President DeVisser, My Brother
I want to take a bit of a meta-approach in this brief response to President DeVisser’s recent politically-tinged remarks at a Sandy, Utah stake conference. To be clear, I do agree with what others have said here about many of his comments being inappropriate for discussion from the pulpit, and am also glad that we have a specific text to make this discussion more concrete and focused than was perhaps possible before this talk went viral. But personally, in my conflict-avoidance way (which has its costs and benefits, to be sure), I want to talk about the methods we Mormon liberals employ to disagree with this talk and other discourse like it.
The World is Always Ending. Here’s What We Should Do About It.
Cross-posted on Mormons For Obama.
This morning I re-read President Matthew DeVisser’s stake conference address about 2012 and the challenges facing his stake members. During the final two-thirds, the portion focused on his stake & stewardship rather than the nation as a whole, I found myself nodding in agreement with these points:
- We live in difficult and turbulent times.
- We should prepare ourselves temporally and spiritually.
- We have an obligation to help one another.
A time of fast communication, rapid global travel, increasing secularism, new challenges facing the Church, and worries about the end times, as sin and iniquity appear everywhere. This should sound familiar, as it’s an apt description of the 1970s, when President Kimball challenged Latter-day Saints to “lengthen their stride,” the 1930s when Elder Joseph F. Merrill challenged Gordon B. Hinckley to develop new methods for getting people interested in the Church, the 1890s when President Woodruff ended official support for “the principle” of plural marriage and Utah achieved statehood, the 1840s when the Church fractured after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, and about AD 54, when Paul reminded the Thessalonians that a falling away had to occur before Christ returned. (We can go even earlier, as the Book of Job reminds us that people are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly out of a fire.) Each generation has certain favorite sins (slavery, spouse abuse, greed), and people grow up denouncing the sins of the previous generation (and, on occasion, their own) and then get shocked by the sins of the following generation. Worrying about society crashing down is roughly as old as . . . human society. The world is always ending.
That doesn’t mean we’re off the hook.
President DeVisser spoke wise words about the importance of temporal and spiritual preparation, referring the members of his stake to the words of President Hinckley about avoiding debt by buying a modest home and living within one's means, and by strengthening our relationship with the Savior. We will always live in difficult and turbulent times, and to be Latter-day Saints, to act rather than be acted upon, we need spiritual strength and to not let keeping up with our neighbors prevent us from serving our sisters and brothers. An avenue for spiritual strength is remembering the frequent comments by President Hinckley that now is a great time to be alive, a time to work towards Zion rather than huddling in fear of the Thunderdome.
I commend President DeVisser’s stake for their robust fast offering contributions, as that’s part of how we can fulfill our obligation to help one another. A human being needs a wide range of things to be able to fully express their agency, to use their life to grow and serve: love, purpose, food, shelter, education, safety, healthcare. Family, neighbors, the Church, and the nation are all good at providing a few of these things and bad at providing others. The Church recognizes this, as it instructs Bishops to familiarize themselves with government and community programs that provide medical care, counseling, help for people with disabilities, and job training and placement. We in the United States face the challenges of an aging population, millions of people residing in the shadows, an erratic climate, and rates of gun violence and incarceration that lead the developed world. At church, we learn about following the Savior and helping one another. During the rest of the week we need to talk & decide the best way to do this.
I second Hannah’s post about the importance of leaving partisan politics behind at the church doors, and Jeff’s comment that it is crucial we re-examine how we understand the connection between the Gospel and our politics, that we engage in conversation about which public policies we should support for the benefit of our communities. One of the several great things about 2012 was the emergence of Latter-day Saint writers in the political center and on the left. I encourage you to read through the posts at Mormon Liberals, at Mormon Democrats, and at Mormons for Obama, and to join LDS Dems, the national home of Latter-day Saints looking to have an impact on the Democratic Party and our country's laws.
