I have debated since I started this blog whether to directly address the issue of religious beliefs, whether my own or those of other Utahns. For many of us in Utah, our religious beliefs are not easily left out of anything. It's simply too fundamental a part of who we are.Read more
Guest Post by Julia Taylor; this article is cross-posted on poetrysansonions.com
I am doing a series of posts on the "Mormon Moment," on my personal blog. (My original post focused on the policies of the LDS church, and included the issues around the Prop 8 election in California, which has already been more than covered here on this website, so I won't go into all the details again.) Most people assume that the cultural bias towards the Republican party by many members of the LDS church is doctrinally based. As a recent post on my personal blog addresses, culture and doctrine can be tricky for members of the church to sort out. For those who are not LDS, it can seem downright convoluted. I hope that this post and its sources help to clear up some of these distinctions in regards to politics.
Mormon Policies on Politics and Conscience
Most of the time, the LDS church stays out of political races and referendums, and it releases only general statements on issues that relate to church doctrine. Church leaders do not tell members how to vote or ask for them to reveal how they voted. The only constant doctrine taught about the responsibility of church members consists of asking their members to be active citizens who intelligently vote their conscience. The official church position regarding politics can be found in the Articles of Faith, the Doctrine and Covenants, and also the Official Church Handbook 2, which is available online at LDS.org. The Articles of Faith and Doctrine an Covenants are canonized LDS scripture, while the Official Church Handbook is a manual with instructions for how to administer the day-to-day functions of a LDS congregation and life.
Articles of Faith 11 and 12 states:
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:19-22 elaborates on the basics in the Article of Faith, when it says:
19 For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land.
20 Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him that judgeth, according to the counsel of his own will, or, in other words, him that counseleth or sitteth upon the judgment seat.
21 Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.
22 Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet.
Doctrine and Covenants 98: 7-10 elaborate further when it explains why good political leaders are important, and why being actively involved in choosing good leaders, (when living in a place where citizens have the chance to be involved in choosing their leaders) is important, and keeping bad leaders from governing is a sacred responsibility.
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.
This means that Mormons start with the foundational understanding that as members of the LDS church we have an obligation to obey, honor and sustain the laws of the land, even when we don't agree with specific political leader(s) or a particular law. We recognize many forms of government, not just democracies, as being viable and acceptable in the eyes of God. We may claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church, but we respect the right of others to believe and worship differently. We can share our religious beliefs, but every person on the earth has the right to believe or not to believe in God. Every person has the right to worship in ways that are consistent to their beliefs, even if we do not understand, agree, or approve of those religious practices. Every government has the expectation that Mormons who are citizens will follow and uphold the laws of their land, no matter the specifics of how that government functions.
The Official Church Handbook has several areas that speak about the responsibility of LDS members in relation to their government, regardless of where in the world those members live. This is a sampling of the sections that are important within the framework of the current election in the United States of America.
21.1.21 Income Taxes
Church members are obligated by the twelfth article of faith to obey the tax laws of the nation where they reside (see also D&C 134:5). Members who disapprove of tax laws may try to have them changed by legislation or constitutional amendment. Members who have well-founded legal objections may challenge tax laws in the courts.
Church members who refuse to file a tax return, pay required income taxes, or comply with a final judgment in a tax case are in direct conflict with the law and with the teachings of the Church. Such members may be ineligible for a temple recommend and should not be called to positions of principal responsibility in the Church. Members who are convicted of willfully violating tax laws are subject to Church discipline to the extent warranted by the circumstances.
21.1.23 Laws of the Land
Members should obey, honor, and sustain the laws in any country where they reside or travel (see D&C 58:21–22; Articles of Faith 1:12). This includes laws that prohibit proselytizing.
21.1.29 Political and Civic Activity
As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice. Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.
In accordance with the laws of their respective governments, members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise (see D&C 98:10).
While affirming the right of expression on political and social issues, the Church is neutral regarding political parties, political platforms, and candidates for political office. The Church does not endorse any political party or candidate. Nor does it advise members how to vote. However, in some exceptional instances the Church will take a position on specific legislation, particularly when it concludes that moral issues are involved.
Church members are encouraged to consider serving in elected or appointed public offices in local and national government. Candidates for public office should not imply that their candidacy is endorsed by the Church or its leaders.Church leaders and members should also avoid statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of any political party, platform, policy, or candidate.
Members are encouraged to support measures that strengthen the moral fabric of society, particularly those designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Church records, directories, and similar materials may not be used for political purposes. Church facilities may not be used for political purposes. However, facilities may be used for voter registration or polling where there is not a reasonable alternative (see 21.2).
(Emphasis and underlined text has been added by the author to emphasize parts of the church policy that oftentimes is ignored by cultural Mormons.)
In this presidential election, I have already voted for Barack Obama. My choice in voting is really two-thirds a vote for Obama, and one-third of a vote against Mitt Romney. I didn't think I would be voting against Mitt, (if he ever was on the ticket) when he was running back in 2008. Then I saw him as a real possibility of a moderate Republican who had a record of putting together solutions that work. He did some impressive things getting the Olympics back on track, and while Romneycare didn't go as far as I hope a national plan eventually will, the way he got it passed showed he could work with people who are not Republicans. This is was an improvement over Bush.
That was 2008, and this year is 2012. The Romney that I had respect for in 2008 does not seem to be around in 2012. His willingness to say ANYTHING to win does not sit well with me as a citizen, a Mormon, or a voter. Whether he believes all of the things he says or not, he can't mean everything he says, because he disagrees with himself over and over. Mitt's choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate was his final bad choice - made out of expediency, and this choice made it impossible for me to see him as the man I admired four years ago.
