Mormons, Politics, and Morality

September 9, 2008 | 63 comments
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Some of the thoughts of a commenter on my last post, got me thinking about Mormons, politics, and morality. My observation is that the issues that set off moral alarm bells for most Mormons are those that deal with issues relating to what I would consider “freedom to sin” or “prohibitions of obvious sins.” The former, for example, being things like matters relating to gay relationships, abortion, and drug use. And, the latter, for example, being things like child abuse, murder, and rape. Am I right about that? I think so, but I would like to hear if you disagree about this generalization.

What is odd in my view is that there are many issues that many people consider to have significant moral dimensions that most Mormons do not really treat as moral issues but rather a matter of personal political preference. Policies relating to poverty or the environment are a couple examples of these. To put a little meat on the bone here: should Mormons not be in arms that so many children live in poverty both in the United States and worldwide? I am not just talking about willing to make a contribution to the church to help the poor either. I mean willing to get involved in the political process to try–even if it only be a degree– to address this issue.

What is even more odd, going back to my pet-issue as a guest blogger–Zion, at one time Mormons seemed to identify moral dimensions to these sorts of public policy decisions much more readily. During the nineteenth century, the way people used land, built cities, provided inroads for the poor, and respected resources did raise the moral ire of many Mormons. What has changed? Is it as simple as what was once the role of the church as shifted to the political process? If so, should we stop seeing moral dimensions in these issues just because “the people” rather than “the church” is charged with making these policy decisions? To me anyways, if anything, the fact that these decisions are in the stewardship of voters, it seems to make it all the more important that at least “the people” that subscribe to Mormonism treat these issues as serious moral issues and become advocates if not champions of these issues. This, of course, is a far cry from a simple matter of personal political preference.

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63 Responses to Mormons, Politics, and Morality

  1. Sterling on September 9, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    What do church members think of community organizers? Do they agree with Gulianai and Palin that they are a joke?

  2. TMD on September 9, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    The social scientist in me says that people are most concerned with prohibiting direct wrongs–acts of commission, if you would. But for a whole host of reasons, acts of omission, things produced by structural causes, are a lot harder to see as wrongs that should be criminalized or prohibited in any other sense. And, if we want to look at something like poverty, it’s much harder for many (including myself, depending on the issue) to see how government can make people make the right choices to get them and keep them doing what they need to to get out of and stay out of poverty. Certainly trying to govern that long series of almost daily positive choices would severely inhibit freedom, and perceptions of people as being free.

    The theorist in me says that in order to do so, we need a distinctively Mormon framework for doing so. And in order to be really effective, and authentically Mormon in such a way as to be seen as part of, or even the path to, building Zion, it needs to be able to bring all those different stands–from our beliefs about the family (incl the opposition to gay marriage) to our social beliefs together into a coherent whole and attach those ideas to a positive set of strategies.

    Were such a thing possible, and were it to be appropriate at a time and place, though, I’m not at all confident that many would like it. For a great many, I think being asked to support and work for such a thing would be like those early saints called to set up yet another settlement in some forgotten corner of the west. Certainly, it would reflect a turn back toward a theocratic politics…

  3. ed42 on September 9, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    I’m not “most Mormons”: What sets off my moral alarm is the aggressive violation of the human (not just American) rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I don’t care about gayness, drugs, or any other type of self-abuse as long as no ‘restitutional’ harm is done to others. What bothers me is the many do-gooders who would 1) put a person in a cage for many years for growing a God created herb, 2) punish two competent adults for any voluntary exchange, 3) forcibly take my life force (labor) and give it poor, 4) create a ‘government’ that allows “pollution credit” for companies that donate well while being itself the biggest world polluter.

    Morality, IMO, is personal. God will judge individuals, not groups, on how well they treat the environment, the poor, etc.

  4. ZSorenson on September 9, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Though there is no stand-out alternative for addressing such issues besides the government, frankly I’m uncomfortable turning to it to address those issues.

    In other words, I’m deeply skeptical of using politics to solve social problems. That might mean they go unsolved, but I can’t think of very many examples where political involvement has solved social problems (ignoring problems that were in fact political – such as equal rights).

    Probably, many Mormons don’t see the government as the steward of the people. I know what I have to say isn’t new, but it’s the main reaction I have. Personally, could I invite a starving man into my house? I don’t know, would there be a threat to my safety in taking in someone unknown for a time? Would I have the time or resources to take care of this person?

    These are the questions that should be asked first. If I can’t personally solve these problems, I would look elsewhere, if it was a moral concern. I suppose there is a thought that such moral crises are matters of ‘social justice’ or stewardship through the public’s vehicle for action – the government. However, outside of that context, the crisis disappears.

    So, is poverty a matter of ‘social justice’ of redistribution and retribution for wrongs committed, or is it a consequence of a great many factors beyond the control of individuals? Is the environment in crisis, or does our economy and lifestyle need a little time to evolve to fit in better with the natural world. After all, the decline of the farming economy in the East has led to a resurgence of the forest into populated communities.

    Is the government representative of the people’s will, or is it representative of a political compromise, a necessary player in a society that’s much larger than itself? What stewardship do people have politically?

    I think most Mormons really think this way and understand that issues such as poverty and environment and so forth are very complicated and affect different people differently. To make politics a moral issue is to effectively mandate courses of action for resolving each issue that may or may not be the most effective or moral solution to that issue. So, I think Mormons are doing just fine by relegating certain issues to the realm of the political and not moral.

    Sorry.

  5. L-d Sus on September 10, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Some Mormons treat the issues of poverty and environment as moral issues.

    For example, a Mormon might say:

    “I have a testimony that we should help the poor. Thus morality dictates that I support government involvement in welfare.”

    Another might say:

    “I have a testimony that government should be small. Thus morality dictates that I do not support government involvement in welfare.”

    In these examples the issue is treated from differing views of morality, not just “as a matter of personal political preference” as you suggest.

  6. Captain Moroni on September 10, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Prop 8 supporters – I’d love to see your response to the points listed below.
    Prop 8 opponents – I suggest that everyone copy the following statements onto small slips of paper and put them under the windshield wiper of every car in the church parking lot. This will embolden those who oppose the church’s position and spark discussions in Elder’s Quorum and other orgs. maybe we can get people to actually think.

    ********************************************************
    Promoting Proposition 8 Is Contrary To The Scriptures

    1. LDS scripture (D&C 134:4) says we can’t use our religious opinions to justify infringing upon the rights and liberties of others. (see also 1 Cor. 10:29).
    2. Gays in CA currently have the right and/or liberty to marry.
    3. We are attempting to infringe upon this right/liberty in contradiction to scripture, because our religious opinions regarding marriage and homosexuality prompted the prophet to oppose this.
    4. However, the prophets have all stated that their own words are subserviant to the scriptures and that we are to ignore anyone’s teachings, including their own if those teachings contradict scripture.
    5. Only by sustaining prophetic statements by following the procedure (Common Consent of the 12 and of the entire Church) we’ve always used for sustaining a revelation, can the scriptures be superseded. That has not been done nor even discussed as far as anyone can tell. No mention of any revelation has been heard of as is required to sustain statements controverting scripture. (Abandoning Plural Marriage and giving the Priesthood to all worthy men both came via revelation, sustained by the 12, then approved by the Church. Doing this superseded previous established doctrine)
    6. Since D&C 134:4 is superior to contradicting statements made by ANYONE, even the prophets, according to the prophets, and since it hasn’t been overturned nor any efforts to do so via historic guidelines of Common Consent have been discussed, the validity of 134:4 stands.
    7. Since it stands, our efforts to infringe upon the rights and/or liberties of gays are wrong.

    My House is a house of order. All things are to be done in order.

