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.
Post by Hannah Wheelwright -
Today is September 1st. There are 66 days left until the United States of America elects its 45th president.
This past week, I have had more conversations than ever about the prevalence of religion in this historic election. We see pitted against each other, more dramatically than ever before, the two dominant political parties; for the first time ever, the Republican platform does not allow for exceptions of rape or incest in regards to abortion (differing slightly from the stance of the LDS Church), and it takes a hard line anti-same sex marriage stance, whereas the Democratic platform is poised to remain pro-choice and to add an explicit statement of support for same-sex marriage. These hot-button social issues of our day will be battled out on the national stage, leaving many voters to feel conflicted and uncomfortable. To what extent can you support a party which boasts support or opposition to causes for which you hold the opposite view? In such a volatile time, how should these disagreements affect our relationships with our loved ones who differ from us? Will this election determine more than just which economic and foreign policies the next president will advocate- will it also go down in history as the election where America set herself on a definitive social policy course?
I find myself somewhat conflicted, not because I am unsure of which social course I personally want America to be on, but because I find that using my religion to gain a voice for my political views is the same method I oftentimes criticize Governor Romney for using. Being in the minority in my religious community has both caused me to question many things and to discover many connections I would never have enjoyed had I not been so vocal about my support for President Obama.
I see beauty in members reaching out to one another in spite of our divisions and offering comfort and support to those who identify with both or neither political parties as we all try to do what is best for our nation. I believe that there is no right or wrong with politics- only differences in priorities. I respect the opinions of those who disagree with me, and I do not intend to put them down for their beliefs.
But I will continue to identify myself publicly as a Mormon for Obama. His policies, his character, and his vision for America resonate with me in a way that Mitt Romney’s reticent, robotic nature and shifting policy views never have. I will not be defined by the majority, and neither will I stand by while press outlets and media organizations inaccurately portray my faith. My support for Barack Obama does not affect my temple recommend status, and I will continue to support him in every way I can until the last ballot is cast on November 6th.
Kyle Blaine's abcnews.go.com piece entitled, Mormons for Obama Say Romney Doesn’t Represent Them, gets at least one thing right: we do say that Romney doesn't represent us. Laura put it best when she said, "just like Mitt Romney is not your average American, he’s not your average Mormon, he doesn’t represent every Mormon in America.” In putting this website together, we wanted to demonstrate the diversity of the people, ideas, and opinions within the church, especially in regard to the upcoming election. Our intention is not to get people upset (although you might wonder after seeing the comments posted after our last guest article by Steve Warren.)
However, Kyle missed this when writing his piece; in fact, he may have been looking for something a bit more controversial than what is really embodied in this website. Kyle wrote, "while there may be no written rule within the church demanding political purity within the Mormon community, there is one big issue where the Mormons for Obama split from their church. On the issue of gay marriage, they side with the President, who affirmed his support for its being legal in May of this year."
This website has no official position on gay marriage or Obama's support of it - and we definitely are not splitting from our church. Conversely, we posted four different pieces on the subject in order to demonstrate the wide-range of views among Obama-supporting Mormons. We did this because we received (and continue to receive) genuine queries from our conservative Mormon brothers and sisters about this issue: "So, as a practicing member of the LDS Faith, please tell me how I determine when not to follow the Prophet. Apparently the views of many who are voting for Obama include support for same-sex marriage. Seems that is contrary to what we are taught. I know we have agency; I am just not convinced using it to go against the teachings of the Church is a wise use of such a blessing."
This (and abortion) are lightning rod issues for Mormons when it comes to supporting a Democratic candidate for public office. For those who feel strongly about these issues, please read Eric's post to understand how a Mormon can support Obama without standing for gay marriage. Also, read Ruby's post to understand how one person might support gay marriage and also stay true to their Mormon faith. The other two posts discuss the Church's waning political involvement in respect to same-sex marriage after the Prop 8 campaign and the ever-changing positions of both Obama and Romney on gay marriage.
But the important thing to understand here is that for many Mormons for Obama, this is not the central issue that defines our support for the President. And with Mormons holding public office as Democrats and Republicans, this should be clear by now.
Now on to my personal grief with the article -- Kyle quoted me thus:
"One of the blog entries, posted by Joseph Mills, holds up Harry Reid as a good example of a liberal Mormon.
