A Bishop's Political Judgement
Recently an over-zealous LDS bishop wrote an op-ed piece which sparked some debate in the Mormon progressive community. Given the man’s position and the use of political questions as a litmus test for temple worthiness, a discussion has emerged around the separation of politics and LDS Church doctrine. Instead of writing an unproductive response to the bishop calling into question conservative platforms that are blatantly anti-Christian, I am instead addressing one of the article’s attacks; Democrat’s pro-choice position. As a proud progressive, I also feel the discussion should center on facts, data, and historical significance, and not arrogantly challenging people’s religious worthiness due to disagreement. In defense of Democrat’s pro-choice position, here are some points to consider:Read more
The Tyranny of Gross Wealth Inequality
In a 2012 General Conference address, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expressed concern about "the ever-growing gap between the rich and poor." Elder Ballard's concern about gross wealth inequality has been shared by many of his predecessors. Elder Orson Pratt once observed that "an inequality of property is the root and foundation of innumerable evils; it tends to derision, and to keep asunder the social feelings that should exist among the people of God.... It is a principle originated in hell; it is the root of all evils.... It is inequality in riches that is a great curse."Read more
Stop Subsidizing Walmart: Raise the Minimum Wage
A recent study of Wisconsin's Medicaid program revealed that Walmart ranked first on state's list of Medicaid enrollment by employer. In other words, Walmart employees in Wisconsin comprise a plurality of the state's Medicaid recipients. Altogether, a single Walmart Super Center costs Wisconsin taxpayers about $900,000 per year in poverty subsidies for its employees, such as food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, and housing assistance because the employees are paid significantly less than what is reasonably required to survive at a minimum standard. Most Americans have rightly decided that we will not allow our fellow citizens, especially children, to starve or go homeless. We have a safety net for the poorest Americans, most of whom live in working households. However, Walmart and all other minimum wage employers are passing on much of this burden from themselves to the taxpayers.Read more
Putting the ‘Conserve’ Back Into ‘Conservative’
During my freshman year at BYU, a conservative friend of mine tried to explain to me why recycling, and caring for the environment in general, were scripturally unsound practices. He cited the LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 59 verses 16 to 19, which, in a nutshell, indicate that the Lord provided all of the natural things on the earth "for benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and raiment." My friend’s attitude was that if the earth and all the things on it are for our benefit, why bother to protect the environment? He conveniently left out the next verse, which states, "for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion." The scripture is clear: we are to be wise and reasonable stewards of our natural resources. George Handley, a professor at BYU, outlined several fundamental principles of environmental stewardship in LDS belief, which I won’t go into here, but are worth reviewing. Unfortunately, far too many people who claim to be Christians do not feel a duty to care for and protect the earth.Read more
A Supreme Precedent for Gun Laws
In the aftermath of any mass shooting in the U.S., an all-or-nothing rhetoric about guns typically infects the public discourse regarding what ought to be done to prevent such tragedies in the future. In many communities, inhabitants are warned that the government has a hidden agenda seeking to ban all future gun sales and intends to confiscate privately owned firearms. “Obama wants to take your guns away,” we are warned. Far too many Americans have accepted the all-or-nothing gun law paradigm, and believe that any attempt by government to place even the most modest of restrictions on how guns are acquired, what firearms can be sold publicly, and where they are carried, as an egregious intrusion on a supposedly inalienable right.Read more
The Constitution Hangs by a Thread
"You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber.... I love the Constitution; it was made by the inspiration of God; and it will be preserved and saved…” – Attributed to Joseph Smith, May 1843
Across congregations of the Mormon Church the above quote has become a rallying cry among the conservative members. I have been approached by several wanting to discuss the destructive nature of the Constitution by our current administration. “Today the constitution hangs by a thread,” always concludes each episode as the definitive reason for their political posturing. Stepping aside from the fact that the bloody Civil War was on the horizon in 1843, which truly challenged the foundation of the Constitution, there is merit to this quote today.
The Framers designed the Constitution to equalize representative power across the states, strengthen the voice of the minority, and drive equality. The Senate functions as a contained democracy using majority rule, with equal representation across the states regardless of population. The House is designed to represent the people, equalizing votes across the collective population of our country. The House Representatives are “of the people” with short two year terms to align with the changing demands of the constituents they represent. The Framers designed our government with an inspired balance of power, representing the minority to a point, and using the legislative branch as a check for executive power.
