Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why Aren't more Mormons Democrats?

I know the reason, of course, its largely abortion and gay and lesbian marriage. And of course, there's something appealing in the Republican ideology of individual responsibility and economic liberty. But, there's some messiness in this thought as well, and darn it, the Mormon church has, in my humble view, been thrown under the bus by the Republican party lately.

Lately, the party has been marginalized largely by its own self-inflicted mistakes, its own corruptions, and misdeeds, and an overly-simplistic ideology that has been shown in the real-world to be horribly flawed. But this marginalized party has also thrown the church under the bus, because large segments of the party's power base has a hateful and hurtful view of the Mormon church - yes I'm talking to the southern evangelical belt of the Republican party. The same part of the party that could not stomach nominating Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate, the person that really should have been the nominee, someone about 100,000 times more qualified to be president than John McCain and certainly Sarah Palin. (Now my views on Romney are based on his record not his rhetoric. He said some insane things in his attempts to win the nomination, but as governor of Massachussetts, he seemed to be a thoughtful, pragmatic moderate. And I think he would have returned to that if he had won the presidency . Of course he had no shot at Obama, but considering the train wreck McCain's candidacy became, I found myself longing for Romney.)

But now that Obama has nominated a supreme court justice, and there's a ton of talk about the Constitution and its interpretation. And with all of this debate about Obama and the economy I've been having, I've been thinking about this a bit more. It seems to me that politically speaking, Mormons tend to think more like Baptists than Mormons.

Let me explain, but first let me point out that I have nothing against evangelicals as a whole, actually I respect their institutions. I do think that a certain number of those who have used the religious platform to push a political agenda have done so in very non-Christian ways.

Ok, I have many conversations in my life (serving my mission as I did in Alabama), with folks who believe themselves Bible literalists. Their faith and their religion is based on a literal acceptance of the Bible as the word of God, perfect and unchanging, and that it is not subject to individual interpretation. Of course, this leads to the very real problem that many Christians have very basic conflicts in how they interpret the Bible, and some faiths, of course, claim theirs is the right interpretation, and others are simply misguided. But mostly, many people get by this problem by boiling down their core beliefs to the most basic Biblical message - faith in Jesus as the Savior and Son of God, through whom salvation comes. That churches on the earth are man-made and flawed, but individual faith is what matters most.

That is a nice belief to be sure, but what I found interesting is that the prophets and apostles of the past are given much more authority over doctrine than pastors and ministers of today. The Bible was written 2000 years ago, and scripture writing has since stopped. Prophets no longer exist. We have clergy today, who although called of God, are left to try to make literal interpretations of this scripture in its application to our day.

Ok, get ready for the stretch...

Republicans today have a very similar point of view. Reverence for our country's founding fathers, I find very similar to the reverence shown toward the original twelve apostles. The Constitution is revered as near scripture, an inspired document. And, in their view, today's political leaders should focus primarily on capturing the original intent of the Constitution and certainly should not add to or take away from this sacred document.

Do you see the parallel? The Constitution, politically speaking, has become biblical in a very evangelical Christian sort of way. Similarly, we have a ton more faith in the country's founders than we do in the politicians today.

But Mormons really should not follow suite. The great revolutionary message of Joseph Smith is that revelation has not ended. That God can call prophets and apostles today, equal in both stature and authority as those called in Biblical times. And, most controversially, these prophets have the authority to write new scripture. Not something that preempts what was written 2000 years ago, but to complement it and have the ability to write and speak to the issues of our day.

The documents of the past are still studied and adhered to, but we as a faith have learned to look to modern day authority figures for direction in a confusing world.

The tenants of the Democrat party fall in-line. Democrats believe that government can be a force for good. That when democracy works, when government is accountable and the voting public is educated, we can elect good men and women into office who can and do work toward our good. Not that they are perfect, not that our government wreaks with corruption. But also note, that our early government was also flawed. We had institutionalized slavery, and we massacred our Native Americans. We had scandal from the beginning. Nothing has changed here. Our founding fathers are revered for very good reasons, we had some incredible men who sacrificed and worked to create something quite literally amazing. But at the end of they day, they were men, with flaws and shortcomings. And we have some pretty remarkable and equally inspiring people living today. Who says that we cannot rise to today's challenges like they rose to theirs.

To say that government has no role, or a very limited one in facing the challenges of today, is simply wrong.

The problem with the political discourse today is that its filled with strawmen. Republicans have historically characterized the Democratic party as socialists in love with the idea that government can solve every last problem. But that is a mischaracterization (although some in the party may believe that). And that certainly doesn't describe our current president.

Becoming a Democrat, I was surprised to learn that many Democrats are truly capitalist and love freedom. Imagine that! They just believe that the government has a role to play both to keep the free market free and to step in when the market systems fall short, and they do fall short more often than Republicans like to admit.

I do realize the reason Mormons tend to flock toward the Republican party is deeper than the issue of Constitutional literalism, and I bet that abortion and gay and lesbian marriage has a lot to do with it. The hopes of this argument is to give some just a little nudge, another reason to reconsider.

Finally, I may be dreaming, but it seems like Obama is trying to make political room for Mormons to join the fold. He chose Huntsman, the Mormon governor of Utah, as his diplomat to China. Huntsman was considered to be one of the Republicans that may have been (and may still be) in the hunt for a future presidential nomination. He's also more pragmatic and moderate than the evangelicals probably want (and of course he's Mormon)... But it was good to see Obama choose him to an important position.

Also, I think that Obama's decision to de-emphasize cultural war issues like abortion and gay and lesbian marriage has a lot to do with allowing room for those of faith, to widen the tent and make space.


Anonymous said...

First, I think that Romney lost more so because the Republicans had trouble stomaching a governor from a liberal state who only once out of office changed his views on abortion. The 2004 election showed how much Republicans hated flip flopper Kerry so it's no wonder why Republicans had trouble trusting Romney. Sure, Romney appears good on paper and his Hollywood looks make him look presidential, but that is superficial. Had Romney ran a good campaign and then lost, I would agree with you on this matter. Second, the Democrats have some values in line with Christians of course. But the hot buttons of late are abortion and gay marriage -- and Republicans make their stance clear on that. I've never understood why Christians get more worked up about homosexuals than the sins in their neighborhood that may actually impact their family. Anyway, I digress. So who is going to help pro-gun LDS members? Democrats?! Maybe LDS needs to create a new party.

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way, David G. posted the previous comment.

H said...

I don't think your comparison between the original founding fathers and the biblical apostles was a stretch at all. The thing that bugs me is that many people look to the original constitution as doctrine and miss the whole point that the founders made it explicitly clear that there should be room for change, amendments, and checks and balances. There was no definitive right and wrong back then, and there shouldn't be now, especially since we've grown as a country and have so many more cultures, dynamics, and worldly interactions to deal with. I'm sure there are just as many good, resonable Republicans out there, as there are sensible, not to freakishly liberal Democrats. It's just hard to find them through all the loud mouthed minorities on each side.

Do you know when the two parties were established? I've wondered who's political blunder that one was. It's all about the money and financial backing, I assume.