That is why I am not voting for Romney, but the reasons I am voting for Obama are quite a bit more nuanced. Some of it is self-interest. I am on COBRA health insurance, and if Obamacare stands, I will be able to keep the very good insurance I have now. If I had to buy insurance on the open market, I would be uninsurable. In 2008, health care was one of my big issues, and Obama delivered on his promise to expand health care to many more Americans. My husband's company pays him well, and our income qualifies us as the lower end of the middle class. The Obama economic program will benefit us much more than the Romney/Ryan plan would. So selfishly, I get more benefits, even if I do pay more in taxes, if Obama is president for the next four years.
I am not looking for a grand change in fiscal policy. I think President Bush did some unforgivable things to the economy, and we aren't anywhere close to having those items turned around. Obama hasn't been perfect, but I trust him to make the best choices he can, and to think about the middle and lower class as Americans, not a drain on the "real Americans." I am hoping that there will be enough pressure on the Republicans in Congress so that some work actually gets done, but I would rather have Obama get less done, than Romney getting most of what he says he wants to do. I trust Obama to find policy compromises that work. I can't see any Republican having the guts (or gonads) to go against the right-wing of the party, least of all Romney.
Obama is my choice. He got my vote, and he got a $50 donation a few months ago. Obama also got the support of my kids, (without them knowing what I thought,) and they volunteer with their father and participate in the "Get Out the Vote Effort!" (Taking my children to political rallies, protests, and campaign events with politicians and political movements on both sides of the aisle has been an important part of educating them to be good citizens.) My children believe that Obama will give them the best future, and they are not your average preteens. When they laid out their reasoning for why they want Obama to be president for the next four years, I was proud to discover that their reasons were similar to mine. While I am the only one with the legal right to vote, my vote carried the hopes and dreams of my children when I mailed my ballot on Monday.
Authors Note: My goal with the "Mormon Moment Series" has been to explain "Mormony" things to those who may be interested in learning about Mormonism. I include my experiences, and those of other bloggers, so I regularly have links to blogs I read and comment on, while I also link directly to official sources like LDS.org or other official church sites.
In no way is this post meant to be an exhaustive study of the issues related to the LDS church and its policies regarding voting and elections. For those of you who would like to read my personal thoughts on Prop 8, or are interested in why I, and Mormons for Obama, always clearly state that we don't speak for the LDS church, you can read the rest of my original post here. If you are interested in a laugh, and understanding which policies were broken in the Gay Trees and Gadianton Robbers incident, you will also find that there as well. For another Mormon perspective posted yesterday, see Sarah Familia's great post on why she chose to vote for Obama.
Post by Joseph M -
President Obama finally did it: he ended Tuesday evening's debate by calling out Governor Romney (to his face!) over the 47% comment. Romney set himself up for it; he answered the last question by declaring that he cares about 100% of America. This proved a temptation too great to for even Obama to resist, and Obama responded by referencing the behind-closed-doors 47% comment.
But on one point, Romney is correct: the Obama campaign has painted a picture of Romney as out of touch with the poor and the middle-class. But Romney has also done a lot of this to himself; when he attempts to be candid, he invariable says too much, and this ultimately signals open season on the fields of (class?) warfare. Romney's wealth, elitism, and disconnect from ordinary Americans have become his most salient features, and therefore this image of privilege has supplanted the real man.
And it seems that conservatives are getting rather testy about all this negative talk of Governor Romney's wealth - and also of rich people in general. This also is the case with some members of the church as well, and I'm not sure when the shift began; it used to be that we were concerned about not speaking ill of the poor, but now the super-wealthy seem to be deserving of our charity and sympathetic glances.
Two examples: some months back, our Elder's Quorum lesson devolved into the semi-annual discussion of how should we respond to "pan-handlers" on the street; one comment from the group asserted that we should be cautious because homeless people are often hyped-up on meth and might kill you. And then the next Sunday, another good brother commented on how there's such hostility towards wealthy individuals these days, and that he was surprised by the poor opinions that many people have of the rich. (Yes, he used "poor" and "rich" in the same sentence as if to say, "those poor rich people.")
In an extreme case of political-correctness-hijacking, the wealthy are no longer referred to as "the rich," but now they are part of the protected class of "job creators," "entrepreneurs," and "innovators." I'm guessing that congress might even enact laws shielding them from hate crimes. This is necessary because all of them own small businesses and hire lots of people to do lots of things; money trickles down from these wealthy folks like water flowing towards a floor drain after a long shower at the gym.
In a recent column, David Brooks extolled the virtues of a wonderfully ambitious job creator, Elon Musk, one of the minds behind PayPal. He writes, "Government can influence growth, but it's people like Musk who create it...A few ridiculously ambitious people can change an economy more than any president." Romney reiterated this when he reverted to his high school cheerleading days and attempted to lead a chant towards the end of Tuesday's debate, "Government does not create jobs! Government does not create jobs!"
So if David Brooks is correct, we shouldn't be looking to tear down Romney and his financial success - even if he did eliminate jobs in order to make companies profitable and more efficient. The goal of a business is to make money; when a company makes money, its workers will benefit - the company can hire more workers. (Wait, is that what Romney meant when he said 'corporations are people?')
