTW I’ll be hanging out at the Dairy Queen at 1700 SW Medford Ave in Topeka today if anyone cares to join me.

  57. lastlemming says:

    The problem here is that an inability to discern empirical truth undercuts our claim to be able to discern the more difficult religious truth.

    Perhaps in the minds of the Q15 there is a distinction between empirical truth and religious truth. But aside from certain BYU science classes, they have done a poor job of explaining that to the membership. Seminary and Sunday School lessons and talks at all levels emphasize that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” Not just religious things–all things. This goes directly to why Mormons believe the big lie, as Brother Sky explained so well.

  58. How can I be an active member of a Church where half the members believe (or at least voted for) values that are frequently 180 degrees at odds with my own? And are, for the most part, freely expressed in church. Trumpist and non-Trumpists (me) can’t even agree on the facts. How can there be a dialogue? I refuse to compromise on my values. They represent who I am.

  59. Old Man says:

    Many politically-conservative church members in my area area frothing at the mouth over President Nelson at the moment. Vaccinations, pandemic restrictions, not reining in Uchtdorf for his “liberalism,” and now donations to and alliance with the NAACP and UNCF are tough for them to swallow. Even the scholarships sending students to Ghana to study the history of slavery sound a bit too close to CRT for some conservative associates if mine.

    This political extremism we are discussing is going to fracture the body of the Church if it continues. When President Nelson is being cast as “leaning liberal,” that is insanity.

  60. Bro. B. says:

    @Rogerd your post illustrates one of the the problems pointed out in the OP. You could apply your question to the liberal faction just as well. Liberals church members get skewered by their fellow right wing members for the values they supposedly support (ie. like my sibling asking me how I could support the murder of babies by voting for Biden). The difference is, it’s acceptable for one side to openly espouse their party’s values in church but mot the other side. As hard as the brethren try to make that separation between politics and faith every election, it doesn’t work.

  61. Sam,

    You may try to distinguish between empirical truth and religious truth, but maybe a better dichotomy would be objective truth vs. subjective truth. Is religious truth objective or subjective? In many ways it can be both. Subjectively each person must decide their own values, and what systems of worship bring them happiness, peace, joy, and fulfillment. But objectively, either Joseph Smith received golden plates from an angel or he did not. There were a tribal people in the Americas called the Nephites or there were not. Either Joseph Smith was threatened by an angel with a drawn sword to practice polygamy or he was not. We may never have enough empirical evidence to prove the reality either way, but those are objective questions. So people decide to believe those claims or not, not based on empirical evidence necessarily, but rather on the messenger, their emotional responses to the messenger, and what they call the “spirit” or “discernment” It is just not honest to try to build a wall between religious truth and objective or empirical truth. Again, the lack of empirical evidence does not mean the question does not have an objective answer. It just means we cannot know the objective answer.

    This is the Joseph Smith problem: Mormons have been trained, taught, conditioned to believe a claim and commit to a claim based on their emotional responses to the claim, which is most often predicated on their devotion to the person making the claim. The church is built upon the testimony of Joseph Smith. As much as the church tries to emphasize Jesus Christ, and the doctrine might be centered on Christ, Joseph Smith was the conduit and the church stands or falls on his claims. Members are engaged or devoted more or less on their response to his claims.

    It is the same phenomenon we are witnessing with Donald Trump. His followers will believe anything he says. It is simple hero worship. You might not like hearing that comparison to Joseph Smith, but it is also a form of hero worship. If you see Trumpism as a religion, or pseudo-religion, the willingness to ignore evidence and stake your claims on feelings fits right in. And that is the point: Mormons have been conditioned to ignore evidence and rely upon their feelings.

  62. Tim, I disagree in several respects. Perhaps the most critical is that Mormons have been “conditioned” in any way. That’s a massive misrepresentation of the way religion functions in most people’s lives.

    As for the empirical/religious or objective/subjective truth dichotomies: I’ll definitely grant you that it’s not a hard and fast dichotomy–there absolutely is overlap. But again, Dawkins and the New Atheists notwithstanding, most people understand the difference between religious and empirical claims and don’t confuse the two. We process and understand and believe religious claims within a nonempirical framework. Mistakenly putting questions of election integrity into that same framework–which is both applicable and correct for religious truth-claims–represents a real problem.