    Vote NO on Proposition 8

    ********************************************************

  7. Nate W. on September 10, 2008 at 12:49 am

    Re 7:

    I will qualify my opinion by saying I am an opponent of Prop 8–but the argument you outline takes the scripture out of context, equivocates on the meaning of rights, and begs the question. Section 134 talks about rights and liberties in terms of natural rights. Item 2 in your list talks about the right to marry from a positive standpoint rather than a natural rights standpoint. I won’t try to suss out whether there is a natural right to same-sex marriage, but suffice it to say that your number 2 doesn’t make that argument. The argument you are making is because there is a positive law enactment that defines a right, that right is therefore sacrosanct. I don’t that that argument can stand up to a fair reading of the scripture.

    I think there are faithful and logical arguments to be made against prop 8. This isn’t one of them.

  8. Nate W. on September 10, 2008 at 1:11 am

    and regarding the post:

    I am hardly unique in pointing this out, but I think that the difference that you observe is the fundamental difference between 19th and 20th century Mormonism. Whereas 19th century Mormonism followed a communitarian philosophy, Mormonism in the 20th century evolved into a much more individualistic, liberal ethic that matches the American ethic at large. When we begin to view salvation as an individual event rather than a communal event, morality becomes more individual-focused.

    I think that the conception of Zion has followed much the same trajectory. As Zion has moved from geographic space into ideological space, community ethics have been traded for individual ethics. Caring for the poor is no longer our responsibility as a community, but an individual responsibility. Collective action and positive responsibility moved out of the realm of morality, and morality shifted to the question of placing bounds on individual rights.

  9. mlu on September 10, 2008 at 1:52 am

    Much of the solution to poverty has to do with improving people. It’s not an abstract theory, on my part, that an awful lot of poverty in this country stems from a sort of moral chaos.

    And yet most political solutions to poverty come bundled up with a nonjudgmental vision that in practice often seems to endorse such things as multiple sexual partners, refusal to subordinate oneself to workplace rules and other similar attitudes.

    At the same time, much of the genius of the American experiment in government had to do with seeing how dangerous it was to link the desire to improve people to the coercive powers of the state.

    Poverty is a serious issue for Mormons, I think. Though government could be used better to alleviate it, but that would require government to do a fair amount of judging and teaching, along with a vigilant attitude toward preserving freedom. As a people, we are not yet able to go there.

    In the meantime, teaching people to marry and to pursue education and to to work hard at self-sufficiency and to be thrifty and to give a honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay are a good place to start.

  10. Tim on September 10, 2008 at 6:30 am

    I really like that last paragraph, mlu.
    In doing that, how can we get more people to pursue an education? Make it more affordable.
    Be thrifty? We definitely need to make sure they’re learning how to handle money in public schools, because most of them aren’t learning it from their parents.
    An honest day’s pay? Not if they work menial jobs. Or are school teachers. A beginning teacher who teaches in the richest city in Utah (South Jordan) gets a whopping $28,000 a year. Try raising a family on that! And that’s with a college degree. One wonders how those without college degrees get buy.
    There are some great areas where the government can–and should–step in. Great areas where a bit of investment will have great payoffs in the future.

  11. jp beahm on September 10, 2008 at 8:43 am

    i find it interesting to see the prescient answer (well, question…jeopardy, anyone?) given by sterling (1) to the questions/concerns raised by nate (9) mlu (10). for the past 40 years, these responsibility-less (?) organizers have wasted and worn out their lives trying to fine-tune government action to suit the unique needs of given communities.

    frankly i find myself a bit surprised by the general vitriol many u.s. mormons aim at a (mostly) representative government. maybe a holdover from the pains of the polygamy-statehood compromise? the benson/birch red scare(s)? the point of elected officials governing is not to solve all our problems, but to tackle those that are larger than isolated communities can address. if enoch’s city were plopped down again today–no matter how righteous and zionistic they may be–they would suffer from excess pollution, global warming, and natural disasters like the rest of us, not to mention needing/wanting roads and post offices to connect with the rest of the country. government seems like a natural (if long-standing) medium to address such issues. the fact that “a great many factors” do play into these perplexing societal challenges seems to demand a larger, more complex (if sometimes unwieldy) organization to govern.

    zsorensen, i think i missed something with your starving man metaphor – are you saying that man should be the government’s responsibility? or that as an individual you would rather not personally take a risk on him? i’ll spare a lengthy response till i hear more, but it would seem that government is ideally suited to handle (among other things) the many instances in life when we (for whatever reason) can’t or won’t shoulder absolute responsibility but may believe in the abstract that such responsibilities should be met.

  12. CraigH on September 10, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Another way to reframe some of the things stated already. What political issue isn’t a moral issue as well? Taxes, guns, clean air, war, and so on. If the church can weigh in on the MX missile crisis (and guns in churches), it can weigh in on tax credits or poverty as well as proposition 8. And even if the sense of morality has shifted from communities to individuals, do we have to accept that? Do we have to believe that only individual issues of morality count as real morality? Morality is all about how we relate with other people.Thus it’s a bit disingenuous, in my opinion, to say that we have a right to get involved when “moral” issues are at stake, because every issue is a moral issue in one way or another. What “moral” seems mostly to mean is “sex.” Then say “sexual morality” instead of “morality,” otherwise the “morality” argument is a bit empty.

  13. Brigham Daniels on September 10, 2008 at 10:53 am

    A few comments. A number of you focused on choices and to some extent personal responsibility. The issue that I identified–child poverty–is a hard one to fit into that framework. Are children that from birth are living in poverty making bad choices or somehow responsible for their plight? Of course not. Will childhood poverty create circumstances where the choices available to the child will be seriously constrained? I think so. I just do not think that choices and/or personal responsibility are all that relevant given the case I identified–childhood poverty. Rather, I think that it is our free will and our stewardship that are more in play here.

    Some of you have identified barriers to solving poverty and/or identifying solutions to child poverty. The fact that it is not a simple policy area does not seem to give us leave to walk away from the problem. If anything, it seems to make it incumbent on us to give it our attention because so many people will walk a way and say, “This is too difficult” all the while meaning “It is no longer my problem.” Sure the poor we will always have with us, but that does not mean that the proper response is doing nothing.

    A couple of you seem highly skeptical that the solutions to poverty can come from government at all. I suspect that many of the readers of these comments may share that opinion. So I want to focus here for a moment. While I agree that much of what needs to happen to wipe poverty out of society has to happen in the person and not in the government, I am still foundering to see why we should not use government when solving some problems–even if it is treating the symptoms–when the collective action costs otherwise are so huge. And, even still, assuming that government is not the answer, does that mean that we should not be morally outraged? And if we are morally outraged, what do you propose doing about the problem? While some may feel tempted to say, “It is not my problem.” I think that is just that–a temptation. We are our brother’s keeper, are we not? I think that we all need to ask what that means in our own lives and make it a highly morally charged responsibility–even if we will all deal with the problem differently.

    I feel somewhat hypocritical writing these comments. I could certainly do more than I am. So, I do not want anyone to get the idea, that I am saying, “Be like me.” Hopefully, even if it is just me, this conversation will lead us to look at the world and ask,” what does it mean to be a neighbor, a citizen, and one of many of God’s children?”

  14. BruceC on September 10, 2008 at 11:35 am

    There is an expression that charity begins at home. I think many LDS communities, at least the handful I have lived in, are not competent at involving the members in the charitable efforts in their “home” community. We focus on the “callings” we get and do little to get involved in efforts to combat poverty and the like. A few of us have home or visiting teachings callings that include people who could use the help, but most such people work directly with the Bishop. We are insulated from the effects of poverty.

    One ward I was it did have a periodic involvement with Meals on Wheels, and another ward helped with a charity that provided clothing for battered women. But getting people to volunteer their time for these was harder than getting people to go on spits with the missionaries. We worry that we ask too much of our members, and we do ask a lot. But most of it is within the ward structure.

  15. Mike Parker on September 10, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Jesus Christ was a community organizer.

    Pontius Pilate was a governor.

  16. Roland on September 10, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Mormons and World Morality -

    I wonder that the LDS church as a whole is not more “active” in combating the spread of po*nography? This is a leading cause of social problems both inside and outside of the church.

    I wonder what the LDS Church can or should do concerning genocide in Darfur and other poor countries? Are we not our brother’s keeper and is geneocide not a serious moral issue?

