Mormons for Bush, Dean, and ESJ

February 27, 2004 | 11 comments
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A while back we discussed the Mormons for Dean blogs (see here, e.g.). These bloggers are moving on, to LDSdemocrats.com and other places.

What was intriguing about these sites was that one could make donations and volunteer through them. The campaign could know that x dollars and x footsoldiers came from the Saintly ranks. I, for one, got excited by the prospect that my own political involvement might help to strengthen the Church politically. If I was going to volunteer and donate, why not do it through Mormons for Bush?

A recent post on Mormons for Equality and Social Justice has prompted thoughts on whether mormons qua mormons ought to form political factions. Our experience with politics has not always been pleasant. I have to decide whether I should keep my political involvement purely political or whether I should make the Mormonism driving my involvement clear.

We all know the stories: Mormons in Missouri formed a self-conscious and distinct political bloc which promised fair to take over from the old factions. These old factions fed largely into the mobs that drove us from our homes. The same story played out in our second Missouri homes. Again, those we threatened to defeat at the ballot box defeated us with the sword. Men died, children starved, women were raped, Joseph went into captivity. In Nauvoo, we again voted as a bloc and got a number of political favors for it. The factions we defeated hated us and the factions we favored resented us and the newspapers, political organs all, fomented against us and one day we saw the smoke of burning grain fields that told us the shooting soon would start. Joseph was martyred and we were driven from our homes in winter. Then, in our refuge in Utah, territorial officials called Johnson’s army when they realized that we were politically one. Divide and conquer didn’t work, so they settled for the second half of the loaf. The polygamy agitation, the marshalls and the cohab hunts, the de-incorporation of the Church and the confiscation of its assets, were as much aimed at the political power of the Saints as they were at polygamy itself. The Church finally had to beat a retreat from politics.

That’s the downside. But the majority of members continued to be Democrats, and now Republicans. Do these lessons still apply? Are there countervailing benefits to getting more involved, as Mormons?

Several justifications for MESJ have been advanced that, mutatis mutandi, apply to all–Mormons for Bush, Mormons for Kerry (not yet extant), or, as soon as I can shake off my languor, Mormons for an Effete Aristocracy.

1. In the original MESJ post, Nate commends them for trying to base political conclusions on LDS grounds.

2. Nate, Kaimi, and others urge the value of intellectual diversity. An opposing viewpoint on the political implications of Mormonism, even if pretty much wrong, will force other viewpoints to refine their views, discard facile arguments, etc., not to mention acting as a ‘hotbed of charity.’

Notice that the Mormons could probably achieve these goals without organizing into groups and getting involved in those groups with the nuts and bolts of political action. Unless, of course, attending this political rally or supporting this candidate is the only way that one can get the attention of the Saints. If so, then majority Mormon viewpoints don’t have the same excuse. Consider, also, that Mormons splitting off into political groups can actually diminish the amount of dialogue and reflection about what God requires of the Saints. Organizations have a way of institutionalizing and turning inward. Involved Mormons now are given organizational justifications that aren’t Mormon so they have to do at least some thinking on their own. The last thing we need are two competing party lines.

3. The argument that public political diversity helps conversion “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.” I am skeptical of this argument. I think the growth and decline of US denominations shows that far more people are seeking certainty and conviction in a church than are seeking one that welcome’s different beliefs. But I think the conclusion may be accurate–getting the Saints actively involved in different political factions gives us opportunities for conversion that we didn’t have before, simply because we’re meeting different people.

None of these really justify Mormon participation in political factions, as Mormons. They are either about Mormons participating in political debates with other Mormons, or about personal involvement. So let’s get down to it:

1). Our history shows the danger of monolithic political involvement, not involvement per se. MESJ, Mormons for Bush, and etc. are only likely to create powerful enemies for the church if they are perceived as the Mormon Voice. As long as opposing groups exist we are on solid ground. Some danger stilll persists that the uneducated will stumble across on group and impute it the whole church–brand name dilution, in other words–but as long as groups go to great lengths to distance themselves from the official church I think that risk is minimal.