  63. Kevin Christensen says:

    On the Brother Sky’s and Tim’s comments on Spirit = Feelings, consider D&C 8:2, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart.” And much else, especially Alma 32:28-41. Indeed, I spent years gathering passages of scripture that described how the spirit speaks, and they turn out to be equally balanced between feeling and thinking, between left and right brain. The empirical evidence is gathered, for those who think or feel like taking a look is here, pages 19 to 23.

    Click to access A-Model-of-Mormon-Spiritual-Experience.pdf

    The Book of Mormon bluntly reports that any members of the church fell for the rhetoric and personality of Amalekiah (Alma 46:7). That sort of thing undercuts the claim that we should suppose that contemporary Saints possess guarenteed discernment when it comes to Populist Grievance Merchants in the vein of Trump. So when Senator Lee compared Trump to Moroni, even an Iranian commentator at the Bulwark noted that Lee was not demonstrating clear vision, nor, it happens, consistency with his pre-2017 judgments, nor was Lee the only LDS politician with opinions on the topic, and therefore, not completely representative of who we are.

    https://thebulwark.com/profiles-in-courage-and-cowardice/

    So what to do when so many in the LDS community have a problem? Besides carefully considering Elder Oaks’ recent and surprisingly excellent talk on the topic? We regularly and ritually raise our hand to “sustain” one another without giving much thought to what that means. If you consult a good dictionary on the topic, you ought to realize that it means, “put up with the crap.?” Not unconditionally and uncritically accept or swallow or conform.

    What did Alma (and later, the righteous Lamanites) do when confronted with this sort of thing? When Alma saw “the wickedness of the church, and he saw also that the example of the church began to lead those who were unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people. Ye he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those where were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.
    Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people [Now, as then, I notice], while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake [ which, I notice the LDS church actually does]…

    And Alma left his political office and went out to preach. And Alma 5 comes next.

    So I think the Word of God might help. If people actually read and considered passages like that one, and likened it to what is going on now, and asked themselves whether they might have a beam in their own eye that might impede the clarity of their vision, they might discern more clearly between a man like Biden, a man of real faith who wants everyone to get vaccinated, and a man like Trump who lied about the virualence and danger of the disease because the political consequences on the economy might involve him loosing what he values most, Power, Fame, Wealth, Pleasure, and immunity from prosecution for his numerous crimes of obstruction and coorruption and insurrection.

  64. Sam – Perhaps we will just have to respectfully disagree on some points. No problem, it is the journey of discourse that can be enlightening even if we land on different conclusions. Perhaps you would not choose the word ‘conditioned’, or don’t feel like that applies to you, and maybe it doesn’t. But I strongly argue that conditioning is exactly how religion functions in most people’s lives. So I guess there is a huge chasm for us to try to bridge. Most people born in Italy are conditioned to be Catholic. Most people born in Saudi Arabia are conditioned to be Muslim. Through repetition of teaching, reading, prayer, recitation, and performative rituals we each get conditioned in many ways. In so many ways we are the products of our culture and environment. But the actual results are by no means predetermined or definitive. The repetition of “follow the spirit”, along with the myriad stories of personal revelation, and holy ghost driven inspiration, does condition Mormons to rely on the impressions they feel, combining their intellectual knowledge (or lack thereof), with their emotional responses.

    I really don’t think I’m confusing religious and empirical claims. Rather, I am connecting the two. Because Mormons have been conditioned that truth is not contingent on empirical evidence in their religious lives they extend that approach to other aspects of their lives. I am in total agreement with you that putting questions of election integrity into a religious framework is a real problem. It is a massive problem. And that is exactly my criticism of the conditioning reliance on the spirit. Too many Mormons think they can know the truth about elections, climate change, evolution, medicine, nutrition, vaccines, etc. through the spirit. My complaint is that the church has done a miserable job in teaching the members through the spirit they can know the truth of all things.

    You and I might be closer in thought than it would initially appear. Thanks for your insight.

  65. Geoff – Aus – and yet the Murdock media empire (Fox News, WSJ, NY post, Sky News) is an Australian export. Plenty of Australian Republican mormons (probably the majority). Also not drama-free in terms of politics, though the nanny state seems to do a pretty good job of keeping the rabble in line. =)

    Most of my LDS Friends and Family who have bought into the big lie, vaccine skeptics etc are avid consumers of this right-wing media. Across the board, there also seems to be a correlation between mormon orthodoxy/adherence/faith and belief in these obvious lies, which brings us back to the original question. If the most “righteous” among us do not appear to qualify for an extra dose of discernment, then what is the point? (the “even the very elect” sunday school response is too convenient.)