Why I'm happy about President DeVisser's ultra-conservative talk
I just finished reading Stake President Matthew DeVisser's Talk [PDF] in a recent Stake Conference in Utah. I'm glad he said what he did. First of all, he's a good man just trying to do his best as he fulfills an incredibly difficult calling. I admire anyone who's willing to take on an entire Stake's-worth of responsibility in addition to work and family. Kudos to him for that. And I'd imagine he's feeling rather sheepish now that this speech has caused such a stir.Read more
Peace by Armed Force: The “Legal Case” for Killing Americans
Last night NBC posted a leaked copy of the Obama Administration's 16-page white paper (PDF) laying out a defense of its controversial practice of using drones to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. This is not really a new revelation--we knew the Obama Administration had compiled a secret kill list, and that there have been Americans on that list. But, this white paper does shed some light on how that list is justified. And there are some big changes: whereas previous doctrine held that such killings could take place in the case of clear knowledge of a specific terrorist plot, the memo says differently:
[A]n “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”
In other words, if someone high enough in the U.S. government has any reason to believe that you might have engaged in some activity, at one time in the recent past, that may potentially pose a threat of violence, they can order your death. Unsurprisingly, this document is worrisome to experts on civil liberties:
“This is a chilling document,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which is suing to obtain administration memos about the targeted killing of Americans. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
The 16-page white paper is likely the tip of the iceberg, with many suspecting a host of legal documents outlining the Obama Administration's justification for killing American citizens. A bipartisan group of senators (led by Ron Wyden, D-OR) wants to know more about the Administration's policy, and has written a letter requesting a more full explanation. Michael Isikoff, who originally obtained the white paper, summarizes the letter:
While accepting that “there will clearly be circumstances in which the president has the authority to use lethal force” against Americans who take up arms against the country, it said, “It is vitally important ... for Congress and the American public to have a full understanding of how the executive branch interprets the limits and boundaries of this authority.”
War is never a simple situation. We understand that. And if someone poses an imminent threat to American citizens, that person obviously needs to be stopped. But, we echo the worries of others who are shocked that stripping American citizens of due process of law (innocent until proven guilty? right to a speedy trial?) can be accepted by so many Americans--Obama's opponents and his supporters. Glenn Greenwald makes a compelling case that Obama supporters should think twice about this policy:
If you’re going to ... argue that this is all justified [if an American] is an Evil, Violent, Murdering Terrorist Trying to Kill Americans, you should say how you know that. Generally, guilt is determined by having a trial where the evidence is presented and the accused has an opportunity to defend himself — not by putting blind authoritarian faith in the unchecked accusations of government leaders, even if it happens to be Barack Obama. That’s especially true given how many times accusations of Terrorism by the U.S. Government have proven to be false.
We have written before about our disappointment in the warmongering accepted by this administration. We repeat President Joseph F. Smith's caution about becoming distracted by war's false promises of peace (posted on our Foreign Policy page):
One thing is certain, the doctrine of peace by armed force, … is a failure, and should without question forever be abandoned. It has been wrong from the beginning. That we get what we prepare for is literally true in this case.
Louisiana vs. The Family
Note: this post kicks off a new series titled "Think of the Family," in which we explore ways to strengthen (or at least stop hurting) the family.
Yesterday's Super Bowl blackout drew attention to the nation's less-than-stellar energy infrastructure. We'd like to draw some attention to a different problem in the same state: Louisiana recently announced that they would be cutting aid money to its poor, sick, and elderly. While some might blame the poor for their circumstance, we disagree: as we've argued before, the free market does not always reward hard work. Some might say argue these families will just get those services from the free market. We wish this were the case, but the politicians who made this decision even admit this will not happen in every circumstance:
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said he targeted programs that were duplicative, costly and optional under the state’s participation in the state-federal Medicaid program.
Greenstein said in many instances, people can get the care they’re losing through other government-funded programs. But he acknowledged that won’t happen in every case, meaning some people will simply lose the services or receive reduced services. [...]
Jan Moller heads the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- to moderate-income families. Moller said he’s most distressed by the cut to the Nurse-Family Partnership Program.
