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
Unlike politicians today, Theodore Roosevelt told the American people what he thought. Here are a few of my favorite Theodore Roosevelt quotes:Read more
12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can depend on left-leaning members to draw a growing demographic, which would otherwise be repulsed by organized religion, to learn about and even accept the Restored Gospel.Read more
One of the great, unsung projects is Health & Human Services' Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In addition to working on responsible fatherhood and anti-obesity initiatives, it hosts trainings to provide faith leaders with evidence-based resources on public health issues, including mental health.
On September 17th, they're hosting a one-hour webinar for faith leaders on suicide prevention. From the release:
"The HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force present this webinar for faith leaders who are often on the front line for people (and their families) dealing with spiritual, mental, or emotional distress or illness. Studies show that persons in need are more likely to go to a faith leader than a therapist, at least initially. Moreover, faith communities, through their traditions and teachings and also their commitment to care for one another, are resources for people (and their families) dealing with distress or illness. Local faith leaders are also often connected to wider community resources that can be of help. Therefore, faith leaders play an important role in addressing this preventable public health issue that affects the lives of millions of people each year. Over 38,000 suicides (2010) and one million suicide attempts (2009) create ripple effects among families, friends, co-workers, and communities.
"This webinar will provide information that faith leaders need to know in suicide prevention (e.g. warning signs, how to help). It will also offer ways faith leaders can help educate their communities about suicide and mental health issues and provide support for persons whose loved ones have completed or attempted suicide. In addition, it will help faith leaders understand and strengthen the resources they have in their own faith tradition that promote mental and spiritual health and/or can help in suicide prevention."
As we Latter-day Saints are all faith leaders of one sort or another, if you want to watch the training, sign up here, and please pass it along to anyone you think might be interested. These webinars tend to be excellent, evidence-based trainings, and sadly under-attended. So if you want to know more, sign up!
Friendship is a Gospel Principle
Gospel Truth: “If we truly want to be tools in the hands of our Heavenly Father in bringing to pass his eternal purposes, we need only to be a friend.”
Scripture: John 15: 13-14 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends.”
“The prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.’ That thought ought to inspire and motivate all of us because I feel that friendship is a fundamental need in our world. I think in all of us there is a profound longing for friendship, a deep yearning for the satisfaction and security that close and lasting relationships can give. Perhaps one reason the scriptures make little specific mention of the principle of friendship is because it should manifest quite naturally as we live the gospel. In fact, if the consummate Christian attribute of charity has a first cousin, it is friendship.
“There is a particular challenge we face as Latter-Day Saints in establishing and maintaining friendships. Because our commitment to marriage, family, and the Church is so strong, we often feel challenged by constraints of time and energy in reaching out in friendship to others beyond that core group (family).”
Source- “Friendship: A Gospel Principle” May 1999 Ensign, Elder Marlen K Jensen
- How is Christ an example of friendship?
- What does a good friendship look like?
- By being a good friend, how are we becoming more like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
- How does friendship bring to pass the eternal goals of our Heavenly Father?
Challenge: We all set aside specific time, like this one, to learn something new and enrich our family members. This week, set aside time to learn something new with a friend.
Family Home Evening: Jesus is my Example
John 8:12 “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Suggested Song: Teach Me to Walk in the Light (Hymn 304, CS p. 177)
What is an Example?
Play “Do as I do”. Each member of the family takes a turn as leader. The leader stands in front of the others and performs an action, like clapping, touching his nose, winking, or saying something. The rest of the group imitates his actions. Parents or the ones conducting the family home evening may want to be leader after the others have had a turn so they can introduce a few examples of reverent behavior for others to follow.
Discuss the idea of using Jesus as our example.
- Mark 10: 13-16 He loved the little children
- Mark 6: 53-56, 7:31-35 He helped the sick and those in need
- John 4: 6-10 He was kind
- John 8: 32 He taught the importance of truth
For the teenagers and adults:
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,”
Roger sat at the dinner table, tired but happy. He had spent his entire Saturday at the university library studying for exams. His roommates had all gone out on dates or to the football game, but Roger stayed in, determined to keep his high grade point average. He had finally finished all his studies, and was beginning to prepare his Gospel Doctrine lesson about following the example of Christ for the next morning.
