A Delicate Subject

October 28, 2004 | 92 comments
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I will handle this topic as gently as I can. In this post I wonder whether Mormons who choose to leave the church are disproportionately likely to lean left politically. As most of you know, I’m a political conservative, so I’m afraid this topic will make some readers defensive. That is not my intention. It would be easier to treat this subject delicately were someone else — someone who’s left of center — to raise it. (Only Nixon could go to China; only Bill Cosby could chastise black parents.) Anyway, let me emphatically say from the outset that I know someone can be a Democrat and a good member of the church. I know many of you are loyal members of the church and lean left politically. I know those of you who lean left are as faithful as any other members. None of what I’ve written below implies otherwise.

The sensitive stuff starts here: Of the few people I know who have deliberately left the church, they have all been political liberals. For the three years I attended Harvard Law School, there were about 60 Mormon students whose time there overlapped mine (about 12 students per year). I probably knew 45 of them. I’d guess the political affiliation of the Mormon students was about 2 to 1 in favor of right-leaners, which means I knew approximately 30 right-leaners and 15 left-leaners.

Five of the Mormon students at HLS left the church. I know that three of them — all returned-missionaries — had their names formally removed. The other two no longer affiliate with the church, but I don’t know if they are still on the records. (It’s a question I don’t plan to ask.) For whatever reason, all five — three men and two women — were among the 15 left-leaners. I would also guess that their political intensity was higher than the average Mormon HLS student.

The odds against this pattern occurring randomly (all five students being from 15 out of 45) is 407 to 1.

My only friend from high school (also an RM) who no longer affiliates with the church is also a politically active left-leaner.

A selection of essays in Sunstone last year, Why We Stay, suggests my personal experiences aren’t coincidental. Five prominent Sunstone members were invited to explain their reasons for remaining active in the church. I assume that the title was inspired by the book Why We Believe; a collection of testimony-essays written by well-known Mormons like Steve Young and Orrin Hatch. Anyway, four of the five Sunstone essayists, all of whom have held responsible church callings, mention liberal politics in their short essays about why they remain in the church.

Essay 2: we attended the “liberal” Sunday School class . . . I was concerned about moving to a more conservative Church environment . . . we enjoyed the association of liberal Mormons

Essay 3: I stay in spite of listening to a brother giving the lesson about humility in our high priests group who says, “Why, even in our Republican Party, we occasionally make a mistake.” “Mistake, thy name is legion,” I mutter under my breath . . . You may believe I’m made of such stern stuff that on returning home after such experiences, I never rant or rave. You would be wrong.

Essay 4: My parents stressed the importance. . . to think critically, be concerned about the well-being of others, work in the community — in other words, be good, committed Democrats.

Essay 5: A fellow high priest . . . recently asserted that what annoyed him more than anything else were “liberals.” I found occasion then to take him aside and let him know that how he feels about the view of liberals exactly mirrors my equally strong feelings about those of political conservatives . . . I like to confront ultra-conservatives these days — who you can count on being both anti-abortion and anti-gun control — with the conundrum: “Which then is your preferred form of murder?”

[I was surprised by my friend's call to be a mission president because he] “incurred considerable displeasure from various ultra-orthodox conservatives” and had “dubious political correctness.”

Why do these conflicted Mormons dwell so much on their political beliefs? I haven’t read Why We Believe, but I can’t imagine many of the writers mention their political beliefs in their testimonies.

Here are some possible explanations for why the people I’ve known who’ve chosen to leave the church are politically-active left-leaners:

1) there is no correlation between politics and leaving the church, you’ve projected your views on to the data

2) there is no correlation between politics and leaving the church, but it appears that way because left-leaners have the courage to leave openly, whereas right-leaners go inactive quietly

3) left-leaners leave the church because the church imposes a double standard when dealing with them. Were they right-leaners, they wouldn’t be pressured out of the church

3) left-leaners are alienated by other Mormons for their unpopular political views and therefore have weaker social ties

4) personality traits that cause one to lean-left (i.e., skepticism of authority) make left-leaners more likely to resent or question church

5) influence of political peers — political left is less religious, so those who associate with political left are more exposed to unbelievers

6) Mormon principles coincide with conservative principles, so people who reject one set of principles are more likely to reject the other

Let me again stress that I know that most left-leaning Mormons are exceptionally devout and loyal church members. Good people can have very different views about the proper roll of government and still be good people. Everyone must be on best manners in the comments.

If there is a correlation between political opinions and leaving the church, what should the church do? What should right-leaners do? What should left-leaners do?

UPDATE:
Several of the early comments note that my sample size is very small and wonder if that isn’t the best explanation for my experience. Here is some information that suggests that in law school I was merely witnessing the extreme end of a general trend: The question from the 2000 Voter News Survey exit poll that best predicted whether someone voted for Bush or Gore was how many times the person attended religious services each month. Bush support went from a high of 63 to 36 percent among weekly attenders, down to a low of 32 to 61 percent among those who never attend religious services. Religious attendance was more predictive than race, gender, income or religious affiliation. So unless Mormons run against this dominant national trend, the less frequently a Mormon attends church, the more likely they are to lean left.

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92 Responses to A Delicate Subject

  1. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 5:36 am

    Bravo, Matt, for a great post! My anecdotal evidence also indicates that left-leaners are much more likely to leave the church. The reasons are 3) to 6) above. One other point: the scriptures discuss “stumbling blocks,” ie points of doctrine or belief that get in the way of people staying active or joining the church (see 1 Nephi 14:1, 1 Nephi 4:33, Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 26:20, Mosiah 7:29 and Alma 4:10). In my experience, politics, especially left-wing politics, can often be a stumbling block to church activity. I am open to the possibility that right-wing politics could be a stumbling block, but I’ve simply never seen it happen. Does this mean left-leaners cannot be “good Mormons?” Obviously not. Harry Reid is a left-leaning senator and by all reports a good Mormon. There are dozens of posters on this board who, although I don’t know them personally, appear to be left-leaners and great members of the church. But clearly there is a potential (note the word “potential”) association between left-wing politics and inactivity or leaving the church, and such politics have the potential of being a stumbling block.

  2. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 5:39 am

    And, yes, you are correct that nobody in “Why We Believe” mentions politics.

  3. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 6:19 am

    Sorry for the multiple posts, but I am heading to work, and I wanted to get these in before then. The book is called “Why I Believe” (two copies of it in my library, but I still couldn’t get the name right).

    And to answer the question at the end of your post, it is incumbent upon Church leadership to be aware that left-leaning politics are a potential stumbling block to church activity and membership and try to avoid politics at church as much as possible. You can’t censor people, but as HPGL, I have told people to simply keep politics out of church discussions. It chases away the Spirit and brings in contention. Let’s discuss the things we can agree on at Church and discuss the scriptures, the love of God, our love of Jesus Christ, the restoration, etc. Politics are for blogs or meetings away from church.

  4. Jeff Lindsay on October 28, 2004 at 8:26 am

    I know one very conservative person who took his whole family out of the Church, at least in part – I think – because President Hinckley has been supportive of the United Nations, praised Kofi Annan, etc. I have serious problems with the United Nations myself, but given the reality of human fallibility among all leaders and the fact that the Lord does not take over one’s brain when one is called as prophet, I am not terribly upset (just mildly upset) that President Hinckley’s opinions on various matters do not coincide with my own. Revelation is not a 24/7 stream of supernatural wisdom, but comes as scattered pearls when the Lord wills, and often only after we earnestly seek it. Did President Hinkley spend weeks fasting for divine insight before tossing out a kind remark about Kofi Annan? Probably not. (Ditto for the purchase of documents from Hoffman – it was a business decision, not the kind of thing that one would know to seek revelation for.)

    For some reason, the Lord has not yet chosen to reveal all my personal opinions to the prophet. I guess we must wait in faith for that glorious day. Frankly, I suppose it’s even possible that some of my opinions aren’t shared by the Lord, so even the revelation of all things might not bring about the desired convergence.

    Conservatives and liberals alike can all find plenty of reasons to be offended and leave the Church. Christ offended many of His disciples, too. Faith in Christ requires is to look past the mistakes of humans and see the work of God in our midst.