  17. Roland on September 10, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    And for the benefit of #6 above – 7 reasons to vote yes.

    1) To stop public schools from promoting gay as normal agenda (last week the California legislature passed Harvey Milk Day as law).
    2) To protect democracy from activist judges (in Yr 2000 – 60% of california voters approved Prop 22 – then only 4 judges flipped the other way).
    3) Marriage is a social institution – (Eurepean countries with gay marriage have greater number of children in broken homes)
    4) Children should have the right to have both a Father and Mother. (A number of research studies show that absense of either Father or Mother has a significant negative impact on children)
    5) To decrease out of wedlock births
    6) To preserve religious freedom – (gay rights activists are trying to dictate religious law to us)
    7) Healthy marriage leads to prosperity.

  18. Stallion Cornell on September 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    In answer to #6: You\’re correct in that gays in California absolutely have the right to marry.

    What you ignore is that they have that same right in all fifty states. In fact, they have that right in every country in the world that recognizes the institution of marriage.

    What they, nor anyone else, has the right to do is to redefine what marriage is. By \”expanding\” or \”redefining\” marriage, they end up diluting marriage. And once everything is marriage, then nothing is marriage.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  19. ed42 on September 10, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Br. Daniels (#13)

    Neighbor A’s children are starving. You have used up all your resources (except your gun) in helping them out. Neighbor B still has plenty of resources, but has not responded to your “preach, teach, expound, exhort” pleas in helping A. Do you have God’s permission and/or authority to threaten B with death in order to help A? If you do not have this moral authority, then from whence does government (your agent) get this authority?

    God’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, etc. do not involve stealing from others (even through “majority vote”) to help them out. Government is not the answer.

  20. BruceC on September 10, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Well, I certainly get none of the spiritual benefit from helping the poor that the government does since I’m not doing it voluntarily. Nor can I choose how my money is spent. In fact I am ignorant of how it is spent. And actual service to our neighbors is a stronger force in creating love and charity in my heart than just giving (or being forced to give) money. If we ask the government to “solve” the problem so we don’t have to deal with it, what have we learned? How have we grown? Our purpose here is to learn and grow. It seams more like an insidious plan to stunt our growth by removing our opportunities. Taxes are the ultimate “I gave at the office” excuse.

  21. Brigham Daniels on September 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    eb42, despite the fact that you are very clever with your example (which I respect), I am not buying it. The obligation does not come from person “A” but rather “the People.” “Stealing” in this context is refusing to pay your fair share by failing to pay taxes. If you have a problem with government policy, at least in the United States, you have the ability–if not the obligation–to get involved to change it. While I do believe that their is such thing as an unjust law and cases were civil disobedience is proper, the case of requiring people to pay taxes to help the poor–at least in my mind–is not even remotely close to being one of them.

    Mormons particularly seem to have a tough time making the case that governmental power has no moral authority given that our Articles of Faith suggest we believe that we should be subject to governments. If you need more than that, I would say to you being a citizen comes not only with rights but obligations and paying taxes in my mind is an easy example of such an obligation. Finally, living in a democratic republic calls on us to show at least some deference to the political process and the outcomes of those processes even though we may protest or even regret them at the same time.

    Why I respect the fact that you do not think that government is the answer or perhaps even a part of the answer, my question for you is what exactly is your duty in this context? How do you get it done?

  22. Mormon Paleo on September 10, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I agree with you, Brigham, in that I think many members have a very narrow view of what is “moral.” For instance, people may think that moral issues are only those the Church becomes officially involved with. But on a certain level, any political decision has a moral component to it.

    I think there is too much apathy in general: too much shoulder-shrugging and passive acceptance, rather than active engagement (if only intellectual) in most current issues today. This stands true in matters political and spiritual.

    Personally, I think taxation is a significant moral problem. There’s a conflict between property rights (keeping the fruits of one’s labors) and social/economic/racial justice, for instance. How much of my income am I permitted to keep? How much of my income is the government permitted to take? For what reasons should they be permitted to take it?

    Transportation, conditions of property, poverty, health care, the environment, etc., are all moral problems, but I am concerned that when they become part of the public (government) sphere, they cease becoming private concerns. Remove the public (government) attachment and it’s much easier (or necessary) for them to become my business.

    I view this differently than the 21st Century Church spending tithing or fast offering money, as that is donated voluntarily. Taxes are seldom, if ever, voluntary. As I never lived (or seriously studied) the 19th Century, I have no comment there.

    Why not let the government get involved with poverty? One reason is that historical solutions to poverty come from individuals acting freely in a free society. Another reason is that the costs to liberty (not to mention our pocket books and the federal deficit) are so great as to outweigh any potential advantage in increased government action. We already have several instances (The New Deal and Medicare are two examples) of government action trying to eradicate poverty. It has not yet worked. How much more of our money is the government entitled to spend on this problem?

  23. Gerald Smith on September 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I think poverty is a moral issue. The problem for such is: what is the remedy? Is the remedy more government? Or is it less government? Is it program A or program X?

    And I think that is where most Americans are. All agree that poverty is a bad thing. However, how to resolve the issue of poverty or fixing the environment are very difficult issues.

    LBJ’s war on poverty did not work. In fact, it had unintended negative consequences (break up of marriage, people living on the dole, creation of ghettoes, etc). At the same time, leaving decisions in the hands of 19th century Robber Barons won’t work, either. So just how do we fix poverty? It isn’t as easy as saying: no adultery, no homosexual marriage.

    Environmental issues are the same. Does fixing it mean we have to jump on the Global Warming band wagon? Should we accept Ted Turner’s advice and reduce the global population to 2 billion people? Should we do it by force, sterilizing people? Who should we sterilize? Does it mean we shouldn’t use any carbon emissions beginning right now, and so we need to all leave our jobs and cars, and live as hunter-gatherers? Or does it mean we can still drill in Anwar and be good stewards of the environment?

    The answers are more complicated, with many possible solutions, and no one knowing just which solutions will work and which will not. I’m not certain that even Barak Obama can convince everyone to keep their tires properly inflated, much less come up with an environmental plan that everyone agrees with.

  24. TMD on September 10, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    BD–Believing that one must be subject to goverments does not imbue them with moral authority. The church encouraged members to generally obey the law in East Germany (DDR), for instance, but I don’t think in doing so they suggested that the regime had a particular moral authority over them.

  25. Brigham Daniels on September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    TMD — Extreme examples will be apt to miss the point because I did conceded that there may be a loophole for “unjust laws.” I think–particularly absent a church request for one mode of action–that Mormons should rely on their own sense of right and wrong, their own willingness to bear risk, and seek personal revelation. When a government has legitimate authority–particularly that comes from the democratic process, fair elections, and open society, I believe that the will of the People has a moral authority. Regardless if you buy that point, going back to the example at issue–whether there was a difference between me forcing my neighbor to pay to address another neighbor’s poverty is different from the government’s use of taxes to fund social programs–in one case, I have no authority and in the other the government has legitimate authority.

    Still, none of the people who refuse to trust government at all have answered my question: What exactly should we be doing? Should we have moral outrage over issues such as child poverty? If so, what should we do about it?

  26. Matt Evans on September 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Brigham, I’ve argued before (this topic comes up pretty routinely) that the Mormon perspective on government and morality rests on their view of sins of comission or omission. Acts that are counted unto us as goodness only if they are done voluntarily and with the right heart (e.g., tithing, prayer, baptism, church attendance, aiding the poor) should not be coerced by government power, but it is acceptable to use government power to prohibit acts of comission (e.g., murder, theft, drug use).

    From my experience, this framework so dominates the Mormon mind that people who want to use government to solve issues like poverty must try to frame the problem as an act of comission: the government program isn’t forcing the rich to help the poor (that’s as un-Mormon as forcing people to pay tithing) — the government program is combating greed and gluttony.