When the doorbell rang, Roger reacted with a frown. “Who would be coming here on a Saturday night?”
When he opened the door he found an unshaven, scraggly dressed man about forty years old. The man’s breath smelled of tobacco and liquor. “I just drove into town,” the man said, “and my car stopped right here in the middle of your street.” The man explained how he hadn't eaten all day and that his friend had a son attending the university whom he wanted to find. “Could you spare me a bite to eat, and then help me find out what’s wrong with my car? You could probably help me find my friend’s son too, couldn't you?”
Roger tried to think of an excuse. There were several other houses on the street in which families, not students, lived. They probably had more food. They probably didn't have to worry about teaching a Sunday School lessons and weren't as tired as he was tonight. Besides, this guy might even ask to stay the night. What would his roommates think if they came home to this man in their apartment?
On the other hand…Roger did know something about cars…
- What would you do if you were Roger?
- What would the Lord have you do? Why?
- Read Matthew 25: 31-46 and discuss.
Challenge: Find ways to care for others in the next week. Write them down and discuss them. What can we do to help those we don’t see every day? What good can we do to help those we may never meet?
LDS Dems Family Home Evening Program
LDS Dems and the Democratic Party have created a program to enrich the spiritual and political lives of members, encourage deep conversation, and invite others to participate in civic and Democratic activities. This program is based on the family home evening planning guides provided by the Church, and does not attempt to deviate, translate, or infer party politics on gospel truths. The LDS Dems FHE program is a tool for us to open up our homes to our communities, provide answers, understanding, and opportunity to participate in the great democratic process in Utah and our country.
These guides will be monthly. Invite friends, family members and neighbors to come over for a relaxing, informative, and uplifting gospel lesson. Feel free to use these guides and adapt them as you see fit.
Family Home Evening: Citizenship
12th Article of Faith: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Scriptures: Doctrine and Covenants 134; Mosiah 2:17
Being a good citizen means more than just obeying the laws of the land. It also means being actively involved in making our community the best possible place for all to live. As we become good citizens of our community, we are doing the will of Heavenly Father in that regard.
What are ways that we can become active in our community?
Have family members find examples of good citizens in the newspaper or magazines or think of someone in your city, at work, or in school who would qualify as a good citizen. Have them explain why the person they chose is a good citizen.
Challenge: List ways for each person in your family to become more active in the next month. Complete one of those suggestions as an individual or as a family.
I just finished reading Stake President Matthew DeVisser's Talk [PDF] in a recent Stake Conference in Utah. I'm glad he said what he did. First of all, he's a good man just trying to do his best as he fulfills an incredibly difficult calling. I admire anyone who's willing to take on an entire Stake's-worth of responsibility in addition to work and family. Kudos to him for that. And I'd imagine he's feeling rather sheepish now that this speech has caused such a stir.Read more
The issue of immigration reform is in the news right now, with national leaders of both parties coming together to decide how best to help our brothers and sisters. As we think through these issues, it is important to consider what the LDS Church believes and has said when it comes to immigration. We've collected a few quotes below. For a very detailed history and analysis of this issue, we recommend this policy brief written by a Mormon for the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy recently spoke out on the issue of immigration:
Immigration questions are questions dealing with God's children. I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah's immigration policy to measure twice before they cut.
Elder Jensen later added that "LDS leaders had recently issued a 'very sincere plea' to lawmakers to consider the issue with humanity and compassion."
It was a bit out of the ordinary for the Church to so forcefully throw its support behind a piece of legislation, as the New York Times noted:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its reluctance to be seen as meddling in politics. But on immigration, the church actively lobbied legislators, sent Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to attend the bill signing and issued a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work.
