A Mormon Image: Mormons on the Picket Line

February 26, 2004 | 37 comments
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Mormons have a well-deserved reputation as a conservative bunch. Hence, I have to include this wonderful image of leftist Mormons on the picket line.

The picture shows a members of Mormons for Equality and Social Justice picketing with striking miners in Huntington, Utah. If you haven’t been following the adventures of MESJ, you ought to. They are an group of Mormons who are interested in left-wing/progressive politics and religious orthodoxy and loyalty to the church.

I think that they are important for a number of reasons. First, they are explicitly trying to articulate a political vision based on Mormonism. Second, their efforts illustrate that Mormon conservatism need not be a foregone conclusion. Hence they open the possibility of a pluralistic, but nevertheless explicity Mormon and faithful discussion on politics. Third, even if you don’t agree with their particular brand of political activism, a bit more political diversity among Mormons can only be good for the Church and for Mormonism.

Kudos to MESJ from a basically classical liberal Mormon!

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37 Responses to A Mormon Image: Mormons on the Picket Line

  1. brayden on February 26, 2004 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the info Nate. I hadn’t heard of this group until now. Maybe I’ll join. :)

    It’s interesting how politics and religion get combined in various issues. I don’t think that many political issues are decided in one way or another by religious doctrine, but often we (church members who are political) use the church as a resource to justify one political view or another. Or at other times we try to use our Church resources as a means to accomplish our political objectives (whatever they may be).

    I found a Salt Lake Tribune article this morning that discusses how a Latino advocacy group and an immigration reform group are appealing to the Church to take a stand on immigration reform and (this is where it gets interesting) whether undocumented immigrants should be able to receive temple recommends. Not surprisingly the immigration reform group (UFIRE) doesn’t think undocumented workers should be able to enter LDS temples. The link to the article is http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Feb/02262004/utah/142625.asp.

    Sorry for hijacking your post Nate. Carry on.

  2. Matt Evans on February 26, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Nate, you know I strongly disagree with MESJ on the role they want government to play, and that I find their views on the use of coercive force antithetical to Mormonism. However, I’m most interested in your third reason for celebrating MESJ.

    Why should someone like you or me, who thinks classical liberalism is superior to the position of MESJ, think it good for the Church to have more Mormons embrace inferior political ideas in the name of diversity?

    This argument for diversity arises periodically, like when Merlin Jensen of the Seventy said Utah needed more Democrats. It makes no sense to me. Utah would be more politically diverse if more Utahns were Democrats, Whigs, Socialists, Monarchists, Fascists, Greens, Communists, Constitutionalists and Libertarians. But I can’t imagine how this increase in political diversity would make Utah better.

    Similarly, I don’t see how the church or Mormonism would benefit from increased political diversity.

    As long as you believe some political ideologies are better than others (as we all do) then I don’t see why anyone should be happy that their fellow citizens subscribe to inferior political ideologies.

  3. brayden on February 26, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    I’ll try not to take offense to Matt’s use of the phrase “inferior political ideologies.” Okay, done, no offense taken.

  4. William Morris on February 26, 2004 at 8:33 pm

    Matt:

    I’d be interested in hearing more about what you mean by “coercive force” as well as why you think it is “antithetical to Mormonism.” I also would love to here from both Matt on Nate what they mean by “classical liberalism.”

    I’m currently politically confused, but I have a suspicion that I might be a classical liberal, myself.

    Thanks.

  5. Matt Evans on February 26, 2004 at 9:27 pm

    Hi Brayden,

    Thanks for not taking offense, I didn’t mean any. My intention was to point out that everyone believes their political viewpoints are superior (if they thought a different political viewpoint was better than their own, they would adopt it.)

    The reason you don’t accept my political viewpoint as your own is because you think mine is inferior, even if you are too polite to use that word.

  6. Kaimi on February 26, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    Matt,

    I can think that my ideas are superior to another school, but also be glad that the other school of thought exists, because I think that my own ideas are enriched by the process of dialogue between two positions, neither of which are perfect and both of which are honest attempts to improve society, even if through different political ideas.