  5. Last_lemming on October 28, 2004 at 8:55 am

    As long as we are using unscientific data… I used to hang out at Beliefnet, where they have a separate board just for anti-Mormons to vent their spleens. Many of them are ex-Mormons who have become born-again Christians. None cite politics as a reason for leaving, but I think right-leaning would be an accurate description of them. There are also some left-leaning ex-Mormons there, who have generally become either agnostic, quasi-Buddhist (the men), or Wiccan (the women). A disproportionate number of the left-leaners there also seem to be gay.

    The defenders of faith at Beliefnet often accuse the BACs who claim to be ex-Mormon of being fakes, but I am inclined to believe that most of them are for real.

  6. Scott on October 28, 2004 at 8:56 am

    Quite frankly, I think that there is an institutionalized hostility to progressive ideas, perhaps due some sort of group dynamic effect- “the 1 true church should have 1 true political belief” and the typical LDS doesn’t give it a second thought- they just vote the straight party ticket. They can get away with saying things in gospel doctrine like “this is the church of Ronald Reagan” and nobody calls them on it.
    You can only take so much idiocy before you throw up your hands in disgust.
    It is my feeling that if more average church members (and of course I am not implying anything about readers of this blog) would read the scriptures and talks of church leaders, it would be less clear as to what the “one true party” is.

  7. Kaimi on October 28, 2004 at 9:01 am

    Matt,

    Interesting post. A few points:

    1. Your stats are all wet. Yes, the likelihood of this happening among a randomly selected group of independent actors (assuming your initial assessment of 15:45 is correct) is 407 to 1. These are definitely _not_ a randomly selected group of independent actors. The leaving of all five could be related to a single incident, for example, that was conveyed to all of them.

    2. Is your very definition — “deliberately leaving the church” — designed to catch more liberals than conservatives. (As you may have noted from my recent Tutissima post, this is a concern that I’m sensitive to, in both political directions). That is, is there a significant difference between the person who says “I can’t reconcile Zelph, so I’m leaving” and the person who says “I can’t get past my sexual sin, so I’m leaving”?

    3. Is there any truth to the rumors that tens of thousands of church members left in protest when OD-2 was announced? If so, how does this affect your analysis?

  8. Ta-lor on October 28, 2004 at 9:12 am

    Aren’t right-leaning mormons more likely to join polygamist sects?

  9. Russell Arben Fox on October 28, 2004 at 9:17 am

    I think a clarification of terms is in order. This post is not, strictly speaking, about all people who “leave the church”–it is about people who conciously elect, for reasons that can be expressed in intellectual, political or cultural terms, to turn against or formally disassociate themselves from the church. Granted, that’s usually what is meant when someone speaks of someone “leaving the church”; that is, we do not usually speak of people who go inactive, get involved in sexual or social relationships that do not meet with church approval, take up smoking again, get bored with religion and prefer to sleep in on Sunday, etc., as “leaving,” perhaps primarily because such people rarely feel sufficient engagement or obligation to actually announce their estrangement in a public or formal way. Still, it’s an important distinction–the overwhelming majority of Mormons worldwide who stop being Mormons in any meaningful sense do not “leave” for political or intellectual reasons: their reasons for no longer attending, throwing away their scriptures, keeping their tithing money, and telling their home teachers to scram, in my experience, almost always have to do with personal and social preferences, not “arguments” per se. I think you’re right that among the relatively tiny number of well-educated persons who actually turn against or lose interest in the church because they are offended by its (official or unofficial) politics, history, theology or so forth, most give “liberal” reasons for doing so rather than “conservative” reasons. (Of the five or so people who I have known who fit into this category, four left the church for either a more liberal church or a more liberal environment outside religion entirely; one joined a quite conservative polygamous church.) But in asking this question, I think it’s important to keep in mind the very, very, very small pool of cases we’re dealing with. As far as any of us know, a huge majority of those utterly ordinary (i.e., non-intellectual) people who simply drift away into inactivity may well vote Republican.

  10. Mark B on October 28, 2004 at 9:18 am

    Perhaps the right-wingers feel more comfortable remaining active in the church, but they in reality have long since left the gospel.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on October 28, 2004 at 9:25 am

    Kaimi’s point #2 is directly relevant to what I just wrote.

  12. Rob Briggs on October 28, 2004 at 9:25 am

    Geoff B: “I am open to the possibility that right-wing politics could be a stumbling block, but I’ve simply never seen it happen.”

    I don’t know if right-wing politics was the stumbling block, but Bo Gritz bailed. Google Bo Gritz for interesting reading.

  13. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 9:37 am

    Mark B, yeah, those right-wingers like Neal Maxwell and Spencer W. Kimball. And most of the General Authorities. And every stake president and mission president I’ve ever met. Yeah, they know nothing about the gospel.

  14. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 9:39 am

    I agree with Russell and Kaimi — what you’re really saying, Matt, is that of the intellectuals you know who consciously turn against the Church, most of them are politically liberal. No big shocker there, but it’s a minute number compared to the thousands and thousands that leave every year out of apathy and sin. Shouldn’t you be more concerned about those bigger numbers?

    If you’re worried about the intellectuals, any of your numbers 2-6 would be good reasons (except I think #5, which would only really affect the very politically-connected). I’d personally take your #2, with a slight bent — the intellectuals I know that have left the Church have done so out of a sense of spiritual honesty and intellectual integrity. They simply couldn’t make sense of it all, and didn’t want to remain a part of a group with whom they could not honestly identify.

  15. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 9:43 am

    Geoff B, you ought to listen to Mark. He has a valid point — the social integration of conservative practices could make it much easier for an unbelieving conservative to remain in the Church than an unbelieving liberal.

  16. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 9:54 am

    It’s just interesting to note that Matt takes great pains not to generalize about left-leaners. He points out that the majority are good people and good members of the church. He makes several good points that are unscientific but based on his personal experience (which coincides exactly with mine, btw). But of course the response from the left is inevitably: if you are a right-leaner then you aren’t following the gospel. Really? All right-leaners don’t follow the gospel? Including our general authorities and prophets and apostles? Wow, what an incredible conspiracy! I think it’s worth pointing out the double standard.

  17. greenfrog on October 28, 2004 at 9:58 am

    I think much of the answer derives from defective statistical sampling. Let’s face it — which groups are you more likely to run into as authors of Sunstone articles — liberals or conservatives? If you were reading from the favored FLDS magazine (whatever it may be), I suspect you’d come to the opposite conclusion — those who leave the Church do so because they cannot intellectually reconcile the irreconcilable statements of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor with the Manifesto.

    If you sampled those who leave the Church in geographic areas dominated by evangelical Christians, you’d find that those leaving the Church openly do so because they cannot accept the Church’s perceived non-conservative positions on abortion and the Trinity.

    All that said, I don’t disagree that a portion of those who leave the Church do so for their inability to reconcile their perceptions of Church teachings and their perceptions of political rights and wrongs.

    But then, I’m old enough to remember when a significant number of people left the Church quite openly, vocally, and loudly, because of their dismay with President Kimball’s announcement that the Church would extend priesthood to all males without regard to race. Those who left weren’t labelling themselves as liberal, so far as I can recall… ;-)

  18. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 10:00 am

    Geoff B, I’m as guilty as the next guy of sarcasm (I even used it on you, recently). But no one has said “if you are a right-leaner then you aren’t following the gospel.”

    “Really?” Really. Mark was talking about a subset of similarly situated right-wingers, i.e., those that no longer believe in the Church. I would imagine that would be a very small group. It would be worth pointing out the double standard, if one had been shown. You’re pointing at phantoms.

    I like Matt’s post very much, and it’s a topic near and dear to me since, like you and he, I’ve had a similar experience. But you’re not answering his questions.

  19. Geoff B on October 28, 2004 at 10:08 am

    Steve,

    Mark B wrote: “Perhaps the right-wingers feel more comfortable remaining active in the church, but they in reality have long since left the gospel.” I’m open to the possibility that I am misinterpreting this, but it seems to me to mean, “right-wingers are church-goers who go to sacrament meetings, etc, but they don’t follow the true gospel.” Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Mark B can clarify?

    Agreed that sarcasm is not pretty. I tell my kids not to be sarcastic, and here I am doing it myself. Another area for self-improvement.