'Just think of Harry Reid – the supreme example of Liberal Mormondom – (I have his action figure on my desk at work) – and tell me if he doesn’t have a glow like a gleaming lighthouse? He fights the good fight, shines like a sunbeam, and literally comes from Searchlight, Nevada,' Joseph writes. 'I know what the Primary Hymn instructs, (Trying to be Like Jesus,) but in case that is too high of a bar for me right now, I’ve decided that at the very least I am trying to be like Harry… and we’ll call it good at that.'"
So is that really the only quotation from me that Kyle could find? I have written a couple dozen posts for this website, and he chose something from one of my satirical posts that suggests that Mormon Democrats must shine like "Edward from Twilight as he's standing shirtless in the sun." Also he didn't preserve any of the meta-links, and that somewhat mutes my whole joke. (Sorry for my whining here, but in interest of my own self-promotion, please read The Gleam in Thine Own Eye to see the full post with meta-links.) Maybe if I'm quoted in another article, I might suggest something from my post, An Oppostion in All Things. I like that post better.
Also, the name of the Church is as follows: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I would expect that a journalist might research this to make certain they are using the correct name of our church in their article. I realize that the name of the Church is long, but the media has the responsibility to use the correct title, even if only in the first reference and then subsequent references are abbreviated after that. Consult the Church's Style Guide for more information on this. (And in case anyone is wondering, Kyle referred to the Church as "The Church of the Latter-Day Saints," omitting Jesus Christ, and capitalizing the D in Latter-day.) While Kyle is not the only one who makes this mistake, I bristle at the frequency of these occurrences and thus can't help but feel that it's sometimes done deliberately. It's almost as if we've become the "Merry X-Mas" card of Church names: Christ is crossed out and forgotten, and the media just mumbles something about Latter-day Saints, Mormons, or Salt Lake City, and then they bumble on impatiently, expecting to find a present under their holiday tree on the 25th of December.
Lastly, we are not just a small group of Seattle-based bloggers, although we did start out that way. Presently, we receive input from across the country - (and Canada) - and have posted comments and articles from contributors in Washington D.C., California, and Utah.
Alas, we are grateful for the press. We spend a lot of time putting this site together because we feel that this is important, and Kyle Blaine's article brought new eyes to this site.
Guest post by JBS -
When Obama announced his support for gay marriage, the conservative talk shows accused him of being political - they said that he only supported gay marriage because it would help him win votes in the election.
And maybe this is true? According to a Huffington Post article, Obama expressed support for gay marriage back in 1996. (He was for it before he was against it, and now he's for it again.) As Joseph M. pointed out in his post, The Theory of Evolution, Obama said that he was now supporting same-sex marriage because his position has evolved. But I disagree on this point - it seems that Obama is being disingenuous when saying this. It seems like he has supported gay marriage all along, but in 2008, he said he only supported civil unions because gay marriage was considered unpopular. Now as the climate changes, is it possible that Obama's support of gay marriage is because popular opinion is shifting? Even Jon Stewart asked the question, "What happened?" and then proceeded to offer his own answer: "He became a politician."
But in this election, Obama is not usually associated with the flip-flop. That usually is Mitt Romney. So what about Governor Romney? While his stance on gay marriage has been unchanging, his position on gay rights has seemed to shift overtime. When Romney ran in Massachusetts for the Senate seat against Ted Kennedy, he did an interview with The Bay, a gay newspaper, and expressed support for gay rights. Now in 2012, while running for president, he is trying to stay quiet on the subject.
However, because of Obama's recent announcement of support and the allegations that Romney participated in gay-bashing as a young man, the subject keeps coming up, and Romney is forced into answering questions about his position. Check out this website for a review of Romney's positions over-time. Interestingly, back in Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, the gay marriage issue seemed to nail the coffin shut for the Democrats - although after the election was over, Bush never said anything about the marriage amendment to the constitution again. But now, only eight years later, support for traditional marriage doesn't seem to be a winning issue for Republicans. (And we know that Romney doesn't take a pro-position on any issue that isn't "winning.") However, one cannot be certain that gay marriage is a winning issue for Obama either. If this was so cut and dry, Obama might have come out in support of gay marriage sooner - before he was pushed into it by Biden's preemptive statement of support.
