A Good Latter-day Saint AND a Democrat? Isn't That Stretching Things a Bit?

Mormons, if they really looked, could find more areas where practices of the Republican party clash with their faith than do those of the Democrat party. The self-righteous arrogance of Utah Mormon Republicans, then, is much more than ironic. In some ways Utah Mormon Democrats are light years ahead of Republicans when it comes to Christlike (read: Latter-day Saint) virtues. It's time for Utah Mormon Republicans to step down off that phony pedestal that they've created for themselves and realize that they might just have some catching up to do.

According to the bent philosophies that some Republican Mormons mix with their scripture, their version of Alma Chapter 46 (beginning with verse 19) in the Book of Mormon must go something like this
19 And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among [his fellow Republicans], waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that [his party members] might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying:

20 Behold, [whatsoever conservative] will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion [against their enemies, the liberals], that the Lord God may bless them.

21 And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the [Republicans] came running together with their armor girded about their loins [while the Democrats had all joined themselves unto the bloodthirsty Lamanites], rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the[ir party platform]; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of [Moroni, their party chairman], or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of [Republicans], the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
The Deseret News published yesterday a very insightful opinion piece by Dynette Reynolds, adjunct history teacher at Weber State University. If what she says is true, it's apparent that far too many Utahns just don't get it when it comes to political affiliations. Reynolds reminds us that
Every year at election time, the LDS Church sends out an official letter stating that the LDS Church does not support any particular political party.
and that
Recently, a letter noted that both parties contained elements in their platforms that were consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
She's right. Republicans don't have, by any means, a corner on good political principles. In fact, here are some things that Utah Republicans ought to be downright embarrassed about.

1. The State of Ethics in the Utah Legislature. Almost never in recent decades have Republicans supported meaningful ethics reform in the Utah legislature. Republican ethics reform, originally billed as monumental for the 2009 Legislative session, turned out to be not much more than a whimper. What ethics legislation that did pass turns out to be completely unenforceable. A commenter on one of the Salt Lake Tribune blogs stated
Why codify ethics when Utah lawmakers can just confess to their bishops on Sunday? They're right with the lord and that's all that matters.
I'm beginning to wonder of the commenter might just be right.

2. Support for Multinational Corporations that Grind on the Face of the Poor. It's my opinion that the LDS Church welfare program works much more effectively than any other, especially including the welfare program of the U.S. Federal Government. I'm sure most Mormons agree with me on that. However, most Mormons don't see that the biggest problem with the federal welfare system is corporate welfare. Corporate lobbying, although it did come into vogue during Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal era, has been developed into a very profitable form of fraud today--mostly by Republicans such as Phil Gramm, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Tom DeLay. The Book of Mormon, in an echo of the Old Testament warns against these kinds of people and this kind of fraud:
And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the...false cswearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger, and fear not me, saith the Lord of Hosts.
Are Democrats involved in corporate welfare? Sure. But not nearly to the extent as the Republican gangster machine. When you say "welfare," Mormon Republicans seem only to think of individual and family welfare, which is better left to communities and states to remedy. But the kingpins at the top of their party are quintessential gangsters when it comes to unjustly acquiring for the "welfare" of themselves and their corporate cronies the fruits of other people's labors.

3. Advocacy of Empire Building in the Name of Freedom. Somehow Republicans can scream bloody murder when Bill Clinton fires off a few Tomahawk cruise missiles to get our minds off of the Monica Lewinsky affair, but we yawn when George W. Bush causes the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis on a boatload of false pretexts. It seems to me if we were really living our Mormon religion, we should decry empire building of this sort from the tops of the highest buildings.

The United States Constitution, were are taught by the Doctrine and Covenants
should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles...That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him.
The Constitution is "just and holy" because it protects individual liberty (moral agency). How is it just and holy that we kill people in Iraq and other places under the guise of offering them protection and liberty?