  20. Justin B. on October 28, 2004 at 10:28 am

    Regarding the Sunstone essays: I don’t see anything explicit in Essay 2 about liberal politics. She may be a liberal Mormon (referring to her religious worldview) and a Mormon conservative (referring to her political ideology).

  21. BTD Greg on October 28, 2004 at 10:31 am

    This may have been brought up already, but I question the representativeness of your sampling. A selection of Harvard Law School students surely isn’t much of a cross section of the Church at large. Mormon intellectuals–yes, I’m making assumptions and not being very diplomatic–who leave the Church will probably share certain characteristics, and it’s not that surprising that one of these characteristics happens to be liberal poltical leanings. (No more surprising than the fact that liberals walk the halls of some of our nation’s best law schools, really.)

    Likewise, if everyone you know who has left the church had no college education, you might find a higher percentage of right-leaning ex-Mormons. (I’m conservative myself, so this isn’t meant in the “conservatives are stupid” vein. But it’s statistically significant that the more advanced education one obtains, the more liberal one’s political views become. Call it the “ivory tower”-effect, and I’m not likely to disagree with you.)

  22. Aaron Brown on October 28, 2004 at 10:31 am

    But as for me and my house, we just want some good gossip… Matt, I obviously know two of the left-leaners at HLS who left the Church. Who are the others? Do I know them?

    Aaron B

  23. Davis Bell on October 28, 2004 at 10:33 am

    Very interesting post and comments. Absent any real information, it’s difficult to answer these questions. I wonder what differences lie between the reasons cited for leaving by right-leaners and left-leaners.

  24. BTD Greg on October 28, 2004 at 10:33 am

    And, now that I’ve had a chance to read through the other comments, I see that my point has been made about three or four times already.

  25. Randy on October 28, 2004 at 10:41 am

    As is often the case, Russell said exactly what I was thinking (though much more clearly). I’m also in agreement with Kaimi’s point #2. Everyone in the church has their issues to work through. No one has an easy road to salvation. For some it’s politics, for others polygamy, or tithing, or any number of other things.

    One other small point. Geoff says that “left-leaning politics are a potential stumbling block to church activity and membership” and that, as a result, church leaders should “try to avoid politics at church as much as possible.” I agree entirely with the conclusion, but I would characterize the so-called stumbling block a bit differently. The “stumbling block,” in my view, is not that people lean left or right politically. The problem is that, as a general rule, we aren’t able to discuss politics at church without bringing in a spirit of contention and judgment.

    As for Mark B.’s comment, I also don’t think he was saying that all “right wingers” have left the gospel. When I read his comment, I took it as saying that right wingers who have left the gospel may not leave the church because they feel confortable there, whereas left wingers sometimes don’t have that luxury. Like Steve, I think there is merit to that point.

  26. Matt Evans on October 28, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Several commenters have wondered about my admittedly miniscule sample size. Here is some information I should have included in my post that shows that in law school I was merely noticing the extreme end of a general trend. Maybe I’ll add this paragraph as an update at the bottom:

    I’m confident that more data would shed further light on the problem I outlined. The single question from the 2000 Voter News Survey exit poll that best predicted whether someone voted for Bush or Gore was how many times the person attended religious services each month. Bush support went from a high of 63 to 36 percent among weekly attenders down to a low of 32 to 61 percent for Gore among those who never attend religious services. Religious attendance was more predictive than race, gender, income, region or religious affiliation. So unless Mormons run against this dominant national trend, the less frequently a Mormon attends church, the more likely they are to lean left.

    Does anyone know of a study analyzing how political preference and religious attendance relate to one another? Which comes first?

  27. Frank McIntyre on October 28, 2004 at 11:04 am

    Although we can all agree that politics is not the most important reason why people go inactive, I think Matt has an interesting question about that subset who do leave based on politics: When they jump ship, do they jump off the starboard or the port side?

    This ties in very nicely with Wilfried’s recent post about how converts tend to be liberals. He thinks this may be because being a liberal is more associated with trying new ideas and a willingness to reject the “traditions of the fathers”. Inasmuch as “conservative” has a coherent political meaning independent of being right-wing, it implies a presumption that the “traditions of the fathers” are a good thing.

    In cases where these dispositions matter, the FLDS folks leave because they cannot keep up with the Church as the Church moves forward; they over-conserve. The liberals who leave under-value what they got from their traditions, and so leave. This is the reciprocal of the conversion story, where liberals may convert more readily, because they are willing to cast off the old ways more quickly. The Book of Mormon brings up “traditions of the fathers” repeatedly, and recognizes it as being both bad and good. It is good to get you to convert into the Church, but is problematic for those in the Church who are overly quick to toss out tested ideas and faith in favor of every “wind of doctrine”.

  28. Matt Evans on October 28, 2004 at 11:33 am

    I just noticed something interesting in the numbers of my last comment. 99% of the voters who attend religious services every week voted for Bush or Gore (63 and 36%) but only 93% of the voters who never attend church voted for Bush or Gore (32 and 61%). This suggests that Nader voters who never attend church outnumbered Nader voters who attend weekly on the order of 7 to 1. (Rounding makes that number unreliable, but the lowest the ratio could be is 3.1 to 1).

    The 2000 VNS data set is available here, but it’s in a specialized file format.

  29. Mark B on October 28, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Geoff B.

    It is interesting that you include Pres. Kimball and Elder Maxwell in your list of right-wingers. Either you have a much broader definition of right wingers than I, or you have some special knowledge of those two brethren that I don’t.

    I have lived with two stake presidents, and worked closely with a host of others. I don’t know the political views of many of them, but neither of those I know best would I classify as a right winger. I realize that this (and your statement about “every mission and stake president” you know) is rather like the know-it-all’s argument, “Every Indian walks in single file. At least the one I saw does.” The existence of a single negative (one non-right winger stake president) does defeat your suggestion that all are right wingers, however.

    Second, I did not intend to suggest that all right leaners (note that I used “right wingers” rather than “right leaners” in my post) have ceased to obey the gospel, or that left wingers are the keepers of the real truth. I’m sorry that I was too brief and not clear. My intended point was much narrower: What Steve said–there may be a class of right-wingers who have ceased believing the gospel, either consciously or through confusion of their political beliefs with the gospel, but who feel comfortable remaining active in the church and therefore don’t leave.

  30. greenfrog on October 28, 2004 at 11:40 am

    Re-reading my comment, I realized that I didn’t correctly acknowledge that I think Matt’s topic is worth exploring further. Because even if I think the group he’s identified is not necessarily a large proportion of those who leave, it is a real segment with real issues that may be benefited by discussion.

  31. lyle on October 28, 2004 at 11:43 am

    BTD Greg:

    So,
    1. If more education = more liberal
    and
    2. more education = more faithful LDS

    then
    more education = more LDS + more liberal?

    not a syllogism; and I’m combining two non-identical universes of date…hm.

  32. Charles on October 28, 2004 at 11:46 am

    I don’t know where everyone hails from, but I’m under the impression that most people here are from Utah or other heavily Mormon populated areas. The reason I premise my comment that way is that in my experience in Nebraska there does not seem to be so much a connection. While our Ward and Stake may be lean conservative there isn’t a political charge in the air on sundays.

    The closest we have had is with anit-gambling and the protection of marriage with regards to ammendments being presented. No degree of activism has leaned to one party or another. They have been supportive of the issues specifically. I realize that these are two issues that may, in themselves, lean to the right, but that is the extent of the political charge.

    Perhaps in populations where members make up a greater percent of the population this tends to become an issue or at least apparent.

    Perhaps the same reason many new converts seem to be liberal, with regards to Frank’s last post may account for why liberals leave the church. With regards to political parties and leanings, it seems that edgy liberals tend to support issues that tend to go against doctrine.

    I have heard the argument that churches should not legislate thier doctrines and that is why one candidate can support things that thier church may not. The other end is that you should vote your personal conviction, and if you believe something is wrong then your social duty is to support those issues, regardless of whether your convictions are based on religious grounds. The church has been very clear, publicly, that they do not support specific candidates or parties, but urge members to vote for those who we believe will uphold principles that we as members (and presumably the church) hold dear.