    I agree there’s reason for outrage, but Mormons are inured by the affluence of church leadership. (See comments to my posts here and here for typical examples.) However outraged the church leadership is by local and global poverty, Mormons know it’s not enough to get them to sell their houses on the east bench, then move to Rose Park and give the excess to the poor. It’s never been any different either; Brigham Young’s failed attempts to build Zion no doubt stem in part from his desires for the Lion House mansion. I think we can say with confidence that Zion cannot be built on a “do as I say, not as I do” platform.

  27. Ben Huff on September 10, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    I am morally outraged by poverty. So was Jesus, Isaiah, President Kimball . . . What do I do about it? For one, I try to be thrifty. I buy used clothing, car, live in an inexpensive apartment, recycle, etc, so that I can have something to give. For two, I go to church and spread the message of Christ’s love for all people, and his call for us to love as he does. I honestly believe that the Gospel and the Holy Spirit are what we need to rely on in the long run here, “more powerful . . . than the sword” (Alma 31:5), or than the IRS. For three, I work as a teacher, and I design my classes to try to instill good values, like concern for their fellowmen, in the rising generation. I also try to exemplify a Christian concern for those around me, in the hope of strengthening others. For four, when I have children, I will teach them. For five, I study the many ways in which Christ’s message is being undermined in our society today, to see how to clear the way for it to be received. For six, I try to understand the social and economic forces that are causing massive poverty in the U.S. and the world, so that we can change them. For seven, I give money as I can to worthy charitable causes, like the Perpetual Education Fund. Here, rather far down the list, I address some of the symptoms (poverty) of deeper problems.

    Addressing the symptoms (poverty) is important, but should never lead us to neglect the causes of poverty, chief among which is spiritual disorientation. If we loved one another, we would have no poor among us.

    Here’s one way you could address poverty politically, though: allow tax credits (up to some reasonable limit) for donations to organizations that (verifiably) perform services we are using tax dollars to perform anyway, services such as providing food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, comfort for the widows and fatherless. Until we provide tax credits for donations like these, we are not politically serious about the needs being addressed.

  28. Mark N. on September 10, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    How much of my income am I permitted to keep? How much of my income is the government permitted to take?

    I think the answer, in the end, is that they’ll take as much as they can, but just not so much that it’ll goad you into getting your torch and your pitchfork and marching down to the local/state/federal government office in revolt.

    It’s like the old “Taxi” episode where the drug burn-out Reverend Jim accidentally burns out Louie DePalma’s apartment, and Jim’s very wealthy father offers to come up with a fair retribution for Louie’s pain and suffering and loss of property. “There is a number, an exact number, that when I name it, it will cause him to cringe, but it won’t be so high that he will refuse to pay it”, says Louie. Watching Louie agonize over trying to figure out what that number should be was hilarious.

    And in the end, he gives Jim’s dad a number that was way lower that he was expecting to get, which drove Louie completely nuts, knowing after the fact that he could have really cashed in.

  29. Mormon Paleo on September 10, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Brother Brigham,

    You said:

    Still, none of the people who refuse to trust government at all have answered my question: What exactly should we be doing? Should we have moral outrage over issues such as child poverty? If so, what should we do about it?

    I said:

    Historical solutions to poverty come from individuals acting freely in a free society.

    Here’s what I meant:

    Examples of poor countries becoming comparatively wealthy include the Asian Tigers in the post WWII era, Japan from post-WWII to the 1990s, China today, European examples like England and Germany in the industrial revolution, and of course the American example, where liberty built prosperity. These are all complicated by the fact that to some extent, governments were involved in economic meddling and planning in nearly every case. But as that meddling decreased, prosperity (including for the poor) dramatically increased.

    What do we do? Let the government get out of people’s way and let them live their lives as they wish. Think how many more jobs there would be if the barriers to start and maintain a business were reduced or largely eliminated. Anyone from any social, economic, or racial background would have an opportunity to get ahead, if they wished, either by starting a business, or working for one up-and-coming. Employment woes would be largely gone. But instead, entrepreneurs fight miles of red tape, fees, licenses, etc., in an attempt to start and maintain a business. This has the tendency to discourage people from economically disadvantaged situations from even trying.

    People tend to economize and exchange based on a system of private property rights. That’s how wealth is created. That’s how a poor person becomes rich. That’s how a lot of poor people can become rich. When that becomes more difficult to exchange and economize, then it becomes more difficult to create wealth.

    Private exchange is not a zero-sum game. Both parties benefit. Otherwise, they would not exchange. Unfortunately, many individuals today, including yourself, I’d wager, see exchange as a zero-sum game, where someone benefits, but does so at the expense of someone else. There’s a winner and a loser. Believers in individual liberty as the path to prosperity, like myself, do not believe exchange is a zero-sum game. By maximizing possibilities for exchange, we maximize the wealth and prosperity of everyone involved.

    What do we do about the poverty that persists? Trust the benevolence and charity of others (or heap upon ourselves damnation for the lack thereof, as taught in the Book of Mormon that charitable giving correlates to retaining a remission of sins).

  30. TMD on September 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Brigham: The idea that legitimate authority confers moral authority still does not add up; rational-legal authority (which is what exists in a democracy) most clearly resembles a contract between the state and the individual citizen; the concept of ‘the people’ does not enter into it. As we know from the BOM, the mass of ‘the people’ can be immoral and favor greater immorality. Apart from any particularly policy prescription or issue of concern, I think that this is an essential point.

    To address your issue of child poverty, I think the first thing we need to do is more clearly identify what we are talking about. First, we need to recognize that outrage must be indexed to the degrees of child poverty rather than its mere existence. Because children are not free agents acting for themselves, but rather cared for by non-children who sometimes (and in some cases, very often) make bad choices that affect their standard of living, child poverty cannot be eliminated except perhaps by making poverty grounds for the seizure of children by the state. [This is a bad idea, by the way.] Accordingly, high levels of child poverty rightly justify some element of moral outrage, but the mere existence of child poverty, particularly at a low level, is not a rational basis for moral outrage, but rather one of the costs of liberty.

    Second, given all this, what is the way to address child poverty? This is not so straightforward. There are at least three kinds of effects, after all: the physical and developmental effects of poverty; the educational and achievement oriented effects (which are not only the product of fewer opportunities but also the product of having anti-achieving habits and lifestyles normalized in the child’s human environment); and third the effects of growing up amidst fiscal strain or privation (and particularly with regard to relative poverty–not having the things peers have) and associated encounters with indignity.

    The easiest to address by institutionalized action (public or private) are those in the first category. Individuals have a role to play within their social sphere in categories two and three (particularly those involved in youth oriented programs, like scouting) and in making sure that a child’s poverty is not a source of indignity within that sphere. But the remainders are certainly difficult problems, that moral outrage (when and where justified) will not solve, particularly in the absence of a clear framework for addressing them.

  31. Douglas Hunter on September 10, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    I agree with the previous poster who pointed out that there is a historical division between community emphasis and individualistic emphasis within Mormon thought, but would described it a little differently emphasizing the cold war efforts of Church leaders to demonize anything associated with socialism and it’s understanding of the relationship between individual and society. In doing this Church leaders made the same mistake that was popular in America at the time, they believed the authoritarian rule of eastern European governments to be an inherent component of socialist thought in its various forms. An obvious fallacy, but one that persists today and informs Mormon perceptions of the role of government in that the emphasis on the individual can be understood as a reaction to the fear of being forced into a certain type of community by government.

    This discussion and others call attention to another division that may be important. The difference between the moral and the ethical. Why is it that we Mormons don’t talk about ethics? In many definitions they are similar or the same, but in Christianity I think they take two distinct forms. The moral being how well an individual adheres to narrowly defined proscriptions regarding individual behavior. The ethical being a set of ideas and themes that govern our engagement with and commitment to the other.

    Anything related to the ethical in the Church seems to be placed under the banner of service, which is both tremendously limiting and can be seen as a way of negating the ethical as a way of thinking about the other and the community in order to claim it as a way of thinking about the self. Consider the discourse around fast offerings in the Church to get a sense of how this works.

