Two Mormon-related events in the past week have shaken me up a little. On one level, neither of them were particularly surprising—but on another, I found them both unsettling and at least a little unexpected. The first was the release of the Gallup poll which found that the Mormon approval of Trump was, at 61 percent, the highest of any religious group surveyed. The second was the decision of incoming church president Russell M. Nelson to move Dieter F. Uchtdorf out of the First Presidency and replace him with Dallin H. Oaks. I also found the comments made at the press conference about the leadership transition, especially the ones about women, to be quite jarring. And I’ve found myself asking: whatever has happened to my church? (Yes, I know that it’s not technically mine anymore, since I’ve found a new religious home. But it’s still the church I grew up in, the church that shaped me. I don’t feel all the way disconnected from it.) Read More
Like many people I know, I was quite dismayed by the House’s recent passage of the abominable American Health Care Act, which seems to most fundamentally be about giving the rich a giant tax cut with the horrific side effect of making access to health care far more difficult for poor Americans in particular. (Don’t miss Michael Austin’s thoughts on this at BCC.) This one hits close to home—I was one of those who was uninsurable prior to Obamacare, due to having had the audacity to get treated for depression. I still remember the rejection letter I got from a health insurance company telling me that if I could manage to be symptom-free for seven years, they would maybe reconsider. The delicate question of how I was supposed to achieve the enviable status of being symptom-free for seven years with no insurance to pay for treatment was of course not addressed. I remember asking around about what to do, and people telling me that I should have just lied on the application and not mentioned the mental health care I’d gotten, especially given that it was paid for out-of-pocket; no one will ever know, they said. But possibly more out of neurotic paranoia that I would get found out than commitment to honesty, that didn’t feel like a real option to me, so I made my way forward with no insurance. I was lucky in that I was young and physically healthy, and yet every time I thought something be wrong with me, I would be sick with anxiety that it would turn out to be something serious and I would have no way to pay for treatment. Read More
In an unprecedented move, US President Donald J. Trump announced today that he will be resigning the Presidency, convert to Mormonism, and become a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, one of the three highest governing bodies in the Salt Lake City-based church. Trump made the announcement in a press conference held on Saturday morning in Salt Lake City, just prior to the second session of the church’s 187th annual conference. In the press conference, Trump was joined by Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, the LDS church’s second-highest governing body.
Donald Trump has promised to get rid of the Johnson Amendment. This law prohibits church leaders from endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit if the churches want to maintain their tax-exempt status. (It also applies to non-religious non-profits, but it’s the application to churches I’m interested in.)
I have no idea how difficult it might be for Trump to actually get this done. What I’m curious about is what General Authorities would do if he did. They clearly pay close attention to American politics, so I’m sure they would immediately see the implications for them and for local leaders in American wards and branches. How would they respond? I can imagine a few scenarios:
The United States elected Donald Trump as its next President last week. This event hit me in a similar way to the Church’s (forced) announcement of the exclusion policy last November. It’s not just that they were both surprising, although they definitely were that. I followed the election forecast and betting sites, and I believed them when they said it was most likely that Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. As far as the exclusion policy goes, I definitely did not see it coming. Lacking a top-sacred clearance, I didn’t have any idea of what the Q15 might be considering in their meetings.
The major similarity is that both go against what I see as the fundamental principles of their organizations.
Like many of you, I was devastated by the results of this election. Devastated in a way that I never have been, even when the person I voted for lost, even when I had serious concerns about what the winner would do. I’ve never been through an election like this.
It’s probably not entirely fair of me, but I have to admit that I felt particularly betrayed by the Mormon vote for Trump. I’ve been thinking about why that is. And the reality is that I bought into the narrative being promulgated for a while that Mormons were different, that we, unlike evangelicals, were going to put commitment to religious values above commitment to party. I gobbled up that narrative. I loved it. I explained to non-LDS friends with pride about Mormons defying the national trend of Republicans, who were unifying behind their morally reprehensible candidate. Read More
Where do ordinary Church members’ beliefs diverge from General Authorities’ beliefs? I think this is an interesting question that the latest Pew report on American religious belief and behavior can at least hint at some answers to. Of course the report only tells us about American Mormons, and it’s not a terribly big Mormon sample, but still, it’s fun to speculate using its results. I looked through the report and pulled out questions where I thought the responses for Mormons would be most out of line with the results you would get if you put the same questions to GAs. In this table, I also offer my guess as to whether the percentage for GAs would be higher or lower.
|Absolutely certain about belief in God||87%||Higher|
|Scriptures should be taken literally.||32%||Higher|
|There are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong.||58%||Higher|
|Abortion should be legal in all or most cases.||26%||Lower|
|Homosexuality should be accepted by society.||36%||Lower|
|Favor or strongly favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry||25%||Lower|
|Having more women in the workforce has been a change for the better.||49%||Lower|
|Humans evolved over time.||42%||Lower|
|Describe political views as conservative||61%||Higher|
Note: Percentages are taken from the “Latter-day Saints” lines in the tables in Appendix C, except for the question about women in the workforce, which is taken from the “Mormon” line in a table in Chapter 4 (where there is no separate “Latter-day Saints” line).
For me political choice is generally negative; prolonged exposure to the proponents of one set of dogmas tends to drive me into the arms of that dogma’s opponents. By the logic of this unpleasant via negativa, my upbringing in Utah County made me liberal; recent years in the ivory tower, on the other hand, have driven me right, although I’d continue to describe myself as a liberal-leaning moderate of the most unfashionable possible variety. Just a couple of my quarrels with the left: I think much of the sexual revolution was a misstep that has resulted in the widespread masculinization of sexuality–not a liberatory move for women, nor even for men–and I find our culture’s adolescent, pornographic view of sex both boring and exhausting. I also have reservations about a certain wholesale uncritical veneration of nature, ongoing now at least since that old wide-eyed hippie rake Rousseau. Sad though some of its consequences have certainly been, we as a species left nature behind about 10,000 years ago with the neolithic revolution, and I for one have no desire to go back. When well-meaning people earnestly inform me of the virtues of natural foods, natural fibers, and natural sources of energy, all I can think is that there’s nothing more natural than losing all of one’s teeth to chronic malnutrition, dying in agonizing childbirth approximately nine months after achieving puberty, or losing multiple family members to epidemics of cholera or the plague. Hooray for the thoroughly artificial health technologies of our culture. Not so interested in subsisting for long periods of time on berries and bark scrapings, myself. Read More
The first election I remember was in 1980. The Weekly Reader had pictures of Reagan and Carter, and our kindergarten class held our own election. I thought Reagan had a nicer smile and looked more friendly in his picture, so I voted for him. Several students in my Utah class were upset, because they wanted to vote for President Kimball and he wasn’t pictured. My teacher had to explain that “President” could refer to the President of the United States or the President of the LDS Church, and we weren’t trying to vote President Kimball out of office. Read More
John McCain in Friday night’s debate:
I’d like to tell you, two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were reenlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.
I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops. And you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here.
And this strategy, and this general, they are winning.
Yesterday, I read a really interesting post by one of my favorite undergrad profs, Michael Berube. In this post, he questions why people in the Democratic party (the DLC is a prominent example) and on the left keep insisting that we need to show a greater respect for religion in the political system. His basic point is that religion gets plenty of respect (he cites statistics that while 95 percent of people would vote for a Catholic for president, only 45 percent would vote for an atheist), that statements of religious conviction are most often used as a conversation stopper, and so he’s wondering what is really motivating these claims: Read More