This week I want to talk about Mormons and politics. Now that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. are running for president of the United States, I think it’s fair to discuss the circumstances surrounding Mormons and political ideas. I’d like to know if there’s such as thing as Mormon political philosophy? Is there one true way for the one true religion to express itself philosophically and politically?
Of course, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both clear and adamant that it does not endorse political candidates and that every member of the LDS Church is free to exercise their civic franchise how they see fit. But such reminders seem desperate when the obvious so often dangles in front of the spoken word. What’s obvious is that the LDS Church is value-driven; its doctrines have temporal as well as spiritual meanings, and it can get pretty confusing after a while.
For instance, what about gay rights? Should a good Mormon support a candidate who believes in gay rights? I, personally, don’t think so but my opinion pales in comparison to the LDS Church’s support for Salt Lake City’s two anti-discrimination ordinances. Jon Huntsman Jr. supports gay rights and yet many conservative Mormons condemn him for that support. Are they saying the same about their own church? Evidently, if by “gay rights” we mean treating people kindly, Mormons are in favor of them. If “gay rights” mean laws to endorse or encourage sinful human behavior, Mormons are against them.
Or take Mitt Romney’s endorsement of ethanol subsidies. Most conservative Mormons appreciate the free market and oppose these sorts of agricultural subsidies and, I presume, would condemn Romney’s support of those subsidies. But it wasn’t so long ago that the LDS Church, itself owners of sugar processing plants, supported similar farm subsidies.
And let’s not even get into illegal immigration!
What’s a faithful Mormon to think? Well, here’s what I think. Politics is politics. Likewise, saving your church from financial ruin during the very hard economic times of years past requires some creative thinking. Neither of which deserves anyone’s condemnation. But it does deserve proper discernment. And it doesn’t mean that anything goes. Being a faithful Mormon still means something these days – even in politics.
And these issues cut across the political spectrum. I have many good Mormon friends who consider themselves to be libertarians and yet, I think, they should struggle with the whole idea that a true-blue libertarian could be a faithful Mormon. They like to focus their considerable attention on liberty issues in the traditional way forgetting that libertarianism is anything but traditional when it comes to liberty. Just ask homosexuals, drug dealers and pornographers – each of whom welcomes the libertarian into their unseemly fold.
And then I have good Mormon friends who defend the entire welfare state on the premise that Jesus was a liberal. They say Jesus even referred thusly whenever He spoke of treating people liberally. Yeah, I know.
Evidently, much of the confusion stems from that period in Utah history when church leaders were forced to divide congregations right down the middle into Republicans and Democrats. That experience reinforces the idea among many Church members that it really doesn’t matter what political party you join. Unfortunately, that isolated historical experience bleeds over for some people into the idea that it really doesn’t matter what opinions you hold on certain issues.
But, as I said, everything matters because being a Latter-day Saint matters. If Mormons have deeply held values, they also have deeply held political opinions based on those values. Not long ago, I gave a speech I titled “Why I’m a Conservative,” and, in a nutshell, I’m a conservative because I’m a Latter-day Saint. I invite listeners to read that talk on our Web site at sutherlandinstitute.org. And I’d be very interested in your feedback.
Meanwhile, for you Mormon friends of mine who identify with liberalism and libertarianism, I still love you. I still have great hopes for all of you.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.