The Church's official statement on the matter first explains that it discourages individuals from entering a country illegally, but then pivots to the core of the issue at stake (here's a PDF of the statement in Spanish):
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The statement then gets down to policy, sketching a broad outline for immigration reform it could get behind:
The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.
A wide variety of moderate and left-of-center immigration policies fall under this framework, including the Senate's recent immigration proposal and the President's plan, which he will released today at a policy speech in Las Vegas. The editor of the church-affiliated Deseret News urged members to consider our own history when debating the issue of immigration reform:
“Latter-day Saints, because of their history of persecution and forcefully being dispossessed of their livelihoods and properties, do have compassion and understanding” for immigrants.
As their name indicates, this is the elephant in the room for social conservatives. There’s a very large voting bloc that goes well beyond Mormonism for whom social issues, particularly perhaps abortion and now gay marriage, often take precedence over anything else. Described as “conservative family values,” these are often linked to family and framed within moral rhetoric—more than, say, economic or foreign policy issues—and tend, I think, to be the most discussed political topics in religious settings. They are therefore what often comes up when conservative Mormons discover that one of their friends is a liberal or a Democrat: “How can you support a party that supports abortion?” “How can you vote for Obama now that he’s come out in favor of gay marriage?” Etc.
It might not be possible to answer such questions satisfactorily, but I have two thoughts that move in that direction. First, taking a broad view helps. That, for instance, is why I’ve spent so much time in this series trying to establish that neither party is the party of God, neither has any more or less divine approbation than the other. As a peculiar people with our own set of beliefs we are going to agree with the Republicans sometimes, with the Democrats sometimes, and with neither party perhaps most of all. A nuanced view of an issue rarely falls inside a party platform. Second, we need a degree of pragmatism in the real world: I do not have to agree with a candidate on every issue in order to believe he or she will be the best candidate for that office; I actually doubt that I’ve ever found a candidate with whom I agree on everything—how could that even be possible? Thus it really comes down to prioritization, a little personal quid pro quo, although that doesn’t imply a surrender to cognitive dissonance or abandonment of our moral values: it just means that in our search for the greatest moral good in the real world of politics we all have to take what we can get, and some matters truly are weightier than others. Conservatives as well as liberals have to make these types of decisions.
Both of these thoughts get tied up in the question of what we’re really talking about with the rubric of “social issues.” I tend to take the broad view that they are any and all policy issues which deal with society. The gospel of the Latter-day Saints, of course, has a lot to say about building a proper society, more than any other Christian denomination I know of. Ultimately salvation is an interpersonal activity, structured vertically through generations of ancestors and descendents and horizontally through couples, families, and the community of Zion and its stakes. Joseph Smith was a highly social individual, and that concern has filtered down to us through his original teachings like that the “same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there [in heaven], only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2) and beyond that to a very intricate Mormon social structure. I’m writing this in my ward meetinghouse as six or seven families have gathered to let our children play in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We were here doing the same thing yesterday (Monday) as the storm grew close; we trick-or-treated here on Saturday; I’ll be back tomorrow morning for playgroup for my three-year-old, Thursday night for a community orchestra rehearsal, Friday night for Activity Days, and Sunday, finally, for church, not to return until the next Wednesday for another playgroup—the longest hiatus of our week. And activities at the meetinghouse, as any Church member knows, is just the beginning.
So Mormons are social people, especially among our own, and the doctrines and practices about family and society run deep in our theology. And it’s issues that touch on these doctrines and practices that the Church leadership has reserved the right to comment on in the political sphere. In its statement of political neutrality, the Church newsroom says that the Church “reserve[s] the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.” This could yield a rather broad purview—moral issues could be construed to include war, poverty, and education, for instance—but Church leadership tends to limit its activities to issues that directly affect the structure of families: issues of marriage and sexuality.