    I suspect Nate may have the same basic motivation.

  7. Matt J on February 26, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    I for one am quite happy that there are others with different political views than my own. First, my views have changed in the past, and I expect they will again as I learn. Second and related, while my current views are most comfortable and correct to me, I do not presume that I am always right. I may be wrong and not know it, even though I never do change my mind. Third, my views are nowhere near complete (there are lots of issues I haven’t resolved personally and others I haven’t even thought of). There are probably other reasons not coming to me now. I dread the thought of living in a world (or community or church or even family) where everyone had the exact same views as my own. This may just reflect the strength of conviction of my views…

    In the case of MESJ and the church, I am glad that there are members of the church with differing political views, because it opens the possibility that more people may join or come back to the church because they aren’t expected to adopt one view in order to belong.

  8. Matt Evans on February 26, 2004 at 10:20 pm

    Hi William,

    When I speak of “coercive force” I’m referring to the use of the police power. The “police power” is a term of art in political science that refers to the government’s power to use physical force to ensure its policies are followed. The police power is coercive because it requires people to accept the governments rules or go to jail, or have their property taken away, or lose their business, etc. Most political disagreements are ultimately based on differing views of the proper use of the police power.

    “Classical liberalism” simply means “liberalism as that term was used in the 18th and 19th centuries”, because the meaning of the word liberalism has shifted. America’s founding fathers were all ‘classical’ liberals. Modern liberalism adds a strong dose of socialism, an addition that classical liberals reject.

    Classical liberalism stands for individual freedom from state interference, laissez-faire economics, and a belief that human rights exist independently of government.

    The first two sentences of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence are the manifesto of classical liberalism:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    Liberalism, as that term is understood today, wants to use government as a force for social change, especially to empower the poor and disadvantaged through heavy taxation.

    Where liberalism initially meant small government and low taxes, it now means large government and high taxes.

    Speaking of changing definition of ‘liberal’ occasioned by FDR’s New Deal, Will Rogers said, “I can remember way back when a liberal was someone who was generous with his own money.”

  9. Russell Arben Fox on February 26, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    (Warning: ostentation ahead)

    Actually Matt, the relationship between the lines penned by Thomas Jefferson and classical liberalism can be disputed. Obviously Jefferson, in speaking of truths that are “self-evident” and powers that are derived “from the consent of the governed,” was operating within a basically Lockean philosophical framework, in which individuals are held to 1) have perspectives and interests which are naturally, indeed empirically, distinct from one another; 2) be soveriegn over their own choices and thought processes; and 3) therefore all be equally free from any authority (except, arguably, God) that they did not choose to invest ruling power in. However, that’s not all which Jefferson crammed in there. If he was a true classical liberal (i.e., essentially some sort of modern-day libertarian), he would not have shied away from using the full Lockean formula: “life, liberty, and property.” But he did deviate from the discussion of entitlements; instead, he talked about “happiness.” Perhaps a journalistic flourish–but perhaps not. Quite a few scholars (Garry Wills, Richard Matthews, Gordon Wood, etc.) have suggested that Jefferson’s notions of happiness were informed by the philosophies of Francis Hutchinson and other figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, who (with the possible exception of Adam Smith) grounded their concepts of liberty in social theories of common or moral sense. That is, “moral happiness” could be obtained only in conditions where our natural sensibility could work its affects upon us; hence achieveing happiness required collective virtue, disciplined (as opposed to merely self-interested) political action, and relatively common (including economic) purposes. All of which would suggest that Jefferson’s ideal republic was not a classical liberal one, but rather one filled with numerous tightly knit, independent, moderately invasive, virtuous (primarily agricultural) communities. As many moral reformers have discovered and rhetorically exploited over the years, there was more than a little communitarianism and collective concern smuggled into the heart of the American experiment right from the beginning.