2). If we are correct to assume that a majority of LDS Americans are Republican, groups like the MESJ might actually increase our perceived monolithic politics. They will make it majority voices feel more comfortable about forming a group and being more vocal about the connection between their faith and their politics. Plus, because the majority Republicanism is diffuse and inchoate, it very well could feel threatened by groups like the MESJ and feel that it has to respond in kind. The more groups like the MESJ and others succeed, the more they risk formation of a dominant public bloc of conservative Mormons. I would tend to discount this worry, though, because politicians aren’t stupid. They have polls, they have experience, and they already know the extent to which Mormons are in the Republican camp. Making organized groups will hardly decrease the extent to which Republican candidates write us off and Democratic candidates either ignore us or hate us.

3). Having diverse Mormon political factions can actually help, provided that there are certain political positions that interest Mormons across the spectrum. If both Democratic and Republican politicians feel they have to pander to us on, say, keeping pressure on other countries to open up to missionaries, or religious land use, or Church exemptions from certain anti-discrimination laws, we are more likely to achieve the desired result. Speaking for myself, I would gladly push half or more of the Mormons in this country into the Democratic Party if I thought it would make the Dems moderate their position on abortion.

4). Having diverse Mormon factions intensifies the danger of being led off captive to the culture. Mormons for Bush and other groups are all to likely to search Mormonism for reasons to support Bush instead of searching Bush to see if Mormonism supports him. For this reason it would be better not to affiliate en masse. In unaffiliation, we affirm that our membership in the kingdom is permanent and basic, while our membership in a movement is tentative and qualified.

In short, I’m a Mormon and a Bush supporter but I haven’t made up my mind yet about becoming a Mormon4Bush. What are your thoughts?

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11 Responses to Mormons for Bush, Dean, and ESJ

  1. clark on February 27, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    Adam, I agree. I find mixing politics and religion so overtly distasteful unless the directive to do so comes down from the apostles. I think that such groups simply will legitimize groups like the Eagle Forum becoming more entrenched.

  2. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    Adam:

    Very astute article…oh history undergrad.
    However, I don’t think that history is the trump card here. While I support the “official” church’s strong position of neutrality, I think that individual members (i.e. moi) should be left free to organize others into a political setting that will help make their voice heard.

    Rehnquist thinks it is ok for the State to discriminate against those that want to get certain types of education…in this case, religious. I disagree. I think Mormons, Catholics, etc. should be very involved politically…in order to ensure that they have political capital sufficient to compete with other self-interest groups. Why should secular groups have all of the influence over government politics? I say…religious groups should counter-attack and compete in the free marketplace of political ideas & policies.

    I think that because Mormons, Catholics, and people of all faiths and traditions have ceded the political ground and done nothing, or all too little, we are left in todays fix.

  3. Adam Greenwood on February 27, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    Lyle,
    I would like, personally, to see a broad coalition, such as the one you describe, regain a place for religion in the public square. But my point is that, if Mormons on the other side of the aisle disagree about the desirability, than my participation as a Mormon as useless. Unless a group is divided politically, ‘in play’ so to speak, politicians will ignore it. But if it is divided politically and its divisions are so deep that nothing political defines the group, I don’t see any benefit to being divided. We might as well get involved personally, like you say, but leave the Church out of it. Or do you think that Mormons4Bush can get some traction even if its clear that we’re all going to vote for Bush anyway?

  4. clark on February 27, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    Lyle, I certainly think people should voice their religious positions in their politics. I just don’t like tying their political views to their religion. It seems to be the opposite move and it is *that* which I’m very uncomfortable with.

  5. lyle on February 27, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    Adam: Yes, in this election…the base is just as important as the undecided/swing voters. And…in the particular case of the LDS Church, if a large showing of political muscle, in terms of “X foot-soldiers, X voters and X dollars” can be made outside of Utah/Intermountain West…it will go A LOOOOONG way towards building up political capital and not being taken for granted. I could be rong…but this is just my adaptation of the Karl Rove strategy…which appears to have some traction.

    Clark…I don’t know what to say. Perhaps you can clarify between informing political views with “religious positions” and injecting religion?

  6. clark on February 27, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    One is that I vote based upon my religious values. The other says that my political values are the values of my religion. One judges politics based on religion. The other judges religion based upon politics.

    I think when someone starts doing things like Mormons for Dean or Mormons for Bush one is implicitly making a connection between Mormonism and their politics. i.e. saying something about Mormonism as well as politics.

  7. Adam Greenwood on March 1, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    Lyle,
    I think I see you’re point about the importance of the base. You’re saying that, at least for certain issues like religious land use or what not that aren’t particularly alienating to moderates, the powers-that-be will throw us a bone to keep us happy. You intrigue me.