In an earlier post I linked to a Mormon Matters podcast on the Church’s political history that discusses in depth how this happened, and that entire conversation is definitely worth hearing. Philip Barlow also implied the limitation during an interview for a New Hampshire Public Radio article:
“‘Joseph Smith taught that salvation, or exaltation, is a relational thing. And the relations that we’re talking about are most intimately marriage, and then nuclear family, and then the extended family, and then the wider community.’ So, Barlow says, when the 1960s saw the rise of casual sex and drug use, and the 1970s brought the Roe vs. Wade decision, many Mormons saw traditional family structures as being under threat . . . The Mormon theology of salvation and the family also explains how Church leaders openly pushed for Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage. To non-Mormons, that appears to be a clear-cut political issue. ‘That’s different in the thinking of Church leaders,’ from endorsing a candidate, Barlow says, versus ‘when there’s a moral point at stake with some law or another. That’s how they officially construed Proposition 8. Mormon thinking construes damage to the family as a fundamental threat in society, and a fundamental threat for the well-being of human beings,’ Barlow says.”
Many people would assert there’s “a moral point at stake” with laws that seek equal pay for women or a higher minimum wage or more stringent inspections of food processing facilities, but it seems that the Church has determined those issues to not immediately influence family stability and therefore to not become involved with them. What’s unclear, as discussed in Mormon Matters, is whether that direction is coming from Church officials like the First Presidency and apostles, grassroots self-reinforcement through cultural norms among the general membership, or some sort of combination of both. But with rhetoric both over the pulpit and the dinner table focusing more on issues like gay marriage than, say, poverty, the former for better or worse tends to get the lion’s share of attention when Church members go to the ballot box.
I wanted to bring all of this into the conversation because I think it illustrates how for better or worse a few social issues have taken precedence in the thought of most Church members, even though there’s no fiat saying that these are or even should be the only social issues about which members should be concerned. My earlier point that we all have to prioritize which issues we most fervently support is validated by this conversation: for many members of the Church the social issues on which they’ve chosen to focus are abortion, heterosexual marriage, and other issues that revolve around sexual morality, like regulations on pornography or prostitution or even the display of sexually explicit media and entertainment. Because of this they support “socially conservative” politicians who share their beliefs on these core issues. Now, these issues certainly remain important for other Church members, but they may choose to emphasize them less than alleviating poverty or providing affordable medical care to all members of our society, so they will support politicians who support their views on those core issues regardless of what they think about the others. And that’s the way it should work, because who could ever find a politician that matched his opinions on every conceivable issue?
I don’t have much to say personally about gay marriage, for instance. I believe the Proclamation on the Family that says “marriage between a man and woman is essential to [God’s] eternal plan” and I agree with President Monson and other general authorities who have counseled us to oppose same-sex marriage. I believe I would oppose it regardless of any explicit statements from Church leaders just because of what I believe about the purpose of marriage in the plan of salvation, the importance for children of two-parent families with a father and a mother, and the complex moral position of homosexuality. I have similar opinions about premarital sex, marital infidelity, divorce, and abuse.
(That’s not to say, by the way, that I believe there should be no conversation about homosexuality within the Church. I’ve been quite pleased, for instance, by last April’s “It Gets Better” video by and for gay BYU students, and I’ve been excited to watch the progress of the Far Between movement and documentary that promotes understanding between gay and straight members of the Church.)
But I don’t see myself as “favoring traditional marriage” or “against gay rights,” the labels that would normally be attached to the position I just outlined. Those are labels that are insufficient, myopic. If I had to label myself I would say I’m “pro-family.” What that means is I cannot stop at just saying, “I think laws that would allow same-sex marriages should not be passed.” It’s much bigger than that, coming from the Proclamation’s last sentence: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” This is a call to actively promote measures that not only maintain traditional family structures like heterosexual monogamy, but that seek to strengthen families in myriad other ways. We must implement programs that help marriages stay together. We must do what we can to help children belong to a married “father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” We must fight poverty, disease, crime, ignorance, and any other societal ills that contribute to the breaking down of extended and nuclear families. Simply protecting traditional marriage is only the tip of the iceberg.