So this just begs the question: why all of this class warfare anyway? and when did this feeling of animosity towards the wealthy begin? and who decided that it was okay to criticize someone just because of their riches?
Well, let's start here:
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23-24)"
Or Matthew 6:24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days (James 5:1-3)."
The Book of Mormon is also rife with admonitions as well; I'll just give the first one I found:
"Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are set upon their treasures; wherefore , their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30)."
So I guess when people ask where all this rich-bashing came from, I'll just say, "well, it's Biblical."
Of course, being "rich" is relative; with the advent of the middle class, most people would not think of themselves as "rich," but might feel like they're somewhere in the middle. However, I wonder what wealth looked like during the time of Christ, a time when money changers were cast from the temple? And for the young man who received Jesus' condemnation, what made him rich? We are told that he had "great possessions," (but so do many of us, and we are clearly in the middle class.)
These questions are particularly hard for many of the super rich, who tend to view their "great possessions" with a sense of pride. Chrystia Freeland, the author of Plutocrat: the Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Downfall of Everyone Else, said on NPR on Monday that "in America we have equated personal business success with public virtue. And to a certain extent, your moral and civic virtue could be measured by the size of your bank account."
Freeland goes on to say that the "super rich" are angry because President Obama is pushing the idea that "what is good for the guys at the very top is not necessarily good for the people in the middle." They see this as an "existential threat," because people don't just want to be wealthy and successful, they want to be good. Therefore, any suggestion from progressive thinkers, Obama, or Jesus to the contrary is met with disappointment: "Wow, I'm not as full of virtue and goodness as I thought I was?"
Freeland notes that the numbers of plutocrats has increased, and the gap between them and everyone else is huge; ultimately, they can be expected to "rig the rules in their own favor," while convincing themselves that what is good for them is in the interest of everybody else, (i.e., cut entitlements and shrink the national debt, while reducing taxes for the wealthy.)
However, I am not interested in pointing fingers at Romney - or to imply that any church members with several fancy cars and a horse are not going to heaven until they learn to thread a needle. I guess I am more interested in understanding America's relationship with money. Capitalism has become our national pastime - and I am not sure what this says about us. But alas, that is also another post.
I think our prophet Brigham Young's fears for the Church and the Saints is of particular note:
"The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth."
What did President Young see of our future when he said this? The implications for America (or even for me and my own life) will make my head hurt if I think on it too long. Clearly this is a truth that is hard for all of us (including the rich) to take in. The pursuit of wealth is truly a moral conundrum; for what is so powerfully connected with self-worth in the American context is defined as a burden that drags one to hell in the scriptural sphere.
So I will end this for now. I have the new episode of The Walking Dead saved on my DVR, and I am really excited to watch it on my 48-inch flat-screen LED TV with my Bose speakers! (And my TV is a Samsung, because everyone knows that is the brand second to none when it comes to flat-screens!)
PART TWO: MEASURING THE MAN
My thoughts in my first post were basically introductory to talking about specific issues; for my own sake as much as anything else I wanted to think through why there are conservatives and liberals within the Mormon camp and how there is room for both (for both government and church, for both progressives and traditionalists). New converts will bring their own backgrounds and beliefs with them when they join the Church—and we’re only talking about American Mormons in all this anyway—but I think that understanding the long history of Mormonism’s relationship with American politics can help us situate our current Mormon moment as it relates to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. So I was excited Thursday morning to see that another friend, Dan Wotherspoon, had posted a discussion on this exact subject on his podcast Mormon Matters, with a lot of people who are a lot more informed than I. It’s definitely worth a listen. If any readers were underwhelmed with my thoughts they’ll certainly be much more satisfied by the four gentlemen on the podcast.
So that was where I started, and in the rest of my posts I’ll look at specific issues that face our country and how my faith informs my beliefs about them. But what I hope to do today is look at what kind of political leaders I think the Lord wants us to have—and in a democracy what kind we should strive to elect—regardless of their specific platforms or the form of government in question. I guess I’m asking whether we should have specific moral standards for our public officials—if that’s even relevant—and then, to liken these standards unto ourselves, how Governor Romney and President Obama measure up. It’s a mixed bag and therefore I think a profitable discussion to have at this point in the campaign.
So what do the scriptures say? It makes sense to begin with Doctrine and Covenants 134, a statement of belief regarding the Church’s position on government, usually ascribed to Oliver Cowdery and written in Joseph Smith’s absence during a conference in 1835. This was when Mormons were first beginning to be seen as un-American because they allegedly sought to govern themselves autonomously, akin to South Carolina in the Nullification Crisis of two years earlier. Section 134 thus seeks to define what the Church believes to be the proper role of government and of religious societies, and it only briefly touches on the desired character of government officials: verse three reads: “We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.” Hence, rulers and civil officers should be equitable and just, broad terms that encompass a trove of character traits: someone who is equitable and just must, perforce, be honest and forthright, which is one of my chief concerns with any elected official. Being equitable and just means regarding oneself as an equal to and a servant of the people: hence, not attempting to deceive the electorate or seek personal gain through position. It means seeking what is best for the country over a single political party, special interest group, or campaign donor. It means they will always put their country and their people ahead of themselves.
LDS readers may make the connection with Doctrine and Covenants 121, part of an epistle written by Joseph Smith three years later while languishing in prison, having been betrayed by some of his closest associates. He wrote that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion,” (v. 39) which, in civil as well as religious government, consists of undertaking to “cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” (v. 37). Power corrupts, and it is a difficult task to find anyone who chooses to seek after civil authority for the public good yet who can remain untouched by the perks and power that accompany that authority. That’s why the Nephites “did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man” (Mos. 29:40) and why King George III described his rival General Washington as “the greatest man in the world”: both men relinquished the power they could have seized.