    In recent times this seems to be the conservative end.

  33. Mathew on October 28, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    This is an interesting topic and I’m genuinely glad you wrote about it. As others have noted, from your post it sounds like you are talking only about people who have “actively” left the church by submitting resignations or making it clear that they are leaving for what we might broadly refer to as matters of conscience. Unfortunately it appears that none of us really have any data so this discussion revolves around anecdotal evidence. I find your HLS data interesting, but would like to point out that HLS tends to attract a certain-type of student that isn’t likely representative of the greater (American) Mormon population–since I knew some of the students you wrote about, I think that is a fair statement.

    I cruise the ex-mormon boards on occasion and there is a lot of railing against the church and conservative politics. The two seem to be hopelessly conflated in people’s minds and rejecting one means rejecting the other. Thus there are no shortage of stories telling how someone was raised Mormon AND Republican and then found out the truth about the church and now votes Democratic. I surmise, however, that if you were to get 1000 people who have submitted name resignations to the church and have them fill out a questionnaire surveying their political beliefs, you would find that most of them would identify with positions usually associated with Republicans because when issues are presented separate from the church, most people would continue to identify with the conservative values they were taught growing up. On hot button issues such as separation of church and state or abortion I’m guessing most will support traditionally Democratic positions. In other words, issues people identify with both the church and the Republican party will be largely rejected, but since this is a small sub-set of traditional Republican values, where this group of people come out on the rest of the issues will still be determined by what David Brooks calls our instinct towards tribalism–but the tribal pull will be coming from a source different than one’s ex-Mormon identity. The result, I’m theorizing, is a group of people largely self-identify as left-leaning Democrats, but who are in reality moderate Republican’s in sheep’s clothing.

    Of course this still leaves open the possibility that while the majority of those who submit letters of resignation are moderate Republican’s in sheep’s clothing, taken as a percentage of the total number of left-leaning Mormon’s, those who submit letters are disproportionally left-leaning (but still in the minority). This seems to be what you were saying in your post.

    I simply don’t know if that is true or not, but assuming that it is–you ask what right-leaning and left-leaning Mormon’s should do. In a post at BCC I have argued that marginalizing left-leaning Mormons as “so-called intellectuals” etc. has fueled the idea among that group that 1) they have unique knowledge that if unleashed on the membership will corrode testimony, 2) because they have this knowledge, they pose a threat to the church and 3) this knowledge will eventually lead them out of the church. Unfortunately, a lot of great people seem to buy into this narrative and pursue it to its conclusion. No doubt there are others who leave because they can’t reconcile weird history with personal testimony; I’m not writing about them.

    I’m not sure where the idea that better-than-average knowledge of church history or a stronger-than-average commitment to social justice will lead one out of the church originated or even why it is usually associated with left-leaning types (maybe someone can enlighten me), but I believe that the idea that “thinking people” will eventually leave the church has become pernicious, for my generation at least, due to conservatives constantly warning about just that. I think, therefore I must eventually find myself outside the church. For someone who wants to think of himself as intelligent and/or educated, it is attractive bait.

    Left-leaners such as myself can help this situation by stop congratulating ourselves on being “thinking people”. It turns out that we don’t have a monopoly. Our willingness to buy into the rhetoric betrays the idea of ourselves we have so carefully formed.

  34. Quinn McCoy on October 28, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    the real question to be asked is not wheter lefties or righties leave the church, i feel that it is to ask oneself, where would christ stand? for if we are mormon, then it doesnt matter where the world’s political views are, it only matters where christs views are.

  35. Laura on October 28, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    keeping in mind, of course, that Christ was quite liberal for his time …. :-)

  36. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Christ was Libertarian.

  37. Quinn McCoy on October 28, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    christ was neither liberal nor conservative, he was and is eterenal, there for his views are neither progressive or old fashion, but pure truth.

  38. Frank McIntyre on October 28, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    It would be heretical to believe that Christ’s politics differed from mine, because it means I am consciously rejectng Divine truth. Since it is audacious to put words in the mouth of God, this is a good argument for humility in one’s politics.

  39. Steve Evans on October 28, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    “neither liberal nor conservative”

    just like libertarians! Come on, man, lighten up! Christ was the ultimate believer in free will. Not like that sham Badnarik.

  40. Quinn McCoy on October 28, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    since i dont live in the u.s., i didnt remember who badnarik was…but now i got what your saying, but in any event, libertarians are neither liberal or conservative, cause they dont have the power.

  41. Nate Oman on October 28, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    Steve wrotes: “But no one has said “if you are a right-leaner then you aren’t following the gospel.â€? ”

    On the other hand, Rob says this at some point or another in virtually every thread that he posts on. It keeps things fun.

    Matt Parke writes: “Left-leaners such as myself can help this situation by stop congratulating ourselves on being “thinking people”. It turns out that we don’t have a monopoly. Our willingness to buy into the rhetoric betrays the idea of ourselves we have so carefully formed.”

    Matt, Bravo for you. Good point that I wish more people would make.

    For what it is worth, I had a friend at Harvard Law School who was a political conservative and quite consciously chose to leave the Church in his late teens or early twenties. He was completely out of the Church by the time he arrived at HLS so I don’t know to what extent he was on the radar screen of most LDS HLS students as an “ex-Mormon,” but he was one of the few thoughtful and outspoken conservative on the law review.

  42. Jedd on October 28, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    It seems that one’s starting point is useful to consider in this discussion. For some, “my beliefs� are prime. If the restored gospel coincides with “my beliefs,� I will allow it in to my circle. If not, well. . . . For others, the starting point may be different.

    Elder Oaks: “Those who govern their thoughts and actions solely by the principles of liberalism or conservatism or intellectualism cannot be expected to agree with all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for me, I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism—but I find no salvation in any of them.�

  43. John H on October 28, 2004 at 4:05 pm

    This is an interesting topic, and I appreciate Matt’s sensitivity in bringing it up.

    I’d echo the thoughts that it might be easier to to be a political conservative and remain an unbelieving Mormon than it would be to be a liberal and an ubelieving Mormon. Politics has also become such that it might be hard to associate with other liberals and maintain one’s faith – there’s a lot of anti-religious sentiment among political liberals (Bill Maher, anyone?) But there’s also plenty of religious people who find they aren’t welcome among political conservatives either. Mormonism today isn’t one of them.

    I’d just add that in the early 90s when all the attention was being paid to liberals who were excommunicated, far more conservatives were booted or left voluntarily because of their belief that Ezra Taft Benson was being muzzled and that the Church wasn’t conservative enough. Brian David Mitchell, for example, falls into this category.

  44. D. Fletcher on October 28, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    Just exploring a little bit, is it more natural for married people/families to be conservative, and those who are outside/marginalized/single to be liberal? Because the surprising data I heard was that married couples were split in their loyalties — more % men are voting for Bush and more women for Kerry.

    But outside the married couples, single voters are almost unanimously voting for Kerry.

    I’m just asking the question — don’t shoot the messenger.

  45. Nate Oman on October 28, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    I think that John H’s point about the mass excommunication of survivalists and other ultra-right wingers in the early 1990s is a good one. I find it curious that the story never got more press. Perhaps the booted conservatives didn’t want to talk to the liberal media. I also think that there was a certain journalistic bias at work here. The journalists like to report on people who were more like them.

  46. Gilgamesh on October 28, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    I would think that there are groups on both sides that leave the church.

    1.)Right wing would probably leave due to doctrinal or theological reasons – i.e., discovered we are not “Christian” etc…,

    2.)Left wing would leave over social justice issues – GLBT issues, the role of women, lack of empowement in a partiarchal church, social welfare, etc…

    If the above reasons are correct – which they may not be, but assuming they are;

    The conservative component break their ties to enter into a new life with their new faith – you don’t see nor hear from them again, unless they join the anti-mormon circuit.

    Those that leave for social justice issues tend to remain in dialogue with hopes of making a change from the inside or out.
    Therefore you hear more and dialogue more with the liberal component becuase they tend to remain in dialogue with their friends in the church. This would make it seem they are a larger percentage than those that leave for conservative or doctrinal reasons.

