The Church is founded in the progressive idea that the leadership of the Church receives continual guidance rather than locked into an unchanging doctrine. From its start the Church and its people are engineered to be progressive.Read more
Mormon youth are taught, from a young age, that restrictions can increase freedom. That some laws, ones that seem to decrease our freedom, actually increase our freedom.
Take the Word of Wisdom, for example. We are taught that living by the Word of Wisdom is a requirement. This requirement strictly limits us in certain areas: no alcohol, no drugs, no coffee or tea, no meat but for in times of famine, etc. But, we understand, those limitations actually increase our overall freedom. Even though our freedom is limited when it comes to alcohol (for example), our freedom is maximized in the sense that we are free from the negative effects of that alcohol. As one article in the Church's Ensign puts it:Read more
After 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.
A recent post over at the blog "A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman" caught my eye. The post is titled "Stunning Obama Court Brief: No Morals In Order to Strike Down Prop 8." If you haven't read her post, head on over and check it out and then come back for my thoughts and response.
The author, whom I respect greatly and value as a fellow Mormon as we both try to make our way in the world, begins with a harsh assessment of the Obama Administration's filing of an amicus brief in favor of marriage equality. She says
It is difficult to put into words, without blowing it out of complete proportion . . . what I feel suggests the moral rape of this country, by none other than the President of the United States and in a formal document, no less, to the U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
This "moral rape," she goes on to say, is that "according to the Obama brief, if the Court has no "precedents", they, like society, must rule void of moral judgement." The Obama Administration argued that the Supreme Court should not use moral beliefs as the sole reason for upholding or striking down a law. Personally, I fully agree with this argument. I could imagine a situation where this would work in my favor, actually:
Let's say my family and I live in a town that is predominantly Catholic. And let's say that, because the Catholic Church believes birth control to be sinful, the town votes a law into place stating that birth control is illegal and that anyone found in possession of any form of birth control is to be thrown in jail. For them, this is a moral issue. For me, it is also a moral issue: my Mormon faith teaches me that decisions about birth control are entirely up to a husband and wife. No one else is allowed to intervene in this sacred relationship. And I would certainly hope that the Supreme Court would not rule in the town's favor, forcing me to live by their morals for no other reason than that they're their morals.
And this is precisely what the Obama Administration seems to be arguing: just because a bunch of people hold certain morals doesn't mean that those morals are as legally binding as the Constitution (which many believe was divinely inspired, anyway). There's nothing preventing my Catholic neighbors from living by their morals, and opposition to a Court order commanding me to abide by their morals is not a "moral rape" at all, but a protection of the rule of law. And a protection of the 11th Article of Faith:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Because of this, I am confused when the author of the blog post claims that the "liberal agenda" (her words) is to essentially do the will of Satan on this issue:
How unfortunate indeed, and yet in the scheme of things a perfectly fair move on the part of the Adversary, according to the rules of mortality as laid out in the great Plan of Salvation; featuring... drum roll please.... the agency of man! Ta da!
Of course, we've already covered the issue of politics and agency quite thoroughly and stand by our belief that government legislation simply cannot remove, restrict, or take away anyone's agency. But the larger point deals with the idea that it is morally bankrupt to oppose an enforcement of morals solely on the grounds of morality. There are many many issues I believe are moral issues and yet I do not think should be enforced by law. I believe in the Word of Wisdom, and yet I don't believe we should pass laws banning coffee. I believe in the law of chastity but I don't believe we should pass laws banning fornication. I believe with all my heart in the moral issue of sharing the gospel, but I certainly hope no one ever suggests that missionary work be required by legislation. And does that mean I, and the Mormons who agree with me, have no morals, or that we're fighting on Satan's side?
According to A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman, apparently it does.
This is the fifth in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In the first post we discussed the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we addressed Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we addressed the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we examined the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explored its political implications.
Throughout this series we've contested the idea that government action (taxation, regulation, etc.) in any way limits our agency. We Mormon Liberals have been told quite a few times that such actions restrict agency, and that restricting agency is Satan's plan. So, by the transitive power of liberals-are-evil, that means that anyone who is for (responsible) taxation or (balanced) regulation is on Satan's team.
This is the fourth in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In the first post we discussed the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we addressed Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we addressed the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
Like we've said before, we don't believe that force in any way restricts agency. As one person put it,
The way I understand agency, you could put me in a dungeon in a straightjacket and blindfold/gag me, and I'd still have agency. I wouldn't have a lot of freedom, but I would still be able to choose between good and evil.
So, if force doesn't limit or restrict our agency, how was Satan going to go about limiting our agency while here on earth? His plan was to remove agency by erasing the difference between good and evil: if we don't have moral alternatives, we don't have agency. There are certainly many ways to do this, but we'll just look at two possibilities:Read more
This is the third in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In the first post we discussed the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we addressed Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we addressed the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
As we discussed previously, one popular view of agency is that it can be decreased any time freedom is restricted. As Mormon liberals, we are frequently presented with the argument that a particular government intervention is bad because it limits our agency. This is most frequently repeated when dealing with taxes: "if I want to help the poor, let me exercise my agency and do it. Don't force me to be charitable, because that's Satan's plan." While we obviously don't appreciate being told that our political ideals are the spawn of the devil, we also disagree for doctrinal reasons.Read more
This is the second in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In the first post we discussed the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we will address Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we will address the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
Agency was one of the principal issues to arise in the premortal Council in Heaven. It was one of the main causes of the conflict between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan. Satan said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). In saying this, he “rebelled against [God] and sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). His offer was rejected, and he was cast out of heaven with his followers (see D&C 29:36–37). -Gospel Principles, Chapter 4: Freedom to Choose
There are at least two ways to understand Satan's proposal. The first is the most widely held and oft repeated. This understanding says that Satan's proposal to remove our agency would be enforced by making us choose the right. He would remove our freedom to choose by forcing us to make correct choices.Read more
This is the first in our five-part series titled "Mormonism, Agency, and Politics." In this post we will discuss the importance of agency in Mormon doctrine. In the second we will address Satan's strategy of limiting our agency. In the third, we will address the view that agency can be restricted simply by restricting freedom. In the fourth, we will examine the idea that agency can be restricted by removing differences between good and evil and explore its political implications.
There are few topics in the teachings of the Church that are as central to Mormon doctrine as agency. Our agency is one of the very few things we had in the pre-earth life that we brought with us into this life, and is one of the most important for our eternal progression:Read more