    In terms of whether it is appropriate to address U.S. political concerns in general conference – the more time I spend outside the U.S. the more I realize the Church is fundamentally an American export and tracks closely with U.S. history, politics, culture and attitudes. The LDS church was political from the get-go and is actually less so no than in the early years when Hyrum was claiming revelation and telling folks how to cast their vote. LDS doctrines, practices and activities have tracked with American new world imagery, manifest destiny, westward expansion, prohibition (which stuck around), globalization, corporate management theory etc. As such it can only be assumed that it will continue to mirror the fortunes and cultural shifts relative to the U.S., Trumpism included.

    In short, it may be a worldwide church, but it is and will continue to be an American multinational organization for the foreseeable future…

  66. Rob L — There is a significant difference between claiming an election was “stolen” vs “influenced.”

    Whether or not any collusion existed, 2016 experienced well-documented Russian support of Trump (their preference for many obvious reasons) and direct interference in terms of hacking a DNC email server and publishing its contents. There was no evidence of Russia actually changing votes but the results of the massive influence campaign is difficult to measure. There was a peaceful transition of power and one party accepting loss.

    The 2020 claims of an election being stolen culminating in an insurrection intended to physically stop a branch of the government from certifying the results of that election and undermining general faith in future U.S. elections. There was therefore NOT a peaceful transition of power and the losing party did not accept this loss in spite of the obvious: With everything Trump did and said, how is it so hard to believe he didn’t win???

    Fundamentally it comes back to whether the gift of the Holy Ghost (while living worthy of it) increases the capacity of an individual to discern truth and therefore find some degree of immunity to influence and manipulation.

  67. Big Cow says:

    I’m confused at exactly the demographic that would be influenced by a FP &/or Q12 pronouncement on the Big Lie. People who do not believe in the Big Lie already know the professional-class high church leadership doesn’t believe it, and they already are aware of the garbage politics of a big chunk of the rank and file and have either been repulsed out of the church because of it (me) or hold their noses in the pews on Sunday, as my parents in southern Indiana do. Such a pronouncement would only further politicize the church, something the church has been trying to pull back from since the California Prop 8 debacle 15 years ago.

    The fundamental error in the analysis in the OP is that people look to the Church for guidance on truth and morality or are drawn to the church for its truth claims. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, at least among the educated. It’s common knowledge that the church has been backward on fundamental issues of morality (sexism, racism, homophobia) for a hundred years and has been changing awkwardly in fits and starts to play catch-up with “the world”. The uneducated, for their part, mostly don’t engage in any meaningful investigation of “truth” or do any moral analysis and act more tribally, taking for right and wrong or truth whatever is asserted or shamed or praised in their immediate social environments. In any event Mormon epistemology with respect to “truth” is emotionally driven, not fact driven, which is a framework that with respect to political “truths” simply serves to reinforce existing political beliefs in a circular manner.

    People join and stay in the church primarily (though not only, of course) for COMMUNITY. This is also something that has been disintegrating and we see this reflected in increasing inactivity rates in the rising generation of the constituency that used to be the backbone of the Church – white American educated professionals. And a Big Lie pronouncement would not do anything materially re: community one way or the other.

  68. Big Cow, fair points. And, like I said, a church pronouncement wouldn’t shift everybody. But I think there are people who are on the margins here–they believe the Big Lie because their neighbors and their TV and their Facebook say it but they’re not actually committed to it (and perhaps don’t even understand how destructive it is). That kind of ignorance basically has to be deliberate but is the kind of thing that an official statement would nudge them to let go of.

    I could clearly be wrong, but I suspect that a not-insubstantial number of Mormon Big Lie people would fall into that kind of category.

  69. Big Cow says:

    @Sam – I think that is true as far as that goes re: an official pronouncement shifting some rank & file belief re: the Big Lie. I think it would be a small shift but that’s of course an empirical question.

    I was responding to what I thought was your key thesis here (maybe I misread?), which I understood to be: “If the church is (somewhat correctly) perceived as embracing an obvious lie (the Big Lie), then who will trust us on other issues of truth? And the upshot is that lack of trust in the church’s ability to discern or proclaim Truth is an existential threat to the Church. Therefore the Q12 should explicitly come out in favor of the truth, to stave off an institutionally-threatening erosion of trust”.

