Trib Columnist Accidentally Raises Interesting Questions

September 24, 2007 | 30 comments
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It is going on ten years now since I have lived in Utah, but I still follow Utah politics from afar partly as a matter of tribal attachment but mainly because they are just so strange and fun. The reason Utah politics makes for such a fun spectator sport is the dominating influence of Mormonism — and to a lesser extent that Mormon Church — in state politics.

Apparently some of those favoring vouchers in the upcoming referendum on the subject have been trying to invoke Mormonism in various ways to support the proposal. The Church responded with a public statement denying any official position on the issue. Now Salt Lake Tribune columnist Rebecca Walsh wades into the debate with some of the silliest analysis of religion and Utah politics that I have read for a while. (And that is saying something, as it is a genre much given to silliness). The gist of Walsh’s analysis is that there is too much religion in Utah’s political culture and therefore the Church should publicly oppose vouchers. It’s easy to dismiss Walsh’s column as the crassest kind of Church-neutrality-is-bad-when-my-ideological-ox-is-getting gored drivel (and frankly it is), but she accidentally raises two interesting issues.

The first is the extremely elastic distinction between moral and political issues that the Church as an institution uses to explain its occasional forays into politics. The gist of her argument is that vouchers would be immoral because they will lead to various undesirable social consequences, mainly having to do with the concentration of low-income, low-achieving students in public schools. She also seems to be upset by the specter of vouchers contributing to a Mormon private-school movement. Alas, she says, in its statement the Church “remained silent, as the biggest moral issue of a generation passed it by.” One suspects that her argument here rests on the fallacy of equivocation, as the Church seems to be using “moral” in a much narrower sense in its political statements. On the other hand, what precisely is meant by “moral’ in this context is unclear.

The second, far more interesting question, is the relationship between the Church and Mormon political culture. The crude — and inaccurate — assumption is that Mormon political attitudes are simply chosen by church leaders. The reality is that Mormonism as a belief system, cultural identity, and set of social practices impinges upon the political thinking, actions, and speech of Mormons. Very occasionally this is a result of deliberate institutional action, but generally speaking it is not. This raises the question of whether or not it makes sense for the Church as an institution to take responsibility for this political culture.

One suspects that the Brethren regard intervention in Utah’s religious politics as basically a waste of time and effort. Yet as the Ms. Walshes of the world are right to point out they cannot help but wield great power in the state when they choose to do so. Think of it as the Spiderman argument: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There are at least two objections to the notion that the Church ought to oversee Mormon political culture. First, it may run counter to the Church’s insistence since at least the Smoot Hearings that Mormons ought to be left more-or-less free to make their own political decisions. Second — and more interesting from my perspective — the notion that the Church should take responsibility for Mormon political culture implicitly suggests that the Church should ultimately control this area of Mormon discourse. But should the Church qua Church seek to control all aspects of Mormon discourse? For my money, the practical result of such a move would be to impoverish the discourse precisely because the Church as an institution simply lacks the energy and resources to spend much time on it, and once there is an “official” church position on say vouchers the intellectual politics of Mormon discussions will become charged in a way that is probably unhealthy.

Of course on this issue, I think that as usual Russell disagrees with me. Both of us, however, have the luxury of watching Utah politics for the sheer fun of it.

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30 Responses to Trib Columnist Accidentally Raises Interesting Questions

  1. Bro. Jones on September 24, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Nate said: “But should the Church qua Church seek to control all aspects of Mormon discourse? For my money, the practical result of such a move would be to impoverish the discourse precisely because the Church as an institution simply lacks the energy and resources to spend much time on it, and once there is an ‘official’ church position on say vouchers the intellectual politics of Mormon discussions will become charged in a way that is probably unhealthy.”

    Arguably it wouldn’t cost a lot. Church leadership’s explicit support of (certain) local political movements to ban gay marriage didn’t cost anything more than a few statements from Stake leaders and very deliberate words (or silence) from executive leadership (Qo12, FP, etc.). A similar lower-level leadership push to, say, support Mitt Romney* would also not involve a massive media campaign or expenditure, because by targeting Mormons who attend Sunday services and listen to their stake leaders, the Church is already targeting the core constituency.