Well, where does that leave me? I support Obama because I feel like he is heading in the right direction on all major issues. I believe he is heading in the right direction on gay marriage as well, regardless if he was for it, then against it, then for it again. The general direction of his campaign is where I would like to see our country go. I know that this may be a difficult issue for some Mormons, but ultimately, gay marriage will be decided by the states. Also, with all the flip-flopping and federal inaction on this issue, why should gay marriage ever majorly factor into someone's vote for president? Additionally, when looking at the big picture of Obama's last four years as a whole, he has consistently provided excellent leadership and has brought dignity and integrity to his office. For this reason, he gets my vote in 2012.
As Mormons, we understand that traditional (opposite sex) marriage is a lifestyle that we accept and embrace (and love) and that these are principals that we choose for our individual lives. I have also chosen to marry someone of my opposite sex; this is a lifestyle and a way of living that I have chosen for my life, and I shouldn't assume that everyone else will choose the same.
This is the second post in a series of viewpoints on Obama's support for marriage equality.
Post by Eric R -
After Obama recently came out in support of gay marriage our housemate, a liberal self-identified atheist, asked my wife if we were going to take the “I’m Voting for Obama, and I’m a Mormon” bumper sticker off of our car. Apparently he assumed that any politician who supported gay marriage would be a politician we couldn’t, as Mormons, support.
While I can understand why he might have jumped to that conclusion, it is unfortunate that the image he had of us was so closely tied to the most vocally conservative of the Religious Right.
While gay marriage is a moral/social issue that I do have feelings about, it is certainly not the only moral/social issue I take into consideration when deciding how to vote. I also believe that how candidates address questions of war, poverty, equality, capital punishment, social programs aimed at supporting our nation’s most vulnerable and the environment as important moral indicators as well. And with respect to each of these moral questions, it is clear to me that Obama, and the Democratic party generally, more closely represents what I believe would be Christ’s position on such issues.
I am not single-issue voter, as no person who is concerned with the bigger picture could be. That said, looking specifically at the issue of gay marriage I see some elements of Obama’s stance that I can support. And it isn’t just me, but the Church as well.
Back in late 2009 the Salt Lake City council was debating a series of non-discrimination ordinances designed to make explicit certain rights for same-sex couples. Weighing in on the controversial topic, the First Presidency released a statement that reads, in part, that the Church "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights or probate rights." The Church also said that it is “not anti-gay”, but rather “pro-marriage between a man and a woman. And there is a huge difference between those two points.”
I spend enough time with non-Mormon lefties to know that many of them have a very hard time distinguishing between those two points, and I would be lying if I said that this issue does not cause some friction between many of my friends and me. That said, it is clear to me that a), God wants us to, first and foremost, treat all of our brothers and sisters with love, and b), that it is completely appropriate to push for equal rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples that heterosexual couples currently enjoy and are subject to – even if we don’t call it marriage.
So while I may not be on the same page with Obama concerning all aspects of his support for gay marriage, I would have to say that our views are compatible on about two-thirds of the issue. While that isn’t 100%, it is a great deal better than the Right’s alternative of continued disenfranchisement and denial of reality.
Post by Joseph M -
Two weeks ago, President Obama stated his support for marriage equality while conducting an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC, and he described his position on the matter as having undergone an evolution over time. Of course, many have speculated that he has supported for gay marriage for a while now, and President Obama admitted that his announcement of support was spurred by VP Joe Biden's comments several days before that he supported gay marriage.
And while this allows many the opportunity to shout out an "Amen," others might find themselves in the midst of a Mormon conundrum (as Cynthia L of By Common Consent so aptly pointed out.) The Church's stance on gay marriage is pretty clear, and it's laid out in The Proclamation on the Family, (any guesses when this will be canonized?) and further affirmed through the Church's campaign for Proposition 8 in California in 2008.
However, this is where things get a bit murky - because while the Church's position on gay marriage is very clear, many were surprised by the aftermath that followed Proposition 8: a movie, protests, and a trail of disaffected Mormons who were confused as to why the Church chose to get involved in the issue in the first place. The protests even reached Seattle, where about 40 people lined up outside the Stake Center in the U District at 8 am to protest; it was Stake Conference that day, so they had to wait two hours before anyone showed up, but their point was not misunderstood. Like a blind-sided contestant on CBS's Survivor, they were shocked and outraged that a church would organize a campaign effort of this sort.