I think I can summarize all this into two qualities: one, honesty; and two, humility—perhaps the hardest qualities to find in politicians of any political stripe. In my mind these qualities mirror those described by King Mosiah in characterizing a righteous sovereign: “If it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments . . . then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you” (Mos. 29:13). He holds up his father Benjamin as an example of this and says he himself has “labored with all the power and faculties” (v. 14) of his soul to reach the same standard. The scriptures give us numerous other examples of righteous rulers—Nephi, Alma, Helaman, Hezekiah, Lamoni, Josiah, Lachoneus, Emer, Melchizedek, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, Enoch—and even righteous bureaucrats and civil servants—Daniel, Nehemiah, Gideon, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Joseph in Egypt. The Book of Mormon’s oft-repeated promise about our continent—that if we keep the commandments we will prosper in the land—is personified in our executive leaders and their own humility; as Mosiah says, as the king goes so goes the nation (Mos. 29:16-23), and the national decline has visibly followed the moral decline of initially great leaders like David and Solomon, let alone the likes of King Noah, Jezebel, and Herod.
We want leaders who are righteous, but that’s hard to gauge. After all, when Samuel was looking for a king the Lord told him that only he could look on David’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7). But trying to look holistically into politicians’ hearts is a dodgy business, so on a very practical level I’m quite satisfied limiting my inquiry to candidates’ honesty and, when possible, perceived humility. The latter doesn’t change much from person to person—all candidates promote themselves with monumental bluster—but the former, honesty, does. James says that if a man misuses his tongue it defiles his whole body; though “a little member,” it can give us insight into a man’s entire soul (Jas. 3:5-8). I wouldn’t want to be judged exclusively on what leaves my mouth, but bearing in mind our limited time as voters and that we’re not judging someone for their eternal disposition but just for a few years in elected office we can look at what they say as a pretty accurate measure of the man.
I suppose I’m fairly stern about this. When I catch a politician issuing public lies then I lose all esteem for them. I really admired Anthony Weiner’s ability to destroy ignorant reporters and galvanize constituents around important issues, regardless of his strength as a legislator. But when he started producing feeble lies to cover his very public tracks, the respect went out the window; likewise there was no way I was going to vote to re-elect my representative Charles Rangel after his financial improprieties and factually flimsy self-defense. The national example par excellence is Watergate, with major instances going back through the Gulf of Tonkin all the way to the XYZ Affair, but my most personal experience came with Bill Clinton. In August 1998 I returned from my mission to discover the country embroiled by the President’s misdeeds, leading to his impeachment that December. I was surprised but not particularly moved by his sexual indiscretions; I thought it reprehensible on a personal level but largely irrelevant to his ability to govern. His perjury, however, was another matter. Though not naïve about the relative honesty of all politicians, I thought Clinton’s perjury so inexcusable that it turned me against Al Gore in 2000. I supported Gore’s positions in every way over George W. Bush, but in my post-mission zeal I thought he had handled the Lewinsky affair poorly: when the full breadth of Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice became known, the only honorable thing I thought Gore could do was to resign in protest—or at least condemn his boss in the strongest of terms. He did neither, and the result was that I voted for a Republican for one of the only times in my life. (Imagine how I later felt when that new President repeatedly lied about the infinitely weightier issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)
And that brings me back to Mitt Romney. I mentioned last week how frustrated and even a little angry I get regarding his platform, but the thing that really ticks me off is his perpetual dishonesty, dishonesty that makes President Clinton look like Abraham Lincoln. I’m trying to broach this some way besides just as a blatant personal attack, because it’s important to remember what a good person Romney is. Eric Samuelsen, one of the best writers in Mormonism, one of my mentors at BYU, and one of the most liberal Mormons I know, touched on this on his blog in July:
I actually like Mitt Romney. In fact, one thing I'm grateful for in this fall election is that we're genuinely choosing between two moral, decent guys; family men, good folks. This isn't by any means inevitable. It's not terribly hard to imagine this election being between Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, for example. Scary thought, that.
I know we're not supposed to like Romney, we liberals… [But I don’t] see his policies as suggesting some core of rottenness in his character. He's a Mormon patriarch writ large. I know fifty of them in my stake. Call him Friday night and tell him you having a moving van arriving Saturday morning, and he'll be there, bright and early, work gloves tucked into his belt, a smile on his face.
This is a hypothetical testimonial; here’s a real one, courtesy of Glenn Beck. (Sorry it won't embed here on Wordpress. Feel free to start around 3:50 and end by 5:15, and as a filmmaker I really have to apologize for all those endless sea-sickness-inducing tracking shots; perhaps someone could donate a tripod to the show.)
If that’s the kind of person Mitt Romney is on a personal level, why is his public persona so different? He is, for example, just incredibly negative. All candidates have to differentiate themselves from their opponents, but Romney spearheaded the most negative primary election in the history of presidential politics. Clear back in January analysts in Florida, where he poured $15.3 million in one month on ads that were 92% negative, were saying things like, “I have absolutely never seen television advertising so negative in a Republican presidential primary.”