    * Yes, I know this would be illegal, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on September 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    The notion that the Church should take responsibility for Mormon political culture implicitly suggests that the Church should ultimately control this area of Mormon discourse. The practical result of such a move, I think, would be to impoverish the discourse precisely because the Church as an institution simply lacks the energy and resources to spend much time on it, and once there is an “official” church position on say vouchers the intellectual politics of Mormon become charged in a way that is probably unhealthy.

    Does it, in fact, implicitly suggest that? “Taking responsibility” (which in this case I see as basically meaning “taking positions that generate levels of involvement and judgment adequate to the role which the Church plays or presumably ought to play in the thinking of Mormon citizens”) does not necessarily equal “taking control” (which will be here translated as “taking positions which Mormon citizens will find themselves challenged by ecclesiastical consequences for opposing, thus giving the church leadership options for real control”). Of course, perhaps those two things do equal one another in Mormonism, but only because of the near omnipresent theological and social question of proper authority in Mormon thinking. Which takes us right back into the usual thicket of political theology: can a church which claims that (mostly) unchallengable prophetic authority is instituted in present-day, living-and-breathing institutions and persons ever be pluralistic and democratic? Could one ever have, under any possible circumstances, a state of affairs wherein Mormons are authoritatively told they should oppose all state gambling, and then a Mormon state legislator supports the creation of a state lottery, and not have the result be a trial of one’s faith, if not accusations in the church foyer and maybe even a church court?

    I want to believe so, because I want to believe in the possibility of a Mormon civil religion–indeed, I’m not sure one can make sense of the facts on the ground in Salt Lake City without recognizing the presence of a fully public (if rarely explicitly named) political Mormonism. But I also recognize that the Church is culturally hierarchical and religiously bound to notions of authority to a far greater degree than any large-size Christian denomination, even more than Catholicism. As such, perhaps committing the church to anything except the most narrowly construed of moral terms is bound to backfire. I’d kind of like to give it a whirl and see if that really does happen, but I can perfectly understand those who don’t want to risk anything of the sort.

  3. Dave on September 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Yeah, the column seems pretty over the top. I suspect she would strongly agree with the following statement — “The LDS Church should not take an active or vocal role in Utah state politics” — but seems clueless that her position in the column is entirely inconsistent with that widely supported position. The only statement in the whole piece that really made sense was the quoted statement by the LDS spokesman: “The Church has taken no position on the issue of school vouchers.” Any other LDS position would cause nothing but problems. What could be more obvious?

    Consistent with that position, I think the modern Church as an institution tries to keep its distance from any entanglement with or the attribution of any responsibility for Utah’s political culture or even Mormon political culture. Again, I think this makes perfect sense.

  4. Nate Oman on September 24, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    RAF: Must a Mormon civic religion be generated by the Church. It seems to me that we have three possibilities:

    1. The church takes positions on discrete issues and then provides sanctions of some sort for Mormons who deviate from these positions.
    2. The church seeks to create a Mormon political discourse that is nevertheless pluralistic in some sense.
    3. The church simply allows a pluralistic Mormon political discourse to evolve.

    While, I am opposed to 1 and would prefer 3, 1 is not quite what I meant to imply when I talked about Church control of political discourse. I take it that you are suggesting that we ought to give 2 a whirl. However, I am worried that the intrusion of the intrusion of institutional authority — even if overtly pluralistic and not backed by institutional sanctions — would tend to hinder the development of Mormon political thinking. Of course, even 3 assumes that the Church is involved as an institution in the creation of certain authoritative texts, stories, etc. upon which such a discourse would rest, so perhaps 3 collapses into 2 after all. I just want 2 at a fairly high level of abstraction.