    My response to that thesis is (1) outsiders already think we embrace obvious lies (Joseph Smith, angels with gold plates, etc) and that Mormons are not moral leaders and (2) the church retains and gains membership not based on the church’s ability to proclaim or discern truth but rather because of our tight and supportive community (which is based on shared values but not necessarily shared political beliefs or shared belief in all Mormon truth claims).

    To that extent, the church’s ability to stay out of politics and not threaten the precarious shared values of the community is more important to institutional strength than taking an explicit position on the 2020 election which could heighten divisions among members. In other words I think the leadership is playing it right.

  70. Mortimer says:

    I’m seeing a lot of comments from people who think the church should eschew politics- stay away from the “poison” and focus on churchy stuff.

    The problem with our emulating the Swiss is two fold. 1) politics doesn’t go away if we stick our heads in the sand.

    2) The impact we have on our neighbors, communities, country and even world is played out frequently through politics, and sometimes solely through politics. How can we ignore the second great commandment and this duty, which is central to our millennial vision and mission?

    The Pope gave a TED talk in October on our moral imperative to care for the environment and become active in politics. He said …

    ” . . . [Politics was] conceived as one of the highest forms of charity. Yes, love is interpersonal, but love is also political. It involves all peoples and it involves Nature. I invite therefore all of you to embark on this journey“ . . .”

    When I see us shut down all political discourse in the church, (which we do all the time as people feel is a sacrosanct custom in Mormonism) we are shutting down a major discussion about charity and the 2nd commandment. We say- figure out politics on your own and we shan’t talk about it- just vote In privacy. Shhhh! Well, how is that solving any problems? And is it any wonder that if we don’t don’t unpack politics and share how our actions impact one another as well as the least of these (vulnerable populations, social disparities) we haven’t done our due diligence to receive revelation about it? Is it any wonder we are all over the place about this when we self-censor? We are all impotent and cut each other off at the knees. For example, we know the church is heavily involved in politics behind closed doors. They have lobbyists in most states, and in DC. They have closed-door meetings with the world’s most powerful leaders and advocate a political agenda. They might not say they do, but they do. They can’t say what they are doing in part because it’s such a taboo. I don’t always agree w SLC on its agenda (I hated the fact they supported Hobby Lobby in the SCOTUS trial, PROP 8, to name just two things), but there isn’t a place of common consent, for us to pray together and move together-, to teach and learn together. And we hurt each other and on-LDS people deeply, I maintain- largely out of ignorance. Now, we are polarized and are unable to have civil discourse (it’s hard to pick up a taboo practice), so even if we tried using our new model for communication and collaboration (RE/PH classes) we would likely fail (at least for a long time, it would be painful.)

    How are we supposed to be a united front in forwarding civilization if we refuse to shine our unique lights in a constructive, coordinated manner? Sure- we as individuals can shine one light, but like the Aesop fable of the bundle of sticks vs the individual stick, we simply aren’t leveraging our collective power. So why do we even need a church then? Ordinances or impact?

    The Pope continued…

    “Our conscience tells us that we cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of those in need, to the growing economic inequalities and social injustices.”

    And yet this is what we choose to do as a church, because we refuse to engage outside our “safe zones”. We don’t want to appear as though we dirty our hands with politics. We don’t want to have to align our values with our political actions, because we would see a massive misalignment. Me? Pay more taxes? Me? Address society’s ugliest and most problematic issues? No we want to sit in our pews and sing “all is well in Zion, yea, Zion prosperith.” We want to think that we can bake a loaf of homemade bread for someone, drop a craft off at someone’s door, and clean the church and it will all be ok. And we wonder why, when we turn our backs on the neediest problems and people, why the Lord isn’t showering us with inspiration.

  71. Roger Hansen says:

    I don’t know if there is much church leaders do about “the Big Lie.” It is too late. What they need to do is examine the conditions inside the Church which made it possible for members to believe in ridiculous conspiracy theories, to vote for Trump, to be anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, etc. And correct those conditions. They need to deal with the cause. They need to repudiate the political doctrines of ETB. Correct the anti-science teachings of BKP and JFS. De emphasize the OT.

    Without these steps, the Church will continue to lose members at an alarming rate.

  72. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Discussing politics is futile. Everyone believes they are right and that those who think differently are fools at best.