  10. brayden on February 26, 2004 at 11:32 pm

    Matt, I understand that there are basic differences in our political beliefs, but that’s not all that uncommon, even among people who share very similar social and educational backgrounds. In fact, I would suggest that very few people share exactly the same set of political beliefs. Even two people who share 95% of their political ideology in common, there will always be that 10% that will cause dispute. And oh what a ruckus that 10% difference can make!

    I’m of the belief that diversity is a good thing because it counters ideological totalitarianism and breeds creativity. I’m perfectly willing to believe that my ideas about how the state should be run could be improved upon in some way. If I didn’t believe that, not only would I not be very humble or realistic, but I would be in danger of losing relevance very quickly, given the dynamic nature of our society and polity.

    Look what good diversity did the founders of this country. If they all had agreed that federalism was the best form of government, our country would look much different today, and for the worse I think. If anything we should be worried now that our system is not encouraging enough diversity. Although I very frequently agree completely with libertarian policies (particularly in the economic arena), I wish there were a few more elected libertarians just to keep the rest of on our toes.

  11. Renee on February 27, 2004 at 12:14 am

    I subscribed to their mailing list when I first heard about MESJ. I susequently dropped off it. The reason is because some of the issues they support seem to be to be in direct conflict with the gospel. I had hoped initally that MESJ would have the best of both conservative and liberal worlds – recognition of the importance of conservative social stances and recognition of the importance of conservation and responsible treatment of the environment. Instead, I found they supported the “liberal” side of every social issue to come down the pike.

    I feel like I’m isolated politically. I feel like the gospel emphasizes responsible stewardship of natural resources and minimalism. It seems these stances are held by few members and even fewer “conservatives”. I feel like the gospel emphasizes value of all life and traditional relationships. It seems most members recognize this but very few “liberals” do.

    In short, I feel like I’m alone in trying to follow the gospel. JUST KIDDING. Well, sorta. ;)

  12. Aaron Brown on February 27, 2004 at 12:14 am

    Matt,

    I wonder if you wouldn’t be more symptathetic to the virtues of political diversity (even assuming the superiority of your own Classical Liberal vision) if you had attended BYU as an undergraduate.

    A lack of political diversity breeds a default orthodoxy that often goes unquestioned. It breeds lazy thinking. In the specific context of a religious school, it can foster confusion between religious imperatives and political arguments. If my experience at BYU taught me anything, it taught me that.

    Of course, these same deficiencies may be just as observable at Harvard Law School, as you well know. Yet I can see how you might conclude, as a political minority there, that the problem at HLS was widespread adherence to the “wrong” ideology, rather than the monolithic, homogeneous nature of the ideology itself. But I think you would be wrong.

    Aaron B

  13. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 12:18 am

    Wm. Morris: check out http://www.politopia.com for a good political quiz.

    Brayden: You didn’t notice my post several months ago re: MESJ and the “Choose the Left” (CTL) T-shirts? There is one you can war with Pride!

    Russell: A former BYU PoliSci prof thought the same re: Jefferson and many of the Founders, i.e. that they were influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, and in fact by Erasmus and…all the way back to the one or another of the Catholic ‘heretics.’ Um…a ‘free will’ Catholic heretic…can’t remember his name.

  14. Renee on February 27, 2004 at 12:20 am

    And speaking of Mormon images, on the top of the homepage, what’s that picture of the jailbirds about?

  15. Aaron Brown on February 27, 2004 at 12:21 am

    How embarrassing! Has anybody triple-posted before?

    Seriously, you’d think I believe my post is so profound, I need to reiterate it three times! (grin)

    Kaimi, please remove the last two posts if you can. I don’t want to cheat my way up the list of Top 30 comment leaders. :>

    Aaron B

  16. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 12:23 am

    Renee:

    “Your not alone…” [quasi-cheesy mormon tune...]

    actually, i think there are alot of semi-green Mormons. Me for one. I bought a Toyota Prius so I would be more gas and emissions friendly. And when I dont’ need to use a car; I drive a motorcycle…also good on emissions/gas usage.

