Saturday, June 16, 2007

Clowns to the Left and Jokers to the Right

As a conservative Mormon I have been having an existential dilemma. The religion is stuck between two places that are making it very uncomfortable to find a seat in at least the American landscape. Nothing new there. It has always been that way, but only recently has it become possible to fit better in one or the other. There are Mormons infused (by average if not numbers) in all corners of society; many active religiously. However, it is still too tight to fit more than a toe into any pre-fab social hole.

The question was asked in an interview with Richard L. Bushman about Mormons and politics:

. . . who would be some intellectual allies that Mormons and others who might be the butt of the same charge [of irrationality] might find outside their own faith tradition? In other words, where are their intellectual allies for responding to this conception of rationality?

It could be added both intellectual and moral allies. Richard Bushman responds:

Well, their natural allies, which are all conservative Christians, refuse to accept them as allies, and that makes it very difficult.

Indeed, and that is what is so infuriating. There is no secret that Creedal Christians have serious reservations about the Christianity of Mormons. Without any hesitation a large portion of them label Mormons more than non-Christian, but often "cult" as if that means anything beyond the emotional rhetoric of hatred. They dance around vague definitions as if that excuses them from putting a scary mark on a large group of mostly respectable citizens. Never mind that the LDS Church holds very similar ethical and moral positions that has kept the vast majority of members voting Republican and Conservative.

Some few have thrown out the possibility that Mormons should jump ship and cross over to the Democratic side. They could take up the more liberal ideas of fighting poverty, protecting the environment, and social justice. As a Mormon conservative, even I can see how such things can fit in with the historical and theological Mormon philosophy. Tempting as that sounds, it is fraught with an equal amount of hostility that doesn't bode well for tipping the scales.

Harry Reid is a perfect example. Mormons are, by nature of its teachings, a very religious group that is uncomfortable with compartmentalizing. We are to be witnesses of God and Jesus Christ everywhere and in everything; at least by personal behavior. When Harry Reid, that very visible Mormon in Washington, was picked as a leader things looked good. He was, apparently, pro-life and against gay marriage among other conservative positions. At last there was hope he would be a beacon of moderation in a very left Democratic Party.

Sadly, it turned out with Harry Reid very horrible. Moderation went out the door and in its place a shrill puppet of the extreme liberal Democrat movement. Every time he opens his mouth it is to attack Bush, the War, Republicans, and Conservatives. Not once has he said anything about how awful abortion is or anything positive about the institution of marriage between a man and woman. In fact, I don't believe he has said anything at all about God or Religion. Many use him to say that good Mormons can be Democrats. The best that can be said about that is, sure if they shut their mouths and don't talk about it except in the cloistered halls of home and chapel.

Another positive for Mormons joining the liberal Democrat Party, some would say, is they are more tolerant toward minorities. It has been proven by the Article VI Blog how wrong that presumption can be with religion. They have been arguing (and with evidence from Op-eds and news reports to the man on the street who won't even shake a Mormon's hand while making it clear why) that the liberals have been far more disdainful than conservatives. Of course the left has been attacking religion in general, unless you can treat it as a moral myth that is secondary to the liberal agenda. The argument of the blog is not completely persuasive, thus the reason for bringing the issue up.

That leaves Mormons with few options if they want to have some say in at least American life:

They could stick with the Republicans. There isn't anything indicating this will change any time soon. Most Mormons still feel strongly the conservative movement is their movement, and that is in the Republican side of the political system. Nothing has happened yet to push things over the edge. It is ironic that the Religious Right is worried about Mormon power, and yet many comments from them indicate they are the ones who want to create a theocratic "Christian" nation.

They could become Democrats in protest to the Religious Right's theological purity standards. The only way that could happen is if Mormons were given a sense of empowerment. The Democratic Party would have to tone down its heavily liberal stances and become open to religious views. As Harry Reid has shown, at least in the minds of the Republican voting Mormons, that isn't a possibility in the near future. Currently, even more than the Religious Right dominated Republican Party where Mormons can at least tap a shoulder, the Democrats would be telling Mormons to sit in the back of the bus.