So I choose to evaluate my pro-family position against a large network of issues and programs, weighing some points more heavily than others. If I’m presented with a candidate—or an entire party platform—that supports legalizing same-sex marriage but also supports strong measures for reducing poverty, then I’m prone to support that candidate or party because I believe that poverty is a greater danger to marriage and childrearing than gay marriage. I regret that promoting gay marriage remains part of that candidate’s or party’s agenda (realizing, of course, that many Church members support gay marriage), but I believe that the overall result will be beneficial for families and society, a stance I don’t see as being cognitively dissonant or dishonest in any way because it achieves the greater moral good. Of course, if I were able to find a candidate who supports both heterosexual marriage and complete socialization of the health care industry, for example, then that candidate would have my unreserved support. Barring such an unlikely possibility (because it straddles the extremes of our country’s two parties), I will take what I can get, emphasizing the candidate who I think can do the most good.
In my last two points on foreign affairs and economic policy I’ve emphasized that I think one of the most fundamental purposes of government is to eradicate poverty and inequality wherever it may exist; this is in accordance with my self-identification as “pro-family,” though I could add the labels “pro-community” and “pro-life” to myself as well. This last term, in fact, which is normally associated only with opponents of abortion, was brilliantly reified and explained by Thomas Friedman in his Times editorial last weekend. Forgive my quoting him rather extensively:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”
“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.
Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected — not only at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life. That’s why, for me, the most “pro-life” politician in America is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he has also used his position to promote a whole set of policies that enhance everyone’s quality of life — from his ban on smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer, to his ban on the sale in New York City of giant sugary drinks to combat obesity and diabetes, to his requirement for posting calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, to his push to reinstate the expired federal ban on assault weapons and other forms of common-sense gun control, to his support for early childhood education, to his support for mitigating disruptive climate change.
Now that is what I call “pro-life.”
I’m a New Yorker and haven’t been thrilled with everything Mayor Bloomberg’s done, particularly with education policy and his unprecedented pursuit of a third term, but this description is incredibly apt—it groups together many of Bloomberg’s achievements that otherwise look haphazard and dictatorial (and which run into the same counter arguments I discussed last time: a few weeks ago I saw a PepsiCo delivery truck emblazoned with the slogan, “Don’t let government bureaucrats take away your right to choose your beverage”). If we see all of Mayor Bloomberg’s policies as pro-life, a pattern emerges that goes deeper and embraces more areas than we normally ever even think about with this terminology, and we can even include the city’s new bike lanes and the closure of Broadway to vehicles around Times Square. The mayor’s only position I would differ from is the first one about a woman’s right to choose, because I believe that abortion should only be considered when the life of the baby or the mother is at stake or when pregnancy is a result of rape, abuse, or incest. Though I arrived and that independently it is, by the way, also the Church’s position, a middle road between being either pro-choice or pro-life that therefore brings us grief from both sides: hence the perennial pro-life protesters with graphic placards outside every general conference. My point here is that it is possible to really be “pro-life” by supporting the life of the unborn baby, the life of the mother—including her quality of life when the pregnancy results from trauma—and the life of the child and family after birth. (And that policy is in harmony with Church leaders’ teachings that we don’t really know at what point a premortal spirit enters its physical body, as in page 354 of Man: His Origin and Destiny in which the First Presidency says, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” See also Journal of Discourses 17:143, Doctrines of Salvation 2:280-281, and even Mormon Doctrine 768.)
I also believe that people who are pro-life and really want to minimize the number of abortions in this country will give women all the tools they can to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Teaching the law of chastity obviously comes at the top of that list, but it’s obviously unrealistic to expect all American women (and men) to quickly adopt that standard. Therefore, making contraception available becomes the next biggest factor, and a study published October 4 in Obstetrics & Gynecology (and discussed here) showed that having free access to birth control, as provided under the Affordable Care Act, reduces abortion rates from 20 per 1,000 sexually active women to 4.4-7.5 per 1,000 women. The birth rate among teen girls was almost six times lower than the national average, and 75% of all women chose to receive IUDs or implants, the most effective—but, previous to the health care reform law, expensive—forms of reversible contraception. What this means is that the Affordable Care Act has the potential to significantly lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortions throughout the country, which is a very positive thing for anyone who wants to reduce abortion rates. The same is true of Planned Parenthood.