Two changes in rules and actions threaten the balance of the Legislative Branch and the Constitution today. The filibuster changes the entire intent of the Senate and gerrymandering has removed the representative equality of the House. Our government has moved to an extreme representation of the minority which suffocates the will of the majority. In the Senate, Senators representing a mere 20 percent of the population can stop legislation and bring the chamber to a crawl. In the House, a populous minority retains control and abuses their influence to table popular legislation and misdirect funding.
The Senate filibuster is not found in the Constitution and was first used in 1837 exploiting a change in debating rules made in 1806. The filibuster was used just a handful of times until 1970, and as a last resort. Today it is part of the process on almost every bill or appointment. What the Framers intended to be a simple majority in the Senate has now become a 60 vote super-majority. Couple this with the already imperfect representative balance of the Senate, and it is easy to understand why gridlock has ensued.
Today Republicans use the filibuster to oppose legislation and bring the legislative process to a crawl. There have been several bills these past four years, that after receiving the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster, passed 99-0. One of the most egregious examples came last December when Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill wasting time and tax payer resources. The real problem with this obtuse Senate rule is 40 minority Senators can represent less than 20 percent of the US population. Eliminating the use of the filibuster still meets the intent of minority representation as 45 Republican Senators represent 30 percent of the population.
On the other side of the Legislative Branch the House has deviated from Constitutional intent due to progressive gerrymandering by Republican governors. As the majority of the states were controlled by Republicans after the 2010 census, a $30 million dollar redistricting action plan was executed further skewing the House’s representative characteristics. In 2012 there were 1.5 million more votes for Democrats yet there are 33 more Republican Representatives in the House. The US is 64 percent white but 4 percent of Republican Congressman are minorities. 51 percent of the population are women but only 8 percent of Republican Representatives. The abuse of redistricting is so widespread I see little chance of overturning House control even with a healthy voting majority in the near future.
Between the House and Senate actions by the minority party it’s easy to understand why the Constitution is being tread on. The American government has been hijacked by a party that relies on abusing rules and redistricting to push an unpopular agenda. Legislation like firearm background checks and immigration reform should be a slam dunk given the overwhelming support by the majority of the people, but the government has failed to perform even the most mundane functions. The Constitution is crippled and the balance of power upset because the minority party does not respect the Framer’s intent.
In Mormon congregations across the country my Republican friends are correct; Joseph Smith’s quote is just as applicable today as it was at the time of the Civil War. The Constitution hangs by a thread and they are the ones holding the scissors.
Are Church Leaders' Political Opinions Doctrine?
In past decades, there have been a few General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been outspoken on American politics. Some Church members frequently quote from these politically outspoken former General Authorities in order to justify certain right-wing political views, often implying a doctrinal quality to such views, and, on occasion, attempt to question the faithfulness of members who disagree.Read more
What Romney Really Meant to Say...
Read this article on Yahoo News for a review of the event and Secretary Clinton's message.
The Mormon Who Was Almost President
When Mitt Romney takes the stage in Tampa this week to accept the nomination of the Republican Party, it will be an historic moment for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Perhaps not as historic in the grand sense as the first Catholic nominee was, or African-American nominee was, or female nominee will be, but anticipated and relished nonetheless.
As a rabid fan of science fiction, comic books, and most everything else in the nerdosphere, one of my favorite tropes or concepts is that of the parallel or alternate universe. This is the idea that somewhere there exists an identical earth except some things are radically different. This was explored in the 1990's tv show Sliders, numerous episodes of Star Trek, the Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox," and countless other tv shows, serials, comic books, etc.
I'd like to explore one such universe today-- the one where in 1976, but for the votes of a few thousand people in Wisconsin, our first LDS President was actually elected over 35 years ago.
Politics and Mormonism Q&A
I was asked a series of questions about Mormonism and the progressive wing of American politics by a UK periodical. I typically try to separate religion and politics in my essays, but given this election and the nature of our blog, I thought these responses should be shared.
Written to Denis Campbell, Editor in Chief, UK Progressive
Denis -- Answers to your questions are below. Before I begin, I need to add the caveat that these responses are not official church answers, but are based on my opinions and experiences with the church. Official church statements can be found on lds.org and mormon.org. Several of these questions do not have official church positions, so I will give you my best interpretation.
Knowing what you know today, could you support Mitt Romney for President ( why or why not?)
I could support Mr. Romney as a person, but disagree with his policies and beliefs about role of government. I do not get sucked into the personal attacks of politicking. American politics tries to demonize the character of both sides of the aisle, but that's politics. President Obama is a good man, who cares about this country, and loves his family. I would say the same for Mr. Romney.
And how does your shared faith influence this decision?
As a strong member of the Mormon Church I love seeing LDS political leaders. However, this is not the sole criteria for my support. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a practicing Mormon and is more aligned with how I think about the role of government.