  32. Nate Oman on September 10, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Brigham: Good post and an interesting discussion. I would just throw out one point worth considering. It may be that most of our political activity is actually morallly trivial. The reason is that it is unlikely that most of our political action is going to have a significant impact. Furthermore, if we devote sufficient time to political activity to the point where that activity will have a significant impact, then we will necessarily face trade offs against other activities, if only political activity. I think that there is a kind of moral inflation that comes in some discussions where fervently holding particular opinions is equated with morally significant action. This, I think, is a mistake. Certain opinions, to be sure, may be morally significant but I think that much of the moral significance of actions lies in their real world effects, and I think that most of our individual political action is, by this measure, morally trivial. Put another way, if you hold political opinions about the best way to alleviate poverty that will in fact result in greater poverty if impmlimented, I do not believe that you are immoral because I think that the mere fact that you hold mistaken opinions is on the whole morally trivial. I think this holds true for much political activity as well because it ultimately has a trivial effect.

    That said, I DO think that widespread global poverty is perhaps the single greatest moral challenge facing our time. From what I have been able to learn the best way of alleviating poverty is to promote ecoonomic growth. One of the keys to economic growth, in turn, is a set of sensible contract and property rights adminstered by competent and honest judges. Hence, I strike my blows against global poverty by teaching commercial law ;->

  33. Douglas Hunter on September 10, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    #4 provides a good example of what I was getting at in my final point:

    “Personally, could I invite a starving man into my house? I don’t know, would there be a threat to my safety in taking in someone unknown for a time? Would I have the time or resources to take care of this person?

    These are the questions that should be asked first.”

    Notice how in this quote the need of the other becomes primarily a question of the self. Here is the thing; the Jewish and Christian ethic of hospitality as developed in scripture and the philosophical tradition say that these are exactly NOT the questions that should be asked first. If in our encounter with the other we are looking to protect ourselves, if we are asking how extending hospitality could potentially harm us, if we seek to curtail our hospitality in terms of our interests or desires then we are not living up to our ethical responsibility to the other. Consider the story of Elisha and the widow as a starting point for examining how radical our commitment to the other could be.

  34. quin on September 10, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Just a few thoughts-

    Douglas-
    First, by definition, being an “ethical” person is synonymous with being a “moral” person. Being moral is to “conform to the rules of right conduct” where being immoral is not conforming. Synonyms for moral include upright, honest, virtuous, integrity.

    Second, while the scriptures allude to the Jewish code of “hospitality”, they also include at least one story where strangers are kept OUT of a home where they would have been dangerous to those within it. Nowhere in scripture does the Lord define caring for the poor and needy as taking them into your home irregardless of the safety of your own family and children. Even the good Samaritan didn’t take the man who had been robbed and beaten into his own home.

    Brigham-

    The early Saints didn’t accomplish the building of Zion because of their unrighteousness, and neither have we, probably for the same reasons. In scriptures that describe the actual “Zion” society built by the people of Enoch, you’ll note that part of the description is that “there were no poor among them”. It does NOT say that because Zion existed that there was no poor anywhere else either. There were people living OUTSIDE of that city and odds are that some of them were hungry and naked and poor. We also know that God would not allow Enoch to preach to certain “outsiders” either. In other words, those that chose to participate in “Zion” had all their needs met and those that chose not to, went without.

    Within the Church today there are two systems in operation designed to be sure that none “among us” go without food and basic necessities-one is Visiting Teaching, and the other is Home Teaching. When members fulfill their responsibilities within this system, they are able to direct the Bishop and Relief Society towards those who are in physical need as well as spiritual. The Bishop uses the money collected from ward members in Fast Offerings to attend to the “poor among” his ward.

    We are commanded to meet the physical needs of those “among us”-or those God has given us direct stewardship and responsibility for. Quentin L. Cook gave a talk once where he said that seeking to perform grand heroic gestures rather than taking care of the simple daily duties God expects us to can be a form of “looking beyond the mark”. How many of us have been counseled to donate “generous” fast offerings but don’t? Most of us know that what we do/offer/give to the least among us is like doing the same thing for the Savior. With that in mind, I wonder how many of us have no problem spending $40+ on a nice Saturday night dinner for two but have a hard time putting more than $10 in the fast offering envelope.

    I guess my point is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the perfect system for ending hunger of both physical and spiritual natures. We have been commissioned to spread that system throughout the world and bring those who hunger and thirst inside the fold where they become those who are no longer “poor” among us. If they are obedient to the commandments and principles of the gospel, they can prosper in every aspect of their lives. So in my opinion, it just doesn’t seem logical or compassionate to waste precious time and energy trying to legislate less inspired, less effective government programs to meet the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters when we already have a perfect and divine system in place.

    I hope that makes sense…

  35. Matt Evans on September 10, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Ben, I enjoyed your comment. A key benefit of your frugal living is that you lower the expectations bar for those around you. The purpose of most consumption is not for pleasure or comfort but to signal status and success. The *primary* reason Americans buy new cars and clothes and houses and furniture and cell phones is to signal their status. Because the status race is relative to the person’s social group, each person who refuses to play lowers the bar and makes it so people have to waste fewer resources trying to out-status (or equal-status) each other.

    People are terribly concerned with what people think of them, and I sometimes think (including today) that we should actively utilize social pressures against consumption. I think less of people who drive expensive cars, for example, in a similar way to how thinking less of people who scream at their kids, and sometimes wonder if (and if so, how) I should express my disapproval. They receive approval for driving an expensive car from lots of people who don’t realize the expensive car makes the world and society worse — so should I indicate my disapproval of their wasteful purchase?

  36. Lupita on September 10, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    #12 What political issue isn’t a moral issue as well? I agree with this statement.
    I’ve listened to some compelling arguments from Mormons on both sides regarding the im/morality of taxation, gun laws, immigration, healthcare, welfare, etc. Fwiw, both sides seem to equally invoke the WWJD maxim.
    In my experience, people love to regurgitate what they’ve been told by whatever pundit they adore. I think the moral outrage for plagues like child pr*stitution, poverty, genocide, etc. just isn’t there. I hope I am mistaken.

  37. Douglas Hunter on September 11, 2008 at 12:03 am

    We can always count on Quin for the one-two punch of a stunning lack of attention to detail and domesticated theology.

    But I would like to know where one can get a nice meal for for two for $40!

  38. mlu on September 11, 2008 at 1:00 am

    #10

    Tim: I’ve worked menial jobs for modest money and I’ve also raised a family on a teacher’s salary, which my parents thought was quite a good thing. We were never hungry or cold and we loved each other, though if we had spent a lot of time comparing our lot with others who had more, I imagine we could have become pretty unhappy. The commandment against coveting takes one a long way toward peace of mind.

    I didn’t waste a lot of my energy contemplating the cosmic unfairness of my low wages or lobbying congress to do something about it. I got by and kept working for the next thing. I’m not wealthy but I’m not poor.

    I think that bemoaning the unfairness of things is quite crippling for poor people, and I think it is an attitude that is taught and reinforced often by those who would help them–and even more so by those who would do well by doing good.

    Having said that, there’s plenty of room for improvement in how we manage the economy to make it work better for all our fellow community members. I’m skeptical though that the government is the key. At a town near where I live, a mill owner kept his mills operating at a loss all through the Great Depression because of the enormous hardship closing them would have caused for people in his town. This wasn’t government action, but it was quite effective.

    The Amish are worth thinking about. They do well, financially, in a financial competitive world, but they don’t make profitability their first concern. Their first concern is what impact an economic activity will have the community. They actually consider the need for children to have meaningful work to do, for example.

    We could go much farther than we have in that direction without involving the state. Private corporations are a wonderful invention, that we could use for our own benefit more than we do.

    The rule that companies and corporations need to be managed solely to maximize profits isn’t really a rule. It’s just the way we habitually think. If corporations also tried to stabilize communities to some degree and to provide jobs that paid reasonably well for nearly all the citizens, they would probably go broke.

    But that’s because the rest of us don’t have a way of seeing which corporations are good citizens. Their citizenship data isn’t required to be reported along with their financial data. And even if it were, would we buy the more expensive product if it were produced by a company that was trying to take care of people? Would we invest our retirement funds in the stock of companies that paid a lower ROI but took care of people?