  5. Adam Greenwood on September 24, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Interesting stuff, Nate O. As far as I could glean from this not terribly unlousy column, both sides were using Mormon stuff in a pretty clumsy way. That is, the voucher people used some blurb from one prophet about private education and the anti-voucher people used some blurb from a different prophet about public education. But if you believe in continuing revelation that is adapted to circumstances, I don’t see how you can possibly arrive at political positions by taking a poll of our former prophets. You either have to get a thumbs up or thumbs down from Hinckley, which he has obviously declined to do, or else you have to go to past prophets for principles, precedents, and analogies, recognizing that it will be easier for the other side to disagree with your application of the principle, precedent, or analogy.

    But I do think that using gospel principle, precedent, and analogy is legitimate. Which is why I found the Church’s statement a little odd:

    The church has taken no position on the issue of school vouchers,” spokesman Mark Tuttle said. “Past statements by church leaders should not be interpreted to imply any position for or against the current issue.

    I’m not sure what to make of that last sentence. The column Nate O. links mentions that some pro-voucher ads quoting the Book of Mormon and past leaders have been pulled. Now maybe the ads stated or tried to imply that the current Church endorsed this specific voucher proposal, in which case the ads should have been pulled. But surely using Mormon arguments is not itself illegitimate? I hope and believe that all the Church was trying to say here is that a member’s private analysis of past statements, gospel principles, and etc., as applied to the voucher question, is not binding on the community as a whole.

  6. Nate Oman on September 24, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Bro. Jones: (a) I think that gay marriage is a good example of the kind of enormous stresses that authoritative church positions put on LDS discourse. My concern here is not with social or institutional costs, but rather with intellectual costs. What happens to the the discussion when authority becomes extremely clear? (b) Far from being illegal, the Church has a constitutional right to endorse Romeny for president. Of course, to do so would result in a change in tax status, but the endorsement itself is not illegal. It would be hard to think of a more egregious first amendment violation that a law making political advocacy of a candidate illegal. (Not, of course, that such laws haven’t been regularlly endorsed and pushed by our elective representatives.)

  7. Nick Literski on September 24, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Walsh is evidently uanware of the rather ugly contention which existed decades ago, when earlier LDS leaders wanted to have a strong hand in public education in Utah. Given the animosity which arose at that time between LDS and prominent non-LDS community members, it seems to me the LDS leaders are wise to stay out of an issue which has little or no ecclesiastical import, particularly when the LDS church has no interest in going back to the “academy” days.

  8. Adam Greenwood on September 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Russell F.,

    I’m interested in your hypothetical about gambling. Assuming that in an authoritative way the Church has said that any form of state-operated gambling is wicked, why exactly do you think its important that a Mormon state legislator be able to act to the contrary without exciting some kind of comment? Is it that you want to establish that political acts aren’t just judgments about right and wrong but also about pragmatics and horsetrading?

  9. Kaimi Wenger on September 24, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Nate, and Dave, and Nick, all have good points. Walsh’s column is amazingly clueless. Though, for my money, it’s not quite as bad as the recent “Mormons are destroying the environment by having too many babies” column. (Cue music to, “Who can survive? Who can survive?”)

    The standard recipe for a Walsh column seems to be:

    Ingredients:

    One liberal policy suggestion,
    Several teaspoons of blame given to the LDS church (to taste)

    Directions:

    Mix ingredients.

    (Note: Non sequiturs are not required, but if they show up, it’s a nice bonus.)

  10. Kaimi Wenger on September 24, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Of course, if Mormons didn’t keep having so many environment-destroying, women-oppressing babies, we wouldn’t need to oppose those awful, politically-divisive charter schools — would we?

    Tell me if you think this makes sense. If not, I’ll suggest that Walsh use it in her next column.

  11. Adam Greenwood on September 24, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    My babies are 100% free-range organic, Kaimi W.

  12. Russell Arben Fox on September 24, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Nate,

    I just want 2 [“The church seeks to create a Mormon political discourse that is nevertheless pluralistic in some sense”] at a fairly high level of abstraction.

