LDS Politics: Institutional vs. Personal

Screen-Shot-2013-03-10-at-9.36.55-PM.pngAfter reading President Uchtdorf's recent statement in favor of President Obama's immigration plan, I was struck by the separation between what the Church teaches and what our conservative brothers and sisters expect us mormon liberals to do.

We as Mormons have two choices as individuals: 1) follow, in lockstep, all of the Church's positions on all political issues, or 2) make our own political decisions, as informed by our own personal research, including research on the Church's institutional positions.

Many Mormon conservatives seem to embrace #1, hammering anyone who supports or votes for anything they view as out of line with the Church’s institutional positions. Therefore, many conservatives harshly condemn anyone who supports increased rights for our homosexual brothers and sisters, anyone who supports a woman's right to choose related to abortion, or anyone who supports the supposedly satanic plan of wealth redistribution.

What gets us, though, is that there seems to be a double standard. Many Mormon conservatives go against the Church’s institutional political position.

For example, Mormon conservatives cheered when they learned this vernal man charges liberals more than he charges conservatives (read the comments to see examples of this cheering), and when they learned this business owner fires two employees based largely on their liberal politics (the lack of wide outrage in Utah suggests that many Mormons are okay with this, if not openly supportive).

This behavior is directly against the Church's stated position on politics: It asks Mormons to

“engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters,"

urges Mormon lawmakers to

“make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent”

and assures that

“[p]rinciples compatible with the gospel are found in the platforms of all major political parties.”

Clearly, the Church as an institution is forcefully against the type of prejudice that Mormon Liberals are facing today.

A final example, in light of President Uchdorf's stirring endorsement of liberal immigration politics: a few years ago Church leaders supported--they attended the signing ceremony to applaud its passage--an immigration bill known as HB116. You would think, if Mormons truly embraced #1 above, that every Mormon in the state would have embraced this without question. That is not what happened, though. In fact, many county GOP organizations from across the state issued an official protest against the Church-approved measure. In a state with 70% of its citizens identifying as Mormon, county after county symbolically rejected the immigration stance institutionally supported by the Church.

And here's the thing: we think this is just fine, and so does the Church. Many Church leaders have even explicitly suggested that #1 is not the way to go. For example, Elder Marlin K. Jensen said,

"Everyone who is a good Latter-day Saint is going to have to pick and choose a little bit regardless of the party that they're in and that may be required a lot more in the future than it has been in the past. But I think there's room for that and the gospel leaves us lots of latitude."

The Church makes it very clear that, except for in very specific situations, Church members are to behave politically however they want to. The Church as an institution has intervened specifically just a handful times, including in support of "Prohibition" alcohol laws, in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment,  and in favor of California’s Proposition 8. Even in those specific situations, the Church didn't command its members how to vote. It strongly urged one way or another, but didn't say "vote this way or you're out of the Church." In other words, the institutional endorsement of the Church is not meant to dictate the personal political stances of its members.

Here's why this is important: many Church members cite various parts of The Family: A Proclamation to the World in defense of their personal feelings about gay marriage and abortion. But those very passages can also be used to defend many liberal positions on this same issues. The Gospel isn't as cut-and-dried as many seem to think it is, and there are many ways to follow the teachings of Christ. We happen to believe, after careful research, that liberal politics are generally  more in line with the Gospel than other political philosophies.

And, in this Church, that's okay. The beauty of the Church is that it embraces #2. Wholeheartedly. The Church draws a line between what The Church as an institution supports and opposes, and what the church membership as individuals support. They don't always have to be the same thing. And that goes in both directions.

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