What causes fundamentalist Christians and LW pundits like Bill Maher to label the LDS church a cult?
Define cult. Cult can really apply to any religious organization, or any group with rites of passage. It has a negative connotation so opposition likes to use the word as a label. This is similar to Republicans calling everything they disagree with "liberal" or "socialist", perverting the actual definition of the word, just to solicit a negative response. Fundamentalist Christians try to discredit the church with such slang, as Mormons are viewed outside of fundamental Christian doctrine (or lack of - Mormons can answer many more questions around afterlife, pre-earth life, purpose of life using the Book of Mormon and Bible together).
From a political perspective there is a bit of strategy from Bill Maher. To Democrats the Mormon religion is really a non-issue. Democrats and Liberals are made of several splinter groups with all sorts of religious beliefs from atheism, to agnostic, to Christian. When pundits from the left make comments about Mormonism, I personally believe they are trying to influence the Christian Right who are turned off by anything that is relate to the LDS church. This should keep more of the religious right home on election day. Although this might seem trivial when thinking of numbers; Ohio, Florida, and Virginia will all be decided by very small increments, as these three states will determine the next president.
There are a number of issues many point to when ‘dissing’ Mormonism. Would you please share your impressions, what is most important for lay people to understand, about:
- The Book of Mormon
A second witness of Jesus Christ. A historical book believed to track ancestors of the American Indians. This book was written by several prophets that lived through biblical times on the American continent. After Jesus Christ was resurrected he spent 40 days teaching in the middle east (as recorded by the Bible), and then spend time teaching his followers in the Americas.
When King James put together the bible, he chose from over 200 manuscripts to compile what is today’s book. The additional books of scripture not used were left behind and are rarely discussed as God’s word. There are hundreds of additional authors of scripture that are looked over when talking about biblical teachings. I find it interesting that little thought is given concerning the Book of Mormon writings based off of the argument that the Bible is the only word of God. There is no scriptural backing for this claim, and how does one believe God is omnipotent yet declare his word has been closed up?
- Angel Moroni
An angelic messenger. Much like Angel Gabriel or any other angelic figure believed by Christian faith. It was Moroni’s mission to preserve the teachings of the earlier prophets of the Americas contained in the Book of Mormon.
- Planetary travel
This is doctrine not taught or embraced by the mainstream church. Its speculative doctrine that is not found in any book of LDS scripture. With that being said, the teachings by early apostles and prophets talk more about God being the creator of all things, including galaxies – we would argue that God, or his messengers, could engage in planetary travel (what kind of God would he be if he had limitations, right?)
- Sealing marriage in the temple
Mormons believe that Marriage in the Temple will last for eternity (sealing). It is predicated upon the belief that husband and wife create a unifying bond that serves a purpose in the life to come. The purpose is somewhat unknown except to say that marriage is an eternal commitment and sanctioned by God.
- Temple entrance barred to non-members
The requirements to enter the temple are not mysterious or subjective. There are 14 or so questions, the same questions asked for as long as I can remember, which include chaste living, word of wisdom (no alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, drugs), belief in Jesus Christ, respect for the Prophet and apostles, tithing, belief in the Book of Mormon, etc. Each question is answered by the individual and it is based on an honour code. The temple teaches doctrine that coincides with both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, so why attend if you do not believe? The temple is open to the public for a period of time after construction is complete, before it begins full time use.
Temple ceremonies are believed to be sacred, not secret, although explaining the two from an outside perspective would appear challenging.
A fantastic experience for any young man. Two years are required by unmarried young men ages 19-26. The program sends missionaries all over the world. There are no politics or persuasion that are used to influence where a person will serve, but is based on a questionnaire and individual needs. Missionaries like to believe that their placement is influenced by the spirit of God, and every missionary will tell you, where they served is the best place in the world.
What is most intriguing is the sacrifice by these young men. There is no dating or flirting, every day’s schedule is very regimented, there is no communicating with family members back home except for letters and emails, no discussion of politics or current events, reading is confined to a standard library including the Bible, Book of Mormon, and additional study manuals (and language instruction if missionaries are foreign), and no music. Missionaries are expected to proselyte 70+ hours a week, with one day given as a rest day in which laundry, letter writing, or activities (sports, tourism, etc) are allowed.
- Tithing, Is it 10% of net, gross, pre- or post-tax?
Mormons believe tithing is 10% of increase as taught by the bible. There is no official statement on whether this is net, gross, pre tax or post tax. Tithing is 10% and it is up to the member to interpret what this means. Tithing can also be paid weekly, monthly, or annually, again all determined by the person paying.