    I recycle. I think BYU has a good recycling program (even though i understand it took alot of work to get it going and continuing…it has long since taken ‘root’).

    heck…i even think of the human body as the best form of renewable energy, and so try to avoid elevators, etc…not for the exercise, but to conserve the use of energy. ok…i’m too quacky.

    :)

  17. Jim F. on February 27, 2004 at 12:24 am

    Matt, my belief that the Church needs more Democrats in Utah has little or nothing to do with the political agendas of either party. It has to do with the tyranny that comes in any one party system. The one-party system in Utah means that a small handful of Republican party people have a great deal of clout in Utah politics, and from what I can see few of that small handful are classical liberals. If only!

    In addition, it is difficult for me to believe that either political party has much to do with an idealistic political agenda. People join political parties only partly because they agree with the platforms and ideologies supposedly represented by the parties. They join because they feel more comfortable with the people they know in a particular party, because they are opposed to something or someone in the other party, because they want to make a statement of some kind, because their parents or grandparents were members of the party (or members of the other party), and on and on. If rationality and ideology were at the heart of people’s choice of political parties, we wouldn’t find the geographic distribution of them that we do, with most people in some areas being Democrats and most people in other areas being Republican.

  18. Renee on February 27, 2004 at 12:28 am

    Lyle,

    Hey, I happen to like that hokey, cheesy song. :)

    Let’s go form our own party! Can we protest outside the doors of my stake center with the preponderance of SUVs and luxury sedans?

  19. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 12:29 am

    I agree with Jim…in fact, don’t tell anyone, lol, but I voted a strait libertarian ticket in the last presidential election year in Utah precisely because I believe that Utah needs a viable 2nd party. I just don’t think the Democrats are that party. At least the Libertarians run candidates in just about every election…many Republicans go unoposed by a Democratic oponent. Long live Classical Liberals!

  20. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 12:31 am

    Renee:

    YES! Let’s!!! But only if we do it next January, when we can each drive in 1 of 2 new gas-electric hybrid SUVs…the Ford Escape (out in November) and the Toyota Highlander (out in January 05)…each of which will get around 40mpg.

  21. Greg Call on February 27, 2004 at 12:42 am

    Renee,
    For more background on the “jailbirds” that grace our masthead, check out http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000386.html

  22. Renee on February 27, 2004 at 12:57 am

    Greg – Thanks. Is it wrong that I dig those old jail uniforms? Must be my affection for “O Brother Where Art Thou”.

  23. Matt Evans on February 27, 2004 at 1:31 am

    Goodness gracious! I write the following response only to find that lots of comments have been made sinced I started. I’ll address more recent comments tomorrow.

    Two points:

    First, I think several commenters have conflated political advocacy with political theory. Vibrant political discourse is healthy, but for this we only need questioning minds (of which we have a finite number) and problems to solve (of which their are oodles). MESJ is an advocacy group. Their purpose isn’t to ask questions, it’s to disseminate answers and urge action, like choosing leftist politics. It doesn’t make sense for someone who wants the country to move in the right direction to wish there were more people pushing it left.

    Second, diversity in a democracy is a constant. The political discourse always occurs at the point at which opinions begin to diverge. Only because we share assumptions down the trunk is it fruitful to discuss points in the branches. This is why, as Brayden pointed out, there is diversity in every group. Someone observing members of the Federalist Society in a classroom at Harvard Law School might assume that all Federalists have the same opinions. But if they went to a conference of Federalist Society members, they’d see that the Federalists find new branches of disagreement to discuss and debate. Up one branch: Federalists into libertarians and conservatives; libertarians into libertarians and strong libertarians; strong libertarians into anarchist libertarians and enforced libertarians.