And it’s kept going of course, with all the force of Citizens United behind it. Mudslinging is unbecoming any candidate, and it is, of course, not Christlike in any way. Here’s a verse (6) from Doctrine & Covenants 134 that I don’t think I’d ever noticed before but which applies specifically to how we citizens should regard our government officials, of either party: “We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations…” Romney is certainly not honoring the station of the President through this fog of negativity, nor is he paying respect and deference to the laws like the Affordable Care Act that seem to be in his crosshairs. To be sure, President Obama has been dipping in the muck as well, but claims that his campaign are as negative as his opponent’s are more spin than fact.
This is all bad enough, but unfortunately it gets worse. Romney seems on track to run the least honest campaign in history as well. There’s Paul Ryan, of course, who’s blatant dishonesty has even drawn criticism from Fox News along with CNN and the traditional suspects, and who can’t even discuss his marathon running without including two lies, about the number of races he’s run and his finishing time, last week trying to clean up the mess by admitting that he just made up the facts. No harm in that, right?
Romney is not Ryan, but he is responsible for him and they’re running to be in the same administration. And Romney doesn’t need Ryan's help to dabble in dishonesty. There are the truly famous moments, like taking credit for how President Obama saved the auto industry despite the New York Times op-ed he wrote in 2008 unequivocally condemning government involvement, arguing instead for a “managed bankruptcy.” But there are smaller Etch-a-Sketch moments weaving their way throughout his campaign, on everything from abortion to global warming.
The sheer number of lies is unbecoming any candidate, but I'm afraid that it’s downright disgraceful for a priesthood holder; like I said last week, I'm afraid it's rather difficult to not subconsciously hold him up to a higher standard. But I don't even need to do that. In June The Guardian wrote up a laundry list of falsehoods emanating from Romney’s own lips, blaming the President for touring the world to apologize for America (not true), saying the stimulus didn’t create private-sector jobs (it did, over three million of them), saying Obama's grown government (both government spending and the number of government employees are down), saying he’s raised taxes (they’ve gone down), saying Obamacare will consume 50% of the economy (not true), etc., etc. The connections to reality become increasingly tenuous, with New York magazine even publishing an article entitled “Romney Just Making Stuff Up Now.” And that was before the RNC.
How bad is it? On Friday Steve Benen at MSNBC published the thirty-fourth installment in his series totaling up Romney’s weekly mendacities. This week Romney told at least thirty-six verifiably indisputable lies. His incredible change of position on healthcare reform—that he wouldn’t get rid of all of it, an Etch-a-Sketch move toward the center to pick up moderate voters—came not just after several years of claiming that he would get rid of all of it, but just one day after claiming on the record that he would get rid of all of it. This week he claimed he balanced Massachusetts’ budget even though he left the state with a deficit. This week he said the federal deficit has doubled under Obama when it’s actually shrunk by $200 billion. And so on and so on, just this week.
The amazing thing is that Romney continues to hammer away at the same falsehoods, despite their obvious inaccuracy, over and over again. This is supposedly on the theory that if enough voters hear the same lies repeated on Fox News and conservative radio enough, the facts won’t matter: hence, his campaign will not be dictated by fact checkers. And it’s this point, quoted here from the Guardian article but raised by many commentators, that I as a Latter-day Saint observing another Latter-day Saint candidate, find the most unsettling:
This is perhaps the most interesting and disturbing element of Romney's tireless obfuscation: that even when corrected, it has little impact on the presumptive GOP nominee's behavior. This is happening at a time when fact-checking operations in major media outlets have increased significantly, yet that appears to have no effect on the Romney campaign.
What is the proper response when, even after it's pointed out that the candidate is not telling the truth, he keeps doing it? Romney actually has a telling rejoinder for this. When a reporter challenged his oft-stated assertion that President Obama had made the economy worse (factually, not correct), he denied ever saying it in the first place. It's a lie on top of a lie.
Do you remember that old Homefront Jr. spot, a Church-produced PSA from the 1980s that sang, “If you tell one lie it leads to another. Then you tell two lies to cover each other. Then you tell three lies—oh brother, you’re in trouble up to your ears.”
If I as a Latter-day Saint refused, on moral grounds, to vote for a candidate who served as the vice-president for a man who got caught telling one admittedly horrendous lie, how can I possibly justify voting for a man who himself told thirty-six equally horrendous lies just this week, many of them again and again and again? Reporters like George Stephanopoulos have given him ample opportunity to repent and come clean, but he refuses to do it. “Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent shall be cast out” (D&C 42:21), not elected to the highest office in the land.
I haven’t even talked about avoiding the very appearance of evil. By only releasing one set of tax returns Romney leaves the door open for us to assume the worst about the rest of them. As one outlet, I forget which, wrote a few weeks ago: “It’s a pattern of secrecy, and this [the Boston Globe’s revelation that Romney was still actively running Bain Capital two years after he claims to have left] is just the latest example of him trying to hide the truth from voters.”
And then there’s Libya. The gall Romney had on September 11th, to use the death of American diplomats abroad to score a political point, was affronting. The fact that he misrepresented the truth in a way that everyone understood when he made the statement that night was more jarring. That he and his campaign have doubled down on the lies throughout the rest of this week is truly affronting. Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast analyzed Romney’s statement with its inaccuracies and concluded:
[Romney’s] people are simply unfit for the responsibility of running the United States. The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.
Maybe, maybe not, but it’s certainly troubling. The photo of Romney leaving the dais with a smile on his face didn’t do him any favors. When Captain Moroni’s men were suffering abroad, the chief judge Pahoran wrote him saying, “I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. But behold, there are those who do joy in your afflictions . . . and it is those who have sought to take away the judgment-seat from me . . . for they have used great flattery, and they have led away the hearts of many people…” (Alma 60:2-4) Now, of course Romney doesn’t joy in the death of Chris Stevens and the other American diplomats, but he’s given us no way to know that or reason to suspect it.