Go it alone. It happened at the end of the 19th Century, but with no positive outcome. This could only be if most Mormons felt satisfied to hold on as a regional power. In the worst case, maybe influence Utah and Idaho. Of course, if this happened then accusation of "theocracy" would be intensified. On the other hand, playing the cards correctly could be tangentially influential. The Mormons could start a party that promises inclusion of ANY conservative religious organization that the present Religious Right of the Republican Party shuts out. Certainly this could include Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. who might otherwise be on the political periphery. Of course, even that depends on how inclusive exclusive religions can become when sharing common goals.

All that can really be said is that, if trends hold, something has gotta' give in the Mormon political landscape.


Anonymous said...

I think you're setting up a false dilemma, Jettboy. There is no
One True Party. We aren't talking about how to get to heaven, we're talking about how to run a government. There's absolutely no problem with some members being liberal in their ways, some conservative, and others in the middle. I tend to run fiscal moderate and social liberal (and I'm well aware that self-labeling like this gives you ammunition for ignoring my comment) but I do so in full fellowship and total worthiness. I think the Church is big enough for both of us.

Jettboy said...

Sorry there Chad, but not going to ignore your comment. In fact, you seem to have already labeled me.

You do bring up at least one perspective I haven't listed; forget trying to "find allies," a subset of going it alone. Mormons can simply vote no matter what and let the chips fall where they might. That, of course, has its own risks. Church members will simply have to become politically irrelavant - at least in overall influence of party politics. Some religious leaders in other denominations have already considred this option.

To be honest, I find such a solution would be comforting to a "liberal Mormon" who already has minority status within the LDS culture, but not one a Conservative would want. This is especially the case where Mormons would like some social legitimacy, and in the United States that equals political power.

Anonymous said...

Again, where do you get this idea that as a church we have to band together politically and vote/lobby/politick as a group?

I don't lose relevance as a voter if I don't vote exactly like those around me. That's the whole point of having a vote: I use it as I see fit.

I just don't get why you think we LDS people have to band together and vote as a block. We have no moral nor ecclesiatic directive to do so.

And FWIW, *I* didn't label you, you labeled you. Note the first four words of your original post. I simply followed suit to illustrate that here are many points in the Mormon political continuum, and there are many that are valid; not just "conservative." Before summarily dismissing them I would think a person asking the questions you indicated in your post would want to look honestly at where other fellow Church members stand and why.

Jettboy said...

Well, you did label yourself as well and then used my personal label to judge how I would react to your words.

"Again, where do you get this idea that as a church we have to band together politically and vote/lobby/politick as a group?"

From how I believe things actually work in the United States political process. Individuals might be important for an outcome, but I do think individuals lose relavance if they don't have a sizable group who vote the same way. They will either lose every time or be ignored by those who eventually gain power.

Do we have a religious obligation to vote together as Mormons? Yes and no. We have been asked to contribute as citizens of whatever country we live in. For the U.S., that means voting and using our voices. There is, of course, no specifics on how to act beyond participating. However, considering how I believe the U.S. system works, the best way to be effective citizens is to group together as much of a block as possible. Otherwise, you are risking irrelavance or at least playing games of chance.

Kristine said...

jettboy, that's the kind of thinking that got the Mormons driven out of several states. Fact is that active Mormons are a tiny, tiny minority in the U.S., and even voting as a block, they are unlikely to have a big impact anywhere except in Utah. But block-voting will make us plenty of enemies in U.S. politics and cement the notion of Mormons as insular and narrow-minded.

Jettboy said...

" . . .that's the kind of thinking that got the Mormons driven out of several states"

And Mormons even then had every right to vote in the U.S. as a block. We have no more obligation to split our votes as to cast them as a group. Hopefully we have grown as a nation beyond those times when Mormons were kicked out. If not, I am afraid the U.S. Constitution is not worth the paper its written on.

As for your other points, those are some that I had mentioned in my last suggestion. However, our size is exactly the reason Mormons need to become a power in one of the Political parties or create our own, finding others who are inclined to vote with us. Realize that by saying we shouldn't vote as a group, that means accept that we will hold no power. That means we will be ignored or even taken from granted, or even . . . risk the return of real persecution. If we don't stand up for ourselves, who will?

by the way, I don't care if we are seen as "insular and narrow-minded," as we are! If we weren't, we wouldn't be Mormons or at least care as much about our religious beliefs. That doesn't mean we should treat others bad, because that goes against the ethics of the Gospel. what it does mean is we are supposed to be set apart from the others. That is one reason I am somewhat uncomfortable with us trying to show we are not "weird," but that is another subject.