  73. Geoff - Aus says:

    Glenn, Elder Andersen gave a talk on abortion in last conference. Had he added to that talk that the way to reduce the number of abortions is to provide sex education, and affordable birth control, not by banning it, and that democrats do that at home and abroard, resulting in up to 40 million fewer abortions than when republicans have power. Would that have caused those who vote rep because of abortion to question?

    Perhaps discussing each issue with facts would be usefull.

    Perhaps a talk on Christ telling us to care for the poor, could include that in our world when there are 40 million Americans living in poverty there is a systemic problem which can be addressed more effectively by government reducing inequality by redistributing wealth toward the poor, instead of the rich. And that voting for tax cuts for the rich is the opposite of Christs teaching.

    People can considder individual ideas that could change their politics? Undermine the lies they believe. The big lie might just need confrontation, a call to repentance.

    In the rest of the world trump is not respected, I can’t imagine anyone who has access to the internet joining a church where 80% of them are trump voters, and half still believe he won.

  74. Honestly, this seems like a non-issue. Trump will be either dead or senile by the next election. Biden basically the same. Let’s get both parties to find some younger, fresher sane blood to vote for.

  75. Amen to this. I wish the Church would say all this and be more pointed on anything related to conspiracy.

    I have contacted my bishop once about a YM leader who shares his conspiracy theories with the youth. Usually I just handle it with my kids and tell them not to believe anything Brother So-and-so says…which brings up new problems about credibility and spiritual teaching. But lately the conspiracies are getting crazier. What does this tell my kids about their leaders and truth? What does the future of the Church look like when my kids watch neighbors completely ignore reality and embrace the lies of an unethical leader?

    I never though standing for truth and righteousness would look like this.

  76. “Why doesn’t the prophet and apostles just tell people what’s true?”A few thoughts for whatever it’s worth.
    We know that half of the Church is told to depart by Christ at the Second Coming because they never really knew Him. These are faithful, active members which is why they are so shocked to find themselves in that half. In the B of M we read that the way many members were drawn away was by falling into hateful talk and hearing only what they liked hearing. The problem is their hearts became warped by it and weren’t right anymore. Being deceived is a matter of the heart.
    We have all been taught the same gospel. We’ve all heard the same GA’s talks. If we get on board with fear and negativity we aren’t doing as the Lord wants when He says the Saints aren’t to fear. Fear enters through the brain but the it’s the heart that decides whether to keep hold of it.
    Fearful people aren’t in a state to listen and reason rationally. It doesn’t matter who tells them they are wrong, they won’t believe it.
    This life is a test. The GA’s would like all to pass but know half will fail regardless of what they say or do. It might be because their hearts fail them and the GA’s can’t change our hearts. They can’t make us know a truth if our hearts won’t receive it.
    What does that half say in reply to Jesus telling them they never knew Him? They can’t believe what they’re hearing from Him! ” What?? But we did everything, all good works in your name?”They never thought, “Lord, is it I?” They had been living in groupthink.
    The only way to get through to this half is to have the Savior tell them His judgment of them at the last day–and even then they have difficulty believing their ears.
    So no, the Church telling the members what’s true isn’t going to happen probably because it’s just one of likely many ways the wheat can be separated from the tares and needs to be.
    I always feel so badly for this half. If i’m in it, I’ll just never get over it. For all eternity I will always have been in that half even if I’m allowed to repent and get a second chance and finally get it right and can join the other half, I will always have been in that one half that was initially found lacking. Well, a good way to keep me humble for eternity I guess!:)

  77. p.s. BTW–I ,like Cissy, wish the church would call out conspiracy nonsense. I’ve said why I think they probably won’t. But I’ve lost friends down the rabbit hole and worry about my kids, grandkids and others succumbing.

  78. Mormons are taught and conditioned from infancy to invest themselves in beliefs that have no supporting empirical evidence simply because they *want* to believe. This is also true in other religions, of course, but the process of convincing oneself is highly systematized in Mormonism.

    Is it any wonder, then, that people who are well-trained to strongly support fanciful notions, even in the face of contrary evidence, would be susceptible to a lie such as this?

    The last time I was in church (2017-ish) the bishop, teaching the Sunday School lesson, literally instructed people to ignore the evidence of their own eyes and ears and receive truth from the church. Seems like about 46% of Mormons have the “ignoring evidence” part down pat.

  79. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything about religion generally, or Mormonism in particular, that demands that we believe empirically false information or primes us to do so. In general, people are capable of code-switching and engaging in the appropriate register for the appropriate situation. I think that a large portion of the 46% believe the Big Lie, not because of their Mormonism, but because it’s what they want to believe. (Someone earlier mentioned Screwtape, which is, I think, entirely applicable here.)

