Civil Discourse

"Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth: “The way things are going, the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be.” Not so! You can look forward to doing it right—getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren."

-- Boyd K. Packer

I've been thinking a lot about how few members of the church are engaged in politics. I think there are a few reasons for this.  Lack of focus by the church on the importance of member involvement in politics. Not enough time for proper engagement due to other higher responsibilities. Turned off by lack of civility in politics. Concerns about offending people. A belief that the world will end soon, and government is about to fall a part so there's no point wasting time and effort into making it better.

I have addressed the first and second points elsewhere. With this post I want to focus on how to discuss politics. Many have come to assume the worst about the motivations of those in other political parties. So much of what we hear comes rephrased through biased sources, we need to learn to seek out what is actually being said. When we share our views we need to make sure we are doing so directly and not misrepresent the other side at the same time.

The reason I started off my post with the quote from President Packer is because I think "millennial" thinking leads to some of the worst of this. There are many members of our faith who believe that the millennium is around the corner and that a prerequisite for that is the establish of an authoritarian U.S. Government.  So when ever a president of the other party gets elected, these members are sure that president will usher in  the authoritarian government. So no matter what this president does the true motivation is to eventually establish this authoritarian government. This is an extreme example, but I see it's like frequently. In my social media feeds I have both conservative and liberal friends, family members, and acquaintances. The liberals constantly post about the greed and hypocrisy of conservative politicians.  The conservatives post about the laziness and stupidity of the liberals.  We all get to pat ourselves on the back for being both morally and intellectually superior to each other. None of us learn anything or look for a compromise.

To change this we must look to ourselves and change our own habits.  We should not be so quick to believe things just because they confirm our biases. Partisan media are very quick to pull quotes out of contexts and forward them on in order reinforce the views of their partisan audiences. Bills are summarized in deceptive matters. Many people of all political persuasions believe that since the other side is evil, any act to defeat it is justified, the ends justify the means.  In the age of the internet there is little need to trust these partisan sources.  Videos can often be found of what was really said, bills can be viewed in a web browser and read. You can ask a friend or family member of a different persuasion how they view the issue or what they heard.

When you ask to hear the other view point I suggest you do as Dr. Covey suggests in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People set aside you view point.  Completely forget about it.  Don't think about how you are going to rebut. Just listen and try to embrace the idea as your own.  Try and make it work in your mind.  Once the other person is done talking and you have tried to make it work in your mind, you can allow your own views to flow back into your mind. At this point you may find you completely reject their ideas, that you can improve upon your own way of thinking about the issue, or that you were completely wrong.  Most likely one of the first two will happen, but you have lost nothing, and possibly even gained a better understanding.

 The way we sell our side of the political debate is often a reflection of the good versus evil judgment we have already made.  When you talk about politics you should avoid trying to cast politicians as evil. It is best and most effective to focus on specific policies. Calling Republicans greedy and corrupt isn't likely to make a Republican think he should stop being a Republican.  Talking to a Republican about specific issues that you believe should be address may make a difference. As a similar article I read put it you should use inductive rather than deductive reasoning.  Inductive reasoning means you look at the individual issues and make decisions about what is best.  Deductive reasoning means you make up your mind about what is best for everything first, and then apply to every issue you come across.


As members of the church our faith comes first.  We are to put it above all other ideologies and allegiances. As such many members wield statements by general authorities as trump cards. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a very personal faith with direct communication from our Heavenly Father.  Your faith is your own.   I hope if council is given by a general authority you will follow the guidance from the Doctrine and Covenants and seek it out in your mind and in your hearts. There have been many different leaders of our church who have taught many different things, some teaching have been publicly abandoned others quietly. Posting quotes from Ezra Benson are no more likely to persuade a Democrat to be a Republican than arguments about charity are to provide a Republican to be a Democrat.  Again we should focus on specific policies and how you believe they help or hurt people, not on what party God supposedly wants you to always vote for. There are plenty of examples of prominent Mormons in both parties.

The demonization of the opposing political party will not help us achieve our goals of better government. We need to question our news sources, seek out additional sources and listen openly. When we promote our political beliefs we need to make sure we are actually promoting our own beliefs and not the misrepresentation of someone else's beliefs.

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