    America has no monarchists and communists participating in the political discourse, so our political debates occur solely between democrats and capitalists. Inviting monarchists and communists to the table would not benefit us. The winnowing process — such as the rejection of monarchy and communism — has moved us forward. Society is better off now that we no longer waste valuable time and resources debating whether we should have a king or recognize private property. We have been able to move from the general to the specific only as we have achieved consensus. The Continental Congress was only able to debate the form of the representative government because they were agreed on democracy and rejected monarchy. And they weren’t able to debate the length of terms for representatives and senators until they agreed to have a bicameral legislature.

    If the Democratic Party imploded — or its members became Republicans — there would not be a homogenous political culture. The result would be the fracturing of the Republican Party. Diverse groups that now work together in the Republican Party do so only because they fear the aims of Democratic groups more than they each others. Because so many Utahns are Republicans, in Utah the real election comes at the Republican Convention when the Republicans vote on which of the many possible candidates will be the party’s nominee. This is less than ideal, because fewer people are paying close attention to the convention than to the general election. But this problem can’t be resolved until either (a) the Utah Democratic party is so small that the Republicans can divide without giving the election to the Democrats, or (b) the national Democratic party lets the Utah Democrats take positions on the tree branches occupied by Mormons.

    Someone wishing for more diversity wants the debate to occur further down the tree. Usually, as in the case of Merlin Jensen, it means he thinks everyone went down the wrong branch, and he wants to persuade them to take his route instead.

  24. Kaimi on February 27, 2004 at 1:41 am

    Aaron,

    Done. :) You still have to add another 13 comments to break into the top 10, as presently constituted. You’re now tied with Taylor for #12 among non-bloggers.

    By the way, I tinkered with the code some today, and I think it’s properly counting Clark’s comments from both e-mails in the tally. (The same for others who often post with 2 e-mail addresses, such as Greg and Matt) (except that some of the later months in the monthly page aren’t doing that right — I’m not sure why). The new code is a slightly more accurate tally –for instance, you can now see that we’ve had the same #1 and #2 commenter every month since December.

  25. Aaron Brown on February 27, 2004 at 3:26 am

    Thanks, Kaimi.

    Since my sense of self-worth is entirely a product of my T&S ranking, it’s good to see I’m moving on up. I must admit, though, that my goal of eventually surpassing “clark goble” (if not “clark” or “Clark Goble”) has now been shattered.

    What a cruel blog this is. :>

    Aaron B

  26. Nate Oman on February 27, 2004 at 12:22 pm

    A couple of points:

    1. I value political diversity because I like looking at the ideas — and “the show” (ie political events, etc.); I am a big believer in politics as theater — and because I think that there is a tendency for ideas without opposition to stagnate. (Also, the “show” is not nearly as much fun to watch.) I am also interested in increasing Mormon political clout. I think that the political mono-culture of American Mormons undermines Mormon political clout in that we end up becoming like blacks — thought of as safely welded to a single political party and therefore ignored. (Also, Mormons are exceptionally stingy political givers, another good way of getting ignored.)

    2. I use the term “classical liberal” because I don’t really think of myself as a conservative anymore, and I am skeptical of some conservative political causes (three-strikes-and-your-out law and order rhetoric, faith-based initiatives, etc.) and some conservative political theory (Burke. Although I love Burke.) I am not a “liberal” in the way that term gets used journalistically (although I am probably comfortable with being thought a liberal in philosophical terms.) On the other hand, the term “libertarian” has all sorts of Ayn Rand overtones that I am not comfortable with. Also, I am in favor of some modest forms of wealth redistribution, which most libertarians find anethma. (On the otherhand, Friedrich Hayek agreed with me — or I with him — so I suppose that we are both in good classical liberal company.) I like markets and traditional private law. I dislike most ex ante administrative regulations. I dislike pro-business (ie corporate welfare) policies. I like free trade. I think that Gladstone was cool, and Disraeli was scary. I think that Hernando De Soto is very cool (www.ild.org.pe). I suspect that this means that I disagree with Matt on a lot of issues and probably disagree with Russell on even more. BTW, I think that Russell is probably right about Jefferson, who I think was a ninny (although not because of his communitarianism).