    A clear statement by church leaders would force a choice for this portion of Big Lie believers. They would have to ask themselves if their belief in church leaders or in political conspiracies is more important to their sense of self. And clearly, some will chose political conspiracies. But others, once they see the direct conflict, won’t.

  80. stephenchardy says:

    Sorry to be picky, but I think that it is important.:

    A poster just said this:

    “We know that half of the Church is told to depart by Christ at the Second Coming because they never really knew Him. These are faithful, active members which is why they are so shocked to find themselves in that half.”

    We should be careful about what we “know.”

    I am not sure exactly where Jill gets this idea from. Possibly from this scripture in Mosiah 26:23-27. I will quote only part of it:

    “…they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand…… The second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth. and… then shall they know that I am the Lord… and then will I confess unto them that I never knew them;…”

    There is also a scripture in Matthew 7:21-23. where Jesus says: “…then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me…”

    Although the scriptures clearly put people in two groups, sometimes saying that one group is on the right hand of the God and the other on the left, there is no scripture that suggests that the two groups are the same size. They may be 50/50, or they may be 10/90, or 90/10.

    I don’t think that we “know” that half of the church is told to depart. We are told that some part of them will be told to depart.

    I agree with the Jill’s sentiment however: that we should be humble and careful enough to be fearful that we could be on the wrong side, and therefore we should live carefully, and be capable of understanding that we can be deceived.

  81. Sam, I (respectfully) disagree with you. Empirically false is an interesting term–what’s the falsifiability criteria for religion? I’m genuinely curious–what thing/event/happening, if it occurred, would convince you that, say, Islam is actually the “true” religion?

    Religion, at the very least, it’s a strong self-selection mechanism. Faith itself is defined as belief in things that are not supported by empirical evidence. It’s pretty reasonable to infer, then, that communities of faith are generally populated by people who are comfortable with understanding the world through means other than empirical evidence. Or they’re comfortable with the intellectual dissonance that is inherent to simultaneously understanding the laws of the natural world and believing that 7 pairs of animals of most specials on the planet got onto a boat at some point in time.

    This gets dangerous with the moral dissonance that is also inherent to this position, though. For example, I’m sure you believe that murdering someone to take their stuff is wrong. But you accept (and probably teach your kids to accept) that it’s ok if Jesus whispers in your ear that it’s for a greater good, right (1 Nephi ch 4)? And the very act of forcing yourself to accept that primes you to accept other, similar moral violations.

    I’ve heard, I know, and I’ve lived the mental gymnastics that intelligent Mormons engage in to square these circles. It’s BS, and deep down we know it’s BS. Would you vote to acquit a man who admitted murdering another in the street if the defense was “Jesus told me to do it?”

    For the most part, though, we ignore or gloss over these things. Until, like now, we really can’t.

  82. Hey Josh, thanks for the engagement. I’m going to return your respectful disagreement on a couple levels. The first is, in your examples, you’re assuming a necessary reading of scripture that says that what scriptural figures (or at least, what good guys in the scriptures) do is right, admirable, and emulable. That’s not an objectively correct reading of scripture, though it’s a popular post-twentieth-century Protestant (at least) approach to reading scripture. In Jewish thought, though, there’s at least a strain of thought that argues that, e.g., Abraham failed his test when he agreed to sacrifice Isaac. Similarly, I would argue that there’s strong textual evidence that, his assertions notwithstanding, Nephi regretted killing Laban.

    Moreover, the idea that scripture is meant to be read literally is, well, one reading strategy. But it’s not the best. And recognizing this isn’t BS and it’s not mental gymnastics. It’s the ability to engage with scripture on its own terms and to believe that the written word isn’t stuck at the surface level.

    As for your argument that the religious are comfortable with intellectual dissonance–well, yes, probably. But also, they’re capable of code switching. I don’t know about you, but I approach poetry differently from history differently from physics (though I admit that these days I don’t engage a ton with physics) differently from tax. They each have their own modes of discourse and modes of speech.

    Which is to say, even belief in non-empirical religious assertions doesn’t give religious people a reason or excuse to believe in fake conspiracy theories.