Contrast this situation with 1980, when President Carter’s attempt to free the American hostages in Iran went horribly wrong. As reported then, candidate Ronald Reagan “urged Americans to ‘stand united’ and to pray . . . He also said it would not be appropriate for him to express his reaction to the action. ‘This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united.’ George Bush was also campaigning in Michigan, saying he completely supported Carter’s actions. ‘I unequivocally support the president, no ifs, ands or buts. This is the time to support him,’ Bush said. ‘This is not a time to go one up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision.’”
Hillary Clinton gave a moving and forceful response to the Libyan and Egyptian attacks, akin to these men in 1980. Romney, in contrast, gave a mean-spirited and fallacious attack on President Obama for events beyond his control, then hunkered down this week by saying the attacks would never have occurred were he President and his Republican allies in control of the State Department. Honest? No. Humble? No.
Such assertions sound like the “great flattery” described by Pahoran, or those used by Amalickiah (Alma 46:4-5), or by Akish (Ether 8) or Gadianton (Helaman 2). I do not and cannot believe that Mitt Romney is anything like these men. I believe the descriptions we’ve heard of his deep concern for people, his kindness, his charity in the best sense of the word. What I can’t yet do is square that private individual away with this public figure who we’ve seen so smoothly and consistently bend the truth for his personal ends. Of course he’s not evil, but he hasn’t sufficiently avoided the appearance thereof to gain my trust or my vote. And I really wish that the LDS candidate would have set the standard for excellence. I feel America is in better hands with the President who has consistently treated us like adults, expanded executive transparency, and who is already navigating us through these crises.
Next, given the events of this week, foreign policy.
We all know Mitt Romney is the Mormon in this year’s presidential race. Therefore, we ought to be safe in assuming that Book of Mormon teachings more closely align with his views than those of President Obama.
Alas, if we made that assumption, we’d be wrong.
Let’s examine what the book says and where the candidates stand.
When it comes to the Book of Mormon’s central message—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Redeemer of the world—Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, and Romney, who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agree.
On other key topics, however, they part ways.
For example, the book prominently features wars and other conflicts. The subject occupies around 170 of the book’s 531 pages. Prophets often admonish Book of Mormon peoples never to “go up” to war against their enemies. Instead, they must wait until their foes “come down” to their land. In other words, they may fight defensive wars but must never be aggressors. As LDS scholar Hugh Nibley wrote, righteous principles “rendered aggressive warfare impossible and preventive warfare utterly unthinkable.”
In the Iraq War, we saw the United States “go up” to attack a nation that hadn’t attacked us. Supporters of the war deemed it preventive or preemptive. Romney strongly supported the war, favored increased U.S. troop levels as it dragged on and criticized Obama’s decision to end it. Obama, on the other hand, opposed the war from the start. As president, he terminated U.S. troop involvement in December 2011.
The Book of Mormon also declares that righteous nations must treat prisoners of war humanely. In Alma 62:27-29, prisoners not only were freed, they were given land and were welcomed into the society. On another occasion, prisoners were allowed to depart promptly in peace after a bloody battle (Hel. 1:33). Centuries later, however, after both sides had rejected God, they abused and tortured their prisoners (Moroni 9:7-10).
In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war on terror, U.S. soldiers and our agents have engaged in a variety of abuses and torture of prisoners, including waterboarding. Among the most infamous sites of prisoner abuse has been Guantanamo.
Romney declines to renounce waterboarding, and his aides have said that he does not view it as torture. His support of “enhanced interrogation techniques” has drawn strong criticism from 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Romney also has said, “Some people say we should close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo.”
Shortly after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order halting harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He has sought to close Guantanamo but has faced stiff resistance from Congress.
In terms of military spending, Nibley assures us that when the Nephites were righteous, their “military preparations were defensive—minimal—with God acting as their radar and warning system.” Rather than “minimal” defense spending, Romney wants to restore American power and has pledged to boost the military budget by close to $2 trillion over the next 10 years, adding 100,000 soldiers. (U.S. military spending is by far the world’s largest.) Obama favors significant cuts to the military budget.
Clearly, it is Obama, not Romney, who heeds the counsel of Book of Mormon prophets on war. His actions prove that he regards Christ as the Prince of Peace rather than the Prince of Preemptive War.
Another yardstick measuring the uprightness of Book of Mormon peoples is how they treat the poor.
During the longest peaceful era in Book of Mormon history, the people established economic equality—“they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor” (4 Nephi 1:3). Earlier, a prophet rebuked those who neglected the poor and who allowed great disparities to develop between the haves and the have-nots (Alma 4:11-13). The practice of “oppressing” wage earners was condemned (3 Nephi 24:5).
The Book of Mormon stresses equity. In Mosiah 18:27 we read that those with high incomes should give “more abundantly” and that for those with little, “little should be required” and “to him that had not should be given.” King Benjamin reminds his people that he has only sought to serve them “and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you.” Prophets denounced taxation that enriched the wealthy and those in power while burdening everyone else (Mosiah 11:3-6; Ether 10:5,6).
