If you’ve spent five minutes in the bloggernacle, you’ve heard a liberal-leaning Latter-day Saint bemoan the constant conservative harping among members of the church. It’s sometimes hard to believe, but when people tell stories of gospel doctrine teachers showing how Moronihah is a foreshadowing of Ronald Reagan, they’re probably being serious.
From the accounts of many somewhat trustworthy people in the bloggernacle, the tendency among members of the church to assume that 1) conservatism = the gospel and 2) everyone in the congregation = conservative, is quite widespread. Again, I haven’t seen much of this myself, but I suppose I may have missed it because as a middle-of-the road type, it’s not likely to irritate me as much as it would a real BCC-level Mormon. However, I will throw my lot in with them and say that if it does happen, it is a problem. The official church has no interest in defining itself on one side of the aisle (most Mormon chapels have more than one aisle, anyway), and has taken measures of arguable effectiveness meant to counter the trend.
For the sake of argument, let’s say this problem does exist, and is widespread enough to cause real alienation among a large set of liberal-leaning Mormons. I feel I am qualified to offer my sympathy to these people, for one important reason: as a person with some conservative ideas, I deal with this in every area of life that doesn’t involve the church. Let me explain.
Last night, I was with a few associates from work, and we were making casual conversation. The election came up and one of them said that the real problem of the election, of course, is that Bush will likely have a few Supreme Court picks, and it’s really scary to think of what this could mean for Roe v. Wade. Of course this put me in an awkward position, given that I would be happy to see Roe v. Wade go the way of Plessy v. Ferguson. But my only options were to just stay silent, and give the impression that I’m cool with what she’s saying, or to speak up, and bring tension into what had been, and should have remained, a very casual, laid-back conversation.
This story only backs up the bulk of my experience. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve observed that liberal-leaning people feel amazingly free to express their deeply-held beliefs in the open, among people they are not close to, in a way that assumes that everyone obviously agrees. Mind you, I’m not speaking of a problem with loose-lipped lefties in Greenwhich Village or Berkeley. My experiences are mostly limited to Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City, two places where one is likely to encounter at least an occasional conservative. And yet I find that even when my conservative views are in the majority, they are also not kosher for public airing. Even in Salt Lake, I often hear my more liberal colleagues sound off on this or that church or presidential policy, and just as often see my conservative associates stare at the floor, too embarrassed or passive to speak.
It seems that part of good manners is never to state controversial political opinions, especially in the everyone-obviously- agrees-with-me-tone, in the company of people you don’t know well. I don’t think I would ever make a sarcastic jab at the Don’t Amend Alliance while hanging out with mere aquaintances, for fear of putting someone else in the same awkward spot I am often put in. Why does it seem like those who lean left are so willing to do that very thing to me?
So here’s my question: despite the slight numerical majority of conservatives in our country (okay, call it a statistical tie if you wish), why does liberalism dominate polite company? Is it just me, or have others noticed that it is not impolite to express contempt for President Bush, but that stating support for him borders on the gauche? Is liberalism simply cooler than conservatism? Are there others out there that wonder why they feel compelled by. . . something to keep quiet while their liberal co-workers feel free to rant at will?
And finally, here’s the tie-in: If everything I’ve said above is true, could it be that the problem of conservative triumphalism within the church is a response to the feeling of being muzzled in all of the rest of one’s interactions? Perhaps the brash conservative guy in your ward gets that way because he feels justified in exploiting the comforting majority position he enjoys at church, due to the buffetings he takes from everyone else he talks to the other six days of the week. While this wouldn’t justify hijacking your Sunday School lesson to talk about the holiness of the Second Amendment, does it perhaps partially explain that behavior?
Anyone have any examples supporting or rejecting this thesis? (I’m sure no one does).
(Please keep comments on-topic. This need not be contentious. I would like to know 1) whether people agree that liberal-leaning folks feel more free to state their views in polite society than conservatives 2) why this might be, and 3) if that has anything to do with the problem of conservative braggadoccio in the church.)