  83. Brent P says:

    I know I’m late, and my comment probably won’t be read much, but I’ll post anyway. RobL engaged what appears to be a common false equivalence made by conservatives trying to dismiss the gravity of Trump’s undemocratic actions by saying that Democrats essentially did the same thing in 2016. He’s wrong. I’ll show why.

    “1) Protesters shut down airports and freeways in the days after the election.”

    Hillary conceded the day after. Trump demonstrated his racism, anti-intellectualism, admiration for authoritarians, lack of morality, and willingness to violate the law for power and prestige very well during the campaign. Biden was a more plain vanilla candidate, not even close to Trump in how controversial he was. Second, the reason why the protests were justified was that Trump didn’t win the majority of vote, by nearly 3 million votes. This is a highly problematic aspect of the US election system. Not winning the majority of the popular vote is a recipe for a legitimacy crisis. This needs to be fixed.

    “2) Elizabeth Warren raised millions in a matter of hours to mount a recount effort in three states.”

    People have a right to call for recounts. They are doing nothing wrong. Trump was within his rights to call for recounts. However, Trump abused the court system by pushing over 60 frivolous lawsuits, all except for one of which were dismissed. Democrats did nothing of the sort in 2016.

    “3) Many people were hoping the electoral college would “do the right thing” and vote for Clinton.”

    Because she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Democrats called on the electoral college to do the right thing, meaning just give the election to the person who actually won more votes in the US than the other. Trump lost the popular vote by 8 million to Biden in 2020. His supporters, instigated by Trump and Giuliani and several Republican members of Congress, attempted an insurrection based on the idea that the election was actually stolen, with zero evidence of massive voter fraud or election official fraud. Democrats in 2016 weren’t claiming widespread voter fraud. Nor did they attempt a violent insurrection at the Capitol.

    “4) Aided by non-stop media coverage, many were convinced that Trump colluded with Russia in a disinformation campaign.”

    A 1,000-page report from a GOP-led Senate panel conducted over three years released in August 2020 showed an “extensive web of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin officials and other Russians, including at least one intelligence officer and others tied to the country’s spy services.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/18/us/politics/senate-intelligence-russian-interference-report.html

    “5) His opponent still makes statements that imply the election was stolen.”

    Because in 2016, it was. The Trump campaign did have contacts with Russia. And Russia clearly interfered in the 2016 through hacks and disinformation campaigns to the aid of Trump. Trump lost by nearly 3 million votes.

    There is no equivalence between the 2016 election, in which Trump colluded with Russians to undermine the integrity of the election and actually lost the popular vote by 3 million votes (which are provable facts), and the idea that the 2020 election was stolen, in which there was no interference by a foreign government and no evidence of massive voter fraud on a scale that had any bearing on the results of the election. I condemn this ridiculous and insulting false equivalence.

  84. Following on from Josh and Sam, there are stories in the BoM that I find particularly troubling and allow for moral ambiguity in terms of “the end justifying the means” and as long as one can claim divine intervention, it is counted for righteousness. I’ve seen the Nephi/Laban story used to justify all kinds of unethical behavior. An even bigger one is Alma (the blonde dude with the 80’s haircut here: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/book-of-mormon-stories/chapter-22-almas-mission-to-ammonihah?lang=eng) and Amulek, where Alma constrained Amulek from helping believing women and children who were being burned alive (even though he felt he had the power to do so), all so that their blood could bear witness against their murderers, and then after a little abuse themselves they prayed and were delivered (broke their bonds and destroyed the prison – powerful stuff!), because they had a mission to perform that was more important than the women and children who’s lives were evidently only useful enough to serve as charred evidence. I guess God’s ways etc.. but I worry about this because how far will big lie believing members of the church go to “set the path straight” according to their own reading of the politics of the day and justify their behavior and actions? That poll says 25% of LDS respondents are willing to resort to violence in order to protect, as they see it, the constitution. There were several LDS church members at the capitol on Jan 6th and I fear we haven’t seen the last of it.

  85. Dr Ziontology says:

    Is anyone going to state the obvious? When the “truth” ecosystem of Mormons requires belief in things like Gold plates, reformed Egyptian, and prophets who literally speak with God, why would you expect them to suddenly apply consistent logic? They have to compartmentalize so thoroughly just to exist in the 21st century, that by comparison the stolen election seems straightforward.

Trackbacks

  1. […] By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson is casting his vote for having top church leaders do all they can to set members straight on the “big lie.” […]

  2. […] By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson is casting his vote for having top church leaders do all they can to set members straight on the “big lie.” […]

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