  47. Anon on October 28, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    I think I can bring an interesting perspective to the thread since I am currently in the process of leaving the church for what could be classified as “intellectual” reasons. Forgive me for posting anonymously, but I’m still in the middle of this and am not quite comfortable completely coming out.

    Yes, I could be classified as a Mormon liberal. In a nutshell my politics are: more or less fiscally conservative, strongly environmentalist (always a big issue for me), internationalist, not so sure about conservative social issues–abortion, gay marriage, etc., think that there is some value in social programs but do not believe that they are the be all end all, think that some form of governmental control of health care is inevitable. I’m actually quite a moderate IMHO, although by many Mormons I would be considered a flaming liberal (voted for Clinton and Gore and will vote for Kerry, the latter mostly because I think Bush’s presidency has been a failure on many fronts). But I do not want to steer the discussion towards politics, but rather would like to stay on topic.

    What are my reasons for leaving the church? Simply said, my doubts of the church’s foundational claims exceed my faith that it is what it claims to be. A lot of standard issues that you will hear from people in similar situations. After learning more about the real nature of Mormon polygamy and Joseph Smith’s involvement in it I came to the conclusion that it was not a divinely authorized practice. That led to more questions about the authenticity of the Book or Mormon and then the Book of Abraham and other foundational claims, but I don’t want to bore you with the details, since it’s like so many other stories you can read. I had always had problems reconciling certain scientific matters with church doctrine (evolution vs. creation and Adam and Eve, the flood and Noah, Tower of Babel, Mormon cosmology, etc.), and coupled with what I learned about the above mentioned points of church history and doctrine, I could no longer reconcile my church beliefs with my secular beliefs or knowledge, and didn’t feel comfortable continuing as a actively practicing member. I’ve been pretty brief here regarding the issues that made me question my beliefs (there are more, and it was the number and degree of difficulties, not any single issue that led me to leave my beliefs), so I apologize, but again I don’t want to get away from the main topic.

    So what is the relationship between this and my politics? I’m not sure, although I have my own theories. My parents were pretty much hardcore Republicans, could never really say a nice thing about a Democrat. I attended numerous fundraisers in my youth and was pretty indoctinated. About my senior year of high school I realized that I didn’t agree with a lot of strict Republican politics, and my freshman year at BYU kind of cemented that in me.

    I can only comment on my own experience, and so I don’t pretend to speak for others who have left the church. But I tend to think that my being a skeptic led me to somewhat liberal politics (by Mormon standards) and to question my beliefs. I’m not trying to say that skeptic = smart and smart = liberal and smart or liberal = the church isn’t true. There are plenty of smart non-skeptics, liberal believers, stupid skeptics, etc. A kid growing up in a liberal San Francisco home who decides that he actually believes more in neo-conservative politics could be labeled a skeptic. But anyway, I think my skepticism and desire for the world to make sense to me led me to question my political upbringing, and the same trait led me to critically evaluate my beliefs, and let me leave myself open to the possibility that the church is not what I thought it was. IMO most Mormons never really take a critical look at their faith, as in they never really entertain the possibility that the church is a man-made institution, although I get the feeling from this and other blogs that some have and have come to a different conclusion then I have.

    For me political issues were not as big a deal. I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of the politics that came from the pulpit or from the members, but figured that they were entitled to their opinion and I was to mine. I figured that issues like gay marriage (and homosexuality in general) and abortion and a lot of Republic causes celebres were much more complex than the average member realized, and that they weren’t vital to my salvation anyways. And often I did feel like I was a bit of an outsider at church, but never felt ostracized by other members for my opinions, and was comfortable with the fact that at least we all shared more or less the same religious convictions. I just simply one day realized that I didn’t believe in it anymore, and saw no compelling reason to keep participating actively. No major resentment or ill feelings, just rather it became just as valid as any other religion. But, as is evident from my trolling boards like this, I am still intrigued by the whole thing, culturally I’m still very much a Mormon.

    So I hope that my post has been helpful, if anyone would like to ask me any question you can email me at joeblow10@gmail.com. I would be happy to discuss my experience, but don’t bother emailing me if you are just going to try to convince me of the error of my ways. I’ve heard it all before and I’m comfortable with my decision.

  48. D. Fletcher on October 28, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    It might be nice to hear from liberals who remain in the Church (like…myself, possibly). Is Liberal Apostle an oxymoron?

  49. Randy on October 28, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    D., that depends entirely on what you mean by “Liberal Apostle.”

  50. D. Fletcher on October 28, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    I guess there is that article, “Why We Stay” to refer to.

  51. Joe Spencer on October 28, 2004 at 6:08 pm

    This is an interesting discussion. I think it interests me primarily because I feel I stand so outside of it (I still have not decided whether I or not I will actually vote this election, a position that may make me more of an outsider than even an extreme liberal in the Church). But the trajectory that has led to this point in my own history shows why I see this issue so differently.

    I spend high school trying to grasp both Orwell and Kafka. I spent my freshman year at BYU reading Marx and a handful of political writers on the left. I spent my mission reading the scriptures. And then I spent the next few years at BYU studying the scriptures and an odd mixture of Greek philosophy and Continental philosophy, leaving out most of what stands between (or, rather, touching on the rest only lightly). My immersion in the scriptures and in Greek and Continental philosophy that followed my mission was mostly the result of realizing while in the field that I had no clue what was going on. I became a sort of observer, convinced that the Church was true because of my own experiences and a power I felt there and nowhere else. My subsequent studies (which have now led me into work on the Hebrew and Greek texts of Second Isaiah and a great deal of exegetical work on Nephi as well as into 19th and 20th century continental aesthetics) has been the result of that “wonder” at the world that still fills me all the time. Very attached to that “wonder” is the fact that I believe all the wonder (of history, of meaning, of the world, and especially of the scriptures) to be wrapped up intimately in the priesthood as restored and the prophetic and particularly angelic messages throughout history, setting themselves up as a sort of framework.

    That biography aside, I have come to where politics, left and right, even elections, mean very little. I think that extremes in political activism may have ties to idolatry, on whichever side of divide one sits. As with most dualistic structures, the dichotomy draws attention from what may be most important. I really don’t have to stand up and decide whether I support the right’s battle against abortion or the left’s battle against guns. I can support or battle against abortion or guns or anything else without declaring sides. When someone in the Church has taken a side against me, it shows that I have too taken a side. If the Church is one, sides might be the issue.

  52. Randy on October 28, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    Growing up in SLC, my parents were die-hard Republicans. [My dad has since seen the light, but that is another story.] Despite that upbringing, I have leaned left politically for as long as I’ve had views on the subject. I can still remember, for example, sitting in class in junior high and being one of three people who cast their vote for Mondale. In high school, I was again among the small number who voted for Dukakis. I had lots of doubts about the church at the time, and I talked to my Bishop a bit about them. His response, in part, was: “It’s always the smart ones that have trouble with the church.” Needless to say, that response did nothing to inspire confidence. When I went off to college, I completely stopped attending church and threw away my scriptures. Going on a mission was completely out of the question — no small source of contention with my parents. (My dad was Bishop of his ward at the time; my refusal to serve a mission caused him all kinds of grief.)

    When I look back on this time, I seriously doubt that my political leanings played much of a role in my inactivity. I didn’t leave the church for political reasons. I was a skeptic and simply found the church implausible. (I likely would have used a less tactful word back then.) Issues like the historical restrictions on the priesthood certainly didn’t help matters, but those type of social/political issues were only pieces of a much larger skepticism. In short, I would have left the church even had I leaned right politically.

    I started coming back to church during law school, basically on a fluke (long story that I won’t go into here). There was a small branch full of graduate students along with a couple professionals (an advertising executive, in particular) who were all exceptionally bright, politically diverse, and extreme devoted. It was the first time that I had encountered a group of intelligent, thoughtful people who also had a testimony. It caused me to rethink a bit. (It also didn’t hurt that the branch president at the time was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known.) By the time I left that branch (later a ward), my wife and I had been sealed in the temple and I had been called to serve as a counselor in the bishopric.