Romney deserves credit for leadership at Bain Capital that rescued some companies that might otherwise have gone out of business. But his actions widened the gap between the haves and have-nots, with people like himself and others at the top reaping multiple millions in income while many at the bottom lost jobs and saw jobs shipped overseas where it is legal to oppress wage earners by paying them below minimum U.S. wages. Romney favored a minimum-wage hike early in 2012 but then reversed his position. His proposed boost in the military budget would come at the expense of social programs that aid the needy. President Obama has supported hikes in the minimum wage and is often called a socialist for supporting programs that help lower-income and unemployed Americans.
Although both candidates can be viewed as wealthy, Romney’s 2010 tax forms, the latest he has released, show income of $21.7 million, 13 times greater than Obama’s $1.7 million. But Romney paid federal taxes of only 13.9 percent while Obama’s federal tax rate was 26 percent. In order to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots and help cut the deficit, Obama favors allowing the tax cut for people making more than $250,000 annually to expire. Romney would extend the tax cut for the wealthy, making it easier for high-income Americans to continue paying lower overall rates than those of modest income.
Another prominent Book of Mormon message is to beware of pride while remembering “your own nothingness . . . and humble yourselves, even in the depths of humility” (Mosiah 4:11). Prophets rebuke those who feel they deserve their riches and who claim “every man prospered according to his genius” (Alma 30:17). Part of this pride among the Nephites also manifested itself in feelings of national superiority and boastfulness after military victories.
In his 2010 book “No Apology,” Romney lays out the case for American greatness. He vows to “never again apologize for America.” He has reminded critics of his income that America's capitalistic system allows some to accumulate great wealth (“I’ve been extraordinarily successful”) and that those who are less successful should avoid “the politics of envy.” President Obama has apologized for American mistakes that have offended other countries, such as the burning of a Koran at a U.S. military base. He has stated that no one achieves success alone but instead receives help every step of the way.
On immigration, the Book of Mormon offers a limited “open door” policy. If people are willing to be good citizens, the attitude is “y’all come.” For example, when believers among the Zoramites found themselves expelled from their country, they entered the land of Jershon. The people of Jershon, being righteous, did not say, “You don’t have proper papers, so self-deport yourselves back to where you came from.” Instead, Jershon “did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance” (Alma 35:9).
Mitt Romney coined the phrase “self-deport” in saying those who lack citizenship papers should leave the country. He has opposed the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children. He also supports making English the country’s official language and has said Arizona and other states should be allowed to enact their own immigration laws. Obama halted deportation of young undocumented immigrants in June 2012 and supports the DREAM Act. He also directed the Justice Department to pursue its successful challenge of Arizona’s “show me your papers” anti-immigration law.
With Mitt Romney’s positions so often contrary to the Book of Mormon, what shall we say to Mormons who support him? Perhaps a one-word answer is best. It’s a word that repeatedly pops up in the Book of Mormon: Repent!
I wish I could see an Excel sheet printout that enumerated all the going-ons during the many Sunday School lessons taught this past Sunday (of which Mosiah 29 was discussed.) I read a couple of comments on the Mormons for Obama Facebook group and heard a few things from some friends, and apparently this is a nearly impossible lesson to present without it getting political - although from a distance, it is somewhat difficult to see why. (But then again, from a distance, we all have enough and no one is in need either.) Mosiah 29 is about righteous government which is something we all can agree on, but invariably someone makes a comment that alienates or isolates another. Of course, we'd assume that since we are all Mormons we could find common ground, but alas...
I suppose that some of our conservative Mormon brothers and sisters think that Obama is leading the country down to hell (King Noah-style), and some of our liberal LDS friends think that Romney will serve a similar function. Thus, our Sunday School teachers must pull out the proverbial cattle prod and steer their students in the paths of political neutrality. (But really we should just stagger the study material by one year. Why is it that we have to study this chapter during the presidential election cycle?) Interestingly, while most Mormons tense up when political topics are broached at church, other Christians relish in it. (Jeremiah Wright?) I read an article once that quoted Larry King, (who sometimes attends church with his LDS wife,) saying that Mormon sacrament meetings were so far-removed from politics and current social issues that they were boring. Well, maybe he didn't say that exact quotation, but according to this report on the Cougarboard, he became so frustrated during one testimony meeting, he swore and threw his hands up in disapproval.
But ultimately, discussing politics is not the end goal of church attendance; our hope is to learn to be more like our Saviour. However, in our attempts to be better Mormons, we sometimes forget the importance of being a good Latter-day Saint. We have received several emails that express appreciation for the site - for the connection people feel in finding other Mormons who share their political beliefs. I've also read similar comments on the Mormons for Obama Facebook group, and I believe that this comes from a sense of being alone in the (ward) world. While we should feel a kinship with our fellow saints, sometimes the side comments, questions, and accusations can set us apart.
Here is a part of one email we receieved: "Before a general priesthood meeting our ward met for a party, and it was tough to hear (one of the leaders in the ward) complain about Obama 'always talking about feeding the poor - feeding the poor!' I just couldn't bring myself to point out the irony of the statement just before we heard Apostles of the Lord tell us that we are our brother's keeper."
Another email said this: "Most of the time I feel like I'm in hiding about my "true" self in my small (a little blue dot in a red state) town. I feel I can't really be myself without being ostracized for my political beliefs. They're just a few of us in this town, and we've vowed (behind the scenes) to stick together. But mostly in silence...I don't want to fight and bicker and lose friends, so I just keep my mouth shut."
