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?