    While I don’t think that politics played much of a role in my becoming inactive, it was a significant hurdle to overcome in becoming active again. It took a long time to work through some of my concerns. But eventually there came a point where my faith in the gospel exceeded my still significant questions on certain politically charged issues. On some issues, I came to the conclusion that the “Utah Mormon” (for lack of a better word) view of the world was simply inconsistent with the gospel. On other issues, the words of the Prophets did not leave me that luxury. I’ve not worked through all my concerns, but I have faith that one day they will all be resolved, in one way or another, to my and everyone else’s complete satisfaction. Until then, I’ll continue to plod along.

  53. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 28, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    But then, I’m old enough to remember when a significant number of people left the Church quite openly, vocally, and loudly, because of their dismay with President Kimball’s announcement that the Church would extend priesthood to all males without regard to race.

    I never met or heard anyone who fits that description. I’m 48 and have been in the Church my entire life.

  54. gunner on October 28, 2004 at 8:16 pm

    You asked
    Why do these conflicted Mormons dwell so much on their political beliefs? I haven’t read Why We Believe, but I can’t imagine many of the writers mention their political beliefs in their testimonies.

    I think it is because politics and religion are getting closer everyday. The church takes stands on gay marriage, abortion, and other issues that people normally connected to the political arena, Then there is this.

    We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

    But when we place our religious views into the political realm there is the habit to feel we should tell other people that they whould worship, and live, by our rules. This conflict is the start of many people falling away. The rougher edge that the republicans show turns many away from it. Connecting religious themes to it is the match to the gas that burns them.

  55. Jack on October 28, 2004 at 8:27 pm

    gunner, the Lord also warns that the inhabitants of this land are to worship Him or they’ll be swept off when they’re fully ripe. Shall we assume that God is capricious because He has given further counsel that may at first glance appear to be contradictory to his initial commands?

  56. greenfrog on October 28, 2004 at 10:47 pm

    I never met or heard anyone who fits that description. I’m 48 and have been in the Church my entire life.

    Bummer. You should get out more.

  57. Ethesis (Stephen M) on October 28, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    Bummer. You should get out more.

    Comment by greenfrog

    Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada, California and Texas (as well as the USA), I’ve been out in a lot of places …

    Even Utah.

    Where were you that you met people like that?

    Weren’t they ashamed?

  58. Brent on October 28, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    Interestingly, in my experience, those who are most critical of the Church, its policies and leaders and even doctrines, do seem to lean left politically, even if they do not leave the church. Is there a correlation? Has it always been so. Admittedly, times are different now, and my experience, due to age, is somewhat limited.

  59. Dave on October 29, 2004 at 12:07 am

    Interesting thoughts, Matt. I don’t think the problem is sample size, I think you are just confused about your variables. I don’t think political beliefs, left-leaning or right-leaning, are independent inputs into a dependent set of religious beliefs. Instead, I think a host of factors influence both a person’s religious and political beliefs, which are highly correlated. Since these beliefs are highly correlated, as you noted in your post, you can’t use one to explain the other. It’s like saying the reason people own big houses is because they drive expensive cars. There’s more to it than that.

    I also think people who move to the far right do leave the Church, in a sense, but just don’t realize it. You can be pretty far out to the right politically and still feel at home in an LDS chapel, but people whose lives become centered on right-wing political issues (which I won’t try to list for fear of offending fellow readers) are more of a danger because they think they are still “mainstream Mormons” and so do many other people. At least left-wing Mormons have the good grace to know when they don’t fit (if such is the case) and exit stage left. Right-wing Mormons don’t seem to get the hint. They won’t exit.

    Personally, I see the increasing politicization of the Church (culturally if not officially) as an unfortunate development, but it seems to mirror what’s happening in the rest of America.

  60. Jack on October 29, 2004 at 12:56 am

    Dave, perhaps you should be as wary of over-simplification r.e. the contents of your second paragraph as well as that of your first.

  61. Jack on October 29, 2004 at 12:58 am

    Whoops, I meant ot put a winking smiley face with that last comment – I hope it doesn’t come across too harsh. ;>)

  62. David on October 29, 2004 at 1:09 am

    “If there is a correlation between political opinions and leaving the church, what should the church do? What should right-leaners do? What should left-leaners do?”

    I think the Church should continue to make clear that political affiliation is a personal choice. There is neither express nor implied official direction to affiliate with one party or the other.

    Second, those on the right, and on the left, should continue to recogize that men and women of good will and of firm testimonies of the restored gospel can differ on political issues.

    Third, we should not challenge the bona fides of a person’s commitment to the gospel because of his or her political affiliation or leaning, even if we believe the belief or leaning is wrong and against God’s will.

    If a person concludes that his or her personal beliefs reflected in his or her politics (whether leaning left, right, or in between) are not consistent with his or her continuing affiliation with the Church, the person could severe ties on that basis, not because we have pushed them out. I believe we should be supportive and nurturing to all.

  63. Jack on October 29, 2004 at 1:41 am

    One of the problems with conflating religious and political beliefs is that it will run you that much harder into the brick wall of mid-life crisis. For me, it was quite a wake up call to learn that not all politically conservative values are compatible with the gospel.

  64. Matt Evans on October 29, 2004 at 9:24 am

    Comment 59: I think a host of factors influence both a person’s religious and political beliefs, which are highly correlated.

    Dave, I find this perspective very interesting. If there is a set of variables that pre-exist our religious and political variables, what are they? And what factors do you think pre-exist a Mormon’s religious beliefs, especially for someone born to a Mormon family in a Mormon community?

  65. Juliann on October 29, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    I have three sisters. The oldest two have not been active since their college days. They are political liberals. My other sister and I are strong members and are political conservatives. I see two issues here.

    1. As a world wide church we now are faced with the knowledge that God is not only not a Utah Republican, he is not even American. We have socialists on the FAIR elist.

    2. Mormonism cannot be considered a conservative *theology* based on the standard definitions that are used (inerrancy, infallibility, canon, etc.). Without exception, the Claremont respondents described Mormonism as changing, dynamic and living religion quite apart from its 19th century beginnings. However, almost every Mormon I have run across thinks that they are a religious conservative in a static religion.

    Part of what makes us such an interesting study is how we have mixed what has traditionally been considered unmixable. For example, the theory that Christian prophecy disappeared because it cannot coexist with institutionalization became axiomatic in the literature. This is demonstrably incorrect if NT scholars survey Mormonism but they have not.

    So what I would like to see is the political/social liberal exMormon’s self-understanding. I’m willing to bet that they perceive Mormon *theology* as conservative and static (rather than its practitioners). For example, those that are surrounded by liberal Protestantism might be more likely to misplace Mormonism on this spectrum than those who are familiar with the extremes of Evangelicism. Thus, I think the question needs to include the subject’s perception of Mormonism and an analysis of whether they are reacting to their own perception rather than the reality (again, something that becomes very blurred in actual Mormon practice).

  66. Steve Evans on October 29, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    Juliann, that may well be due to the fact that the average Mormon doesn’t know what theology is. Our religion is so practice-oriented that we don’t really possess a coherent theological framework, and we don’t care.

  67. Jeremy on October 29, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    Having grown up in southern Utah, I knew and knew of several people who had left the church because they felt the church was not conservative enough.

    On the other hand, I also know of several people who have left the church because they felt they couldn’t reconcile their political convictions with their church experience. However, it has been my experience that this is more a cultural thing than a theological thing; had this or that liberal Mormon lived in a different part of the country they might have felt less excluded in their ward. And it may not even be a geographic or demographic issue, but might have very much to do with individual connections. I happen to live in a very conservative ward, but one that happens to have a democrat for a stake president; that automatically gives us lefties a sense of validation. :)

  68. Karen on October 29, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Just to put more of a wrinkle in Matt’s original post, I think some of his sample wouldn’t consider themselves to be as “out” of the church as Matt seems to consider them. I also think they are not all as liberal as Matt thinks. (Although, we could well be talking about different people, and it would be completely inappropriate to name names here.) I guess the point is that something as personal as testimony gain and loss will be a very different process for different people, and to try to reduce it to meaningful statistics is problematic at best. That would be akin to assuming that the only two meaningful forces on an individual life are religion and politics, when in actuality we are so much more complex than that.

  69. Jack on October 29, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    “Since these beliefs [religious and political] are highly correlated, as you noted in your post, you can’t use one to explain the other. It’s like saying the reason people own big houses is because they drive expensive cars. There’s more to it than that.”

