May 31, 2010
Coming from an upbringing that insists constantly to be the custodian of truth, I find it interesting that some in my religious heritage do not even seem to begin understanding the erroneous nature of some of their most basic beliefs.
While my church purports to be politically neutral, it is often difficult to disconnect religion from politics completely. Sometimes the two are one and the same. In this context, one of the ideas that has affected me most negatively is simply this: you can't be Mormon and a democrat.
Just for the record, I am not a part of any political party. But while some might point out the simply benign nature of the above statement, it is obvious that among many of your average mainstream LDS people, this is basically a play off of a statement made by one of Mormon conservatives most beloved disciple, Ezra Taft Benson: "No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction." Today we could just insert the word "democrat" for "socialist."
Many conservatives want to use words like those of Benson to contend that being a so-called liberal means you are not worthy, not faithful, not patriotic. It seems that such individuals are unaware of the history of the church, yet they sometimes take this idea to such an extreme that they cannot tolerate anyone who has a distinct point of view. Progressives/liberals are enemies to the causes of God and country. They are a cancer that undermines the foundation of our constitutional government. I have personally experienced this lack of understanding and tolerance from people, some of them very close to me.
While I am despised by some for just acknowledging that it is okay for people to have different points of view, whatever the religious background, the viewpoint that a Mormon has to be connected with republicanism/conservatism is simply false.
Take this opinion from Hugh B. Brown, at the time a member of the church's First Presidency:
"Every person is entitled to his or her opinion, which will be respected as long as he or she respects the opinions of others. Individual General Authorities have the right and privilege to express their own opinions, which, when expressed, represent their opinions only. There may be different opinions among the General Authorities, but we are united on the basic principles of the gospel. When it comes to expressing an opinion on some other organization or some political or quasi-political question, one hopes that the authorities of the church will have the good grace not to be extreme, to keep near the center of the road. All my life I have advocated that people in and out of the church should think through every proposition presented to them. Positions may be modified as time passes by discussing them with others, but there should be no question that both liberals and conservatives in the church are free to express their opinions."
** from "An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown," p. 131.**
More recently it is well known that the late James E. Faust, also an Apostle and member of the First Presidency, was a Utah democrat.
I was especially miffed to just recently find an article from 1998 of an interview with Marlin K. Jensen, another democrat, and current church historian:
"There is sort of a division along Mormon/non-Mormon, Republican/Democratic lines," says Elder Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. "We regret that more than anything -- that there would become a church party and a non-church party. That would be the last thing that we would want to have happen."
How is it that I could be taught for years that being a democrat was akin to being an apostate when this is simply not true? Did most of the individuals from whom I heard this idea even know any democrats personally? Even if they feel strongly about their conservative views, are they justified in ostracizing and rejecting those of different opinions? Is their behavior in any way Christlike? Coming from a tradition of being cruelly persecuted as Mormons, it is jaw-dropping to see Mormons do an about-face and persecute others just because they have differing political views.
Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. I do not really think that differing opinions are really justification for classifying people as enemies. We should be able to appreciate and respect one another. We should be glad that not everyone has the same point of view. We should expect that even with the most righteous of motivations, different people will see the world in opposing ways. As President Brown said, as long as we are respectful, we deserve others' respect.
I am convinced that the conservatives I know have good intentions. Their reasoning is generally sound for believing the things they do. But there is no justification for judgments of large segments of society because of their politics. Defending the indefensible in this way makes their position appear tenuous and weak, for they refuse to even engage in discussion of anything but that which merely goes along with what they already believe. Such an attitude has the potential to be just as damaging to the country as any supposed progressive cancer.
On a day when we honor those who have sacrificed their lives and families for our freedoms, it would be good to remember that those heroes died in defense of the rights we all enjoy to think and believe as we choose, black and white, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, christian and atheist.