    At some point, I think we will. But for now, I’d say we should keep teaching the poor that marriage and steady employment and hard work and faith are better strategies than voting for those who promise to use government to meet all their economic needs.

  39. Velska on September 11, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Government is the price we pay for things like an impartial police force (anyone want to return to the time when the law was on the side of the highest bidder? – although American justice is not that far from it) or having a military stand by in case of aggression from some outside force.

    Government is also the way we solve the problems of living together. While much wasteful bureaucracy is created by governments, they also ensure people’s access to some important infrastructure items.

    It takes a government to tell people that you can’t discriminate people based on creed or color – or gender. Moreover, it was ultimately a government that abolished slavery in the USA, although slave society survived for a long time afterwards.

    I’m not sure how much the government should be involved in taking care of the poor, but it certainly can be helpful by giving incentives to people to get an education or do something for those who can’t do anything for themselves. A $28,000 a year salary may not be a very good incentive to invest in a college degree, though.

    Of course, exactly what the government takes care of is very much a debatable issue, but the price of government is taxes. No way around it. We should be active in influencing government policy by voting and other legal means – but at the same time we should be able to tolerate those who don’t agree with us on the nitty-gritty.

  40. Ray on September 11, 2008 at 9:11 am

    It’s fascinating to read a thought-provoking post and see how quickly it can get derailed into a debate about specific political philosophies and practices.

  41. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on September 11, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Sterling, #1: The Magna Carta, the US constitution are legal instruments for community organization. Most churches go out to do missionary work to organize new bodies of worship. In Alma 32, Alma meets with impoverished Zoramites and taught them how God can assist them in regaining their lost economic status in their community.

    Sterling, I tell you what I think of politicians?

    Jesus Christ often talks of His followers as being a bride. Remember, the parable of the 10 virgins. Well, the prophet Ezekiel [OT] says that, they do the work of an imperious whorish woman and that they scorn legitemate work.

    Ezekiel further says, that they are as a wife, who has committed adultery and who takes on strangers, instead of her husband. The husband or groom is Jesus Christ and our politicians as our elected leaders, like us are His bride.

    Many of them do not respect our constitution nor the law of Moses. In other words, they do their own thing regardless what, we the people, need and in that way lead us to forget the influence of God over our communities.

    Despite of the clamor by the Christian Right for more laws regulating our moral behavior, we have seen the end of the USA as a Christian nation. Now, I am awaiting the rise of a Gentile nation and eventually laws against Mormons practicing our doctrines. That’s what’s Nephi tells us in the book of Mormon. 2000 years ago did they not prosecute our Lord Jesus Christ? It will happen again. This time the Gentile nation is a precursor of the coming persecution of Mormons.

    Why? Because the politician’s moral behavior is sacrocant and they love their high position of influence over us. They will do and they will lie to get their way and in seeking for the votes to please the wicked ones.

    edu

  42. Howard Bannister on September 11, 2008 at 10:48 am

    When I consider electing somebody or voting on any issue I consider free agency first. After all that’s how God does it. I believe in the ‘dig your own grave’ mentality. However, I believe that abortion is an exception. Abortion may just be unfortunate to some, but it takes away someone elses free agency and is evil. Gay marriage simply is somebody else’s opinion and I see nothing affecting the rest of society.

  43. Patricia Karamesines on September 11, 2008 at 11:04 am

    mlu, many thanks for your interesting and well spoken words.

  44. ed42 on September 11, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Way to skip around the question #22!!!

    You have the gun (you are the government). Do you steal from B to help A? Does it matter whether you act individually or as “the people”? Does the immorality of the situation change if 1 million people vote to steal from B to give to A? What are the exceptions to “Thou shalt not steal”?

    We are limited, by God, to “teach, preach, expound, exhort” (when trying to convince others) and commanded to individually feed the hungry, clothe the poor.

  45. quin on September 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Douglas,

    I apologize for the stunning lack in my reply. I personally believe that the reason “some” Mormons don’t talk about “ethics” is simply because they view ethics and morals to be the same thing. Someone who “loves their neighbor as they love themselves” does not make a distinction between how they behave as an individual and how they behave as a member of a community. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous” etc. (all synonyms of both moral and ethical) and those traits should govern how we act no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

    My second comment was based on your reply to #4 where you seem to be equating assessing a situation to determine what the most effective response should be with being “selfish”. #4 does not indicate that he would not serve the starving man or neglect to help him get his needs met. I did not judge him as “seeking to curtail his hospitality” because of his concerns and desires. Someone who throws open his doors and invites the man to become part of the family may indeed be more hospitable-but only if his motives are pure. If he does it to impress his neighbors or to feel good about himself-he is guilty of selfishness as well. You and I do not have the power to discern #4′s heart-and it doesn’t matter if he attends to the needy in a different way than you would if his heart is pure.

    Now since I am the one that everyone here “can always count on” for a stunning lack of attention to detail, I’m going to need your help establishing how the story of Elisha and the widow demonstrates “radical commitment” to the “other”. She cries to him about her debts and her lack but he doesn’t take her in or feed her or pay her debts for her etc. He just commands her to collect a bunch of vessels and pour out Sher remaining oil into them until it runs out. She does and it fills all the vessels (and more) which he then tells her to sell to repay her debts. Doesn’t seem radical to me…but then look who you’re dealing with.

    I will admit that for a moment I thought that perhaps you had meant to reference the more pronounced story of hospitality that takes place between ELIJAH and a widow (where she feeds him the last of the food she has for herself and her son). But then I realized that someone who pays attention to details would never mistake one prophet for another just because their names are similar. And of course it isn’t a great example of Jewish hospitality because the widow in that story is not a Jew, and it doesn’t portray spontaneous selflessness because we know that she doesn’t respond to his hunger and thirst completely of her own will and desire. (God tells Elijah that he has “commanded” that the woman would feed him.) And then there is the problem with her response when Elijah asks for bread. She tells Elijah that she has no bread and that she only has enough oil and flour to feed herself and her son one more time. They seem to support #4′s remarks and since you are trying to establish an example of someone being “other” oriented rather than self oriented, you wouldn’t use an example that shows someone “curtailing her hospitality” due to her own interests and desires. Of course it is also obvious she’s too selfish to take Elijah into her home until after God performs the miracle that produces food enough for all of them.

    Sheesh…is it possible that maybe all that domesticated theology has something to do with my stunning lack of scriptural comprehension as well?

  46. Douglas Hunter on September 11, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    “Sheesh…is it possible that maybe all that domesticated theology has something to do with my stunning lack of scriptural comprehension as well?”

    Yes it does, you’re thinking about the story in very self serving and superficial ways, but the screaming children at my feet don’t allow me to go into detail right now as to why this is the case.

  47. quin on September 11, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    I hate to be a bother-but after you take care of your children, could you tell me which of the two prophet/widow stories you are referencing in #47?

  48. Blain on September 11, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    If anybody’s still here, I think you might find this article worthy of consideration in addressing this question;

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/haidt08/haidt08_index.html

  49. alex valencic on September 12, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Even though it is quite tangential to the actual topic at hand, I feel the need to respond to the comments regarding “community organisers.” It has bothered me greatly that so many have cheerfully misconstrued the comments made during the RNC about Sen. Obama’s previous employment as such.

    I do not think that either Mr. Guiliani or Gov. Palin consider community organising, in and of itself, to be a useful venture. Rather, I think they were merely pointing out the absurdity of claiming executive experience through that career. That would be like me claiming to take over as a administrator for a major corporation because I worked as an administrator for the not-for-profit Illinois Teen Institute for two years, back in 1999 and 2000.

    Community organising is a good thing. We make change, particularly when it comes to poverty, at the grassroots level. As a devout Mormon, I do not think it is my governments responsibility to take care of every problem in the nation, or in the world. I think it is my responsibility to do what I can within my sphere of influence, and to strive to influence others to do the same. And while I am sure that there are those who will prove me wrong, I would suggest that the early Saints had such success in providing for the poor and needy specifically because they considered it a personal responsibility, not the responsibility of the Territorial Governor.