My positions on issues like gun control and immigration are similar to this. I’m pro-life and believe the Lord doesn’t want us to kill anything unnecessarily, and since guns are used essentially exclusively for the taking of life—whether animal or human—my religious and moral position makes me essentially oppose the ownership of guns for any reason. I understand the original motivation for the Second Amendment, but today it’s out of date and out of sync with scriptures like Genesis 9:10-13 JST (which includes a commandment against killing animals unless faced with starvation) and Mormon 7:4. We don’t need to jettison the entire Second Amendment, but as society becomes increasingly urban some serious reform will help make us safer and more in-line with basic Judeo-Christian-Muslim law about the sanctity of life—and acknowledge the fact that many, many, many guns are used for crime rather than hunting or self-defense.
I mentioned immigration when discussing foreign policy, specifically how most of it, at least from Latin America, is a result of failed, oppressive, or exploitative U.S. policies south of the Rio Grande. My opinions about this really solidified on my Spanish-speaking mission in Atlanta where I dealt with undocumented immigrants every day, including nearly all the Latter-day Saints I met. My most profound religious belief affecting this topic is that we are all children of the same God, regardless of race, language, religion, or nationality (2 Ne. 26:33; 29:7). If we all share our divine origin and potential to become like God then any law or policy that institutionalizes discrimination is ill-founded at best, and any language that considers another person, not an activity, as “illegal” is simply unconscionable. Second to this is my belief that all of the Americas—not just the United States—are the free and promised land spoken of time and again in the Book of Mormon. This does not diminish the importance of the U.S. Constitution as an inspired document or the role the U.S. has played and will play in the Restoration and world’s affairs. But there’s no limitation on the Lord’s blessings and the combination of the Nephites’ repetition of these promises and application to themselves long before 1776, the inclusionary language of verses like Doctrine & Covenants 10:49-51 (which emphasizes the plurality of the nations included in the Lord’s promise), the history of Latin America in achieving independence from European monarchy (2 Ne. 10:11), and my own experiences in seeing how the Lord has blessed and inspired some undocumented immigrants in remaining in the United States has shown me that the hand of God stretches from the Yukon to Patagonia, and that his desire is to bless everyone who lives upon these shores.
Combining all that with my stance of being pro-life means I think we should do everything we can to improve the lives of everyone, regardless of birthplace, who has struggled and sacrificed to live among us and build up our society. Combining it with being pro-family means I believe that nuclear families should be kept physically together as much as possible and laws should not threaten their peace of mind or lifestyle (compare Arizona’s strict immigration law, written by a fellow-Church member, with the anti-polygamy legislation of the 1800s). Being pro-community means I recognize the positive economic effect and long-term stability that immigrants bring to the American economy and that we should actually encourage more immigration, not less. I also believe that the United States has some atoning to do for its negligent behavior in Latin America (check out the book and film of Harvest of Empire for more about that) and that, as part of that, anyone who wants to come here should have an opportunity to do so; once here they should be protected the way the Nephites protected the Ammonite immigrants in the land of Jershon. Any laws that encourage the persecution or even marginalization of a portion of the population are economically ill-conceived and morally dubious; they damage families, basically, and I am trying to find ways the government can protect and nurture families.
Governor Romney’s positions on immigration, from advocating “self-deportation” to supporting spreading the Arizona law to other states, regardless of its dubious constitutionality, will terrorize immigrant families, who have come here at great sacrifice to provide a better life for their children than was available in their homelands, and who already work incredibly hard to contribute to our economy and society. Except for a few Native Americans, we are all descendents of immigrants, so it should be easy to put ourselves in the shoes of today’s immigrants and ask what could have motivated them to tear up everything and come here and what, now here, can most help them in building up their families and our shared society. We should follow the Proclamation in seeking that the government “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family,” regardless of origin. I agree with Harry Reid’s assessment of the Arizona law: “Laws that legalize discrimination are not compatible with our nation’s ideals and traditions of equal rights, and the idea that such an unconstitutional law should serve as a ‘model’ for national reform is far outside the American mainstream.” And I’m pleased with President Obama’s progress in making the U.S. more hospitable to Hispanic immigrants, though there's much more left to do.