- Race relations prior to 1978
The official church doctrine can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants in one of the last couple pages of the book – this and the ending of plural marriage are the two proclamations included in Mormon scripture. Why this proclamation was released in 1978 is not really known save belief that this was God’s intention. I will say that this coincides with the back end timing of the civil rights movement, which many members have speculated would have been an even greater challenge to the church, given the constant persecution the church historically faced. As a note, race never prohibited any individual from being baptized or being members of congregations and there are records of black members all the way back to the early church.
I know this is a sticky point with many outsiders, but this position was in line with many other churches at the time. Even today in pockets of the South there are still segregated churches and establishments. We living in the South, we used to get asked whether our church “was a white church or a black church?” Segregation was a part of US culture for centuries, and the civil rights movement changed how churches included members of different races.
The religion has known polygamous history and indeed some splinter cells still practice it. When and how did the main LDS church denounce this practice and why?
The church (there are no accepted splinter cells – we are one body with one leader) reversed doctrine in 1890 when pushed by the US to deny statehood, and polygamy was banned by law. Mormons are law abiding citizens and the doctrine of plural marriage was reversed upon gaining statehood. Any person practicing polygamy is kicked out of the church, or excommunicated. In considering the history of the world, polygamy is a long supported idea. Even throughout Christ’s time polygamy was practiced by Pharisees and Sadducees and Christ never condemned the practiced. The Old Testament has multiple examples of prophetic leaders engaging in the practice, yet there is little opposition from the Christian community around historical prophet’s relationship with God.
It has been said that Mitt Romney’s grandfather comes from a polygamous sect in Mexico, how does that shape his background and life?
Minimal. Mr. Romney’s father was the Governor of Michigan – if Mr. Romney Sr. was able to shake loose the connection, Mr. Romney will be no different. I’m sure somewhere in my history there is some polygamous splinter as my mother’s side dates back to the Mormon pioneers. In reality we all have polygamous ancestors as most of our ancestry dates back to Abraham (a stretch I admit). I also think it’s hard to understand the choice of plural marriage using today’s frame and filter. I know that there were hundreds of thousands of widows after the Civil War where half of a million men were killed. I also know that the early women in the church were treated with respect and dignity largely due to the Mormon doctrine of woman’s equality with men.
Mormon men are not used to confrontation their word is all that is needed and we have seen frustration on the campaign trail and a culture of secrecy around the candidate, how does that affect one’s ability to govern from the most scrutinized position in the world?
Highly disagree with this statement. I don’t believe this statement is fact based. Mormon men are just like every other man – we all like to be right and do not enjoy being challenged. How is this any different than President Bush standing up after the second election stating, “I am the decider. I have won political capital in this last election and I intend to use it”. Men, in general, seek out authority and command and I think President Obama, PM David Cameron, or Mr. Romney are no different.
Mitt Romney was a lay bishop in Massachusetts. What does that mean? Please explain the church’s hierarchy.
Bishops are the leaders of a local congregation of 300 or so. Mr. Romney was also a Stake President, which governs the 7-8 local Bishops. As you can tell a Bishop in the Mormon Church has a much different meaning than Bishops of the Catholic faith. Bishops are the lowest level of leadership and the position is not political. There is no campaigning and the personality of a Bishop can be incredibly diverse. My last bishop was a scientist for a local company. I once had a bishop who was a roofer that worked 17 hours a day. No clergy is paid in the Mormon church, so being a Bishop equates a time dedication of roughly 20-25 hours a week of unpaid service. Stake presidents are roughly 25-30 hours a week on top of their regular work schedule. The upper echelons of the church are typically retired , and receive a stipend for living expenses (think General Authorities – which are the Prophets, Apostles, and Quorums of the 70). Now, there are paid jobs for the church for administration and infrastructure, but they are modest. People who work for the church do so with the understanding that they will never be extremely wealthy.
In 1960 John F Kennedy was questioned on whether or not he would take cues from the Pope. Mitt Romney is on record saying the church is VERY important in his life. Would he take his cues from church elders? Why or Why not?
Being a Mormon I don’t worry too much about this. Mr. Romney’s faith already deeply influences his choices. Besides, the checks and balances this country has in place would stop any blatant issue. Faith does not trump laws, especially Mormon faith. Remember, the vast majority of the Republicans in Congress are elected by Christian Fundamentalists which is a massive check for any religious grandstanding on Romney’s part. Anyone who thinks that Romney will be able to ram a religious agenda through probably does not understand US political demographics.
Thank you for letting me input. Feel free to ask any follow up questions.
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