    As I think is commonly the case, we’re far more separate on the level of philosophy than social policy. I too think Mormon communities will be better communities if there are at least a fair number of pluralistic resources available to those who wish to seek them, even if those resources ultimately just come down to “exit” as an option. This means that 1) ought not ever be controlling. But my point of theoretical disagreement–though perhaps this is not your claim–is in thinking that any kind of 1) is going to invariably dominate/absorb any kind of 2). Claiming that a Mormon church which saw itself as having a “responsibility” to create a Mormon public space wherein Mormon discourse flourishes “implicitly suggests” that said space would be normatively controlled by said church (through, I would presume, ecclesiastical or political sanctions) strikes me as by no means guaranteed, though certainly plausible. I don’t find that plausibility threatening enough to be worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater and staying with 3), or at most a “highly abstract” 2).

    Adam,

    Why exactly do you think its important that a Mormon state legislator be able to act to the contrary without exciting some kind of comment? Is it that you want to establish that political acts aren’t just judgments about right and wrong but also about pragmatics and horsetrading?

    No. I used a poor example, or at least put it poorly. I certainly think a Mormon politician who public opposes that which the church leadership has publicly stated ought properly to excite a good deal of comment, and even accusation. But what I don’t believe it usually ought to excite is a crisis of faith, or schisms in Sunday School, or a High Council going on the warpath. I say usually because, frankly, your suspicions are probably correct: sometimes those just might be the appropriate responses. But I would argue that such, most of the time anyway, only seems to be the case because of our highly rarefied sense of and sensitivity towards issues of authority. I can and perhaps should be scandalized by the Mormon who presents a thoroughly Mormon political position which counters a position on the same issue taken by the Mormon church leadership; but I should not, I think, see it as a fundamental crisis in the meaning of Mormonism.

    Ultimately, I suppose, the question is, can a church like ours, with its affirmative moral and social positions, nonetheless contain at least a little of the plurality of the public realm within its institutions and practices? If it cannot, then any attempt to build up a fully Mormon public sphere is going to produce enormous backlashes in our liberal society. Perhaps that is the way to understand Salt Lake today. But I’d like to think that, under the bluster, there’s something more deeply communal going on.

  13. Nick Literski on September 24, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    #9 Kaimi:
    It doesn’t take a “liberal” position. I’ve seen “conservatives” take issue with the LDS church for not being right-wing enough. Bo Gritz would be an example.

  14. Adam Greenwood on September 24, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I certainly think a Mormon politician who public opposes that which the church leadership has publicly stated ought properly to excite a good deal of comment, and even accusation. But what I don’t believe it usually ought to excite is a crisis of faith, or schisms in Sunday School, or a High Council going on the warpath.

    I need some clarifications.
    Whose is the crisis of faith–the legislator’s?
    And are you saying there shouldn’t be a schism in Sunday School because everyone should agree the legislator was out of line, or because everyone should agree the legislator wasn’t, or because no one should care, or because you want the church to have some kind of internal political/religious divide where certain matters the Church has pronounced on are still recognized as political and therefore inappropriate for Sunday School?
    The High Council part is clearer–I assume you’re talking about ecclesiastical sanction there. Couple that with your opinion that “[Nate O.’s option #1] ought not ever be controlling” and I think I disagree with you. I agree that a healthy Mormon civics probably requires a minimum of forthright political statements backed by disfellowship and excommunication but I don’t see how you can say that this should *never* happen.

  15. Kaimi Wenger on September 24, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Sure, Nick, conservatives blame the church as well.

    Walsh isn’t one of them, though, at least that I’ve seen. Her columns seem to infallibly take a liberal policy position, add some Mormon-blame, and mix the two.

  16. Jesse Harris on September 24, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    This kind of fare is par for the course. Walsh regularly dishes out this kind of unsubstantiated rumor and nonsensical vitriol that’s better suited to a DeadJournal blog than a major daily newspaper. Most of the comments left on the article have been along the lines of “What? That makes no sense.” The few conversations I’ve had with her via e-mail have been filled with patronizing remarks and rude snideness.