    Well, a child will make those very assumptions. Granted, he/she will one day have to grow out of them, but don’t the honest in heart do what they feel is right for the best reason they can come up with? One of the most difficult requirements of the Gospel (imo) is the patience that it requires us to have toward one another as we mature in our understanding. I can’t stand the provincial snobbery of some right-leaners who assume that everything “left” is anti-gospel. Nor can I stand the presumptuousness of some left-leaners who assume that the still waters run deeper for them than it does for those on the right.

    “At least left-wing Mormons have the good grace to know when they don’t fit (if such is the case) and exit stage left. Right-wing Mormons don’t seem to get the hint. They won’t exit.”

    Glory be! I’m glad I stuck around long enough to run into Hugh Nibley’s “Approaching Zion”. I read it cover to cover about 15 yrs ago. It openned up a whole new world to me. While some of his social/political ideas are down right silly to me, I did gain an appreciation for honest dissent from the politically conservative version of the gospel with which I was brought up.

    That said, today I’m still right of center. And contrary to Dave’s comment: “Since these beliefs are highly correlated… you can’t use one to explain the other”, I feel that my social/political views flow more naturally from my religious views than they used to (which is why I’m not as far right as I used to be) and therefore can be explained *because* of my religious views.

  70. Matt Evans on October 29, 2004 at 1:56 pm

    Karen, oops, are you not “out” of the church? Maybe I do need to revise my numbers! : ) And though you probably know the political opinions of two of the people better than I do, I suspect that they do lean-left, even if they don’t consider themselves “liberals.”

  71. Mathew on October 29, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    Karen,

    Don’t spoil our fun–name names!

  72. Karen on October 29, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    Ahh, and this is how pernicious rumors get started! :o) Matt, are you trying to out me out of the church? Maybe that’s why liberals leave…the conservatives gossip them out the door! (Actually, now that I’ve written that, I imagine that seriously quite a few people are gossiped out of the doors at church, but it probably doesn’t have so much to do with politics.)

    Mat, you are truly evil, and I will not cave.

  73. David on October 29, 2004 at 5:39 pm

    What is the definition of “lean[ing] left”? Does it mean registering as a democrat like Orson Scott Card or Zell Miller? Does it mean supporting Kerry for president, like Scott McConnell in the American Conservative? http://www.amconmag.com/2004_11_08/cover1.html
    Does it mean opposing the Iraq war, like Pat Buchanan? Does it mean eliminating the preference for capital gains, like the Reagan-Packwood-Rostenkowski Tax Reform Act of 1986? Does it mean allowing states to enact civil union legislation like George Bush (and Dick Cheney) would? Does it mean favoring the loosening of trade and other restrictions with Cuba, like Jeff Flake? Or expanded immigration, like the Wall Street Journal? Believing the federal sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional, as Antonin Scalia may believe? Allowing research with embryonic stem cells, like Orrin Hatch?

    Can one safely believe or subscribe to one or two of those heresies, but not more than two or three, without being in peril of “leaning left”?

  74. Matt Evans on October 29, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Hi David,

    You’re right that reducing all political views to the two-dimensional political spectrum makes for imperfect categories, and that some people defy traditional labels. Nonetheless, our American political language is sufficiently established to give terms like “lean-left” and “left-of-center” meaning. Some of the people I mentioned in my post do more than lean left, they’re on the far leftwing, but I just used “lean-left” for all of them because that description fits, even though the term fails to convey the degree to which some of them are left of center.

  75. Larry on October 29, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    What if we redefined left and right from the European perspective and took a step back to define our positions. I suspect that if we did we might not be as far apart as it now looks to be.
    If the left side were defined as totalitarian control (Nazi or Communist style etc.) and the right were defined as anarchy, perhaps on a bell curve we might be in closer agreement in principle just not in process.
    Just a thought.

  76. Matt Evans on October 29, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    Hi Larry,

    If we placed our current political spectrum on a spectrum with every possible political theory, our positions would indeed appear relatively closer together. But what is important to us is that the distance between contemporary political right and left, whether viewed from far away or up close, has predictive value for inactivity or leaving the church.

  77. Larry on October 29, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    Is that a problem of perception on the part of those who leave, is it genuine deep felt differences, or is it used as an excuse for one reason or another? I have seen it on both sides of the spectrum and my sense was that pride or hurt feelings played a big part in their leaving.

  78. gunner on October 29, 2004 at 11:47 pm

    Jeremy said
    Having grown up in southern Utah, I knew and knew of several people who had left the church because they felt the church was not conservative enough.

    On the other hand, I also know of several people who have left the church because they felt they couldn’t reconcile their political convictions with their church experience.
    ———–
    The church as we know it was re-established by G-d on earth. It is his church and all other churches are founded by man.
    I think many who leave have already moved into the side of the debate that even our church is founded by man. So when they leave and go to another, more liberal church, they have not forsaken G-d, but the specific views of man(or maybe better said “the men in SLC”). So going to another church they stay with G-d in their hearts, and do not feel like they have turned their back on the Savior.
    Some of the views that I have in the areas that cross over from religious to political are not totally in line with church dogma and proclamations. This is causing me some conflict with my wife even. I do not feel deap down I have turned my back on any part of the church, but I still worry about these unresolved issues.
    Are they issues because they conflict with a proclamation or are they issues between me and G-d?
    If you have a belief and there is a proclamation from SLC and it is 180 degrees from your view what do you do? The standard “pray and fast on the subject” is not always easy. One debate and you do not choose a politician, and yet one prayer and fast and you are supposed the change basic beliefs that you have?
    What do you do when there is conflict between personnal belief and eclisiastic(?) authority?

  79. Rob Briggs on October 29, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Larry: “If the left side were defined as totalitarian control (Nazi or Communist style etc.) and the right were defined as anarchy, perhaps on a bell curve we might be in closer agreement in principle just not in process.
    Just a thought.”

    The usual formulation is Communism on the extreme left & Fascism (Nazism) on the extreme right. As you’re probably aware, some take this left-right continum & bend it into a circle so that the extreme left & extreme right join — conveying the similarities of the totalitarian left & right.

  80. Larry on October 30, 2004 at 12:09 am

    Rob,

    Good point. Is it really a bend into a circle or is it an intellectual argument that is used to try and differentiate the two so that philosophers can claim they are polar opposites?
    If under both systems ones freedom is curtailed, what is the difference? On a continuum between totalitarianism and anarchy how would we separate them?

  81. Rob Briggs on October 30, 2004 at 12:26 am

    While reading this ongoing discussion, a friend from Guatemala-El Salvador mission days wrote, in the context of the current flame wars in the presidential election, to question how any Mormon could be a Democrat. (He’s a bright tho opinionated guy but, still, he ought to know better. Suppose I’ll have to excuse his lapse in sanity.) Then came the Claremont conference in which a respondent observed that Latino Mormons in the US favor Democratic politics.

    I like to recall an ancestor of mine, Samuel Knight, poor as a church mouse in southern Utah from the 1850s to ~1910. Around the turn of the century, his half brother, Jessie Knight (Jessie, of course had made a lot of $$ in mining but Samuel (my line) remained poor, I’m proud to say) — Jessie Knight ran for governor of Utah on the Democratic ticket. He lost to the Republican candidate, I’ve forgot whom. What interests me is that the larger cities voted Rebublican while Democrat Knight faired better in the the smaller, more traditional and conservative counties & towns. As I recall, Washington County was among the few counties where Democrat Knight prevailed. Washington County as a Democratic bastion!! Ha!! My, how times change.

    Jessie & Samuel Knight remained true to their upbringing & experience. They remained lifelong Democrats.

    Once again proving that both our political views & affiliations & the parties themselves change, shift & morph over time. It’s all historically contingent.

  82. Larry on October 30, 2004 at 1:51 am

    True, too true. That is why I enjoy political discourse w/o name calling. Remember it was the Republicans who started the polygamy argument against the Saints (if my memory serves me right).
    However, for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would vote Democrat. (just kidding):)

  83. David on October 31, 2004 at 5:18 pm

    “But what is important to us is that the distance between contemporary political right and left, whether viewed from far away or up close, has predictive value for inactivity or leaving the church.” (Post 76)

    Did I miss something? The only empirical evidence I saw were the experiences and acquaintances of two individuals (one at Harvard Law School), and citations to the statistical correlation in the Iast few years between patterns of church attendance and voting.