The scriptures are replete with stories of immigrants—some welcomed in their new lands, some not—who journeyed to obey the promptings of the Lord and find a better life for their families—including Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus who fled into Egypt the same way many parents from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and elsewhere have fled here. We should treat these families with the same deference we would want ourselves or our Lord to be treated, for “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
I’d like to close this post by looking at what I consider to be the biggest social issue and moral dilemma facing our country today, which is the accessibility and affordability of health care; improving it is the reason I voted for Mr. Obama in the primary and general election in 2008 and the main reason I will vote against Mr. Romney, who has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, next week. If in the midst of all the material blessings we have received as a country we are unable to care for our sick, then I fear, a bit like the prophets of old, that the Spirit of the Lord will no longer preserve us and we’ll be left to our own devices (as in Hel. 4:24).
I don’t think I need to spend any time proving that the Lord has commanded us to care for the sick. No LDS reader is going to seriously suggest that the Lord wants the sick to care for themselves. The question, then, is whether the government or an unregulated private industry can best accomplish that. Proponents of the latter say that competition between health care providers fosters innovation that drives medical techniques and keeps down costs. They say that being able to choose between doctors, or no doctor at all, is a right and any attempt to limit that choice or require them to purchase health insurance is a violation of their agency. The federal government should not have the authority to involve itself that deeply into their personal affairs, they say, and no one can constitutionally be required to purchase anything.
The legal arguments against these positions have been presented plentifully by the Justice Department and others, and they rest upon the concept of a community contract that I presented last time which limits choice in order to improve the general good: when one person gets sick, the entire community has to pay for it, so it is therefore within Congress’s power to require the purchase of a product to mitigate that. (I disagree with Justice Roberts’ evaluation of the law as a tax and hope that can leave the door open for further movement toward a truly nationalized system.) But I’d like to take the same step back I’ve been trying to take throughout this post and just look at the Affordable Care Act through the lens of being pro-family or pro-life. If we are in favor of saving lives and families then we will favor any measure that will protect and nurture them, whether we see it as curtailing a little bit of our freedom or not.
So will the Affordable Care Act protect families? I’ve already talked about how it’s improved prenatal care and diminished abortions. It already is making health care available to more Americans than ever before. In September we saw that the number of uninsured Americans dropped—by 1.3 million—for the first time in three years (due to both young people remaining on their parents’ insurance and more people enrolling in Medicaid and Medicare). That’s a great improvement over those excluded under the system of private insurance, but it still leaves around 48-49 million Americans without recourse to standard medical care (and remember how proud we Mormons often are to have achieved a mere 12 million Church members).
On October 10 Mitt Romney claimed that the existing private system of emergency room care was sufficient for the uninsured (something he’s said before), and that through that system nobody ever dies because they’re uninsured. “We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack. No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.’” He apparently received some pushback on that comment because the next day he doubled down, saying that “people will always receive the treatment they need, and do not die or suffer because they cannot pay for care.” I myself, having spent many years uninsured, even while working, can disavow this last claim that the uninsured don’t suffer; both my wife and I have dealt with chronic but not life-threatening issues for which we haven’t been able to access treatment, and the financial and mental suffering is another matter altogether. But more distressing than these quality of life issues is the estimate that roughly 26,000 Americans do actually die each year from conditions that could have been treated had they been insured. It does not matter how advanced a country’s medical care is if 15% of its population cannot access it; that’s why in the WHO’s 2000 rankings of countries’ medical systems the United States ranked 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia. Critics have said that the rankings were biased toward countries with socialized systems, but I believe that’s exactly the point because it reflects the fact that inaccessible care is worse than bureaucratically inefficient care or technologically out-of-date care. If we are truly our brothers’ keepers and want to promote life, health, and happiness for all the citizens of our country, then we will devise a system where everyone can actually access health care, and not just for heart attacks. I don’t care how advanced the treatments are for the 85% if 15% have no way to receive it. I’d rather be a bit less scientifically advanced but a bit more inclusive, and that, to me, is an infinitely better system.