The health department is eliminating the portion of the program that offers at-home visits to low-income women who are pregnant with their first child. Registered nurses visit the women early in their pregnancy and until their children’s second birthday, offering advice on preventive health care, diet and nutrition, smoking cessation and other child developmental issues. [...]
“What the Nurse-Family Partnership does goes above and beyond what a good obstetrician does,” Moller said. “It’s really about teaching life-skills to at-risk moms to make them better parents and make them better able to care for their children, and it’s been proven to work.”
As Sy Mukherjee at ThinkProgress points out, this means that families will be left high and dry in the state.
The cuts — as well as Jindal’s proposals to raise taxes on the poor while slashing public education and other health care funding — are meant to plug a midyear budget deficit. But they are more likely to raise health care costs and poverty levels in a state that already ranks among America’s least-insured and poorest locales by pushing people poor people into finding services that they will no longer be able to afford.
The Mormon View of Immigration Reform
The issue of immigration reform is in the news right now, with national leaders of both parties coming together to decide how best to help our brothers and sisters. As we think through these issues, it is important to consider what the LDS Church believes and has said when it comes to immigration. We've collected a few quotes below. For a very detailed history and analysis of this issue, we recommend this policy brief written by a Mormon for the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy recently spoke out on the issue of immigration:
Immigration questions are questions dealing with God's children. I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah's immigration policy to measure twice before they cut.
Elder Jensen later added that "LDS leaders had recently issued a 'very sincere plea' to lawmakers to consider the issue with humanity and compassion."
It was a bit out of the ordinary for the Church to so forcefully throw its support behind a piece of legislation, as the New York Times noted:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its reluctance to be seen as meddling in politics. But on immigration, the church actively lobbied legislators, sent Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to attend the bill signing and issued a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work.
The Church's official statement on the matter first explains that it discourages individuals from entering a country illegally, but then pivots to the core of the issue at stake (here's a PDF of the statement in Spanish):
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The statement then gets down to policy, sketching a broad outline for immigration reform it could get behind:
The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.
A wide variety of moderate and left-of-center immigration policies fall under this framework, including the Senate's recent immigration proposal and the President's plan, which he will released today at a policy speech in Las Vegas. The editor of the church-affiliated Deseret News urged members to consider our own history when debating the issue of immigration reform:
“Latter-day Saints, because of their history of persecution and forcefully being dispossessed of their livelihoods and properties, do have compassion and understanding” for immigrants.
Women are not permitted to pray?
If you haven't heard it yet, there is a new event on facebook that is gathering some steam. It's the radical idea that people should ask the church leadership why women can't pray in general conference and/or to ask that this change. The event can be found here.
Now some of you might be surprised to realize that a woman has never said a prayer at General Conference. Some of you might think that it is bad to contact church leaders about changes to policy/practice. Well, whatever your reaction, you're certainly not alone. There are already comments pouring in. Thus far some of the vitriolic comments towards anyone who would dare to write a church leader about changing a policy looks like it might be on track to match the vitriol from the Wear Pants to Church event. I wanted to try to hit some of the primary complaints I've seen from people against this idea.Read more
Romney: A Good Representative of Mormonism?
While we will not ever say that our interpretation of Mormon doctrine's political implications is the only viable one, we here at MormonLiberals.org firmly believe that ours is the most viable. We will never say "You can't be a good Mormon and a good conservative" (even though we've been told we can't be liberal and be good Mormons hundreds of times). Here's what we say instead.Read more
Blessed are the 53%?
The liberal businessperson stops one day to survey her business. "Wow," she thinks to herself, "look at all these people who work at my company. They work so hard, stay so late, dedicate so much. All for me and my business. They must be Saints!"
The conservative businessperson stops one day to survey her business. "Wow," she thinks to herself, "look at all these people who work at my company. They work so hard, stay so late, dedicate so much. All for me and my business. I must be a Saint!"Read more
In the News
It seems that Mormon democrats, liberals, and progressives have been in the news quite a bit of late. Here are some interesting articles I recommend:Read more