But the embarrassment shouldn't stop there. Utah Mormon Republicans have compounded their error by exercising a uniquely arrogant form of polito-centrism. In her letter to the Deseret News, Reynolds goes on to say that
Our Christianity and patriotism have been questioned by ward members. We have been snubbed and sneered at. We have been forced to listen to political diatribes against the president of the United States in our auxiliary meetings and testimony meetings. Racial jokes are being told in church foyers.
Unfortunately,
Some of us have even stopped going to church. We don't feel like we should have to defend our political beliefs every time we step through the church doors. We don't want to argue with ward members who spout lines from Rush Limbaugh in our church classrooms. Our bishops are trying to calm things down but they aren't having much luck.
Although I wish that Reynolds and others wouldn't stop attending church, I can imagine how difficult attending church meetings under such circumstances would be. At least the bishops seem to understand the "political neutrality" thing. I listen to Rush Limbaugh just enough to know that he is far from being a paragon of Christlike living. Regardless of that, no one should ever advocate the opinions of any political commentator in a church meeting, even if they happen to be Mormon.

I don't doubt that most Utah Republican Mormons hold a strong moral conviction in their political beliefs. What's critical for members of the majority party in Utah, however, is to never forget that the Democrats (as well as members of other parties) hold that same conviction.




Comments

  1. Frank,

    I half expected you to quote some of the comments on Ms. Reynolds article where at least one "conservative" commenter explicitly said that being a Democrat was incompatible with being a Mormon. Perhaps you were trying not to point any fingers too directly, but I think your article is very timely.

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  2. Some very good points, sir. A party is just a group of people who have similar, or somewhat similar, political convictions. But it's just people getting together.

    A very interesting discussion would be whether or not a "good" Mormon is "liberal," "conservative," "libertarian," "communist," or whatever. While there is no "true" political party, I believe there are true principles that should govern our ideas and beliefs about the role of government in society.

    The trick is to figure out what those principles are and to stand up for them, and maybe even join a party that we believe best espouses those principles, even though those principles likely cannot be found in any one party. In the end, while the tenets and practices of parties morph, those principles don't.

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  3. Very good piece, Frank. Yes, it can be difficult attending Church in more conventional wards when one holds alternative political beliefs, but I believe it is important to do so--because the Gospel is true, of course, but also because by standing for something we can help provide a broader perspective.

    Minor quibble: Corporate lobbying and corporate welfare came into vogue long before the New Deal. The titans of industry in the post Civil War period aggressively engaged in and benefited from such efforts. One could say that the entire Transcontinental Railroad debacle was corporate welfare.

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  4. David,

    Several of the online comments to Reynolds' LTE confirm the thesis of this article. For example:

    Dynette, can you honestly say you're proud to be a Democrat??? Geesh, another nut case that voted for a very charismatic, articulate, arrogant moron.

    and

    Many decades ago, the two may have been compatible, but now they are absolutely incompatible, if the Mormon actually believes Mormon theology and the Democrat believes modern Democratic philosophy.

    Holy wow! Such obtuseness we could not obtain from all the triangles in the world!!

    JHP,

    I agree insofar as we can ferret out such principles from the scriptures. For example, the Book of Mormon talks about the problems of having kings, and is very clear to point out both the importance of and the pitfalls with representative democracy ("voice of the people").

    I am partial to the Constitution party because I feel like it espouses the principles that I believe in more accurately than either the Republicans or the Democrats, but I still have respect for a lot of people in a lot of different parties.

    Derek,

    You're right that corporate lobbying happened upon the heels of the civil war. I intended to refer to general, more pervasive lobbying, along the lines of where voters begin to make their decisions based on that they "discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury". This is what I think happened under FDR.

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  5. All major parties have elements of their platform that comport with LDS teachings. But all major parties also have elements of their practice that are strongly antithetical to LDS doctrine.

    It's been a long time since I felt proud to be a Republican. I'm not even sure how much longer I will be affiliated that party. But your praise of Democrats vis-a-vis horrid Republicans is a bit silly.

    1. On the ethics charge, serious political analysts know that the minority always clamors for more ethics restrictions, knowing that it will never (really) happen because it runs against the majority's interests. It would be no different if Dems were in the majority. This is done for political gamesmanship rather than out of sincerity. (Sincere politicians are a rarity in any party.)