  50. ZSorenson on September 12, 2008 at 10:44 am

    First, in explanation of my previous post about the starving man I only meant to offer an example of the difficulty of solving an issue such as poverty on a personal level. In other words, assuming I was morally concerned about homelessness in the community, what could I do as an individual to solve it. My point was that that would be (and is) a difficult question to answer, and therefore there is a strong temptation to use the powers of government to help. That was my point with the starving man, that people inherently turn to government to resolve some of those issues. I was trying to give an example of a moral crisis that was more substantial than ‘poverty’ generally.

    Therefore, if government seems to be the vehicle for resolving such moral crises, then does morality constrain us to vote a certain way? No. It seems like government is the place where the momentum of morality might take society – so I am pointing out that idea (with the starving man) – but when we get there we have to put into perspective what government is.

    Government is a political ‘thing’. Rather than being representative of the collective moral will, it is really a compromise between factions. Furthermore, as I said earlier, issues such as poverty are complex, and though painted in stark terms of ‘social justice’ by some (hence putting poverty in a factional context and thereby better justifying use of government in solving it), it is not always that simple.

    Concluding, to suggest that moral values dictate or lend to certain political stances misses the point of what government is. That’s why, going back to the original post, the church or individuals in the church can’t and don’t include political preference in the moral realm. There is an assumption that everyone’s already trying to be moral, and we end up with different political perspectives. Therefore, political perspectives are more complex and removed from simple moral values. That doesn’t mean we can debate the virtue of certain perspectives, though.

    As a side note about consumption. Consumption is great, and though many consume for social status (buy certain cars, etc.) I’m not sure that’s what it’s all about. You can consume for utility a ton and it’s great! For example, if you have 3 adult children (16+) in your house, and have the resources for 3 new cars, then buying them is great! Some might talk about ‘thriftiness’ but there are utilitarian reasons for buying cars that are new vs. old. The virtue of older cars is you save money on people who don’t ‘need’ a fancy car. That’s funny, a grown-up has no more ‘need’ for a car with, say, still-nice upholstery than a 16-year old. The only difference is that the adult has the resources to afford the newer car and recognizes the utility in the form of comfort or safety that comes from nice seats. I’m not talking luxury, just not-jalopy. Thriftiness is living within your means, and another virtue from church values is living within your needs. So, how ‘big’ a big-screen do you really need in the living room? Probably not that big – hence the virtue of underconsumption. However, if your family is big, a big-screen might make those family movie nights so much more engaging for everyone if the screen is big. Back to the cars, buying used for the sake of thriftiness is great, but if you have the resources, there is a definite utility derived from paying more for new cars for your kids that’s not unrighteous.
    Consumption rewards production, investment, and gives wealth to those – including laborers- who were involved with that. There are many drawbacks to our economic system, inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and as some believe, moral outrages. However, the progress we made in terms of being able to provide for our families and feed and protect them is astronomical because of consumption during the past 200 years. This is obviously way more on this subject than what’s probably necessary, and opening up a can full of worms, but I wanted to make the point. Thriftiness is a virtue, but there are righteous reasons to consume and not cut back if you have the resources to do so.
    In a way cutting back is selfish. I recently had to get a new car. I thought I had this wonderful idea of not having a car anymore and using the bus and saving money – more or less, it was great! I then realized that I needed a car, and those thoughts were confirmed immediately. By having a car, I give rides to at least two people a week at church, and to many other activities and so forth. They depend on me, and only through my access to wealth and ability to use it that they didn’t have were they able to get to church those times. Some might say that if wealth was all equal, they would afford a ride to church as equally as me. That’s not what the gospel is about. The Lord gives differently to different people, we use what we are given to serve those with less, and they in turn serve us by giving what they possess that we have not (in terms of resources, talents, experience, testimony, etc.)
    We have to use what we’ve been given to serve others, but first we have to use what we’ve been given. I just disagree with the ‘extreme’ thriftiness concept. I also disagree that it’s wrong to have when there are others elsewhere that maybe have not. It’s wrong to not try and help, but we have to be grateful for what we have. Well, I’ve said what I wanted to say.

  51. ZSorenson on September 12, 2008 at 10:44 am

    First, in explanation of my previous post about the starving man I only meant to offer an example of the difficulty of solving an issue such as poverty on a personal level. In other words, assuming I was morally concerned about homelessness in the community, what could I do as an individual to solve it. My point was that that would be (and is) a difficult question to answer, and therefore there is a strong temptation to use the powers of government to help. That was my point with the starving man, that people inherently turn to government to resolve some of those issues. I was trying to give an example of a moral crisis that was more substantial than ‘poverty’ generally.

    Therefore, if government seems to be the vehicle for resolving such moral crises, then does morality constrain us to vote a certain way? No. It seems like government is the place where the momentum of morality might take society – so I am pointing out that idea (with the starving man) – but when we get there we have to put into perspective what government is.

    Government is a political ‘thing’. Rather than being representative of the collective moral will, it is really a compromise between factions. Furthermore, as I said earlier, issues such as poverty are complex, and though painted in stark terms of ‘social justice’ by some (hence putting poverty in a factional context and thereby better justifying use of government in solving it), it is not always that simple.

    Concluding, to suggest that moral values dictate or lend to certain political stances misses the point of what government is. That’s why, going back to the original post, the church or individuals in the church can’t and don’t include political preference in the moral realm. There is an assumption that everyone’s already trying to be moral, and we end up with different political perspectives. Therefore, political perspectives are more complex and removed from simple moral values. That doesn’t mean we can debate the virtue of certain perspectives, though.

    As a side note about consumption. Consumption is great, and though many consume for social status (buy certain cars, etc.) I’m not sure that’s what it’s all about. You can consume for utility a ton and it’s great! For example, if you have 3 adult children (16+) in your house, and have the resources for 3 new cars, then buying them is great! Some might talk about ‘thriftiness’ but there are utilitarian reasons for buying cars that are new vs. old. The virtue of older cars is you save money on people who don’t ‘need’ a fancy car. That’s funny, a grown-up has no more ‘need’ for a car with, say, still-nice upholstery than a 16-year old. The only difference is that the adult has the resources to afford the newer car and recognizes the utility in the form of comfort or safety that comes from nice seats. I’m not talking luxury, just not-jalopy. Thriftiness is living within your means, and another virtue from church values is living within your needs. So, how ‘big’ a big-screen do you really need in the living room? Probably not that big – hence the virtue of underconsumption. However, if your family is big, a big-screen might make those family movie nights so much more engaging for everyone if the screen is big. Back to the cars, buying used for the sake of thriftiness is great, but if you have the resources, there is a definite utility derived from paying more for new cars for your kids that’s not unrighteous.
    Consumption rewards production, investment, and gives wealth to those – including laborers- who were involved with that. There are many drawbacks to our economic system, inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and as some believe, moral outrages. However, the progress we made in terms of being able to provide for our families and feed and protect them is astronomical because of consumption during the past 200 years. This is obviously way more on this subject than what’s probably necessary, and opening up a can full of worms, but I wanted to make the point. Thriftiness is a virtue, but there are righteous reasons to consume and not cut back if you have the resources to do so.
    In a way cutting back is selfish. I recently had to get a new car. I thought I had this wonderful idea of not having a car anymore and using the bus and saving money – more or less, it was great! I then realized that I needed a car, and those thoughts were confirmed immediately. By having a car, I give rides to at least two people a week at church, and to many other activities and so forth. They depend on me, and only through my access to wealth and ability to use it that they didn’t have were they able to get to church those times. Some might say that if wealth was all equal, they would afford a ride to church as equally as me. That’s not what the gospel is about. The Lord gives differently to different people, we use what we are given to serve those with less, and they in turn serve us by giving what they possess that we have not (in terms of resources, talents, experience, testimony, etc.)
    We have to use what we’ve been given to serve others, but first we have to use what we’ve been given. I just disagree with the ‘extreme’ thriftiness concept. I also disagree that it’s wrong to have when there are others elsewhere that maybe have not. It’s wrong to not try and help, but we have to be grateful for what we have. Well, I’ve said what I wanted to say.