  8. lyle on March 2, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    The following is a critique similar to Adam’s by a LDS lawyer in DC. Note…I disagree with him.

    I’ve seen e-mails circulating about regarding the LDS Outreach and Latter-day Saint Team Leader concept. I am both LDS and a strong republican supporter, so I generally sympathize with your views. But you should be very very careful about mixing the concepts of church membership and party membership or activism, not only because it threatens the inappropriate use of church information and resources, but because (1) it
    threatens to drive a wedge between republican activist church members and others who are either not republican or not politically active, and (2) it may have negative unintended consequences on the political project.

    The e-mails that I have seen seem to be already at or over the line that these two dangers are real.

    With regard to (1), there are many people in the church who do not affiliate with the republican party and who will take offense at conflating church and party. The danger of such conflation and resulting offense is especially prominent when church leaders’ teachings are used to recruit party membership or activity. This is
    the danger that the leaders of the church try to
    forestall when every election cycle they have read over the pulpit a statement that people should not state OR IMPLY church endorsement of candidates or parties or use church resources for political ends. People who share your church membership, but not your party affiliation or activism, will take note of the use of church statements for these ends, and the result can be
    unnecessary rancor or hard feelings among church
    members. This is obviously destructive to the programs of the church. It is also inconsistent with the ideals of the republican party, which recognizes the value to society of private associations through which much good is done that should not be corrupted by politicizing
    those organizations.

    With regard to (2), you need to recognize that even some people who would otherwise sympathize with your political views will be put off by use of church resources, teachings and/or quotes as a political recruiting tool. It may end up costing you some of the success you would otherwise have.

    Again, I am a strong republican supporter and wish you the best of luck in your political activities. But please be very very careful about how you go about doing things.

  9. Jessika on September 21, 2004 at 12:50 am

    I don’t know much about politics but if you are going to vote your religion is definetly involved. For example if you were voting and some topics were being talked about such as abortion or the death penalty if you truly believe in your religion you will realise that by voting one way you are giving the world a new perspective on Mormons.Mormons: Believe in abortion or not, sounds like a heading of a new criticizing book. The prophet has clearly stated that no abortion unless in special instances now if voting for someone or something for abortion are you going against your own religion your own people, friends and family? Our religion is our base of beliefs and our beliefs help us make decisions, what to wear, who to date, who to vote for. Everything revolves around beliefs. Now when it comes to Mormon for Bush or whatever we are putting a “sign” on us it is showing where we stand. Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing but over all I believe it’s not wrong if you don’t want to participate don’t. If you disagree write an article share your reasons put yourself out there and share your thoughts. You can’t say you don’t agree with something if you havn’t put forth effort to voice your opinon. If you don’t like the label it puts on us, why? TALK they’ll listen. You have already taken the step by sharing your comments, but you can do so much more.

  10. Restoring Lost Comments on November 25, 2004 at 11:35 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    Lyle,
    Thanks for the info, Lyle. What emails is he referring to? Do you think his objections would be removed if emails and so forth weren’t so argumentative, if they already assumed certain political commitments on the part of their recipients and just urged them to make those commitments as LDS citizens instead of just citizens?
    Comment by: Adam Greenwood at March 4, 2004 01:30 PM

    *****

    Adam:
    I’m not sure re: the answers to your questions. Basically, the email above is in response to an email inviting DC area Saints to get politically involved; specifically that the RNC has a “LDS Team Leader” slot that people can be…rather than just a “normal” Team leader…which helps US [ ;) ] identify those who are LDS and GOP…i.e. to give them specific emails of interest to them.
    however…the email above was written in response to OUR plan to send out email invites over the email listserves of the various singles wards in the U.S. Apparently…some have objected to this. My response/solution is below…and I think it addresses your questions (I think).
    —————-
    Summary:
    1. We need to cut the GA/Apostolic quotes.
    2. We need to offer opportunities to both ‘sides,’ i.e. If you want to be a GOP, call X…
    If you want to be in the DNC, call ____ at ____.
    If you support gay marriage, call the GLT caucus at ______.
    If you support 1 man 1 woman marriage, call ________ at ______.
    *You may think I’m joking…but if they want us to be PC…I say throw it back in their face*
    3. We need to be very clear that we are interested in civic involvement…not partisan politics; or
    4. We need to be very clear that we are 100% partisan. If you can offer to sell stuff on the listserves, you can offer political opportunities…just like job listings.
    5. We need to include a specific disclaimer statement that the LDS Church isn’t affiliated/nor endorses and candidate or party.
    6. We need to include a specific/explicit reminder that the email is NOT to be sent out to ward email lists, etc…using “Official” church
    resources, etc.
    Comment by: lyle at March 4, 2004 01:58 PM