I really appreciated this essay, nearly a year old now, in which the author describes how she was opposed to the Affordable Care Act but then was diagnosed with cancer and had her life saved because of the law’s pre-existing conditions provision. Without that she couldn’t have received medical insurance, and good luck trying to treat cancer by walking into an emergency room every other week.
But also note the financial information in her story. That brings me to my second and final point about government aid in health care: that healthcare is unreasonably expensive and dealing with it is a major burden on families and individuals. So yes, the Affordable Care Act represents a redistribution of wealth, whether you want to call it a tax or a regulation of interstate commerce. I won’t get into all of its funding systems here—that’s the subject for another blog—but it does in a way require funds from the well-to-do to pay for those who cannot pay for themselves. That sounds a lot like a nationalized system—which in fact I believe that would be a much more efficient and just way to go, just like essentially every other developed nation has decided—but it also sounds like one big insurance pool (but one where no one’s excluded for being sick). However you look at it, it is set to relieve a great deal of financial strain throughout middle- and lower class America.
As Latter-day Saints we want to protect the family. We focus on social issues that do this and foster families’ growth. “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” We’re willing to fight, at great cost, to stop legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, but we tend to forget the very damaging things to the families that already exist. Consider that financial problems are the leading cause of disagreements and divorce in marriage. Even back in 1975, Marvin J. Ashton, in his classic piece of familial financial advice “One for the Money,” said, “the American Bar Association recently indicated that 89 percent of all divorces could be traced to quarrels and accusations over money. Others have estimated that 75 percent of all divorces result from clashes over finances. Some professional counselors indicated that four out of five families are strapped with serious money problems.” Now consider that the leading cause of personal bankruptcies—studies indicate between 42% and 62% of them, in fact—are caused by medical bills. 78% of those who filed had insurance, by the way, meaning it did not save them from being buried under their medical bills. So it stands to reason that one of the most important things we can do is to eliminate or at minimum mitigate medical bills as a negative factor in family finances. These numbers are the result of decades of the free market determining costs and private insurance companies’ practices. By allowing the Affordable Care Act to reach full effect in 2014 we will protect tens of thousands of families from these dangers.
This has been true in my own family. We’ve spent about half of our thirteen-year marriage uninsured; it’s effected our medical care, of course, but also our career choices as we’ve repeatedly been forced to seek full-time employment that provides medical benefits but didn’t advance our professional goals or long-term ability to increase our earning power. We’ve twice paid nearly all our life savings for medical bills, and we’ve thrice been denied Medicaid because our assets were too high. Obviously all of this has been incredibly stressful, even when fully insured and considering career changes. In fact, the only time we’ve had true peace of mind was the two years we lived in England and used the National Health Service to give birth to our first daughter and treat other conditions. When our second daughter developed a retropharyngeal abscess when she was a few months old, it was only the fact that we were on Medicaid that saved us financially; even if we had private insurance all the payments would have easily sunk us, let alone what would have happened had we been uninsured.
So, I’ve tried to give some examples of government programs and policies that can strengthen families and protect them from the vicissitudes of the world or even the active buffeting of Satan. I truly believe that we need to look at the big pictures of social issues: what will most help families, like the Proclamation says, and where can we have the most influence (focusing on an issue like abortion that has little chance of changing could prove an ineffective use of energy). I don’t support everything that President Obama has done, but I do believe he is involving the government in the right way to mitigate the exigencies of the free market to protect families and individuals. Governor Romney has proposed measures that protect certain aspects of society, but at a greater holistic cost than benefit. And for that I support President Obama’s re-election.
Next I’ll look at how we need to protect the most vulnerable thing of all: the earth.