    I think Kaimi hit it on the head with how Walsh operates.

  17. Ben H on September 24, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    So, for Walsh, the “lowest motivations” include a desire for prayer in school! I’m glad the school monopolists have her on their side!

    On a more important topic, Russell, I don’t see how the church can reasonably be responsible for something and not control it. When you take responsibility for something, you are implying that you have power over it and are ready to use that power to assure that it goes in the right way. When a friend asked me to watch the plate of food she had made for her husband, and make sure it lasted until he got there to eat it, despite the flurry of cleaning-up at that late stage of the party, I was taking responsibility for it. If no one tried to take it away, I wouldn’t have to do anything, but I was committing to take preventive measures in case someone did.

    That said, there are different ways for taking responsibility for political culture. One is to try to get people to vote a certain way (along the lines of Nate’s “1”). Another is to try to get people to be well-informed, to participate, and to think high-mindedly about how to vote, etc. (along the lines of Nate’s “2”). One might take responsibility for the second matter and not the first. I think it is a good thing for the Church to actively cultivate informed political activity among its members. We are encouraged to vote and to get involved in our communities anyway, to support leaders of integrity . . . this is a good thing. It is not a massive enterprise, and it does not have massive effects. Something more involved might be trickier to run without in fact, for various practical reasons, unintentionally skewing the positions people reach. But supposing the Church did it, it would be taking responsibility and control. It would be saying, “We are in a position to alter the level of political activity and discourse, and will take steps to assure it stays at an appropriate level.” But that would be a good kind of control and very consistent with pluralism.

  18. Russell Arben Fox on September 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Adam,

    Whose is the crisis of faith–the legislator’s?

    No, the Mormon public’s. As is, “How can it be that the prophet can speak out on vouchers and faithful Latter-day Saints can publicly disagree with him, and yet no one’s temple recommend gets pulled?” Right now, no one’s temple recommend gets pulled over positions on school vouchers because the prophet has not spoken out on school vouchers, and hence one’s position on such is neither formally nor informally an article of faith. I would like to imagine how far we can go towards the prophet speaking out publicly on school vouchers, and it continuing to be neither formally nor informally an article of faith.

    I have had long arguments with friends who insist that a more political church would simply be a disaster on inumerable levels. I disagree–I think that it is just as likely that a more political church would force evolutions in our institutional sense of ourselves in the public world such that argument and disagreement would not necessarily be potential fodder for accusations of contention, and maybe we’d some rules (even if just unwritten ones) reflecting an understanding along the lines of the Catholic doctrine of ex cathedra. But, as before, I acknowledge that authority matters to this church in a very deep way, probably even deeper than it does in Catholicism. In which case, the only options may well be A) some sort of Puritan/Amish/separatist thing, which simply isn’t going to happen, or B) doing as Nate suggests, and keeping the project of Mormon public discourse as non-church and as “highly abstract” as possible.

    And are you saying there shouldn’t be a schism in Sunday School because everyone should agree the legislator was out of line, or because everyone should agree the legislator wasn’t, or because no one should care, or because you want the church to have some kind of internal political/religious divide where certain matters the Church has pronounced on are still recognized as political and therefore inappropriate for Sunday School?

    Door number #4. In the sense that visitors to Catholic parishes can recognize that some of them are nutso progressive places, and some of them are nutso conservative places, but despite it all, the priests are still priests.

    Couple that with your opinion that “[Nate O.’s option #1] ought not ever be controlling” and I think I disagree with you. I agree that a healthy Mormon civics probably requires a minimum of forthright political statements backed by disfellowship and excommunication but I don’t see how you can say that this should *never* happen.