    2. In the last two national election cycles, big business has dumped far more money into Democratic coffers than into GOP campaigns. It was nearly 2-1 in the recent cycle.

    3. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Back in 2002, many seriously felt that Afghanistan and Iraq posed actual threats to our interests, and perhaps even to our homeland. LDS conservatives might be excused for supporting the Iraq incursion when the church president opines in general conference that dangerous dictators sometimes require forcible removal to render them safe. By 2006, most Americans were unhappy with the whirlwind we had reaped. But now most have mixed feelings about the whole matter. It's not quite as cut and dried as you make it out to be.

    It pains me when Latter-Day Saints drive others away from worship by being politically insensitive in church. But you know what? Almost everyone in the church acts like a bonehead once in a while, including those that feel offended. (Some of us act like boneheads a lot.) But according to the law of the gospel, we are required to put up with each others' less tactful moments and even forgive one another for them without even being asked forgiveness.

    Those that take offense do so willingly. Not that the offender is excused. But taking offense is an action we choose. It is no less sinful than being a political dork in church. In fact, it might even be a "greater sin."

    Also, methinks you paint with too broad a brush. The population of Mormon Republicans in Utah spans a much broader spectrum than your post seems to imply. The vocal Limbaugh-is-gospel crowd is, I think, a minority; albeit, a loud (sometimes obnoxious) one.

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  6. Reach, I think you missed Frank's point trying to justify the Republican opposition to ethics reform while co-opting faith.

    Nice post, Frank. Once again, you have me thinking.

    Also (throwing this not to be inflamatory, but to illustrate even a further point) but the concept of tithing is in essence a socialist redistribution of wealth.

    Yet all we here is how such a concept will bring the "end of days" from many Utah Republicans.

    I think JHP said it best (something JHP rarely hears from me) that it's worth considering political philosophies with our respective faith as well as the party we most identify with.

    Most LDS Democrats I know are Democrats BECAUSE they are LDS. A concept most LDS Republicans cannot wrap their brain around.

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  7. Right, Jason. I'm liberal (not Democrat, as Nader is largely right) because of my faith, not in spite of it. While the liberal ideology is not perfect, I find it closer to important moral precepts than the conservative ideology in our current world.

    Part of the reason I'm so adamant about calling myself liberal is to rehabilitate the word in order to save the conservatives. As long as "liberal" has such a derogatory connotation in the common vernacular, then debate is stifled; any and all policies can be rationalized simply by appending a subjective "conservative" label to it, and calling any other action "liberal." In such a way has conservatism been corrupted and the integrity of the movement destroyed.

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  8. Also (throwing this not to be inflamatory, but to illustrate even a further point) but the concept of tithing is in essence a socialist redistribution of wealth.

    Yet all we here is how such a concept will bring the "end of days" from many Utah Republicans.


    Yeah, there's one little difference between tithing and State economics that you Lefties always seem to forget: choice.

    See, I decide whether I pay tithing or not. I can opt out. When my government goes socialist, I don't have that luxury.

    I don't fault liberals for wanting to help the poor. Where they go wrong is mandating charity.

    I read a lot of liberal Utah bloggers and not a one-- not a single one-- has ever been able to validate (either legally or morally) the translation of personal charity to government welfare.

    Now Frank, one issue I'd like to mention is that of accountability and its role in mental and spiritual growth. I am a conservative/libertarian because I believe in teaching somebody to fish rather than just giving them a fish whenever they feel like they want one.

    I believe people should be free to succeed and free to fail- spiritually as well as in daily life.

    This is the overriding reason behind my conservatism. American Liberalism (notice I didn't say Democratic Party) does not foster the type of personal spiritual and temporal growth that the scriptures seek to teach.

    Conservatism (notice I didn't say the Republican Party) fits that model closer.

    Frank, I think you've cheapened your argument by focusing on party rather than ideology.

    And I think you've let your (IMO, misconceived notion of "US as empire builder" and your antipathy for talk radio cloud your reasoning.

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  9. I'm with D. Sirmize on the tithing thing. Coercive taking and redistributing is a counterfeit of willing payment of tithing. The fact that they share some of the same features does not make them the same thing. The one is spiritually destructive, while the other is spiritually ennobling and uplifting.