  52. Jack on September 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    this guy is mormon, but he is CRAZY!

    http://www.trunkreport.com

  53. Anon. on September 14, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Many members of my Ward do plenty for poverty alleviation because they are white and blue collar entrepreneurs. Those that have their own businesses support anywhere from five families all the way up to about 100 in the highest case. Why would anyone criticize them for not taking care of the poor, if they devote most of their lives to organizations that keep significant amounts of people out of the poorhouse? Indeed one of the best things the government can do to help alleviate poverty is to create an environment where businesses can grow and create good jobs for people, and help them achieve the kind of education they need to take advantage of these jobs.

    And the Church provides much along these educational lines. Chastity before marriage (preventing one from becoming a single parent or half of an early marriage) and fidelity afterwards (preventing divorce) are both avoiding situations which help plunge one into poverty. Getting education, avoiding debt, living within one’s means, and avoiding pride (and presumably the consumption decisions that come with it) are all have a role to play in reducing poverty.

    Why do members of the Church get their hackles up when talking about certain issues, like homosexuality, and not poverty? Part of it is the greater culture we live in where homosexuality is a hot button, visceral, topic. Another part of it is that people can agree that poverty is bad, but the trick is how to combat poverty and this kind of discussion, in most, but not all cases, does not lend itself well to our current format of meetings and topics we discuss there. When these rare discussions do happen, they are cerebral, rather than emotional. One should not mistake cerebral reactions with lack of caring though, and this is the mistake the original poster and many in this thread make.

    Finally, I have not visited this page in years, and I am disappointed the tendency to blanket criticize regular members and the Church is still alive and well here. Should we not have some charity in our views of fellow members and the Church? Instead I often see comments that if the members or the Church is not doing something in the way I think they or it should, they are wrong. Very disappointing indeed.

  54. David K. on September 15, 2008 at 11:56 am

    It seems like a lot of people separate their political life from their religious life, which I\’m not so sure is a good idea. I haven\’t given a lot of thought to what you people are saying here, but I think that our involvement ought to be to first defend our values – then worry about things like environmental issues and poverty. I mean, after all, poverty level in the US is pretty high compared to other countries. And while I\’m concerned about other countries being better off, we need to make sure we are better off in terms of our values before we concern ourselves with others.

  55. Adam on September 16, 2008 at 2:03 am

    I don\’t really agree with you, but you make a very good point.

  56. MSG on September 17, 2008 at 2:56 am

    I have a question. In light of the hurricane that just hit Texas, why is it that FEMA is so poor at helping in disasters and our Church is so very efficient in doing so?
    A disaster is an occurrance that calls for help to be given on a large scale because the damaged local agencies and people can’t handle it on their own. They need to be able to call upon a large organization outside the locale, like the federal government or our Church. I don’t care what that larger organization is, government or a church–but something “bigger”, that is competent, has to be in placeto rely on when people genuinely need help. Even the Red Cross has problems.

  57. jSargent on September 17, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    It appears to me that if an individual, an institution, a government or what ever the entity is that tries to resolve the issues that have been discussed in this blog are only human and thus will fall short of the expectations of many who sit on the sidelines providing scores and comments on the efforts. I would not attempt to provide an all knowing answer to the questions discussed here. I would however suggest that as an individual develops an understanding of Christ\’s teaching they are then obligated to apply those teachings in their daily life. The problem then becomes the individual interpretation of the teachings which directs the focus of the activities of the individual.

    There are issues that government at its many levels is best suited to resolve because of the size and physical resources they can bring to bear upon those issues. While there are other issues that institutions, such as the Church, are more suited to handle because of the personal nature of how those institutions are intended to operate.

    If I may share a personal experience. When we would go on camping trips or picnicing as I was growing up my father would make it a point to clean up the area we were using. Following his example our family would help with the clean up. When we would ask my father why we had to pick up the garbage he would simply say – Because it needs to be done. Today when I see garbage on the ground I will pick it up, because it is something that needs to be done. When I see children in poverty or any of a number of other issues I try to find a way to help, just because it needs to be done.

    I feel that because of Christ\’s teachings there are many issues that I can help with because they need to be done. That service can take the form of working with the PTA, being involved with the local government or simply helping remove the graffiti from a local building without being asked.

  58. mlu on September 19, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Government is extremely poor at doing things for moral reasons, though most politicians lie about that because demogaugery works. We are now governed, for the most part, by driven men who lie and dissemble to get power. And yet we have a near majority of people who, when faced with the troubles of life, turn to those men immediately, pleading that they do something. Of course, they are all too willing to do something. Though the problems keep getting worse.

    We have become quite a foolish people and are now near or at the point where 51% of us can reliably be counted on to vote for the most shameless liar, who promises to give us jobs, provide us unlimited health care, pay for our education, keep our food safe, stop the oceans from rising, protect us from hurricanes and earthquakes, talk our enemies out of war, prohibit unkind words, eliminate every trace of judgment and support us in the style to which we feel entitled throughout our old age.

    It seems we won’t really need faith or families or churches much longer.

  59. Andrew Callahan on September 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    As many of you know the Mormons are one of the largest financial backers of the attempt to pass Proposition 8. The Mormon Church has been putting extreme pressure on its members to support the amendment.

    I am a Mormon High Priest in good standing in the church, and I am offended that our church would take such a horrible stance. There are many other Mormons, who also disagree with the Mormon Church, and many of us have begun to speak out on websites such as Signing for Something, http://www.signingforsomething.org/blog

    Additionally, there are many other Mormons who also oppose our church\’s stance, but assume they are the only Mormons on the planet who disagree with the church leadership. I am not a regular reader of this blog, but am posting here in hopes that perhaps at least a few Mormons who disagree with the leadership on this issue might learn that they are not alone.

    Thank you.
    Andrew Callahan
    Hastings, Nebraska

  60. Chris on September 21, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    @60

    Andrew, repent.

  61. MSG on September 22, 2008 at 1:28 am

    …and while you still can.

  62. KP on September 27, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    It is easy for those living outside California to make judgments on the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints regarding their opposition to proposition 8. As a California resident making phone calls and knocking doors, I think it should be made known that this issue is a non-partisan issue in that several religious communities are getting involved in the support of proposition 8. The consequences of the passage or non-passage of prop 8 are much more extensive than the media and uninformed movie star supporters are willing to put forth. The crux of this issue is found in the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in its Family: Proclamation to the World. This document was unanimously ratified by the Leadership of the Church under the Presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley in 1995. As such, it supersedes scripture, past interpretations, and even historical precedent. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not founded on the scriptures, it is founded on what the scriptures are founded on: revelation from God through prophets. As such, the current Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, by virtue of his calling, bears that prophetic prerogative to receive revelation to guide the Church today. The position of President Monson and the leadership of the Church is clear on this issue. Regardless of how the membership of the reacts, they must understand the position of the Prophet within the structure of the church. Brigham Young succinctly stated that, \”You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet, but you can cut the thread that binds you to him and sink yourselves to hell\” (Journal of Discourses 10:363-364). This does give the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints an enormous amount of power and influence, however, any student of Christian History can identify that this is the organizational structure of the Lord\’s church in any age of the world. The Prophet bears the responsibility to receive from God Himself those revelations that are intended to guide the Church. Regardless of the apparent \”appropriateness\” or \”inappropriateness\” of a directive that comes from the Prophet and other leaders of the Church, it should be received in the spirit of meekness and obedience. Any other response leads to apostasy and anarchy within the church. Examine those examples that you have in your own life and see whether or not this holds true. I can say from my personal experience that it holds true in every case. Whether or not prop 8 passes is irrelevant in light of the distinct call from a prophet of God that has called the people to action. Where individual members of the church find themselves on this issue is of far greater consequence. It is good to consider the issues carefully when making a personal stand, but of ominous weigh should be considered the source of the directive. This is sound advice.

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