    You misunderstand my comment, or else I commented poorly again. “Ought never be controlling” doesn’t mean “that which involves ecclesiastical sanction [i.e., Nate’s first option] ought never be done”; I meant, “that which involves ecclesiastical sanction ought never be dominant.” In other words, I’m agreeing with you: for simple prudential as well as other reasons, that aspect of the general of a Mormon public sphere ought to be kept to a minimum, but I don’t at all believe that such ought “never” to happen. (Remember that I acknowledged that “sometimes those [schisms, crises, warpaths] just might be the appropriate responses.” Allowing for any of 1) potentially opens the door to such, and unlike Nate, I’m not sure an extremely high vigilance against any and all 1) is worth the costs to majoritarian democracy, especially so long as exits remain.)

  19. Russell Arben Fox on September 24, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Ben,

    Russell, I don’t see how the church can reasonably be responsible for something and not control it. When you take responsibility for something, you are implying that you have power over it and are ready to use that power to assure that it goes in the right way.

    I am responsible for my children, and I often (in conjunction with my wife) create restrictions and consequences for them within the context of our home, but I neither dominate nor fundamentally control them. I’d like to hear Nate explain himself further, but I don’t see how it is automatically always the case that when an institution, even a powerful one, takes upon itself a sense of duty or calling or responsibility to elucidate and encourage certain things, that it automatically becomes the determiner of the fate of those things.

  20. Adam Greenwood on September 24, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Door number #4. In the sense that visitors to Catholic parishes can recognize that some of them are nutso progressive places, and some of them are nutso conservative places, but despite it all, the priests are still priests

    I like my version of #4 a lot better. The way things are done in Catholic parishes these days is not healthy.

  21. Lib on September 25, 2007 at 6:24 am

    Look, no one cares what I think but let’s pretend, anyway. (BTW, I intend to be a good citizen here and I’m unclear about how overtly political it’s appropriate to be when the spirit movevs. I’ll assume it’s best to be somewhat restrained but don’t be bashful to give a fella a clue.)

    I think the Church should pick its battles carefully. It’s certainly true that its teachings may lead to one position or another on certain public policy debates, but in lots of cases, such as this one, I think, no particular position is clearly and unequivocally the “right” or “Church” one.

    It would be interesting to me to read (maybe participate in) some robust discussions of the place for secular conservatism or liberalism in the minds and hearts of members, but it seems to me that if the Church associates itself with every conservative political cause that comes down the pike, it will send the message that only conservatives (read: and Republicans) are welcome.

    Now, having lived in Salt Lake all my life, I think that’s a common enough view here in the center stakes of Zion, but I don’t think it’s what some significant leaders, including President Hinckley intend for a worldwide Church, active in a thousand places with rich, complex and even confusing political climates. I think this from the few but fairly clear related statements that have been made over the last few decades, statements that appear to have the imprimatur of the First Presidency, and from the success of the occasional liberal Democrat within the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

    Get outside of the Intermountain West and even the USA, and it’s been my experience, and that of my adult children, that there is far more diversity of political philosophy and party membership among Church members, with no apparent liability attached.

    If the Church wishes to be successful among all proselytes who are or can become moral, Church-standards-living people, I think the liberal stratum of society is as fertile ground as the conservative. Sadly, I know numerous lifelong Mormons here who think it is impossible to be both a good Mormon and a Democrat and horror of horrors, much less so, one of those despised liberals so roundly denounced in so many political conversations and every talk radio minute along the Wasatch Front. But, with lots of liberal acquaintenances here and elsewhere, I don’t believe it.

    So a “Mormon” position on the Utah voucher bill, or even vouchers in general? I like the idea that the Church wants to exert a non-position on this question. I guess it suggests that the dreaded secular humanism and contemptible liberalism haven’t so infiltrated “government” schools that a kid can’t get a fair education here in one of them. A non-position also has the considerable virtue of letting people argue out what they think the merits are and learn a little something about both sides in the process. In the end, we’ll get a better outcome for it.

    My $.02.

    Oh, and vote “No” on sending public money to private ventures that should be able to make it on their own if they have sufficient merit (and which ought to have the same minimum standards for teachers and curriculum as public schools in any case.)