    *****

    I think you’re right, Lyle. You’re proposed email sounds good, although I’d leave out the part about gay marriage (seriously!). If you want some help writing it, let me know.
    Comment by: Adam Greenwood at March 4, 2004 02:19 PM

    *****

    Please keep politics and religion seperate. I feel too many have died at the hands of George Bush, he has created a rift between the USA and our traditional alliences. If you don’t agree just LEAVE the country and you will see that anti Americanism is on the rise! How can we reach people if we are hated as a nation? There is great wisdom in the seperation of church and state. The constitution was inspired by God and it is in there! Plus I don’t see Bush as a true Christain, visit http://www.iraqbodycount.net. then remember thou shall not kill. GW. embraces religion for political gains hence he is a flase profit. Love you all ~Tom Hansen Even if i am wrong many feel the same way I do, we don’t want to make them astranged. ~Tom Hansen
    Comment by: tom hansen at June 16, 2004 11:08 PM

    *****

    Please keep politics and religion seperate. I feel too many have died at the hands of George Bush, he has created a rift between the USA and our traditional alliences. If you don’t agree just LEAVE the country and you will see that anti Americanism is on the rise! How can we reach people if we are hated as a nation? There is great wisdom in the seperation of church and state. The constitution was inspired by God and it is in there! Plus I don’t see Bush as a true Christain, visit http://www.iraqbodycount.net. then remember thou shall not kill. GW. embraces religion for political gains hence he is a flase profit. Love you all ~Tom Hansen Even if i am wrong many feel the same way I do, we don’t want to make them astranged. ~Tom Hansen
    Comment by: tom hansen at June 16, 2004 11:08 PM

    *****

    I’m all for the church remaining neutral from politics but in todays world and the coming election has a lot to do with moral and ethical issues more than political issues. I disagree with many of President Bush’s domestic ideas, I think he leans to the left on those, but when it comes to moral issues, he’s right, and he stands up for what is right. John Kerry has taken both sides to abortion but in reality we know what his stand is on the issue. We also know that John Kerry because of political fear will not take a stand on the issue of a constitutional ban on gay marriage though the church has come out for it. And the war on terrorism, although there are some who are against it and would blame Bush for the death of thousands, they are not in the right on this, Bush has not pulled the trigger on anyone innocent, terrorist have done that. And when it comes to the issue of Bush and the war on terrorisim, President Hinckley has said specifically that we as citizens of this nation stand solidly behind our president. He supports the war effort and has dedicated two whole general conference talks about the topic. I wonder to those people who condemn Bush for all the death in the world, where is your condemnation of Saddam Hussain or Osama Bin Ladin? I have not heard it in a long time. When it all comes down to it those of us searching the scriptures and praying about this issue seriously know we need to vote for Bush as the scriptures teach us:
    “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.”
    Kerry is not an honest man, nor is he a wise man, he’s a flip flop and flip flops don’t match the scriptural mandate.
    Comment by: Brian Terrill at August 13, 2004 09:30 PM

    *****

    I’m thinking of repeating a statement of MY political views FOUR times. Does anybody else agree that it’s a good idea?
    Thank you for your support.
    Comment by: Daniel Peterson at August 13, 2004 10:06 PM

    *****

    The multiple postings were probably accidental, as many people click on Post multiple times because it takes so long for our server to register their comment. I’ll delete the duplicate entries.
    I would be very interested in reading Dan’s political views, but only two or three times.
    Comment by: Matt Evans at August 13, 2004 10:33 PM

  11. raging on January 26, 2005 at 5:53 am

    My freedom to choose . You cant force religion on anybody through politics and laws . what happend to freedom of choice ? The goverment cant make me go to church and shouldnt .If you want to be apart of a certain religion fine ,but i personaly wont vote for a leader who’s going to force a belief on non believers , thats not freedom of religion . Bush isn’t a Christian anyway he is acualy a satan worshiper if anybody had done any reserch on the matter you would know that .
    but ignorance seems to be the norm in religion .get over yourselves .
    thanks for your time a very inactive canadian mormon july 26/2005

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