Although the Church was not the one that began the campaign for Prop 8, the Church has been actively opposing gay marriage for some time and has participated in past campaigns in Hawaii and Alaska. The "story" is that the Church was courted to participate by Catholics and conservative inter-faith groups. (Apparently, this is the only time these Christians have need for Latter-day Saints; Mormons are excellent at organizing: think of moves by the Elder's Quorum, casseroles for new mothers, and visiting teaching. Otherwise the Church is kept at a safe distance seeing that it is a cult.) But after having been invited to the party, Mormons ended up providing the cake, ice cream, and crepe paper decorations, and ultimately they were left to clean up the whole mess after all the party-goers left for home - and this included more than a few broken windows, lost jobs, death threats, and incidents of vandalism. (However, I should point out that these interfaith groups did take out a full page ad in the NY Times to ask the gay rights groups to be nicer to the Mormons.)
But this did not signal an end to the issue for Californians or the Church. The Prop 8 court battle continues, and other states (North Carolina) are amending constitutions, passing laws, and seeking signatures for referendums for ballot measures. Currently Washington State and Maryland are both facing possible referendums, and Washington State's anti-gay marriage contingent have almost enough signatures (121,000) to get its Referendum 74 on the November ballot. (Ref 74 essentially is Senate Bill 6239, that was passed by the Washington State Senate and Legislature, and signed by Governor Christine Gregoire on February 13th, making marriage available to all in Washington State. Ref 74 will put this bill to the people for approval or rejection.)
I've heard from several Mormons in Washington who are concerned that the Church might organize around this referendum as they did with Prop 8 in California. Clearly the Church is still watching the Prop 8 battle play out and has periodically issued statements like check point markers along the way. The heart of the Church's argument against gay marriage is the doctrine of the eternal nature of families. However, the Church and other conservative groups have justified their opposition to gay marriage because of fears that their religious organizations will be required to provide same-sex marriages and adoption services to gay couples; (see this article on NPR for examples.) The WA state marriage equality bill has provisions that will not allow this.
But as far as Washington goes, the Church may be sitting this one out. There are some reports that letters have been read over pulpits of some wards in WA and Maryland, and that (once again) the coalition to disapprove Ref 74 has reached out to local LDS leaders. However, the broader Church leadership seems to be staying silent. Considering the time, money, and energy invested in passing Prop 8 by the local and Salt Lake leadership of the Church, some people expected to see a similar thing happen here in Washington as well. But alas, the Church seems to have evolved in its thinking in regard to its political participation in this issue.
Some may say that this might mean that the Church is realizing it was wrong in its approach to Prop 8, but I wouldn't go that far. All of its statements regarding the campaign in California are on LDS.org, and Elder Oaks defended the campaign in a speech in 2009 at BYU-Idaho that further stoked the fires of discontent for civil rights activists. However, in a Time magazine article, Elder Quentin Cook is quoted as saying, "talking about what may or may not happen in (future campaigns) would be speculation, and I wouldn't want to do that." The article goes on to quote David Campbell, a Mormon University of Notre Dame political scientist: "If it appeared that the church sat out next time because it was criticized this time, there might be a credibility question. (But) does the church want the public to identify it primarily as a political body opposing an issue that comes back again and again?" Read full article here.
Regardless of what the Church decides to do, this evolution is happening all over. While, some Mormons have been rallying around this issue for some time, (see MormonsforMarriage.com,) others are changing more slowly. (Side note: some Mormons are even participating in Seattle's Gay Pride Parade to show support for WA's equality law. See article here.)
Jim, a commenter on Joanna Brook's article on religiondispacthes.org, wrote: "...At first I was nervous because I thought my views were moving me out of line with the church's teachings. I worried a lot about reconciling what I felt led and inspired to believe with the teachings of leaders of the church, but as my heart changed, I kept finding other faithful members of the church growing in the same way I was. They were Sunday school teachers, young women leaders, bishops and stake presidents."
The evolution of thought around this issue is happening slowly in some arenas and quickly in others. Even Jay-Z (a rapper!) came out in support of marriage equality. President Obama's position has evolved, and Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington State describes "the evolution of her personal views" to explain her support and promotion of the bill to legalize gay marriage in Washington State.
The Mormon position is evolving as well - and maybe this is happening more individually than collectively. How this plays out this summer in Washington and Maryland, is anybody's guess, but I imagine that most of the meeting house pulpits will stay silent on gay marriage. (And many in the congregation will breath a sign of relief and wipe the anxious sweat of dread off their brow.) And hopefully, all of this evolving Mormon good will towards and in behalf of the rights of others will have a pleasing effect on the church collectively, if not just individually.