  22. Ben H on September 25, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Russell, I think I see your point better. You seem to be distinguishing between “control” backed by the church disciplinary process and what one might call “influence” which only uses the force of persuasion. I have doubts about the wisdom, though, of having high church leaders take political positions, use the authority of their office to give their positions weight, but then don’t treat it as a threat to their spiritual authority when people publicly disagree and work against their favored position. This sounds like a great way to nullify their authority. If you use your authority on an issue, but then pretend your authority is not undermined by disagreement, that is schizophrenic.

    Much better to have a culture in which various otherparties reason, based on various spiritual grounds including scriptures and statements of modern leaders, to various political conclusions. The kind of thing the pro-voucher people were doing! until the church statement scared them. It does look like the church statement has sent a chill over that discussion, though I am confident that was not the intent. Perhaps, though, the spiritual case (on either side) can be made in a slightly more subtle way that would still have persuasive force and contribute to a culture of spiritual engagement in political life.

  23. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    The kind of thing the pro-voucher people were doing! until the church statement scared them. It does look like the church statement has sent a chill over that discussion, though I am confident that was not the intent.

    That’s why I think the second statement in the Church’s statement was unfortunate. It sounds like its saying that people shouldn’t use the scriptures or the prophets as part of their political reasoning, though you can bet that that wasn’t intended.

  24. Nate Oman on September 25, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Adam: It does seem to imply, however, that the “Church position” cannot be identified with “what you see as the fair implication of what prophets and scriptures are saying.” This fact is interesting given the lack of a clear rule for identifying what is or is not the Church’s position.

  25. Russell Arben Fox on September 25, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I think the way Nate just put it–teasing out a distinction between a “fair implication of what prophets and scriptures are saying” and a “Church position”–might be a useful way to go about this. Something that is a “Church position” doesn’t necessarily have to be backed with ecclesaistical sanctions–there are many intellectual positions and public activities which the prophets plainly disapprove of and see as harmful to the missions of the Church which they nonetheless do not excommunicate or disfellowship members for–but the possibility has to be there, or else in what sense would it be the Church’s position at all? On the other hand, engaging in intellectual debate–and not just any intellectual debate, but public and political debates–about what the “fair implications” of Church teachings are could be at least a little different; such debates would have to often skim the surface of actual Church positions (especially given the way our absence of much formalized doctrines makes such negotiations a constant), but I’d like to believe that there would nonetheless be more than enough grey area there for the Church and its members (individually and corporately) to be able to successfully enter into public sphere without either prophetic authority being wholly trivialized or the public sphere becoming locked down in fights over who is the right kind of Mormon, all other issues be damned. (Though, as usual, there’s plenty of evidence that my hopes are in vain; that last sentence of mind could pretty much sum up all the Republican-Democratic squabbles in Salt Lake City moyoral politics for the last fifteen years, if not more.)

  26. Chris Laurence on September 25, 2007 at 5:11 pm
  27. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    It does seem to imply, however, that the “Church position” cannot be identified with “what you see as the fair implication of what prophets and scriptures are saying.”

    I think that’s the intended meaning. I think the meaning needs to be made a lot more clear, though (and the pro-voucher people need to stop taking counsel of their fears).

  28. Ben H on September 25, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Yeah, surely the Church could say something suitably general, like, “We encourage members to think seriously about the spiritual values at stake in political decisions, and to work for good according to their best prayerful judgment. Modern prophets have repeatedly emphasized the importance of good education for our young people, and so the current discussion of how this should work in Utah is a good thing”
    Something like that? : )
    Isn’t that what we do when we tell members to vote, be involved in their community, etc.?

  29. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Agreed, Ben H. I’ll let Brother Tuttle know that you and I are available to write stuff for him whenever he wants. -grin-

  30. ed42 on September 25, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    The church has already taken a political stand concerning vouchers (and most other things the government does): “Thou shalt not steal”.