In a way, having a Mormon stake president in Sandy, Utah give a sermon at a stake conference of a political nature has at least the benefit of sparking a public conversation. In case you missed it, here’s the gist:
An LDS stake president in Sandy did something in a speech earlier this month that other Mormon leaders have done many times: He warned that evil is corrupting the world.
Then President Matthew DeVisser did something few LDS leaders ever do over the pulpit: He rattled off a number of Republican talking points, lamenting that voters last year chose "socialism over capitalism, entitlements over free enterprise, redistribution and regulation over self-reliance.
From at least my perception, most Mormons almost to a fault will avoid discussing anything controversial simply to avoid contention. While I don’t plan on being contentious here, I do believe strongly in “standing for something” in life and that often involves speaking out.
First, I can tell you that this stake president was not speaking for the Lord or the Church, but rather from his own personal opinion and human bias. He obviously felt very passionate about it, even evoking the “Holy Ghost” as his authority. I find that disturbing on many levels.
This story has caught the attention of people in circles outside the church, many of whom are close to me here in Nevada. These sorts of stories do not go over well with people outside the Church, at least the ones who don’t agree with this stake president.
I try to explain that the Mormon Church doesn’t have any beliefs about tax policy, Social Security, or mandated purchasing of health insurance. It’s hard to convince them when even Mormons don’t usually/always understand this. The volume of anti-communist/socialist rhetoric from Church leaders of the past don’t make it any easier.
President Heber J. Grant was adamantly opposed to Social Security and FDR’s New Deal in general. Yet I would submit that most Mormons today don’t see Social Security as a ‘corrupt evil’ or ‘a threat to freedom.’ Mormons and their leaders are subject to the attitudes and prejudices of their day. Members should remember this. After all, it wasn’t until nearly 1980 that black members of the Church were allowed to hold the priesthood or women allowed to pray in church.
Church leaders often speak out about things of a political nature. They’ve spoken out against gay marriage, communism and other moral issues. One thing that has always disturbed me is the lack of speaking out during the civil rights era. How about on wars or illegal torture by our government? Unfortunately they’ve been astonishingly silent. My only point is that leaders of the Church are not perfect. They are human, just like all of us.
How about self-reliance? Yes, that is a principle taught by the Church. Of course the Church has its own robust welfare system. So clearly self-reliance isn’t an excuse to leave the less fortunate out in the cold. So what exactly was this stake president talking about when he started comparing redistribution and self reliance? The truth is he doesn’t even know. He didn’t bother to think about it. He was so juiced up by conservative talking points, he couldn’t think for himself.
The truth of the matter is that with the great recession and the decade leading up to it, this nation has seen a transfer of wealth from the people at the bottom to the people at the top. That’s redistribution of wealth in reverse. That probably never occurred to this gentleman and folks of like mind.
We are living in a time of great struggle for people in the bottom 60% of income earners (that’s more than half of us) and yet this stake president is worried about low taxes, deregulation, free enterprise and self-reliance… things known to help the top income earners, not anyone else. It doesn’t trickle down.
When it comes to poor people, conservatives have an attitude about them that says they are “takers,” that they have a “sense of entitlement” brought about by a “culture of dependency.” Most of them believe the poor need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, all 47% of them.
In my estimation, this conservative attitude reflects a regretful level of disdain and judgment towards the poor. The scriptures certainly suggest as much:
“But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2nd Nephi 9:30)
I don’t think there’s any dispute that free market enthusiasts are more concerned for wealth than they are about fighting poverty. As a matter of fact, fighting poverty is never even brought up in conservative circles. They feel that there is ample opportunity in this country, and if you aren’t doing well, it’s probably something you aren’t doing right, or you aren’t trying hard enough. Hmmm, what does that sound like?
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
The Lord has commanded his faithful to take care of the needy. The notion of self-reliance should be taught in example, persuasion, and from a sense of duty, not by means of starvation and deprivation.
If you’ve ever found yourself saying “get a job” or “you reap what you sow” or “poor people poor ways” you should probably strongly reconsider King Benjamin’s sermon. Called it a hand out… or free advice.