    Again, it's the choice thing. If I stop paying tithing, no armed officers are going to come to my house and haul me away. But that would be a very real possibility if I stopped paying my taxes. I seem to remember this story about this guy in the pre-earth life that had a plan to make everyone be good....

    Also, I trust church members seeking spiritual guidance with spending my tithing dollars far more than I trust government officials to do a good job of spending my tax dollars. I've had insider experience with both organizations that has reinforced this view.

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  10. Reach,

    Last year at the State Capitol I had a chat with Senator Pat Jones about ethics, and she agreed with me that if the Dems were in power, they'd likely have some ethics issues of their own to deal with.

    I disagree with your item #3, though. I didn't know much about Afghanistan, but it was fairly straighforward to me that Iraq did not pose a threat to the U.S.

    I do agree with you and dsirmize in rebutting Jason about tithing. The whole difference between socialism and LDS church tithing (and other consecrations) is that socialism is accomplished through the use of force, while donations to the LDS Church are exclusively through free will. That, in a nutshell, is why socialism will never work, regardless of whether it's Hitler or the G20 that tries it.

    dsirmize,

    I chose to focus on party because (1) that was the focus of Dynette Reynolds's letter to the DesNews, and (2) party conflict seems to be the biggest problem in Utah. You make a good point, though. With regard to the Bush bailouts last november, for example, I focused on the contrast between Establishmentarians that voted for the bailouts, and advocates of liberty who voted against. Roughly half of each major party found itself on either side of that vote.

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  11. Frank,

    Interesting thoughts. It's also interesting to note that for a significant time in the early days of the Church, and even well into the 20th Century the preponderance of its members self-identified as democrats. It wasn’t until late in the past century that mainstream Christian faiths—primarily in the South which were heretofore Democratic—moved toward Republican ideology (and away from liberal positions espoused by the Democratic Party); and the LDS Church seemed to follow right along.

    The Republican Party was founded in 1856 with a part of its platform dedicated to eliminating the twin evils of slavery and polygamy. No wonder Brigham Young, who was not arguably opposed to either of these, and virtually every other Church leader until relatively recently were affiliated with the Democratic Party.

    On a personal note, I had the privilege of serving an LDS mission under a Kennedy Democrat: Wayne Owens. Ted Kennedy visited our mission twice, and the fires of hell were not unleashed that I could tell. The missionary work blossomed under Owens direction, although many rules were bent, and in typical liberal fashion spending ran out of control (it was rumored Owens spent $1 M of his own money for lavish mission conferences/hop-up sessions in luxury hotels in Montreal). He even bought out a theater for us all to see one of the debut screenings of Star Wars.

    Fortunately for all involved, the second half of my mission was led by an EXTREMELY conservative retired banker from northern Utah. He was able to rein in spending, reverse the work to a virtual crawl and bring order to things.

    It’s interesting the things we choose to canonize in our cultures and in our lives—without really asking why.

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  12. Just a thought on this topic: If my understanding is correct, "early" Saints were encouraged to join both parties.

    While it's hard to know all the thought processes involved, I don't think that dividing the Saints by party platform - and then aligning a certain part of the Saints with that platform - was the purpose of that encouragement.

    Rather, I believe that the Saints were expected to *influence the party* to which they belonged - ensuring (or attempting to ensure) that honorable, good citizens were available, whatever happened with an election.

    Let me know if that sounds wrong; it explains a lot, to my mind, and shows how our current understanding (and general practice) of aligning ourselves with the political parties' agendas instead of the other way around, is ... "deserving of reconsideration." -)

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  13. Roger,

    My parents were very involved with the Utah Democrat party for several years. They became good friends with Wayne Owens and thought the world of him. It seems like the rancor between the parties in Utah was much less then, but then again I was young...

    Kannie,

    I hadn't really thought about it that way, but you make a very good point. If we are going to influence our government, it would do us well to influence not just one major party. Several members of the LDS general leadership have been Democrats. I was very impressed with Marlin K. Jensen a few years back when he made the case that one CAN be a democrat and a member of the LDS Church in good standing.

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