    “But clearly there is a potential (note the word “potential”) association between left-wing politics and inactivity or leaving the church, and such politics have the potential of being a stumbling block.” (Post 1)

    When I was in college, Elder Ezra Taft Benson told a reporter that he did not think a faithful Latter-day Saint who understood the gospel could be a liberal democrat.

    While I did not then, and do not now, consider myself a liberal democrat, his statement, and some of the posts on this “delicate subject”, have caused me considerable reflection.

    Let me put the issue more directly on the table.

    Suppose, as I think most of my co-religionists believe, that God is (or would be, if He were permitted to register) a conservative republican, would He wish all His children to be conservative (or at least right leaning) republicans? Or, because He is a merciful and forgiving God, would He tolerate (and provide gospel blessings) to those of His children (including Church leaders) who were moderate, left leaning, or even registered democrats? (Thus, a liberal democrat could be a good member of the Church–but just not as good (or as valiant) as he or she would be as a conservative republican.) Would God be so concerned that leaning left endangers His children’s long-term association with the Church and eternal salvation, that if any liberal democrat inquired of God “with real intent”, God would direct him or her to be a conservative republican (or at least to lean right as a democrat)? Does the fact that a person does not lean right implicitly indicate–or statistically predict–lack of faith, lack of understanding of the gospel, or lack of sufficient prayer about political positions?

    It may be heresy to some, but is it possible the opposite is true–that God is or would be a liberal democrat (perhaps a pro-life liberal democrat)? Or, could it be possible that God may lean right on some issues, lean left on others, and be in the middle of the political spectrum on some? Is it possible He is really neutral on most issues we become so exercised about–for example, perhaps He has no position whether, in the eternal scheme, the mostly socialized health systems of other industrialized nations are preferable, or not to be preferred, over the largely private health system of the U.S.?

    I believe that God inspired the Constitution by inspiring individual Framers firmly to hold conflicting views on vital issues and principles that when melded, through discussion, debate, negotiation and compromise, became the generally sound principles of our governmental system. Is it possible that, in the same way today, God may provide a measure of inspiration to both the left and the right, the republican and the democrat (inside and outside of our religion), with the hope and faith that through continued similar debate, discussion, negotiation and compromise, sound and healthy government will result? And, if that is the case, that we should nurture all, regardless of political affiliation, and not feel constrained to “warn” (or wonder if we should warn) those who “lean left” (or “right”) that their salvation or exaltation may be in peril?

  84. Rob Briggs on October 31, 2004 at 9:37 pm

    David: “When I was in college, Elder Ezra Taft Benson told a reporter that he did not think a faithful Latter-day Saint who understood the gospel could be a liberal democrat.”

    Did he say “liberal democrat” or “liberal Mormon”? Harold B. Lee said that a liberal Mormon was one who didn’t have a testimony (or words to similar effect). But remember that in the Mormon past, “liberal” had its own peculiar meaning. It was the Liberal Party that opposed polygamy & the Mormon “priesthood” & its alleged interference in business & politics. It was the Liberals who spearheaded much of the anti-polygamy legislation that carried the church to the brink of disaster. So in Utah & Latter-day Saint history “liberal” is freighted with unfavorable meanings & associations. Leaders like Presidents Lee & Benson grew up when that period of conflict was still a recent memory.

  85. Rob Briggs on October 31, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    David: “I believe that God inspired the Constitution by inspiring individual Framers firmly to hold conflicting views on vital issues and principles that when melded, through discussion, debate, negotiation and compromise, became the generally sound principles of our governmental system. Is it possible that, in the same way today, God may provide a measure of inspiration to both the left and the right, the republican and the democrat (inside and outside of our religion), with the hope and faith that through continued similar debate, discussion, negotiation and compromise, sound and healthy government will result? And, if that is the case, that we should nurture all, regardless of political affiliation, and not feel constrained to “warnâ€? (or wonder if we should warn) those who “lean leftâ€? (or “right”) that their salvation or exaltation may be in peril?”

    David, a very good point. Works for me.

  86. Larry on October 31, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    David,

    You need the biography of B.H. Roberts. You will love him. He was on the opposite side of the League of Nations debate from J. Reuben Clark; a Democrat versus a Republican; and though there was serious debate among the brethern about his political positions, the Lord left him in place.
    As a conservative I would be horrified if liberal Democrats were excluded from all the blessings afforded members. If you want a dysfunctional society, just take away those who can act as another conscience or provide another way of looking at things. How boring life would be w/o vigorous debate on issues.
    There must be opposition in all things – otherwise there is no existence. Even in Zion where we will be of one mind and one heart, we will still be individuals capable of thought and discussion. To be otherwise, to me, would be “H”.

  87. Larry on October 31, 2004 at 11:40 pm

    However, we could lobby to have it as a tenet for temple recommends that all members be conservative.:)

  88. matt on November 1, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    about thecontinuum vs. line…

    Behold, the mighty cone. The inverted cone. Top-to-bottom,size/invasiveness/institutionalization of government: Communism-Socialism-Social Democracy-Libertarian Democracy-Anarchy; Similarly traditional Left to Right across the near side, with Fascists and Pol Pot meeting up on the far side.

    Even that’s not adequate, but it’s an easy model for simple discussion. Beyond that you can color code for infusion of values/theology, etc. (i.e. light-to-dark for Netherlands-Germany-Italy-Turkey-Israel-Iran… hmmm funny how that moves south and east)

  89. shaking of head on November 5, 2004 at 12:11 am

    I want to approach this delicately; but could somebody please enlighten me as to the purpose and value of this post? I really don’t want to come off as speaking from a soapbox, but I really have to question the utility and effect of a post like this. Was the purpose of this post to unite members of the Church, despite their differences? More importantly, is the likely effect of a post like this to encourage us in being as one?
    It seems to me that raising a question such as this, a question that is speculative beyond repair (notwithstanding updated statistics), is hardly backed in the purest of motivations (admittedly – I may be wrong on this point). The subtle creation of labels and links being made between “left-leaning” members and the likelihood that they will leave the Church, is at best disappointing, at worst, shameful. One can claim all day long that there is nothing to this not-so-subtle attempt to, at least, place in the minds of readers a connection between leaving the Church and leaning left. Admittedly, it somehow seems more suspect when written by a right-leaning person. Why raise such a question in this context? I think its hardly remedied by making clear that you know there are some lefties who are as faithful as anyone. This reminds me of the person who justifies and inherently racist question about comparative race intelligence by saying that he recognizes that there are many intelligent black people out there.
    There are so many control/variable-based problems with the statistics being used, it makes that much more disappointing. I apologize for the buzz-kill, but I really am shaky as to the purpose and likely effect of a post like this, especially on somebody who might only see it as confirmation of his/her percieved isolation.

  90. Ethesis (Stephen M) on November 5, 2004 at 12:15 am

    Well, “shaking,” this is a generally more liberal than not blog, and so it is a place where someone might feel they can talk about the subject.

    Guess we can ban all subjects that aren’t anything other than singing “kum by ya” …. but ….

  91. Larry on November 5, 2004 at 2:55 am

    Matt,

    The cone was never mighty. They used to crumble every time I tried to eat my ice cream. The line – now that’s a different matter. Even the police use it to make sure you’re on the up and up.

  92. PeekinIn on October 31, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    I realize that this post is a year old, I just came across it accidentally while doing a search. This may not even be directly related to the original post, nevertheless, I wanted to throw my two cents out into cyberspace for the heck of it. My thoughts while reading all these posts is that it’s all somewhat reminiscent of Joseph Smith’s experience as a boy, trying to find the “true church”. Of course, he came to find that none of the churches in existence at that time fit the bill. Similarly, in our day many seem almost to be searching for a “true” political party. Such a one does not exist. The perfect form of government will exist in the millennium when Christ himself reigns on the earth. Until then we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got, and busy ourselves about our own personal righteousness – whatever our political beliefs.