An Excess of Outrage

(Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune)

For us who strive to be followers of Christ, regardless of creed, there are a few basic doctrines we must adhere to. (C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, “Mere Christianity”, is the classic summation of those doctrines.) Those teachings include: Love your neighbors. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Forget the mote in your neighbor’s eye and worry about the beam in your own eye. Judge not that ye be not judged. Let your conversations be “yea, yea; nay, nay” because anything greater than this is evil. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that despitefully use you and persecute you. Blessed are the meek. Beware hypocrisy. Teachings of the restored gospel expand on this theme of humility, compassion for others and brotherly love.

Given the fact that we’re a self-proclaimed Christian nation, the lack of basic Christian civility and kindness among some of our nation’s elected leaders toward the Obama administration the last few weeks has been remarkable – especially since there appears to be significant correlation between the degree of self-proclaimed devotion to Christ and the virulence of the attacks against that person’s political opponents.

Part of our Christian beliefs is that there has been only one perfect man, Jesus of Nazareth.  The rest of us make mistakes. I believe the scriptures when they teach that our own sins will be forgiven in the degree to which we treat the mistakes of others with charity.

However, this basic Christian doctrine conflicts with a key strategy of the Republican Party: We are the anti-government party, so anything we can do to get Americans to despise government and hate government workers and elected officials, the better for us. Therefore, anything we can do to foment rage and hatred is fair game. Outrage and paranoia are certainly the main marketing tools of media shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Certainly there are times when righteous anger is appropriate. But those times should be the exception rather than the rule. Followers of Christ should look for the positive, should give their brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt, rather than rush to judgment at the drop of the hat. But, as previously stated, that conflicts with basic Republican strategy.

Donna Brazile, in her excellent commentary, “We’re pointing a gun at our democracy”, gives a sobering warning about where this strategy is leading us. “This road we're on will lead us step-by-step to an extreme: either an autocratic government that functions, or a dysfunctional anarchy. The petty squabbles, bilge in the name of party or principle, will dissolve our self-government.

“Abraham Lincoln felt no foreign power could ever defeat the United States. He said, ‘From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never...No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.’

“We're pointing a pistol at our heads. A government of, by, and for the people requires that people talk to people, that we can agree to disagree but do so in civility. If we let the politicians and those who report dictate our discourse, then our course will be dictated.”

I witnessed this first hand, when I had the historic opportunity in December 2008 to be in the audience in Washington during the House Finance Committee hearings on the “bridge loans” for GM and Chrysler.  I have never been more embarrassed for America. Instead of an honest give-and-take to find ways to save – with the benefit of hindsight – what was a key industry in leading us out of the Great Recession, I suffered through almost three hours of arrogant blowhards posturing for the camera, competing with each other to see who could show the most outrage. There were few hints of any desire to actually learn anything or find workable solutions to saving America’s automotive industry.

How do we get out of this destructive cycle? I always expect a little more from my fellow Latter-day Saints, and would hope that Mormon political leaders might be at the forefront in combatting this destructive trend. And indeed, there are some of our members who are out there working to increase Christian civility, to restore proper discourse in government and get back to the people’s business. Names like Udall, Matheson and Huntsman come to mind.

However – at the risk of sounding politically incorrect – the above list of Mormons are not exactly known for being regular churchgoers. What about active Latter-day Saint political figures? I think of the good Governor Romney could do right now, both for his country and his church, by speaking out for civility. He was given the opportunity to do so last week. What was his response?  “I’m not a fan of Obama.” What a petulant response; what a wasted opportunity. He should take a cue from George W. Bush, who has graciously resisted criticizing the President. And let’s not forget Senators Lee and Hatch and Congressman Chaffetz, who have been at the forefront of recent witch hunts.

I sincerely worry that one fault Latter-day Saints are susceptible to is the sin of self-righteousness. This was the sin in the Book of Mormon that let to all other evils and eventually to destruction. It surely appears that modern conservative politics fits what Brigham Young called “decoys”, tricking Latter-day Saints into attitudes and emotions they otherwise would consider evil.

Those of us who love America, the Church, and our fellow Latter-day Saints, can no longer remain silent on this issue. We need to preach “The Mormon Ethic of Civility” courageously from the rooftops.

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