An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon politics’

Resenting Religious Rule

I’m beginning to understand the frustration non-Mormons in Utah feel with the political influence exerted by the dominant religion. The Republican presidential nominations for the past several cycles have been dominated by evangelicals Now, I have nothing against evangelicals—some of my nearest and dearest adhere to that faith—I’m just reluctant to have them choose a major presidential candidate. I mean, how can I trust a group that thought George W. Bush was God’s gift to America?

The upside is that, nationwide, evangelicals are a minority. No matter how they influence the Republican Party, the other party offers another choice.

Not so in Utah. Utah has not elected a non-Mormon governor since 1928. No non-Mormon senators and congressmen have been elected in Utah in my memory. Approximately 60% of Utahns consider themselves Mormons, but close to 90% of state office holders hold to the faith. Gerrymandered voting districts keep mostly Mormon Republicans in office in all but two counties.

Non-Mormons chafe at Utah’s liquor laws which are directly influenced by Church leadership. Many believe Thomas Monson is the most influential person in Utah politics. Legislators, however, don’t always bow to requests from 50 N Temple. The concealed weapons law did not respect Church wishes to exclude churches from places gun toting is allowed. With the current exception of a humane stance on immigration laws and a firm policy against gay marriage, Church headquarters keeps silent about most political issues.

For some reason—possibly because of long-harbored resentment against lack of government protection during the Missouri and Illinois persecutions, the invasion of Johnson’s Army, and subsequent persecution of polygamy—most Mormons are right-wing Republicans with a distrust of government. Mormons also have a strong aversion to taxes—possibly feeling their heavy Church donations are all they can afford—or that volunteerism can provide for all a community’s needs.

Church leaders may not be responsible for all political views of their followers, but the Church is judged by its members. And non-Mormon Utahns blame the Church for a state government which excludes them.

Fall Guy

A non-member friend whose husband was Mormon asked me why so many Mormons are right-wing Republicans when Democrat’s policies of caring for the poor seem more in line with Church doctrine. My friend knows the Book of Mormon is loaded with references to caring for the poor including Mosiah 4:21-22 which not only tells readers to “impart of the substance that ye have one to another,” but condemns people who judge those asking for aid. The Doctrine & Covenants is full of commandments to share our property including the statement, “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.” (49:20)

Of course, the Book of Mormon is also replete with prosperity promises, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper . . . .” (1 Ne. 2:20) The Doctrine & Covenants also promises prosperity for obedience, “Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper . . . .” (D&C 9:13)

Human propensity to ignore the less appealing and emphasize the more attractive probably explains many Mormons’ emphasis on the prosperity rather than the sharing doctrine. I can’t help wondering if scriptural prosperity promises are linked to the radical right-wing politics of many Mormons.

For several years a right-wing, pre-Tea Party family lived in our ward. The Lintons were devout Mormons with a large family, a stay-at-home-mom, and a dad with a low-paying job. Although they had children in their teens, they lived in a rented duplex. They had moved to Utah from California. The economy was not bad at that time, and I never learned why they were in straitened circumstances. Was it a failed business venture? Lack of job skills? Had they fallen for a scam? Was it Brother Linton’s poor social skills?

Because they were commandment-keeping Mormons, I suspect they felt entitled to a prosperity that eluded them. The Lintons were outspoken in their hatred of government and resentment of paying taxes to help lazy welfare recipients. Apparently, they believed that taxes kept them poor, although I doubt they paid much income tax considering the size of their family.

I know other families like the Lintons who suffer economic hardship although they attend church, pay tithes and offerings, pray, and hold family home evenings. A selective reading of Mormon scriptures may give them a false sense of entitlement causing them to blame government for their failure to achieve economic sufficiency.

A person who meticulously obeys the commandments of her church, but does not receive the promised blessings is in a tough spot. She can’t blame the church she believes in—that might get her in trouble with God. Blaming herself or a loved one is unhealthy. The government becomes the fall guy—not a bad solution—unless one believes that accepting personal responsibility is essential for personal growth.

Follow the Prophet, Unless . . . .

Last week a provocative blog post listed the following scenarios and asked what faithful Mormons would do if presented with the following situations:

You are on a jury.  The defendant is accused of heinous crimes.  The evidence clearly indicates that he is guilty.  The defendant is Mormon. The prophet comes to you and tells you to vote innocent.  Would you do it?

The Church comes to you and asks for all of your “excess” possessions to pay off the prophet’s personal debts.  Would you do it?

You hear two Mormon men talking about how they tortured two defenseless Muslims traveling though the Uintah National Forest.  Your Bishop tells you to tell no one about it.  The FBI comes to you and asks you if you have heard anything about the murders.  Do you remain quiet?

The prophet declares he has received holy revelation which states that all LDS women must marry at the age of 16.  You have a daughter who is 16.  Do you sign for her to get married?

The prophet tells you that anyone who harms the Mormons is guilty of a sin against God punishable by immediate death.  What do you do?

A new prophet is put in place.  He makes some bold and aggressive statements.  Certain people publicly disagree with him.  One by one, those people meet fatal accidents.  What do you do?

Those scenarios were a bit over the top for modern Mormons to relate to, but we do have other areas which test our faith. Back in the ‘60s, a Democratic friend threatened to leave the Church if Ezra Taft Benson ever became the prophet. She remains an active member. Fortunately, President Benson refrained from extreme political rhetoric once he assumed the mantle of the prophet which probably saved my friend’s membership.

It’s not necessarily bad when a prophet institutes a policy causing Latter-day Saints to do a 180 on their thinking. A lot of latter-day bigots had to change long-held beliefs about racial inferiority following the 1978 revelation on extending priesthood to all races. Even Utah legislator, Chris Buttars, made an about-face from his gay-hating rhetoric this year after the Church issued a statement supporting civil rights for gays and Lesbians.

But none of the above scenarios holds a candle to the test of faith that could rock the Church to its core. What if the prophet asked members to vote for a Democrat?

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