Hugh B. Brown once said, “Beware of those who feel obliged to prove their own patriotism by calling into question the loyalty of others."
I started my morning today by reading the brazen and thoughtless article “Good riddance to Harry Reid, the Mormon Senate leader”, by Mormon Bishop Mark Paredes. Bishop Paredes is the ecclesiastical leader of the Wilshire Ward in Los Angeles. He’s also a member of the Church’s public affairs council; something the Church might want to reconsider. In this article, Bishop Paredes argues that it would be almost impossible for a Democrat to be an honest and faithful Mormon. He must be ignoring the fact that James E. Faust (one example) was a Democrat. Either that or he’s rebuking President Faust and his wicked Liberal ways. For Bishop Paredes’ sake let’s hope he just forgot about President Faust.
As a very left leaning Democrat myself, the ideas postulated by this bishop instantly infuriated me. What about me is so “evil”? I’m a returned missionary (to Los Angeles, coincidentally); temple married, BYU grad with a gaggle of kids, a minivan, and a calling. Other than where the dot on my ballot is placed I’m the stereotypical Mormon guy. Well, maybe not. I’m missing the key ingredient Bishop Paderes seems to think is one of the most important: a Republican voter registration. Although I don’t remember ever being asked about party affiliation in any priesthood interviews, or it ever being pushed by the ACTUAL leaders of the church. So either it matters, or the good Bishop’s article is a vehicle of nonsense designed to make him famous. I speculate vehicle of nonsense. The sad thing, however, is that his nonsense will have lasting harm.
I’ve been in a lot of different wards/branches in a lot of different socioeconomic environments; three wards before college, a few college wards, about a dozen more while on a mission, and then a handful more as I traveled the country on active duty in the Army. I’ve seen great people fall away because they were marginalized and offended in some way. These people were pushed out of their congregation’s comforting warmth by carless members spouting their personal ideologies from the pulpits. Of the hundreds of members in every ward only one man in each has the unique mantle of ensuring this nonsense doesn’t happen, or is at least repaired. This man is the bishop. On the rare occasion that it’s the bishop that drives members away, the harm is always almost beyond repair.
My frustration grew as reflected on of the fact that Bishop Paredes’ words would undoubtedly offend my brothers and sisters. He negligently used his position as bishop to “validate” his ideas. This kind of tripe presented as fact, and clothed in gospel teachings confuses people. Members want to believe that their bishop is giving wise, inspired counsel. Sadly, this bishop is giving the world “the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.” He writes, “As a bishop, one of my responsibilities is to interview members who wish to enter Mormon temples. During our conversation, I have to ask them 13 or 14 questions...One of the questions appears above, and I do not know how someone who is a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party can respond in the negative.” The question he’s referring to is the customary temple interview question, “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” Bishop Paredes’ assumption is that a Democrat couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be able to answer that they DO NOT affiliate with those whose teachings/practices are contrary simply because of their chosen politics. He’s saying that by being a Democrat you are not temple worthy. How dare he judge me or anyone else? Sure, he has a mantle of responsibility, but only for those within the very small boundaries of the Wilshire Ward and no further. Even there, he’s destroyed the sanctity of that mantel by carelessly marginalizing some of his congregants. How can those members of his congregation with opposing views feel safe seeking his counsel? The answer is that they cannot, and probably won’t go to him.
I spent most of my day chewing on the nugget of irritation fed to me by Bishop Paredes. How could a sitting bishop allow himself to be the catalyst by which faithful members will fall away? Eventually it dawned on me; he thinks he’s doing us a service. He genuinely thinks that he sees through the “adversarial lies” of liberal ideology, and is helping to pull us all out of that abyss. The sad fact is that HE is the confused one. He is hung up on hot button social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion; claiming that support for either disqualifies one from temple attendance. He fails to see past the hype, and to the heart of what liberal support for these (or similar) issues really means: free agency. It’s about allowing our brothers and sisters to live their lives free of manmade interference. That’s right; manmade. Humanity invented politics, boundaries, material need, etc... These things have almost no eternal significance. What does however, are our independent free choices. This is a hard concept for many conservatives to grasp. They seek to control and force others into submitting to whatever ideals they deem relevant. The idea of legislating righteousness is anti-Mormon. Hugh B. Brown said at a BYU devotional, “Strive to develop a maturity of mind and emotion and a depth of spirit which will enable you to differ with others on matters of politics without calling into question the integrity of those with whom you differ. Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy variation of political belief. Do not have the temerity to dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent.”
Bishop Paredes is not alone in his beliefs or needless candor. We’ve all allowed ourselves to take on the role of mortal moral judge. It takes enormous strength on one’s part to turn away from the commonalities of societal thinking, and walk a higher path. True freedom comes to those who unbind themselves from the shackles of human nature. Christ said in Luke chapter 23, verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” ‘They know not what they do’ are the key words here. We are quick to condemn others without fully knowing who they are or why they believe the way they do. Morals, values, ethics, and sociocultural beliefs are relative. Time, country, religion, etc…all determine what humans believe to be true, and hold as important. Christ understood that the men nailing him to his cross had no knowledge of him as the Savior. To them, he was another Jewish criminal. Christ could see the cultural relativism that existed in his day, and has commanded us to be objective and educated about others in our day, and in our lives. I don’t hate Bishop Paredes for his article. Too the contrary; I weep for him. I truly hope he learns that the things he sees as so important are truly just distractions keeping him from having a deeper understanding of God’s love. God is the father of every human to walk this earth. Christ atoned for the sins of every human to walk this earth. We are commanded to forgive and love all people. God will sort out the righteous from the wicked on judgment day; it’s not our job.
Adam Harrison is a former US Army Captain from the great state of Ohio. The views in this article are his alone, and do not reflect on any organization he is affiliated with.