Seriously. We shouldn't feel alone at church. And this type of thing is the exact opposite of Alma's invitation to the Nephites to be baptized in the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8-10). So I guess the point is something like this: conservative Mormons, don't forget that you have liberal Latter-day Saints in your midst! And liberal Latter-day Saints: let's show love for those Fox-News-watching, Rush-Limbaugh-listening, Ann-Coulter-book-reading, Glen-Beck-loving Mormons on our home and visiting teaching lists!
And of course this is true even amongst Obama supporters; we have some huge differences in our thoughts and interpretations. This was evident as we tried to address the issues of marriage equality; after reviewing our posts, one reader of the website felt alienated by the articles supporting Obama's position. So I am trying to remember: regardless of how far apart I might feel from the gun-toting, SUV-driving, Romney-voting Mormon sitting next to me in Elder's Quorum, he is my brother in the gospel, and we have more that knits us together than that which divides.
Romney has fought hard to keep the campaign about the issues (or issue in his case: the economy,) and he's fighting again; he quickly slammed attempts by a Super PAC to produce an anti-Obama ad that focused on racially charged comments made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright - see Yahoo News story.
Romney stated, "I want to make it very clear, I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the futures and about issues and about a vision for America."
Good for Romney, and good for all of us. The last thing we need is for the Mormon Republican nominee to call for open season on the shooting range of religious affiliation. Obama is also trying to stick to the issue(s) by making coordinated attacks against Romney's record as a "job creator" at Bain Capital. But regardless, social issues have been creeping around the edges of this campaign - like President Obama's admission of support for marriage equality last week (more on that in a later post,) or during the divisive campaign to choose a Republican nominee. However, even though Romney and Obama are attempting to steer the campaign away from these so-called social issues, enquiring minds still want to know that their Presidential candidate is just like them in every way possible (which is why we only have two viable political parties in the USA?) They want to know that their president supports/doesn't support abortion, is against/for marriage equality, loves/hates poor people, embodies righteousness/evil.
The two-party system has always had its drawbacks. How can you fit 350 million Americans under two umbrellas of political belief when their cultural, spiritual, and religious perspectives literally fill the whole world? (And also when half of them don't even vote?) This must be where the so-called "independents" come into play. Who are these people anyway? (I have yet to meet one... although I do have faith that they exist.)
But where does all of this leave us Mormons? With our belief in the reality of righteousness and sin, the existence of God and Satan, and polarity of good and evil, it might make sense to some Latter-day Saints that the Democratic and Republican parties would fit into the same dichotomous structure. And this leaves very little room in the middle for fence-sitting (or even for those of us that still insist on sitting on the back row of Elder's Quorum so we can play Draw Something on our smart phones.)
2 Nephi 2:15 explains that this dichotomy has existed since the beginning: After (the Lord) created our first parents...it must needs be that there is an opposition: even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. But while we believe that there is opposition in all things, at what point does this leave the realm of individual practice and personal decision and leap into the world of political affiliation as well?
This might be confusing for some LDS when it comes to choosing a political party or candidate, (i.e., Republicans are pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and advocate self-reliance, so they must be righteous. Democrats promote abortions, don't let children pray in school, and like to elect Muslims for president, so they must be Satan.) But forcing the two political parties into a good vs. evil scenario seems to presuppose that God Himself is at the helm of one of these (Republican?) political parties. It ignores the fact that when we vote, we are participating in an imperfect, earth-bound, and very American political system.
We received a comment on the website that basically asked the question, how could a Mormon support Democrats or Obama when their platform supports abortion? This question speaks to the simplistic reasoning that some people struggle with and that is encouraged by the two-party system. Robert Fantina wrote a well-nuanced response on MormonsforObama.org to explain that all is not so simple:
The Democratic platform does support abortion, but the Republicans do nothing to prevent abortions. They will not countenance sex education, and are now making it more difficult for women to obtain contraceptives. And they appear not to care at all about babies once they are born: they will do everything possible to deprive them of health care, Head Start programs, etc...When (George W.) Bush was president, he stopped funding for Marie Slopes International (I think that’s the name of the organization), because they provided family planning, although not abortion, services. MSI estimated that, due to this funding cut, approximately 200,000 women in their serving area who didn’t want to get pregnant, would, and of those, approximately 60,000 would have abortions. So how was he a pro-life president?
Thanks to Robert for the comment and also for the link to his article on Pacific Free Press: What Makes a Romney Win Scary? (Hint: It Ain't Religion)
In short, the issues in this 2012 election are much more complex and nuanced than the few minutes of time it will take to fill out a mail-in ballot would leave one to believe. However, I recognize that most people understand this. I have conversations with my Mormon friends and family who are Republican, Libertarian (you know who you are,) and Nader-ists, and the dialogue is almost always engaging, stimulating, and respectful. By their very nature, political parties are imperfect and fallible, and they don't easily lend themselves to black and white categorization... more like 50 shades of grey. So I would in turn ask the Mormons who question my faith and allegiance to the gospel because of my support for Obama: how can you so readily assume that because I'm an active and faithful Mormon that I would by necessity vote Republican?
So let's put this simplistic thinking to rest. Choosing Obama over Romney is not the same as choosing the great and spacious building over the tree of life. But don't get me wrong; I do believe that there are extremely compelling reasons to vote for Obama in 2012, and so I don't mean to trivialize the decision with the following analogy; but maybe it's more like choosing a spinach salad with feta, cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette over an iceberg lettuce concoction from Jack in the Box. The iceberg lettuce salad has a form of healthiness, but in the end it is empty, wilted, and undeniably overpriced.