  27. brayden on February 27, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Nate – Sounds like you should start your own party. Maybe you and Nader can find something in common. ;)

  28. brayden on February 27, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Matt – what you say about diversity within party is true. Democracy will likely always breed diversity and debate, but we must not forget about the organizational power that parties have to enforce their agenda on policymakers. Bills that get a lot of attention in the public eye are often split heavily down party line. (This is not to suggest that *all* legislation is partisan, but most of the legislation that captures the public eye tends to be party driven.) I find it striking that bill after bill we see so much intra-party agreement. Why? Does this mean that Democrats really do think differently than Republicans and that the divide between the two parties is greater than the differences between members of the same party?

    I don’t think so. I’ve never actually seen an empirical study of this, but my intuition tells me that many Republicans are closer to many Democrats on most issues than they are to the radical wing of their own party. The same would be true of Democrats too. But still we see partisan voting. I think this is because the party has the ability to enforce particular perspectives on its members when it comes time to vote. “Vote this way or you’ll lose support for your bill, etc.”

    It may well be that if the Democratic party went away, there would simply be a new party spun off the Republican. (I’d like to think that the Republican party would be the one to disappear though ;).) But what we see happening instead is that both parties slowly change their stance on a few things to keep up with the shifting public opinion. Our country has undergone a massive shift towards neoliberalism (a version of classical liberalism) and this has caused the Democrats to rethink many of their old strategies (–> the third way). The party system will continue to evolve to reflect the majority opinion. It will be interesting to see what direction it takes.

    So, in the interest of diversity we really need to ensure that those of us who have differences of opinion from the majority of our particular party continue to express those differences. I think the whole Dean campaign was a reaction to the homogenization of opinion developing within the Democratic party. It wasn’t enough to create a truly Leftist nominee, but it did ignite the party with a sense of neo-populism (which comes as a way of relief from the corporate welfarist presidency we have now.). I think we should do more to encourage those debates, whether it be between the libertarians and the conservatives or the Leftists and the New Democrats.

    For Mormons this might mean bringing a Mormon theological perspective on politics into the political realm (explicitly, not just in disguise as we see with Hatch and Romney). I for one am glad that the MESJ is doing this.

  29. Nate Oman on February 27, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    I vote Republican (although in the last election, I voted Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian) but I tend to have incredibly low expectations for democratic politics. Too much public choice reading.

    I also think that Nader is a ninny.

  30. Adam Greenwood on February 27, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Nate,
    let me know when I show up on your ninny watch, so I can do an emergency course change.

  31. Russell Arben Fox on February 27, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Nate: if you think Jefferson and Nader were both ninnies, then I aspire to ninnyhood in your eyes.

  32. Nate Oman on February 27, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Sorry Russell: You will first need to engage in a protract lying and smear campaign against close friends of the opposite political party. You will also need to do a great deal of fierce moralizing about the virtues of rural frugality while running up exorbident debts that eventually require that you sell of human beings (some of whom are quite possibly your own children) in order to pay. Then you will need to do a bit of personal union busting while preaching the virtues of labor organization and make millions off of books written by underpaid staffers while lecturing others on the importance of a living wage.

    You have your work cut out for you…

  33. brayden on February 27, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    Seems like being a ninny in Nate’s book is limited to a few “special” people. I dislike Nader for other reasons – I’m a Democrat.

  34. Randy on February 27, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    Brayden, if I recall collectly from some discussion awhile back, Nate’s book of ninnys also includes all reporters that cover the Supreme Court.

  35. Matt Evans on February 28, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    No one thinks Stuart Taylor is a ninny. Everyone knows he’s a champ.

  36. Nate Oman on February 29, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    I like Stuart Taylor a great deal, but I don’t really think of The National Journal as being regular journalism.

  37. Randy on February 29, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    Taylor, however, used to cover the Supreme Court for the NYT and (later) Newsweek and has contributed to countless other media outlets (Slate, Salon, etc.).